Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’Matthew 16:24
As youth leaders, we live in the tension of this verse. We listen to leadership podcasts, attend leadership conferences, and strive to become stronger leaders. Yet Jesus says our primary object as His disciple is to follow Him.
We’re also called to respect and follow the leaders and pastors above us, as Hebrews 13:17 explains:
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.
This is especially challenging when we have a bold, Gospel Advancing ministry vision—and the senior pastor doesn’t seem to be onboard.
So, how do we balance the two seemingly opposite ideas of following and leading? And how do we help our senior pastor see the importance of our plans? In short, through humility.
Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the Lord, and humility comes before honor.Proverbs 15:33
It takes putting aside your ego and really listening to others. It takes growing in respect and love for those you’re following. It takes identifying areas in your own leadership that are weak or missing.
Recently Jurie Kriel, leader and cofounder of the global organization NXT Move discussed this topic on The Greg Stier Youth Ministry Podcast. Here are a few tips he offered on how to approach your senior pastor that came out of that conversation:
Remember you’re on the same team.
“When youth leaders get pushback from senior leadership, it’s usually because they don’t understand what the youth pastor is trying to do,” Jurie says.
“When that happens, it’s the youth pastor’s job to follow well by clearly and respectfully explaining your vision, as often as necessary—an approach that’s sometimes called ‘leading up.’” It involves owning the responsibility to shape their understanding of how, together, you’re going to win. If you can help them understand the win, they’ll want you to win,” he explains. It just takes good communication and a reminder to yourself that you’re on the same team.
Another struggle with communication—whether it’s with your senior pastor, an elder-board member, or even a network leader—is recognizing the level of relationship you have with that person.
Relationship take time. Sometimes building trust takes a lot longer than we want it to, but it’s worth it. We all know senior pastors (and youth pastors) are busy, but try to get to know your senior pastor. Ask him about his personal life; ask him how you can serve him more; ask him what his biggest challenges are currently.
“Never try to drive a 10-ton truck of responsibility over a 5-ton bridge of relationship,” Jurie wisely advises. “You’ve got to build that relationship, but at some point, you’ve got to drive a truck over it.”
“Everybody’s writing about leadership,” Jurie says. “What we should be writing about is followership. I work with leadership organizations and leaders around the world, but the skill that is lost is followership.”
Followership can be difficult to understand, but here are some steps you can take to become a better follower:
- Invest time in prayer about what it means to follow, especially when it comes to your senior pastor.
- Read (or listen to) a book on listening, so that you can grow in your approach and listening style.
- Invite your senior leader to listen to testimonies from your volunteer leaders or students about how the Gospel Advancing strategies you’ve implemented have made a difference.
- Invite your senior leader to attend one of your volunteer youth-leader meetings to see the progress you’ve made. Consider asking him to lead a prayer or do a devo for the group.