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. - Hebrews 13.17
When I started out in youth ministry, I didn’t necessary understand what it meant to be under authority. I was a product of postmodernism and a huge fan of the band Rage Against The Machine which both taught me to reject authority in virtually all forms. To have a senior pastor or an elder board who were highly religious, boring, dogmatic and professional tell me what to do didn’t exactly make sense to me. I was reaching unchurched kids, so why should I obey their irrelevant, old, unfriendly senior leadership ways? Plus they didn’t like me, so why should I like them? It was easier if they just minded their own ministry business and leave me alone so I could lead the youth ministry.
However, somewhere between ministry year 1 and 2– I began to realize obeying my senior leaders’ authority is something I sucked at. No matter what they told me to do, I would do the exact opposite. Time after time I was disrespectful to those in charge and I started to openly admit I had “submission to authority issues”. The ironic thing is— the more I talked to student pastors, the more I realized most student pastors have issues submitting to their senior leadership too. It is really HARD submitting under senior leadership when you don’t like, trust and respect them.
Submitting under senior leadership is not a sign of weakness and conformity but rather a demonstration of obeying God’s authoritarian structure for His church.
In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu all participants are encouraged to “tapout” when they feel uncomfortable or out of control when sparring (rolling) with their opponnent. It doesn’t matter if you are strong, wise, sharp, quick, althletic or the best BJJ submission specialist you will eventually have to tap and admit someone now has authority over you.
The same thing is true for youth pastors. It doesn’t matter if you are sharp, theologically trained, a better speaker, better looking, a better leader, smooth talker, stronger, funnier and healthier you will need to admit your senior pastor and elders are OVER you.
I get it— most youth pastors work with senior leaders in their church who they don’t want to be like and hate bowing down to their authority. I can totally relate. I have had 1 senior pastor that I served under who I didn’t necessary like serving under. But I had to eventually figure out how I could still honor and respect his poor leadership. It is tough but doable with the right attitude. The key is surrounding yourself with other leaders who you do respect.
Or you may be on the opposite side of the submission to authority spectrum. You may be in an amazing and healthy church context and you love and respect your senior leaders so it is very easy for you to submit under their leadership. My encouragement to the youth pastors who are in healthier contexts, is to be very thankful. You are in an unqiue position, so just be grateful you are serving under leaders who you love. In fact, stop reading this post and go give your senior pastor a hug (if you are a female youth pastor or you have a female senior pastor — make sure to give them a side hug not a full frontal hug).
My encouragement to the feisty and stubborn youth pastor population is to stay under authority. One of the best senior pastors in America, Andy Stanley says to youth pastors:
You will never be over authority if you don’t know how to be under authority.
If you do not enjoy submitting to your senior leaders’ authority— consister it a blessing because you are in a huge leadership learning lab. You will learn more submitting under lousy authority than you do submitting to great authority. Honestly this is why at such an early stage in my ministry career I began to read a lot of books about leadership. I wanted to figure it out how a great leader leads and why people are willing to submit under leaders authority. When you are submitting under lousy authority you will learn what NOT to do, begin to develop a balanced and healthy leadership approach and you will go out of your way to greatly appreciate the leaders who are serving under your authority. Plus if your youth group students see you respect and submit to your senior authority, they will begin to submit to your authority.
When being a youth pastor it is all about learning and submitting. Wheather you like this reality or not this is part of the youth pastor’s job description and, more importantly, it is a theological mandate.
We have to embrace this authority structure and we must be under authority and never venture outside of it.