One of the main things to look for in a church you're considering joining as a children's ministry leader is the simply this: a lead pastor who is a healthy leader, supportive, and empowering. It doesn't matter what the children's ministry is like, because you can handle any issue in the children's ministry if you have a solid leader behind you. And when it comes to church and staff culture: healthy starts at the top and flows down (the same is true for toxic culture).
When you're leading a children's ministry and you don't feel supported by your boss or lead pastor, it can be discouraging and deflating. But what can you do in that situation?
- Work hard and with excellence. Even if you feel you’re being treated unfairly, under-appreciated, disrespected, or unsupported, the main thing you can control is yourself: how hard you work, and how well you do your job. Do it with excellence. Lead yourself well and continually seek to grow and learn as a leader. Don't waste your boss's time or bring problems or too many complaints to your boss. Be a problem solver and lead your ministry well. Share wins and stories of life change with your boss and other staff.
- Evaluate and understand yourself. Learn your own personality and leadership style. Take personality assessments. Understanding yourself can help you learn how you naturally operate and feel confident and appreciated. Evaluate your areas of weakness, and set goals to improve and grow.
- Seek to understand your boss. Study them and how they learn, how they feel appreciated, and how they operate. If your staff does personality profiles or Enneagram testing, pay attention to your boss’s results and seek to understand your boss and how you can relate to him/her better. Think of things from their perspective. Chances are, your boss is facing a great amount of pressure or stress you don't even know about. They are likely carrying burdens and handling situations that weigh on them, and they may take their stress out on their staff, and may not even be aware they are acting unsupportive or unappreciative. What we may interpret as unsupportive may just be your boss's natural leadership style or personality.
- Ask for clarity on job and role expectations. Always, always clarify your boss's expectations for you and your role - ask for it in writing. Many of the frustrations in ministry come from unmet or unspoken expectations. Ask your boss to share things you can do to improve (and don't get defensive!).
- Don’t talk bad about your boss. If you need to vent, vent about it to God. While you're doing it, pray for your boss. Do something nice for them. Don't put your boss down publicly or to other team members. Even if you move on, there's nothing that sounds good about a disgruntled previous employee complaining about how they were treated.
- Confront your boss. This is the hardest step for me personally, because I would prefer to sweep everything under the rug and run from confrontation. There are times to submit to your boss, and there are times to move on from a job. There are also times to confront your boss. It takes wisdom, prayer, and self-examination to know the difference between those three responses. If you do feel it's right to confront your boss, remember to be humble and gentle, but straightforward. Write down what you want to say ahead of time so you know how you're going to say it, but have the conversation face to face. Ask what you can do to improve yourself and gain more support and understanding. Come with solutions to any problems you present (for example: if you don't have enough time to get everything done on your To-Do List, come prepared with how you would delegate that list).
If you've done all these things, and you still feel unsupported and feel you're not respected by your boss, it may be time to move on. No matter how awesome the children's ministry is, if you're not supported by your lead pastor or boss, it's just a matter of time before something blows up, and it's very hard to win in ministry without your boss behind you.