The first couple years in youth ministry can be a trying time for many youth workers. At times it seems like each step could potentially have a hidden landmine underneath. While the most obvious landmines are easy to identify—staying within budget, maintaining appropriate boundaries with students, and communicating clearly with parents—one of the most dangerous ones often catches many new youth workers off-guard.
One of the biggest mistakes new youth workers can make is failing to fully understand their relationship with their supervisors.
Maybe the supervisor is the senior pastor, or maybe it’s another staff member. Regardless, there seems to often be a misunderstanding about the real nature of this relationship. I think many new youth workers fail to understand that this relationship is more like a “boss/employee” relationship than they may have expected.
Now, many youth workers with whom I broach this topic offer plenty of push back. They claim that the church shouldn’t be so hierarchical, and that God has called them to this position just as he’s called their supervisor. While both these points may be true, it doesn’t change the fact that in most of our churches the boss/employee dynamic defines the nature of the relationship between the youth worker and his or her supervisor.
In so many of our local churches, regardless of denomination, there is a structure for staff relationships. For many of us, this results in that little portion at the bottom of our job descriptions that tells us who we report to. This is your supervisor. When it comes to the daily carrying out of your ministry duties, this is whom you report to. He or she is the one who evaluates your “performance.” And based on your effectiveness (or lack of), he or she could be an advocate for you or against you.
It’s been my observation that for whatever reason, this idea of a seems to chafe some of my friends just starting out in youth ministry. Maybe this perspective is so challenging because our sin nature rebels against authority, a fact each of us proves over and over again throughout our lives. The idea that we’d rebel against the idea of a supervisor isn’t foreign.
But, once we realize that our supervisor’s task is simply to hold us accountable for the job we were hired to do, succeeding becomes a true possibility. In fact, I would suggest that having someone over you in authority is actually an amazing gift. We need people with more experience, age, and wisdom to help us do our job better, shepherding us through (or sometimes around) challenging situations, and holding us accountable to the job we were hired to do.
Often, breakdowns happen when we think we don’t need someone else’s input, and/or that their accountability is unfair. This sets us up for failure. This resistance rarely has a negative impact on anyone but us. Much like the student who tells the teacher, “I’ll show you! I’m not going to study or do homework,” it’s the student who finds himself facing the consequences.
With all this in mind, here are five thoughts to help you embrace the structure and accountability of the supervisor/employee relationship, and in the process, develop an advocate for you and your ministry:
- Do a good job as defined by your job description, and by your supervisor's input
- Show your supervisor respect, both to them personally and to their authority
- Seek out ways to help them in their areas of responsibility
- Ask for their advice
- Listen to your supervisor's feedback and when possible, implement it
If you’re a new youth worker, demonstrating a willingness to learn and be led oftentimes paves the way for your supervisor to become a partner, advocate, and friend who will empower you to do ministry even better and with more effectiveness.
My prayer for all of us, new and old, is that we would die to our rebellious natures and be a true blessing to those who have authority over us.