How to Prepare for a Meeting With Your Senior Pastor
All ministries thrive when there is stability and health in leadership. Stability and health are inextricably linked to the relationship between the senior leader and the staff. One of the best things you can do for your ministry is to stay in the job for a long time, and one of the key ingredients in a long tenure is a great relationship with your senior pastor.
I served 10 years in youth ministry: four years with Young Life and six years as a church youth minister. Now I’ve switched roles to serve as a Rector (lead pastor), and I find myself sitting on the other side of the table meeting with our youth minister. Here’s what I can tell you from these experiences: Your weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annual meeting with your senior pastor is one of the most important things you do as a youth minister.
How often should this meeting take place?
This depends on the size of the church and your newness to the job. Small church and you’re brand new? You should meet every week. Large church and you’ve been there for five years? Meeting less frequently is probably just fine.
What do you want out of this meeting?
Now let’s be honest here. We can talk all day long about ministry strategy, but when we walk into this kind of meeting where there is a power differential, we are mostly bringing our deeply personal, intimate needs:
- To be seen: Does my senior pastor know how hard I work? How much I care? How important this ministry is to the life of the church?
- To be understood: Does my senior pastor “get” me? Understand my personal story? Remember things about my life that I’ve shared?
- To be respected: Does my senior pastor think I’m doing a good job? That I’m talented? That I’m a hard worker?
- To be valued: Does my senior pastor think of me and my ministry as essential to the mission and life of the church?
These are just a few of the deep, soul-level needs underneath the surface-level ministry program needs that all of us bring to every meeting. And while this may be natural, we absolutely must remember that our work and our relationships with coworkers can never give us the fulfillment and belonging we crave. These built-in needs can only be met by God himself through the good news of the gospel. If you walk into this meeting not only aware of your needs but also remembering the identity you’ve been given by God’s grace to you in Jesus, then you will be prepared for a crucial reversal.
The Crucial Reversal
You cannot control your senior pastor and it would be folly to try. If you truly want to be seen, understood, respected, and valued, then the absolute best thing you can do is to genuinely offer all of these to him or her, freely, with grace. If you are someone who consistently seeks to embody these virtues towards your senior pastor, you will likely receive them in return.
When I was a youth minister, I thought I could criticize and complain my way into a better relationship. Shockingly, it did not work.
We can acknowledge that in order for this to be a healthy relationship, the senior pastor must be a vulnerable, humble leader who creates a safe space for employees. After all, the coercive bullying of many top leaders (including pastors) is well documented.
Before the meeting
- Arrive 1 minute early. Any earlier is annoying and your senior pastor is likely working on something else and not yet ready for the meeting. Any later is late—and late is bad.
- Dress: Dress older, classier, and more conservatively than normal. This is not a moment for self-expression. Your clothes communicate respect to the person you’re meeting with.
- Here are four categories of content to consider:
- Affirmations: One or two things you’ve appreciated about your senior pastor’s leadership recently.
- Updates: Successes and failures that have taken place in your ministry recently.
- Feedback: One or two areas where you would appreciate constructive feedback on decisions or actions you’ve taken.
- Questions: Areas where you could use some advice and counsel.
During the Meeting
- Your Opening Line: You might consider beginning with something like, “I have some things that I would like to talk about, but first – is there anything you would like to talk about?” This communicates that you’ve come prepared, but you graciously defer to your boss.
- Affirm (but don’t flatter): There is a crucial difference. Note one or two things that you saw your senior pastor do well recently that meant something to you and say thank you. This will go a long way. Odds are, most of his or her meetings early that day have not included affirmation.
- Celebrate Wins: What has gone well in your area of ministry that your senior pastor should know about?
- Own Losses: What has not gone well, and how are you taking responsibility and learning from it?
- Ask for advice, but don’t offload problems: Asking advice dignifies your senior pastor by showing that you value his or her wisdom. This will likely lead to an intellectually stimulating conversation with a give and take of ideas. This is different from offloading your problems on to your boss. It’s healthy to honestly share areas of struggle and weakness and ask for prayer and counsel. It’s unhealthy to complain/whine/gripe/kvetch about ministry.
- Note the next meeting time: Make sure you know the date of your next meeting before you leave and ask if there’s anything in particular you should accomplish before then.
- Say thank you.
After the Meeting: Go straight to your calendar or planner and make notes of everything you promised to do.
This isn’t a sure-fire recipe. The relationship you have with your senior pastor may be a difficult one. He or she is a sinner and is therefore guaranteed to disappoint from time to time. However, if you are pursuing your senior pastor to see, understand, respect, and value him or her, if you are showing up early, affirming, asking great questions, and following through on what you say you’ll do, odds are this relationship will grow and flourish. When that happens, you’ll find yourself in a job you can stay in for a long time and a ministry that, therefore, has every chance to thrive.