Editor’s Note:Doug Franklin is a sneaky-smart catalyst for leadership development in teenagers. Every time I spend time with him, I come away wanting to tell others what he’s just told me. He’s collected his wisdom the hard way—the true way—in the challenging trenches of relational ministry with teenagers. Just out of Wheaton College he got his foothold in ministry as a small-group leader for his church’s junior high group. After six years of this he quit his job to become a full-time youth pastor at a church plant. Soon he noticed that a small investment in leadership development yielded huge returns in kids’ lives, so after he couldn’t find the resources he was looking for, he began producing them himself. Eventually, that momentum led him to start his own resourcing organization in 1994, called LeaderTreks.
Fields:How do you define leadership development? It’s a phrase that’s used a lot, but what does it have to do with discipleship?
Franklin:For me, leadership development is principles plus experience equals transformation. Students don’t just need to hear a principle; they need to live it out. They need to be in a laboratory where they can be mentored and where they can be debriefed—where they can understand what they’re going through and what they’re learning. It’s a principle that we find in God’s Word— the principle of integrity. You can’t grow as a leader unless you actually practice as a leader.
Fields:So you’re saying that truth that’s then lived out in an experience is the way people become transformed?
Franklin:That’s about right. And I think that’s true spiritually and true with leadership.
Fields:So you started this effort, raising the waterline of leadership development with teenagers, and somewhere along the way you decided that it was important to address the senior-pastor/youth-pastor relationship. It was so important to you that wrote a whole book about it—The Disconnect: Bridging the Youth Pastor and Senior Pastor Gap. There are so many things that you could choose to focus on, so why would you focus on this relationship?
Franklin:Because of all the comments that I heard from youth workers over the years. As I would go on an event to do training for leadership development I would hear these stories of pain and hurt. So many were wanting to leave youth ministry because of broken expectations with their senior pastor. It just became overwhelming, to the point where I had to prepare myself mentally to interact with youth workers on the topic of their relationship with church leadership.
Fields:So this was kind of thrown in your lap because you were hearing about problems and wounds so much?
Franklin:That’s correct. And I began to see the effect it was having on youth ministry. I saw really solid youth workers who were leaving ministry because of a lack of mentoring from senior pastors. It just became overwhelming.
Fields:I would imagine after having heard those stories of pain over and over again that it would be easy to demonize senior pastors. How did you wrestle with that?
Franklin:(laughs) For the 12 years that I was a youth worker, I knew that there were always two sides to the story. I wish I could’ve said it was all the senior pastors’ fault, but I knew better. I know that in our immaturity and in our lack of experience as youth workers we can really ruffle the feathers of a senior pastor or church leadership. Experience told me that youth workers needed to understand more where their senior pastors are coming from.
Fields:What are some of the sources of tension in this relationship?
Franklin:I think the biggest one is communication. Sometimes I think senior pastors are not sure how to communicate with their youth pastor. So they tend to ask the same question: “How are your numbers?” That’s not the most important thing to them, but they can’t think of anything else to ask. And so a youth pastor walks away from that interaction thinking: All he cares about is numbers; I care about hearts.
Another area where I see a lot of tension is shared mission. The senior pastor is focused on ministering to families, and the youth worker is focused on ministering to families, but they do it very, very differently. Another area that we heard as we talked to senior pastors and youth workers around the country was money—there’s a big disconnect on how they view money. The last area of tension was around the issue of respect. Senior pastors tend to think that respect comes from time served—“I’ve been at this church 20 years, so I am due respect.” When we talked to youth workers we heard them say, “I’ll respect somebody who’s had impact.” Those two views of respect have created a large disconnect between youth pastors and senior pastors.
Fields:Maybe you could paint a picture for me in each of those areas that you’ve mentioned of what the tension looks like. For example, if they see money differently what does the tension look like?
Franklin:Money-wise, is the job of the youth worker to sacrifice or is it the job of the church to take care of the financial concerns of the youth worker? Those two things get mixed up in the youth worker’s head. The youth worker thinks that there’s a high value to sacrifice for the cause of Christ. Often senior pastors don’t want to talk about money, or they actually want to let the youth worker make financial sacrifices for “the cause.” So the youth worker wonders, “Should I talk about my financial problems with the senior pastor, or should I be a good solider and sacrifice?” That tension becomes a huge frustration and stress for the youth worker.
In the area of communication, the tension comes from not enough time to really get to know one another. Relationship is about time and fellowship—it’s getting to know one another. In the area of shared vision, the youth pastor and senior pastor often forget that they’re on the same mission together. The vision needs to be communicated clearly from both people, the same way. A shared vision comes from having clear understanding of what the mission is.
Fields:So battles break out over expectations that are assumed and therefore often broken?
Franklin:Yes. I don’t think that youth workers listen well to what the church expects upfront. I think they want a job, so they go into it. But I don’t think that many youth workers ever ask in their interview: “What are your expectations of me?” They ask about the expectations of the program, they talk about their expectations of the students, but very rarely do they start a new job and know what the expectations are of them.
Fields:What are some of the expectations that youth pastors feel ambushed by once they have the job?
Franklin:Administrative work at the church and multiple responsibilities—for example, the senior pastor may want help from the youth pastor with weddings, funerals, and different obligations of the church. And the youth worker thinks: I’m just here to build relationships. In lots of my interviews I found a broken expectation relative to communicating with parents. I talked to one senior pastor who said his youth pastor had 27 unanswered calls in his voicemail, and when he was confronted, the youth pastor told the senior pastor, “Hey I handed out a calendar—I don’t need to answer these phone calls.”
Fields:So can you diagnose for me the path toward conflict that you’ve seen repeated in these situations?
Franklin:It’s a lack of mentoring on the part of the senior pastor in the life of the youth pastor.I use the word “life” with youth workers instead of “youth ministry skills.” They need somebody to mentor them, not for just youth ministry’s sake, but for the Kingdom’s sake. They probably have very little of the practical skills they need to be a leader in the church. The expectation that many young youth workers have is that when they get into their church, their senior pastor will spend time mentoring them as a Christian leader, and that doesn’t happen. Senior pastors are too busy. They’ve got a lot of other things on their plate—they’ve got circles of care inside their church.
Fields:What is it that you’re trying to convey to senior pastors?
Franklin:Engage. Many of them have walked this road with no help. Their senior pastors didn’t reach out to them when they were young pastors. And so there has been a tradition of not supporting one another. In my book I put an activity for youth pastors and senior pastors to do at the end of each chapter—together—so they can begin to engage about this. The key to all of this is engaging with one another.
Fields:You’re really describing a pastoral relationship between the senior pastor and the youth pastor instead of what we might characterize as a business relationship.
Franklin:Yeah, exactly. And I don’t think it takes all that much to close the gap.
Fields:What are some of the things that could close the gap?
Franklin:I think being involved with each other socially would help tremendously.Also, it’s good to share in each other’s ministry—or cross-training, whatever you want to call it. It means the senior pastor spends some time in the youth ministry and the youth worker spends some time in church leadership, so they could understand each other’s worlds.
Also, I think core-value exercises are very important. Most churches operate on the core values of the senior pastor. So the youth worker needs to get to know the senior pastor’s core values. The senior pastor is the person that God has put in the position to lead the church, and so the values that they have are values that God has given them to help lead the church. The youth worker needs to get to know those values.
Fields:How does a youth worker come to know their senior pastor’s values?
Franklin:I have an exercise in the book called “Discover Your Core Values”—it’s an experience that they go through together, looking at 100 different core values. They answer a series of questions and reduce their values down, down, down to about five core values each. And then they share these values and talk about how they live them out, together.
Fields:So what do you say to youth pastors about their role in this relationship?
Franklin:The first thing I want to say is—get to know the “why” behind what your senior pastor is doing. If you can understand the “why” better you’re going to understand their actions better. The second thing is, and this is an important one for youth workers, they need to support the vision of the senior pastor. That senior pastor is called by God to lead that ministry and they need to support it. If they can’t support it, I think they’ve got to do some deep prayer and reflection about what they’re doing at that church. But one thing they have to understand is that it’s not up for grabs at that church.
Fields:One of youth pastors’ common complaints is: “I have a vision, too, and the senior pastor’s not open to it.”
Franklin:Right, right. That’s not our role in the church. That may be our role in the youth ministry, but that vision needs to work inside of the bigger vision the senior pastor has. And I think it has a lot to do with the hiring process. Not a lot of churches get the hiring process right, and a lot of youth workers don’t get the hiring process right. They try to get a job, and then they want to work on the vision and the mission of the church. It doesn’t work that way.
Fields:What would you say to a youth pastor who’s taken a job and thought they understood the vision of the church, but once they start working the job they realize: Oh, that was kind of a bait-and-switch; it isn’t really the vision I thought I was buying into. Is their only option to eventually leave that vision, or is there anything that youth pastor can do in their relationship with their senior pastor to progress that vision?
Franklin:First and foremost, go to your senior pastor and explain the situation. Sure, I’ve heard nightmare stories of this—that a youth pastor does this and gets fired the next day. But in a good church with good leadership you can engage the leadership about your concerns. In starting that conversation, you need to say: “I am sold out to serving you, and I will serve you every day that I’m here, but can I talk to you about some of the concerns that I have and why I have them?” The period of engagement might be anywhere from three months to 12 months. If the alignment can’t happen, the youth worker needs to come to the understanding that they don’t share the same values as the congregation and the church. They may need to seek other employment.
Fields:On both sides of this relationship a lot of assumptions are made, and assumptions often lead to judgments.
Franklin:The one really sad thing is I think that the assumption is starting to creep into youth ministry that it’s okay to disrespect your senior pastor.At its core the problem is that 40- and 50-year-olds have a different value system than 20-year-olds have. The second thing is, disrespectful things get repeated and celebrated within the youth ministry community. You hear some leaders in youth ministry say a joke or two about it and you all of a sudden think it’s okay to bash your senior pastor. If you hear enough times that all senior pastors are wrong, you start to believe it.
Fields:Often senior pastor jokes are like a staple at youth ministry conferences. It’s a guaranteed laugh.
Franklin:Yeah, so what does a young youth worker think when he or she is at one of those conferences and hears that? They start to think: Oh, this is just the way we talk when we’re together. Then they go back to their church and they repeat a few of those jokes to adult volunteers and before long it’s “us against them.” It’s “big church against little church.”
Fields:What do you mean?
Franklin:Big church is the church that the adults go to that’s run by the senior pastor, and little church is the church that’s run by the youth pastor and his adult volunteers and the students. And never shall the two worlds clash. I mean, we would never do anything together. So the adults have a big event going on and so they ask the student ministry to help, and the response is: “How dare you? That is so disrespectful—we’re not just nursery workers.” And the youth group is going on a mission trip and the teenagers need fundraising help, but the adults are like: “You can fund-raise, but you need to fund-raise from people who don’t go to this church.”This big church/little church, and it’s a destructive way to see the church as a whole.
Fields:So, to wrap-up, let’s say you have two minutes with a few youth pastors—what would you say to them about their relationship with their senior pastor?
Franklin:I’d go back to what Jesus said about unity—without unity, the church is ineffective. And I would plead with them that their highest priority must be unity with their senior pastor. Unity comes from youth pastors serving their pastor’s vision—that’s where it all starts.
Fields:I love the humility of what you’re describing on both sides.