Over the last 25 years or so of ministry I've had the privilege of being a youth leader, church planter and preaching pastor. So I've been in the shoes of a youth leader working under a pastor and a pastor having a youth leader work under me. In other words I attack this challenge with a history on both sides of the ministry fence.
Today I work with youth leaders from across the nation through Dare 2 Share and consistently hear horror stories from youth leaders who are trying to implement a gospel-advancing strategy for their youth ministry only to meet resistance from their pastor.
Some pastors are scared of it. Others are intimidated by it. A few are even theologically pre-disposed against it. But I believe that, in most cases and with most pastors, its of an issue of communication, trust and alignment more than anything else.
I truly believe that most youth leaders and Sr. Pastors can work things out if they lean into the issue with the right attitude. It's when youth leaders overtly or covertly accuse the Sr. Pastor of "not getting it" that the beginning of the end of their tenure becomes inevitable. A little birdie, actually a little old lady named "Birdie" (or something like that) will whisper what she overheard you venting about in the fellowship hall into the pastor's ear at the next potluck-get-together. Soon after you'll get the "I'm just not sure you're a fit for this church" speech, which is the ministry equivalent of the "It's not you, it's me" dating break up line.
So, if you have a pastor that doesn't seem supportive of your Gospel-advancing youth ministry approach here are some things you can do to help build trust, trigger communication and create alignment.
1. Get filled with the Holy Spirit.
"Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit…." Ephesians 5:18
Yeah, don't get plastered with communion wine in the fellowship hall (you're sure to get fired then!) Instead go to God relentlessly and consistently and ask him to take control of your attitude. If you're filled with the Spirit then you'll spill over love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness and self control. And that's the stuff that make for building strong relationships between youth leaders and their pastors.
2. Refuse to play politics.
He said/she said, recruiting elders to be "on your side" and character-attacking gossip are all power moves that have no place in the body of Christ. Youth leaders must make a stedfast decision that they won't play that way when they are at odds with their pastor philosophically. Instead they should be straightforward (yet loving), shrewd (not rude) and honest (not manipulative.)
3. Listen for the why behind the what.
It's been my experience that when most pastors express concerns with a youth ministry that is actively and effectively reaching lost students for Jesus they often have legitimate ones. Many of them are concerned that the entire youth ministry is going to just be focused on just reaching the lost and that solid teaching and equipping of the Christian teens is no longer part of the equation. Others have safety concerns.
James reminds us to "be quick to listen and slow to speak." Listen to your pastor's concerns fully and try to understand exactly what they are. Then work together with your pastor to address those concerns in a way that solves the problems and continues to advance the gospel.
4. Pray. Love. Win.
Grandma said it right, "You catch more flies with honey than vinegar." Pray for your pastor. Love your pastor. Do your best to win your pastor over to this missional philosophy of youth ministry. To be honest it's hard to argue with Biblically. After all Jesus took his "youth group" on a three and a half year missions trip separated by brief teachings along the way. But don't cram this down your pastor's throat. Instead speak the truth in love and humility.
5. If all else fails move on (and refuse to create a ruckus when you do!)
Like Stephen Covey wrote, "Win/win or no deal." In other words, if, over a sufficient amount of time, you can't find a solution that solves your pastor's concerns and your passion to advance the gospel it's probably time to walk away. But if you do, walk away without causing friction or factions. Just move on and ask God to open the door to a church that, doesn't just tolerate a gospel advancing form of youth ministry, but embraces it wholeheartedly!
I hope these principles encourage you and help you begin to, through the power of the Spirit, create the alignment you need with your pastor to advance the gospel through your youth ministry.