Youth workers are in a perpetual state of middle management – you will never “arrive.” In fact, I’d say that if you can’t be a good #2, you wouldn’t be a good youth worker. We have to live in that constant tension of strong leadership and absolute humility. Here are a few fresh thoughts about leading from beneath I’m feeling in my church right now:

Leading up is increasingly rare
Too many youth workers are finding it acceptable to just take care of their little slice of the ministry (called Youth Ministry Island) and leave big church to fend for itself. They hide behind leadership missives like “laser-focusing” on their area and having to say “no” to some things in order to be healthy. And while those are true, letting your church run aground while you’re onboard is a terrible misstep.

Leaders lead from wherever they are
I’ve worked with people who are waiting for the magical knighthood where they can now finally lead. If you are waiting for someone to tell you that you are a leader … it will be a super frustrating season of ministry for you. Lead! Push! Drive! Go! Genuine leaders, not posers who wait for status or position, lead from the middle, the behind, the front – wherever they find themselves at that moment. Leading up will cause tension, but healthy tension brings about better decision-making.

Leading up helps those above see a missing perspective
Here’s why you need to lead from the middle: your senior pastor isn’t seeing the full picture. He or she has blind spots in areas that your perspective let’s you see perfectly. How dare you let them fail while predicting the net failure quietly from the silent middle? I am fully aware of the problem of senior leaders who don’t listen to their people – they exist in every church and I’m guilty of it, too. But leading from the middle.

A few parting thoughts about leading from the middle:

  • It may be interpreted as insubordination at first. In fact, it probably will be.
  • Some people will wish you would take a rowboat back to Youth Ministry Island and never come back.
  • If you bring up problems, you better have some ideas that may work as solutions.
  • Your church will be healthier when you lead up.

Blessings as you lead from the middle today!

JG

This month I got to contribute another Slant33 article on the topic of leaving a youth ministry. There are a couple of great responses to the question, wise words from Tash McGill and Ian McDonald. Here’s a clip of what I shared there as well:

Leave at the right time. It isn’t always possible, but leaving at a natural break is best. The end of summer is ideal but not always possible. But even more than leaving at the right time in the calendar, pray through leaving at the right time in the church culture as well. Stay too long after you know you’re done, and it’ll be painfully obvious. Leave too soon, and you’ll blindside people.

Make the transition short. I understand the need for a transition time to help prepare students or ensure a peaceful exchange of leadership, but there’s nothing worse than a lame duck who is out but still in. Pray through the timing of your announcement and the timing of your last day. Typically I wouldn’t put these more than a month or two apart at the most.

JG



I was asked to contribute to the fantastic Slant33 blog this past week – the question was, about practical help for observing the Sabbath and rest. Here’s a clip of the answer I wrote, be sure to check out the other thoughts on the subject over there, too!

NONNEGOTIABLE: A DAY OFF. Try to reach me on a Monday. Go ahead. You’re probably going to be disappointed! Monday is the day I sleep in, making sure my phone is turned off and disconnected from the needy ministry world around me. From Sunday at about 2:00 p.m. until Tuesday morning’s team meeting, I’m disconnected. Sometimes I’ll even leave the house for the day just to not be around if someone drops by. I’m crafty like that. If I’m going to be in ministry for years, I’ve got to take some days along the way.

NONNEGOTIABLE: TIME WITH GOD/CHURCH. I go to church every week. Worst-case scenario, I watch it online or listen to the mp3. Part of my Sabbath has to include being fed, despite complete exhaustion after teaching youth services all weekend myself. I remember, in the early days of our ministry, we even sneaked away to other churches on off nights to worship in places where no one knew me as pastor. It was glorious. Again, so sneaky, I know.

JG

I contribute occasionally to the Slant33 blog where they ask 3 youth ministry voices to chime in on the same topic. This week’s topic is leading from the middle and Kara Powell, Chris Folmsbee and I all discuss it. Here’s a clip from my section, head there for all three takes:

Leading up helps those above see a missing perspective. Here’s why you need to lead from the middle: Your senior pastor isn’t seeing the full picture. He or she has blind spots in areas that your perspective lets you see perfectly. How dare you let them fail while predicting the net failure quietly from the silent middle? I am fully aware of the problem of senior leaders who don’t listen to their people. They exist in every church, and I’m guilty of it too. But that doesn’t mean you should stop leading from the middle.

A few parting thoughts about leading from the middle: It may be interpreted as insubordination at first. In fact, it probably will be. Some people will wish you would take a rowboat back to Youth Ministry Island and never come back. If you bring up problems, you better have some ideas that may work as solutions. Your church will be healthier when you lead up.

JG



From time to time I’m asked to contribute to the Slant33 blog and this week this scenario was presented: A parent complains about a recent youth group event; how do you respond? Here’s the first half of my timeless wisdom on the subject:

Easiest question in youth ministry history! Seriously?

The first thing you should do is ignore the parent as long as possible. You are taking some well-deserved time off after the world’s Best Overnighter in the History of the Universe (TM). Here’s a handy rating scale to let you know how seriously you should take the criticism they level at you:

If the complaint comes via voicemail… Listen carefully to the voicemail, then shake it off and go back to relaxing. A voicemail tells you that the person is 50+ years old, and to help them take a technological baby step, you need to delay returning the call for at least 48 hours. Unless, of course, they name-drop a key elder, deacon, or even hint they might go over your head to the senior pastor. Deduct 1 hour from the projected response time for each time they cry or scream in the message.

If the complaint comes via written letter…
Don’t even open it for a few days. Snail mail, really? Did someone use a Portal gun and drop me back in 1974? After a few days, simply toss the letter in the trash then claim it must have been “lost in the mail,” and when you see them across the pews, just say you are so sorry you didn’t respond earlier, but you had no idea.

If the complaint comes via text message… Quickly reply with a short apology and promise to make everything right within 24 hours. This is to honor a parent who knows how to text and is also savvy enough to spread some serious thumbs down on social media if you don’t jump into action.

Obviously meant to be funny … lots more of the answer on the Slant blog if you want to head over there to catch it. HA!

JG