Welcome to the Orange Kids Podcast, where we talk about the big ideas of kids’ ministry and discuss practical solutions to our weekly challenges. This week, Brett Talley, Orange Specialist for XP3 student curriculum, joins hosts Mike, Gina, and Kellen to discuss those things that every youth pastor wishes their children’s pastor knew!
Here we are! Gina looks marvelous. Amazing. So does Mike. We’re not sure about Kellen.
Today we’re tackling the subject of communication between children’s pastors and youth pastors. If you happen to be both, like Kellen, well… that’s a different episode. On talking to yourself.
We’ve brought in our friend Brett Talley, who looks… excellent.
Brett and Kellen have bonded over 90s/early 2000s wrestling. Mike promises wrestling references in the show notes.
NOPE. Not gonna happen.
1. The relationship between children’s pastors and youth pastors is notoriously challenging. Why is that the case?
Brett: It can be cultural depending on the leadership and structure of the church. In some churches, a leader has to fight for budget, setting up a me v. you mindset. The competition of resources is a big one: space, budget, renovations, etc.
Sometimes it comes from us getting stuck in our own silos. For the most part, people who end up in kids or student ministry have a passion for that age. But if we’re not careful about building community and having perspective, it’s easy to get so focused on how important a specific age is that we feel that what we’re doing is more important that anybody else.
There is an undercurrent of ego that we don’t want to talk about in ministry that we have to admit at some point.
I personally love high school students. So I have to check myself when I’m talking about other age groups. I need to be self aware and know when I’m skewing priorities.
Gina: That’s convicting to me. I’m guilty of wanting validation for the ministry I pour myself into. I want to look at the student pastor and say, “The reason why you’ve raving about that kid in middle or high school who’s walking with the Lord is because they spent their preschool and elementary years learning some basics. My team of volunteers invested in them. I want credit for that. You’re riding my coat tails!”
Mike: It is easy to get into our silos. You want people laser focused and passionate, but we even experience that here at Orange with our curriculum teams.
We were at a curriculum retreat last week. It was great to have 2-3 days with all the teams where we could relationally connect and learn what’s going on with each team.
Brett: There’s some language that’s been helpful to me. “My job is to beat the drum for this thing. To be the champion for this thing. I am going to get specialized and laser focused with this. But I know that we need to have a healthy ministry across the board. So if you see me getting too focused on my area, have the conversation with me.”
You’ve been asked to be the champion for something. But what does it look like for you to have conversations with people who help you keep perspective?
Kellen: I want to reiterate: Champion the area you’re responsible for, but also understand the roles that everyone else plays.
When I first heard of Orange, I fell in love with the idea of “phase”—understanding every moment that kids go through. Kids need goldfish. Youth ministries sometimes need big, loud, exciting things. There are phase specific reasons.
If you don’t understand a different phase’s ministry, don’t be afraid to ask.
Brett: Some of the language Phase uses is a specialist v. a generalist. You really need both on staff to give you the full picture.
Gina: I love this idea of curiosity—if we can just get curious about what’s happening in the other person’s world. It really does change perspective.
Taking kids to summer camp exhausts me, not because of programming, but because of the late nights, the kids who won’t sleep, the parent who calls, nurse communications and medications. Elementary kids are not nearly as independent as high schoolers.
I sat down with a student pastor and asked “what is it like for you?” He shared honestly what it was like taking students to camp. I later took students to camp myself – and it was eye-opening. So many critical moments and phone calls. Inappropriate pictures, etc.
I realized my student pastor is equally exhausted on the other side of camp – but for totally different reasons.
Brett: One of the best ways for children’s and youth pastors to start talking is when the kids pastor has kids in youth ministry and/or the youth pastor has kids in children’s ministry. Then they start to recognize and understand. “Oh! This is what it feels like.” They start to put more value in what’s happening.
Mike: To help bridge the gap—instead of focusing on what you have or don’t have in terms of resources, it’s finding that common ground. The common ground is the child or teenager.
2. Brett, in preparing for this podcast, you talked with youth pastors on the Orange Students Facebook page. What did they say?
Brett: The best way to a healthy and sustainable student ministry is a healthy and sustainable children’s ministry
But it’s also true that your kids ministry is healthier if you have a healthy student ministry.
It feels like more churches are focused on alignment. That’s one of the first categories where I got feedback.
Someone mentioned common and consistent language. When kids ministry talks about certain things a certain way and when student ministry talks about the same things in a different way—it gets confusing.
Small group v. Sunday school classes v. Life groups; Maybe they are different, or maybe they’re essentially the same. Call them the same then.
“Partnership with parents.”
There should be alignment in how all these things are talked about, both outwardly and internally.
Internally, a huge thing is systems. What does it look like across the kids and student ministries when a new family shows up? How do we follow up with kids or students who haven’t come in awhile? Parent and volunteer communication. There will be differences, but you can be both aligned and phase specific.
Strategies. What does it look like? Where are we going? Yes, big picture is important (follow Jesus)—but we’ve got to dig a little deeper. There are few things more confusing to parents then moving from a Sunday-morning based kid min system to a hyper-relational, small group leader-based student ministry.
Yes, stay phase specific, but align your strategies.
Kellen: If you wonder whether your volunteers or team know your end-goal/strategy for your ministry, straight up ask them! If you get a hodge podge of answers, you have some re-evaluating to do.
I’m now the Family Life Pastor at my church. Even though I know Orange well, I realized I can’t tell you what the specific end-goal is for that sixth grader moving up.
Brett: We can get so caught up in the specifics of strategy that we get stuck. Before they graduate elementary, we want them to know [this whole this of things]. It’s fine if we have simple, overarching goals. We can get too stuck in the details.
Gina: One of the game changers for me and a student pastor I worked with was when we started dreaming together. We started with: if we had whatever we wanted, then what would we dream for a graduating senior? What do we hope is instilled in them as a result of being part of the church? As we started to dream, we started to back that up to what would need to happen in the previous phases to get there. There’s something very grafting about it. It gave us a target to begin working towards and to communicate to our volunteers.
Brett: It builds synergy and empathy. It makes you more willing to sacrifice some resources or budget money.
Gina: I’m willing to give up a key volunteer that I know would invest more in their ministry because of the goal we’re trying to work towards.
Mike: It also build relational equity with your youth pastor. It’s the importance of meeting together on a regular basis. That’s hard with limited time, but it does so much for that relationship.
Brett: Another pastor brought up the idea of storytelling. What kind of stories are we telling each other? Are we always just telling stories of what we need? Is it always the practical week-to-week, or are we telling stories of the awesome things happening in our ministry so we begin to share each other’s highs and lows?
It’s so important to be careful about the stories we tell about each other to others. As a student pastor, how do I talk about kids ministry to my volunteers or parents—especially if I feel like I got treated unfairly? I need to be careful.
What kind of stories are we telling to each other and about each other?
Youth pastors should understand kids pastors are not merely babysitters; faith begins in the nursery.
Children’s pastors need to understand that youth ministry is not just playing games and eating pizza. Youth ministers care deeply about the spiritual lives of their students.
Mike: In children’s ministry, we plant and water the seed, but may never see the full development of that fruit until student ministry years. Youth pastors should share the stories of that fruit with children’s ministry.
On the other hand, when kids are handed up to student ministry, children’s pastors can share their stories with student ministry.
Brett: Student pastors have to be careful about how we celebrate the stories of our students. If we have a student who grew up in the church and makes a decision for Christ in 7th grade at camp, we need to celebrate, but not take all the credit.
Mike: We’re standing on the shoulders of what came before us.
What other points did you glean from Facebook?
Brett: Someone brought up the idea of cross-ministry expectations. As the student pastor, for the purpose of building relationships with families, they were asked to be at almost every kids’ ministry event. That got exhausting. The kids’ pastor then got frustrated with them when they missed an event. The student pastor felt like it was a one-way street.
What are we doing to keep from putting unrealistic expectations on the other person?
Mike: We have to communicate those expectations. Unspoken expectations lead to resentment. It can be trivial stuff.
Gina: A student pastor I worked with would say, “We don’t wonder well.” When there are gaps and we don’t communicate expectations, the person on the other side doesn’t wonder well, and it gets you in trouble.
Brett: We say you fill those gaps with conspiracy theories. And it usually doesn’t believe the best of the other person.
Gina: I don’t know those things if I don’t ask. And I’m not curious. Cynicism builds really fast that way.
Brett: Learn how to have those conversations without it sounding defensive or offensive. “I want you to understand I’m asking this in the most sincere way possible. I really want to know.”
Kellen: Some of that is cultural between the two leaders. They need to want accountability and open conversation.
That behind the scene culture will pour out to your systems that involve the students and parents.
When I look at “big church,” it’s easy for me to think—“man, those projectors actually work. How do they get all the [x, y, z]? Why doesn’t out ministry get as much focus?”
But what I don’t see Sundays is my pastor going up there and supporting kids ministry from the platform. I need the relationships behind the scenes so I don’t have to worry if my boss cares about the ministry.
Brett: I think one of the reasons so many churches are clarifying a role over kids and students (a Next Gen pastor) is that this is harder to do between two peers. When someone actually owns this, it is easier to figure some of these things out.
Gina: Consensus can only go so far. At the end of the day, you are two leaders who want to lead in a certain direction, and it’s not all the same. It’s so important to have one person looking at both of those directions and saying, this is true north.
Brett: It’s so important to have these things figured out in the hiring process. In student ministry world, they often have a vision and direction/programming, but then they bring in someone else with a different vision and strategy and go a different way. That makes it hard to gain momentum. When there’s clarity across the board, sometimes it means hiring to fit exactly what you’re looking for rather than a certain personality.
Gina: It’s being clear enough with your vision and strategy to say “this is where we’re going and how we’re getting there.” Then you look for the leader who can move the ball down the field.
Jumping back to the relationship: one of the things that made a difference for me was when a student pastor was sharing stories and everyone was excited. Everyone was excited. I had this moment when I thought, “Can I champion this guy and celebrate this win even if I didn’t have anything to do with it?” I had to take inventory. Things turned a corner in our relationship and we were willing to work together. Him winning meant we were all winning.
Kellen: The church moves forward faster if we’re going in the same direction. It’s all tempting for us to want our recognition now. It’s important for us to be able to look at the other end and say, “You’re doing a good job.”
Mike: As the parent of a now-middle schooler, I’m grateful for our youth ministry in a way I’ve never been before. I’m grateful for the relational safe space and the adults investing in his life. I love how they focus on service. My 3rd grade daughter has two high school small group leaders. Our best volunteers come from student ministry.
Make time in each other’s schedule to get on the same page.
Brett: Someone brought up student leadership on the Facebook page: “I wish every kids pastor knew how effective of a volunteer leader a teenager could be in their kids ministry.”
Mike: Your best volunteers will come from the student ministry realm. As a children’s ministry leader, figure out how to bridge any gap with your student pastor.
Take your student pastor to lunch, listen to this episode together, and talk about it!