“Manage Up”—A Guide for Baby Boomers With Younger Pastors

You aren’t being mean-spirited, it’s just that getting straight to the point is so much more efficient, right? No so fast: Let me share my firsthand experiences about what it means to “manage up.”

"Manage Up" - A Guide for Baby Boomers with Younger Pastors

More than once I have unwisely and unfairly used variations of options 1, 2, 3 and 4 when dealing with operational issues. I also recently dared to use a variation of option 6, though it was not my intention to offend. I was only trying to be helpful. After all, what if I was right? How can it be wrong to fix what is obviously broken? Filter-less feedback can turn the most brilliant solutions into the most intolerable.

Claiming “senior” status, I could hide behind 1 Timothy 5:1, “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father,” but then I would be exposed by the obligation of Hebrews 13:17, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority.”

We’re not talking about blind loyalty here, only that my younger pastor was due the grace and respect he did not get from me.

In the interest of healing myself (Luke 4:23), how can we older volunteers with decades more experience than our younger pastor fix problems? By managing up! How can you manage up a younger pastor? The answer may surprise you: Use Your Filter to Manage Up. Here are six practical suggestions:

1. Ask questions and listen

While there may indeed be a method to the young pastor’s madness, how will you know unless you ask? In most cases the older volunteer will have correctly identified an important but overlooked consideration. Guiding the young pastor to it is far better than dismissing him or his ideas, or worse, offering unsolicited advice. Moreover, once the dismissal of ideas is perceived as such, nothing else you say will be heard, never mind be appreciated. This much I also know.

2. Watch your pastor’s back

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The pastor is ultimately responsible for what happens. It is true you cannot do wrong if you only do what you are told, but if there is a problem looming, it is your responsibility to say so. To allow a problem to fester and grow might be, in a narrow sense, a safe thing to do, but it might also be a betrayal of trust. Speaking up is not only your duty, it demonstrates support of the pastor and his mission.

3. Ask what you can do to help

I love it when the volunteers I work with ask me this question. There are always innumerable tasks that anyone can perform, if only they knew about them. By asking your pastor, you give him the freedom to delegate time-consuming tasks he might otherwise feel bad about asking others to do. But if you are going to ask, you must also be willing to do it, however menial a task it is.

4. Offer your experience in a non-threatening way

Projecting your experience into someone else’s problem can be a minefield! Objections could be easily raised about circumstances that in the pastor’s mind effectively neutralize an unwelcome suggestion. Instead, provide an example of a similar problem you encountered, and what you did to solve it. Be sure to mention all the benefits that resulted from your solution. The younger pastor cannot argue the facts of the story or the results, plus it provides insight into how you contribute.

5. Fly in formation

Another lesson is an obligation to both speak up out of loyalty, then shut up out of loyalty. Even if seniors are right about something and disaster looms if we fail to act, we have done our job of informing the pastor and it is now his responsibility. Ultimately, consequences are a very good teacher. Win-win?

6. Do unto others

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We all want to be treated with grace and respect. Aren’t each of the above suggestions considerations we would all want for ourselves? We hope that others would care enough to ask questions like, “Do you know how to change a tire? Would you like some help?” We would resent unsolicited advice, hovering and criticism. And we would all love to have the tasks before us made easier, and especially be more successful to the glory of our Lord. Right? RIGHT?

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How are things going with my pastor? My good intentions did not mitigate grace-less engagement. Understandably, he wondered if I was committed to the church or was simply passing through. That hurt. If I was just passing through, taking option 4, “Walking away without explanation,” would have been a far easier path to take. Suffice it to say we both have wounds in need of healing. At the same time, we have made a commitment to work together, get to know one another better and at least in my case, email less, talk more.

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