Youth Workers and Councils: It Can Work!

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Church Council! This is not a word that makes many youth pastors smile. Instead it’s a word that more often will cause heartburn—the kind that popping a Tums won’t fix. Dealing with a Church Council is a reality for every youth worker—you can’t hide from them, so it’s best to embrace them. Over the years of networking with youth workers one of the greatest struggles I’ve heard has been dealing with Councils and their lack of support to you, the youth worker.

I have to admit that I am one of the unique ones that can honestly say that my experience with the Council of my former church was pure joy! Seriously! So when I hear the common struggle I have a hard time relating to the pain that goes with it. But it did make me examine the structure at Cornerstone CRC in Chilliwack and how Council and Youth Pastor Relations worked. Here are seven things that might help if you struggle with your Council:

1. Don’t be afraid of Council – Remember, they are on your side

a. Your Council is the one who had the vision and the initiative to hire you. They saw a need and they see in you the passion and drive to meet that need to the youth. They desire nothing more than for you to succeed in your ministry. Don’t be afraid of your council! Embrace them as fellow workers in the kingdom.
b. SUGGESTION: Send each of them a handwritten note thanking them for their support. Even if you have not felt their support, it is there. In the card share one thing that you appreciate about their leadership.

2. Get yourself on the Administrative Team, Pastoral Team and Full Council.

a. I know this will mean 2-3 more meetings each month but these meetings are worth their weight in gold. This is where you get a feel for the ‘heartbeat’ of the church. Adding these meetings to your schedule allows you to grasp the ever-expanding vision of the church. It also allows you to be part of the hurts and struggles that affect the church.
b. SUGGESTION: If you are currently not on the various Councils be proactive and request to be a non-voting member of each of the councils.

3. Make sure your relationship with your Senior Pastor is healthy.

a. One of the most important relationships you can have in your church is with your Senior Pastor. (It is the most important if you take God and your family out of the equation.) Take the time to get to know him/her. Spend time with them outside the office. It’s so important that you portray a healthy relationship, one that is working together for a common goal and vision for the church. This does not mean you have to agree on everything but it does mean that you have an open relationship where things can always we talked about.
b. SUGGESTION: Prior to meetings that require both of you to attend, set time aside to go over the agenda together to make sure you are on the same page.

4. Keep them informed – too much information is better than no information.

a. Remember the old saying, “knowledge is everything.” In this case that might be true. Keeping your Council informed of your activities, plans, scheduling and dreams is key to working with your Council. Do nothing secretively! Better a longer report than a report that leaves a lot to their imagination. It’s in the imagination that things are misunderstood.
b. SUGGESTION: Have a well written report, detailing your ministry activities, and attach it to Council agenda so each Council member has a chance to read it over prior to the meeting.

5. Get some of your council members involved in youth ministry.

a. Being involved is ownership! Try to get at least one member from each of your Councils to volunteer for your ministries, whether in leadership or behind the scenes. If they are involved they will see the week-to-week activities of your youth group and experience the excitement there is among the youth. Once they get involved they will be much quicker to support your ideas and vision for ministry.
b. SUGGESTION: Be intentional! Take one of your elders, one who has some gifts for youth ministry, out for coffee and share with them your vision for their involvement.

6. Pick your battles.

a. Not everything you suggest needs to be approved! Choosing your battles takes great discernment and wisdom on your part. Always keep the bigger picture in mind and ask yourself the question “Is this really worth it?” Sometimes it is, but most times it’s not. As a youth worker creativity is most likely one of your character traits so the phrase “there is more than one way to skin the cat” should be familiar to you. If you believe in something, and Council says no, be creative and try a new approach to presenting it to your Council.
b. SUGGESTION: If you have a great idea, inform one or two council members and your senior pastor of your idea prior to the Council meeting and get their feedback, thoughts, allow them to speak into the idea and go forward with your idea as a team.

7. It’s their church, not yours.

a. Always keep in mind that you work for them and not the other way around. This is their church and they are the governing body of the church. Be there to serve! Submit yourself to their authority. Humility goes a long ways when dealing with people. Let them see that you are willing to go the extra mile for their church and the church family. It can’t be stressed enough that you are there to serve not to be served by the Council or any member of the congregation.
b. Suggestion: Arrive early and stay longer to help set-up and clean-up after meetings. It’s simple but effective.

Working with your Council can be a very rewarding and encouraging experience if you are willing to do your part. Embrace them as brothers and sisters in Christ who have the same vision to bring people into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. Youth Ministry within the CRC is relatively new to the denomination, so it’s still a learning curve for many churches on how to deal with a youth worker and multiple staff. Be gracious to your council, support them, never talk negatively about them or speak openly about your frustrations about a decision they made that you might disagree on. When you leave that council room you need to be a united front.

I pray this is helpful to you as you move forward in dealing with your Council. Try one or try all seven suggestions but don’t give up. The church and your youth are counting on you to make this work!

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Please contact me if you are facing a difficulty with your council that this list doesn't address. I'd be happy to brainstorm with you how to solve the problems you are facing.

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Great article, Marcel.

I think another thing that we don't think about enough is that a good chunk of youth ministry folks fall into the Type B personality spectrum, where many administratively-minded council members (and many senior pastors) tend towards Type A. This often results in people speaking on two different levels. Similar tendencies exist with musicians and artist-types within the church.

Learning a little about your own personality and appreciating the way other people think is key to making this type of relationship work. Its sort of like the "Five Love Languages" for pastor-youth pastor-council relations.

Mark, Great comment! In my previous church we did the Myers Briggs Personality Test between the staff members. It was incredibly helpful to us in understanding each others personalities and how to work with each one uniquely. It was a great tool to work through with fellow staff members. Thanks for pointing this out.

Thanks for the article, Marcel. Understanding how people think is so important for ministry. Doing a personality test is a great way of opening our eyes to what makes the others tick. The Myers Briggs is perfect for this. I just picked up a book recommended by my brother who is also in ministry. His staff used Living Your Strengths by Winseman, Clifton, and Liesveld, a book that includes another type of test called the Clifton StrengthsFinder. We may use this StrengthFinder test as staff here at Immanuel CRC in Hamilton. Anyone else do this one to shed light on its effectiveness?

Our home missions regional guy in Western Canada (Martin Content) suggested the strengthfinders and it was a blessing as well; great stuff. We (Woodynook - Lacombe, Alberta) have led an evening workshop called "Colours" that keeps the personality profile very simple (just 4 colours)in which our intergenerational missions team participated. Youth, young adults and adults have a new understanding for each others participation in the church and in missions. I also appreciate your comments, Marcel, on the 'embracing the elders.' I do wonder about participating in administration, pastoral elders and full council. I have gotten along with all five senior pastors I've worked with, and have fostered a relationship where we represent and support each other in the meetings that only one of us are at - perhaps that's why I wonder.

Personality types are also closely related to spirituality types.
Check out:
Sandra Hirsh and Jane Kise "Soul Types"
Chester Michael and Marie Norrisey "Prayer and Temperment"
Gary Thomas "Sacred Pathways"

I hope to lead an end of year workshop with the youth ministry leaders of my church on this topic. If anyone has any other resoures on "spirituality types", please let me know.

Wonderful article!  I would however like to ask if the church does not employ a youth pastor/director to over see youth activities and education, what would you add to the article that pertains to a volunteer run youth ministry team?  In our case three of our youth ministry team members are youth elders in our church council.  Would love to hear your ideas!