The most detrimental phrases to the dreams you have in your life start with... "I can't".
I remember dreaming about ideas I had for the ministry I was privileged to lead. I remember those dreams filling my soul and my spirit with hope. I remember starting to chase down those dreams and how I was driven by a spiritual adrenaline to reach more students with the Gospel. I remember the first time I said, "I can't" as well. It was debilitating, it was paralyzing, it wasn't fun to sit in.
That moment comes for every leader. The moment when you can let your insecurity, your fear of the unknown, your attitude of comparison keep you away from what could be.
Saying "I can't" has serious implications for you as a leader. Here are 3 I have experienced and seen over the years:
1. When you say "I can't" you are giving in to a growth barrier.
You have a limitless ceiling in leadership, ministry & personal growth. The biggest deterrent is our mindset and attitude towards the tasks or goals at hand. The quickest way to create a barrier for yourself is to say that you can't do something. Instead, ask yourself what are the steps you need to take to complete the task or grow in a specific area. You can, if you believe that you actually can.
2. When you say "I can't" you allow your fear to win
The reality is that we are all afraid of things in our lives. I have a fear of failure, people I know have a fear of letting others down or even a fear of things going really well and what that will mean for them. Fear is the unknown ruling the future. Fear has no place in your life. As a follower of Christ, there is no reason to fear anything. In 1 John 4:18, we read that perfect love (God's love for us) casts out all fear. The war is won and God has ordained your steps, get rid of fear and step into all that God has for you!
3. When you say "I can't" you will never know what could be
Its not ok to let what could be keep you from what could be. "What could be", might be the difference between someone hearing the Gospel and experiencing Jesus for the first time and not. "What could be", may be life changing for someone affected. Fear is the wall between what is and what could be; and that wall needs ripped down. Failure is fine when you learn and grow from it. Decide right now that fear will not keep you away from what could be.
You absolutely CAN! Dream BIG, try new things, go after something that seems like a long shot but don't let fear stand in your way! YOU GOT THIS!
Parents are often a source of frustration as a youth pastor. They either don't value your programming like they should or are highly critical of whats going on at the church. You have to get past the urge to not care about them. The truth is they care, and care a lot. They, more than likely, have no idea how to do your job and the nuances/pressure that goes with it. Instead of holding a grudge, being dismissive or writing them off, what if you started building bridges with the parents of the students at your church?
Here are a few things you can start doing right now to make parents a priority and communicate to them how important they are! (You can get all 21 ways to make parents a priority HERE!)
1. Value Them
Parents want to know that they are valued. They want to know that you don’t take them for granted, you don’t just want to use them and the resources they represent and that you don’t just want their signature on forms, so their kid can go to a trampoline house without threat of legal ramifications. Parents want to know that you value them as a parent, their family and maybe most of all their child that they are entrusting you with.
One of the biggest ways you show parents how much you value them is how much of an interest you take in their child’s life. The most significant investment you can make for the entire family is pouring into the students that call your student ministry home base.
Get to know the students that call your church their home church. The families that are highly invested at your church need to know that you value their student and the investment they are making. They will almost feel entitled to that treatment because of what they do for the church at large or because they give a lot to the church. You have to manage that tension by loving your students well and casting a great vision for parents and students. There is nothing you can do to value parents more than spending time with their student and their friends.
Get to know the students that have no church home but show up for your student ministry nights. For the students that walk through the doors without a church home you are the link between everyday life and the life changing message of Jesus. You can make such a massive difference in the lives of those families. I have seen families start coming to church because their middle schooler started showing up to student ministry nights. Those family’s lives were forever changed because of the investment made by you the youth pastor to get to know their student in a deep way.
What you can do today:
1. Get a group together for breakfast before school or just because. Nothing says quality time like all you can eat pancakes and random conversations.
2.Call new students and talk to their parents, thanking them for allowing them to be a part of the night and ask them if they have any questions. Open the door and let them in!
3.Go to your studentsevents, especially the ones that mean the most to them. Show up to a sporting event, musical, concert that your students are involved in and make sure you talk to the parents that are present.
Taking interest in their student tells parents that their family matters to you and that they are valuable.
2. Write Them
I don’t really know anyone that doesn't like to get meaningful mail. I’m not talking about the spam mail with the used car scratch off sweepstakes. I’m talking about those cards or letters that were hand written by someone that cares about you. Hand written notes let people know that you took time out of your busy day to think about them.
One of the most impactful things you can do is write handwritten notes to parents. Encourage them, let them know that you are available for them if they need anything, tell them how great their student is and make sure they know how to get a hold of you.
What would the trajectory of your ministry be if you valued families that much to write parents and encourage them as they journey down the difficult path of parenting teenagers?
You can get cheap stationary from any big box store or you can get postcards made pretty cheap from a number of different online vendors that can be branded with your student ministry logo. There are options there, just do something!
What you can do today:
Pick 5 families that pop into your mind and take 30 minutes and write them notes. As you are writing them make sure to pray for them as well. It’s a great opportunity to focus your prayers on specific families and what they are going through.
3. Encourage Them
Parenting a teenager can be downright discouraging. It only takes a few months of being a student pastor to figure out that some parents are feeling like they are failing at this parenting through the teenage years. One of the most valuable things you can as a student pastor is to encourage the parents in your ministry.
If you think about all the tough conversations you need to have with middle school and high school students, just multiply that by 100 and that’s a snapshot of parenting that age group. The majority of the time the parents in your ministry feel isolated and alone. They have to know they have someone cheering them on, someone to talk to, a group of people to bounce ideas off of.
Encourage the parents in your ministry by creating space for them. Encourage parents in your ministry by encouraging them verbally, through email, through a hand-written note. Encourage them by letting them know how you are seeing their teenager grow in their faith. Encourage them by gathering groups of parents together to have open conversations about issues they are going through. They have to know that what they are doing is enough (if it is). They have to know that it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Parents need to be encouraged and you are sitting, as the student pastor, in the perfect spot to make that happen.
What you can do today:
Start encouraging!!!! Get a list of all the families in your ministry and write one or two encouragement notes a week.
Think about a couple in your church, empty nesters, that would be willing to host a group of parents and lead them through a Godly parenting curriculum. This is an awesome way to build up your parents and use other parents in your church that have been there and done that to encourage and challenge
Don't wait to make parents know how much you care! Get a strategy around parents and try!
There are important relationships to manage at your church and then there is your relationship with your senior pastor. No relationship may be as grand of a dance as that one is. How you interact, serve & honor them is a really important part of being a leader in your church. The plight of some youth pastors is that their senior pastor never believed in them, supported them, had their back or just plain didn’t care about the ministry to the next generation. How can you have an amazing relationship with your senior pastor, where you look each other in the eye and care for what the other is doing in a meaningful way?
1. Follow Well
The senior or lead pastor at your church is constantly asking himself the question of “is anyone actually following my leading”? I am sure you can relate to that question, I know I can. I am my own worst critic and know that those inner voices have the power to paralyze me in my leadership if Im not proactive in leaning into Jesus. Your senior pastor is in the same boat. So, since you can relate, follow well. This means be supportive, encouraging, go the extra mile to show your senior pastor that you are all in to the vision of the church. The better you follow, the more trust gets established between you and the senior pastor. Trust is something that takes a lot of time to build and can be lost in an instant. Following well means to not give him a reason to not trust you. Have your senior pastors back in conversations. Stick your neck out on the line for them when you have an opportunity.
The majority of the relationship struggles between youth pastor and senior pastor stem from leadership tension. When you assume a follower mentality, that doesn’t mean you are not a dynamic leader yourself, that means that you understand leadership isn’t always about being in charge. Follow your senior pastor well and I guarantee your relationship with them will change for the better.
2. Serve Well
Depending on the dynamics of your specific church context you may wear more than one hat when it comes to responsibilities. The first church I served at I wore a bunch of different hats because, well, you have to to make things happen sometimes. I lead adult worship, helped out with our starting point class, did the youth ministry stuff and was involved in mens ministry on some level. You do what you need to do at your church to accomplish the mission that God has put in your heart. What I didn’t realize by wearing all of those different hats was that my senior pastor noticed and appreciated my attitude towards those roles. This servant attitude earned my extra points with my senior pastor and continued to build the trust between us in our relationship.
Serving God’s church well, in turn, serves your senior pastor well. When you do this without complaining, willingly and with a great attitude you propel your relationship with your senior pastor forward exponentially. Serving well may mean doing things that aren’t in your job description. Serving well may mean you need an attitude change. Serving well may mean you need to say “no” to some things so you can say “yes” to things that have more impact long term. You are the only one who knows how you can serve your senior pastor well. When you do, you will see your relationship with them grow!
(Obviously, there are leaders out there that don’t notice or don't care. These leaders need to be lovingly told and explained that the need to be aware, appreciative and grateful towards people who are serving well.)
The quickest way to build trust with your senior pastor is to crush it with teenagers at your church. Build a ministry that helps teenagers get to know Jesus and grow in their relationship with Him. Build a ministry that makes waves In the community for the Gospel, build a ministry that develops and empowers leaders to invest in this generation, build a ministry that is vital to the long term growth of the church. When you do your job well, you reflect your senior pastor’s leadership. (Regardless of if it really is an accurate reflection)
Growing your ministry to students, grows the church and in turn gives your senior pastor greater influence which should lead to a better relationship. So, GO CRUSH IT!
Be Humble, Hungry and Smart! Stay on the grind, love your family well and serve your senior pastor well.
Let me close by saying that there is a possibility that you are doing all of those things incredibly well and still getting no where. Don’t lose hope, keep working on building a bridge and working hard to honor the person in authority over you. If you ever need to have a conversation about this relationship and need someone unbiased, I am always available to chat!