Working With a Difficult Senior Pastor


Children’s ministry was Ann’s life, and her first year at a new
church was a honeymoon. All her requests were granted. Then, when
her ministry started taking off, the honeymoon soured. Her senior
pastor became a dictator, telling her who she could and couldn’t
talk to, demanding blow-by-blow descriptions of everything she did,
and even criticizing the way she dressed.

“I couldn’t reason with him,” Ann says. “And his decisions
weren’t always in the best interests of the children and their

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As Ann’s ministry grew, her jealous senior pastor felt like he
was losing his authority. So he cut out some of Ann’s flourishing
programs and said she was too aggressive.

After Ann resigned, her male replacement — whom she had trained
— did everything she had tried to do but the senior pastor had


Unfortunately, Ann’s situation isn’t unique. If you’ve been in
children’s ministry awhile, you’ve probably had at least one tough
experience with a senior pastor. And if you’re a newcomer to the
field, it’s bound to happen to you eventually. Everyone’s negative
situations differ. But they all threaten your ministry to

Working with children makes you vulnerable to certain types of
conflicts with your senior pastor, such as:

*Perception problems — Problems can arise from the perception
that children’s ministers are on the low end of a church’s totem
pole. Ann experienced this. Rather than being treated as a peer,
she was treated as a lesser person worthy of domination.

*Misunderstandings — Not every senior pastor will agree with
you about the importance of children’s ministry. Pete’s senior
pastor thinks Pete wastes time on fun events with children.

“He thinks it’s total fun, which means nothing spiritual at all
can happen,” Pete says. “But I feel like it has spiritual
significance and that point is being lost with my senior

*Expectations — A distortion of the children’s minister’s role
can also be a problem. Ruth worked with a senior pastor who
expected her to do things that made him look good. She took on one
major commitment she didn’t have time for because her senior pastor
convinced her it would be “a good feather in our cap.”

Ruth remembers that commitment “was almost the end of my
ministry. Everything else suffered — Sunday school, my ministry to
volunteers, and more.”


Conflicts with a difficult senior pastor can take your focus off
your ministry’s goals and put it onto personal survival. Tough
environments take a toll on you emotionally and professionally.

*Emotional impact — Ann discovered that her personality changed
as she dealt with her senior pastor. “I let him dictate to me to
the point that I became another person,” she says. She withdrew
emotionally and eventually fell into a depression that required a
monthlong hospitalization — during which her senior pastor never
came to visit.

*Professional impact — A difficult senior pastor can
drastically harm your ministry to children. Maria’s senior pastor
was threatened by her ministry’s growth and by her relationships
with congregation members. He tried to undercut the children’s
ministry by speaking negatively about it in public. As a result,
Maria stopped reaching out and stopped confronting and challenging

“I even would avoid talking to him because it was considerably
painful for me,” she says.


Problem-solving strategies will yield different results for
different situations, depending on your particular problem, your
personality, and your senior pastor. But here are battle-tested
tips from veterans to help you deal with problems:

*Withstand pressure. Ruth now realizes that children’s workers
shouldn’t do things they can’t handle — even when pressured.
Looking back, she wishes she would’ve appealed to the senior pastor
and her church’s education board about her overloaded schedule.

“It’s for the kids’ benefit,” Ruth says. “If you’re so busy
doing what the senior pastor wants you to do, then your ministry to
the kids is suffering.”

*Pray. Maria says she wishes she would’ve undergirded her
children’s ministry more in prayer. But you may not be able to
expect that prayer to come during times with the senior pastor.
Maria’s senior pastor “wasn’t interested in praying as a

*Build a support system. One thing that helped Maria was finding
support systems outside the congregation. “That helped give me
perspective,” she says. “And it helped me realize that I was still
gifted; that this was not all my fault.”

Pete found support from other adults in his church about his
conflicts with the senior pastor. “It wasn’t like I was trying to
go behind his back. I was just trying to find out: Am I the one
who’s wrong here? Do I need to change my thinking?”

*Leave. If Maria hadn’t known her senior pastor was retiring,
she would’ve left the congregation. “I really think that sometimes
it’s okay to leave. If you’re beaten down spiritually, personally,
emotionally, then even with a successful program around you, you
can’t grow.”

Stephanie Dyslin is an editorial technician for CHILDREN’S
MINISTRY Magazine.
*All names have been changed.


Are you struggling with a difficult senior pastor? Dr. Mary
Ellen Drushal, academic dean at Ashland Theological Seminary and
author of On Tablets of Human Hearts, suggests the following:

To prevent problems:

*Ask many questions during your job interview, including, “How
will conflicts be resolved?”
*Notice if the senior pastor avoids eye contact with you or treats
you condescendingly.
*Follow up the interview with a typed memo of understandings,
expectations, and job requirements.

When problems do occur:

*Document everything — phone conversations, memos, and
instructions. Documentation will protect you from memory lapses and
false accusations.
*Confide in one or two carefully selected people, but don’t gossip
to gain support.
*Apply Matthew 18 in confronting. Go to your senior pastor in
private first, and if that doesn’t work, take along one or two
other people.
*If you’re wrong, submit and apologize.
*Don’t become defensive. Jesus let his record stand for itself.

When nothing else works:

*It’s okay to leave a position when irreconcilable differences
exist between you and the senior pastor.
*No one should suffer verbal, emotional, or physical abuse by a
senior pastor. If that happens, seek other employment.
*If dealing with the senior pastor becomes equal to the weight of
your other tasks, then it’s time to look for a new position. Shake
the dust off your feet and keep walking.

Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and
prices are subject to change.

Working With a Difficult Senior Pastor
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