Clergy Shouldnt Line-Manage Youthworkers

In the Film Heat (1995) two characters, played by Al Pacino and Robert de Niro, lead two organisations and are hell bent on the destruction of each other, one the FBI, the other an organised crime gang. They both see themselves as principle leaders in a City wide game of violence, picking off the pawns and the weak links, and all the while their marriages, relationships and children suffer. In a pivotal and tense scene, the two characters meet over a coffee. The scene is thick with tension. The two men converse, giving little away, but also they realise that they have one thing in common. Their profession has destroyed their home lives, it is the only thing in common, aside from they want to destroy each other, which does eventually happen, but not in this scene. There is no ‘love’ between the two, they are objects in a wider game and only for a split second do they recognise each others humanity, but they dont trust each other, cameras are located around the cafe, as are representatives of each organisation. We may want to believe that they share humanity in this conversation but it is only a facade.

It is at the extreme end of what Freire regards the difference between an I-It relationship one where persons regard each other as objects, and I-thou- where persons regard each other as persons, accept dialogue, conversation and work towards common flourishing.

The situation in Heat  might remind youthworkers reading this of bad experiences being managed by members of the Clergy, for some even the thought of having the shared coffee in a neutral space would have been a luxury or oddity. I wouldn’t suggest ever that Clergy and a youthworker would be hell-bent on destroying each other, but i wonder if the clergy-line manager relationship itself is as oddly fraught, tense, or oddly separate from the real action of the organisation to make it seem like a false role. I mean, how many clergy signed up to be line managers? or see it as a role as part of their vocational calling.

Maybe its time to call time on the line manager relationship, and look for something less, well, businessy or outside the church.

Maybe its time for Clergy to look above the base level of ‘manager’ and attain for a role with an employee, a youthworker, more fitting for the calling that they both share.

Maybe its time that the church doesnt just take a lead from the world of professional youth work management to inherit policies, procedures and code of conduct – but it transcends them, betters them and acts towards the flourishing, not just the survival of the youthworker in the role and dealing with issues when they arise (grievance procedure etc)

Maybe its time to intentionally disciple the youthworker, (or the admin person)

Disciple them in the way that Jesus discipled Peter. Gave him challenges, accepted his foot in mouth moments, chose him because of his challenges to power ( ‘Jesus are you sure you’re going to die in 3 days.’.) , his enthusiasm to try things, volunteer and lead, as well as be invigorated to lead after making a mistake. The relationship was constructed by the promised covenant, of long-term calling, of being the church. Jesus ultimately let Peter go, to be guided by the Spirit to form the faith community that was promised.

Discipling the youth worker might mean a different approach to managing, controlling or guiding them, it is to use them in collaboration, to believe in them, trust them and provide settings for them and you to flourish. Unlike the two characters in Heat, it could be covenanted in a way over and above the basic Job description/contract, or the longevity of funding, but promises made to value and respect each other and the discipling and learning relationship between them.

The church can do better than the business world, though it might only be catching up in regard to some employment situations, it should do better in its practical and prophetic role as employer, in discipling not just young people (who will benefit immensely if their youthworker is discipled effectively too) but also the youthworker and all staff.

Sadly the situation i seem to hear is that clergy, lead pastors and ministers are too busy to manage their staff, or they don’t know how to. Would they be too busy if the role was to disciple them, and this was given more importance, in terms of time, vocation and theological imperative? Would they know how to model the relationship they have with them as a metaphor of Jesus and Peter?

Maybe its time to transcend line management.


One comment

  1. Hi, thanks for your post.

    I agree with you that Senior Pastors should see discipleship and training as part of their responsibilities in looking after their staff. There is a need by those in the head leadership position to be investing in their staff. Agree whole-heartedly, particularly in the current climate of Millennials seeking good leader-teachers-mentors in ministry.

    However, I’m not sure I agree that the blame for ‘line management’ as you call it lies solely with the Clergy. If a Youth Worker/Pastor comes onto staff the head leader has certain responsibilities in terms of leader-subordinate relationship. I think this relationship is 100% vital in the function of the church, youth pastor role and the like. But I find that it is the Youth Workers/Pastors who sometimes believe they should be the leader and not their Senior Pastor. I think it’s a bit arrogant to suggest that Youth W/Ps are on the same level as their leader/SP. Sorry have to run and end without a full thought formed. Hoping to continue discussion.


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