This week Cindy Fiala, family pastor and leadership coach, joins hosts Mike, Gina, and Kellen discuss healthy ways to lead up.


Welcome to the Orange Kids Podcast, where we talk kids’ ministry and discuss practical solutions to our weekly challenges. This week Cindy Fiala, family pastor and leadership coach, joins hosts Mike, Gina, and Kellen discuss healthy ways to lead up.

If you’re curious about the contents of Kellen’s Starbucks cup (Holy Spirit, maybe?) or the quality of Mike Clear’s podcast voice (sultry, definitely), this is the place for you.

Gina gets us on track to welcome an incredible ministry leader to the podcast: Cindy Fiala.

Cindy: I’ve been in fulltime ministry for 16 years. I’m living proof it doesn’t matter how old you are for God to call you into the ministry. I was 42.

Cindy started as a children’s director in a portable church in New Mexico. It rapidly grew to four campuses. She next served as a family pastor at a church in Cristo, Texas. This church grew from one thousand to five thousand. Cindy thought she would retire there.

However, she was then called to Colorado, and helped to start a church plant. She is now the executive pastor over ministry now, and loves developing leaders and seeing people catch the wind and fly in ministry.

1. As kid min leaders, we have an executive leader we report to. What does it look like to lead up well?

Mike: It feels you’re trying to get your executive leaders to notice you. Sometimes in kid min leadership, I wouldn’t hear from my senior leadership unless I did something wrong.

There are three separate things to consider in relating to a senior leader.

  1. You’re always going to need something (money, space, resources).
  2. What do you do when a problem comes up?
  3. How do you get a senior leader to notice you in a way that is not just reactionary (something’s wrong)?

Cindy: When I first stepped into fulltime ministry, I started calling other leaders around the country and asking if I could have 10 minutes of their time. I always asked: “Tell me what you’ve done wrong so I can learn from your mistakes. I don’t know what I don’t know.”

I’m a strong 3 on the Enneagram. I can push forward so fast that I forget what it’s like to be on the other side of me. I would just barge in to my senior leadership like bull in a china factory and make demands, advocating for my ministry area.

When you know there’s something you need for your ministry, don’t just walk in and lay down the law. A senior leader needs you to come in and be thoughtful with several different plans. Give the solutions to your leader without demanding.

We’ve been hired because we’re passionate and that’s our giftedness.

Sometimes it comes across as “my way or the highway,” even when that’s not our heart.

Gina: As a ministry leader, you often have a solution—but how do you convince your senior leader? There’s another step: Do your homework and come up with multiple options to present. Give them the opportunity to speak into it.

Cindy: As children’s ministry leaders, it can feel like we get no face time with our senior leader. Are we glorified babysitting? We can change our mind set and realize that they do value everything we do, but the reality is they’ve hired us to be the specialist. They aren’t the specialist. It’s up to have the mindset that believes they believe in us. (For the most part.) 95% of the time, our senior leaders are as much for us as we are for children’s ministry.

We can create narratives in our mind about senior leadership that probably are not true. Our approach has to come from a clear, pure mindset.

When I’m leading leaders I tell them, “I struggle with all of these things, I’ve learned first hand.” I have to check my heart before I go into any kind of meeting with my senior leader. If I’m going in with the assumption they don’t care, then my heart, my mindset isn’t going to be pure. It’s going to be focused on what I’m not getting as an individual rather than me advocating for my ministry.

Gina: You got on the phone and contacted other ministry leaders to learn from their mistakes. That’s a good first step when you feel stuck – make a phone call. Get on the phone with someone who does what you do and get their perspective. But be mindful. The danger is in finding someone who shares and feeds our gripes.

Cindy: We have to go into conversations with our senior leaders believing the best. Don’t go in with any preconceived ideas about what they’re thinking.

Remember that part of what you may be feeling when you’re struggling with whether a senior leader values you, is that they carry a burden we cannot possibly understand.

I went from a megachurch to a small church plant. We’re trying to move from a small church mentality where the senior pastor does everything to equipping and deploying people to do ministry. Me and our senior pastor – we’re managing a budget. We want our answer to be “yes” to everybody. But there is not enough “yes” to go around for everybody sometimes. When I have to say “no,” it hurts me as much as it hurts that leader.

As a senior leader, if a leader can stay open minded and brainstorm with me how we can still accomplish what we want to accomplish without as many resources – if we can get creative, there’s probably a solution. Don’t come with just “this is what I need.” Come with several solutions. Your leader doesn’t have time to brainstorm everything for you, because they’re managing.

As a children’s director I did not take all those things into account.

2. It’s easy to interpret “no” as my senior leader doesn’t care. How would you want a leader to approach you in this situation?

Cindy: I want them to believe I have their interest and the ministry’s best interest in mind. I hope they are coming in with a mentality of curiosity and not a mentality of my way or your way.

Example: Early on in ministry, we had just moved into a new building with a children’s theatre. We bought chairs, but did not have carpet. Six months in, I wanted to get rid of the chairs so I could have kids sit more easily in groups and have a little more freedom for worship. I didn’t think it was a big deal. My senior leader heard I had removed the chairs. He called me in, and said “I really want the chairs.” I cast vision. He said he didn’t want little girls sitting on the floor.

It became a thing between us for weeks. During my quiet time, it struck me that whether I was right or wrong, I was being disrespectful to my senior leader. I was so convicted that I called him and asked if I could meet and asked for forgiveness.

I had made it such a deal that I became disrespectful and I was not honoring his leadership. That became a turning point for me.

My job as a children’s ministry leader was to support his vision and the call he had starting this church.

Mike: Our passion can get us in trouble sometimes. It’s a beautiful thing, but when approaching senior leadership, that passion is not as transferable to them. We vomit our passion all over them.

Too much of it is like a middle schooler with Axe body spray!

Have the passion, but don’t lead the conversation with it. Have the plan and be flexible with it.

We know how our issue affects us. We don’t always think how this affects the overall church or other ministry areas.

Kellen: We sometimes don’t see the 50-foot view the senior pastor does. If you don’t have a rapport yet with your senior pastor – sit down. Ask about ways that, as kid min  leader, you can support the vision of the overall church.

Gina: Stay curious in that moment. Ask more questions. Pursue clarity at all costs.

There needs to be a willingness to yield and say, “this is my leader. If my leader says to keep the chairs, can we still do quality ministry? Yes.”

Cindy: Go back to the vision. If we can continue to ask questions for clarity’s sake, we’ll hear more and more.

There’s a difference between questioning and asking good questions. If we go in questioning, we’re going to instantly put senior leaders on the defensive. If we go in seeking clarity and mutual understanding, that’s a different stance.

With some people, if you keep them talking by asking simple questions like “tell me more” and “help me understand,” the more you’ll hear their heart. Then you have greater understanding.


Do you currently have something you want to discuss with your senior leader? Before you meet with them, take some time on your own or with your team to brainstorm at least three possible options or solutions to share with your leader. Then go into the meeting with an open mind, ready to seek clarity and mutual understanding.