Tim Alford

How to Lead Up

I, like you, 'am a man under authority'. As a volunteer youth leader at my local church, I report up to our Senior Pastor and the eldership.

Even in my context as National Director of Limitless, I’m not really in charge. I report up to our General Superintendent (that’s the boss of the Elim movement) and our National Leadership Team. The truth is that there are very few of us who are actually in charge.

So perhaps you wanted to start a new initiative, community project or detached team. Maybe you had an idea to bring in a band to do a week of evangelism in your local schools. Whatever it is, there is always someone, somewhere who can open or close the door to your ideas, and open or close the wallet to fund them!

For all our great ideas and hard work, we usually don’t make the final decision - we are not the leader. That’s why, if we want to lead a thriving youth or children's ministry, we must learn to lead up.

When we think about leadership, we usually make the mistake of thinking primarily about the people who, for want of a better term, are “below” us; the teams and young people we lead, the people whom we have authority over. But leadership is not about authority, it’s about influence.

Your job title and job description neither give you influence nor limit it. That’s why we need a 360 degree perspective on leadership, where leading those who have authority over us is equally important as leading those we have authority over.

So how do we lead the “gatekeepers” who have the final say? How do we influence those who have authority over us? Be they your Vicar, Senior Pastor, Trustees or Leadership Team, how do we lead up?


Before meeting your senior leaders, ensure you are well prepared for that meeting. This is about honouring their time. They are probably very busy and don’t want to have their time used up with pointless meetings!

So before you go, you should draw up an agenda of things you wish to discuss and send it to them in advance. This will enable them to give some thought to what you want to discuss ahead of time, and reduce the risk of having your ideas shut down because of the shock factor!

Be careful to think through any questions you might be asked ahead of time and come prepared to answer them because when you are able to offer quick, accurate answers to their questions you demonstrate competency and thus your stock goes up with your senior leaders.


However, be very careful that your agendas for these meetings don’t turn into shopping lists! Our senior leaders will be quickly worn down by constant requests, so make sure you take time in every meeting to share stories of what God is doing with your children and young people.

Talk about the child who made a first time commitment, about the young person who led worship for the first time and the team member who has stepped up and grown in their own faith because of the opportunity you gave them to lead.

This is not about “blowing your own trumpet,” your senior leaders want to know that God is up to something in your children’s and youth ministries! By sharing these stories you will actually be encouraging them, and as a result, they will be more confident to invest in a new idea next time around.


How not to lead up! Rich Ellerington and Chris Cartwright at the Gathering 2016


When we have a new idea, we make a mistake when we approach our senior leaders with only what we want to do. They really need to hear why we want to do it… You want to take your young people on a residential.

WHY? You want to start up a new youth work on the local estate.

WHY? You’re looking to invest in a new resource for your Bible study group.

WHY? You’re hoping to engage the wider church community in a mentoring programme for your young people.

WHY? Not just ‘what’… why. Because it’s the ‘why’ that gives them a reason to say yes! So until you can answer the following two questions, you’re not ready to talk to your senior leaders about your new idea: Why do we need to do this, and why does it need to be done now? Start with why.


You will stand a much better chance of getting the go ahead if you can join the dots between your vision and the overall vision of the church.

If you can frame your ideas within the context of the mission that your senior leaders are seeking to fulfil, if you can describe it using the language of the church mission statement and demonstrate how it will serve to fulfil the ‘together’ mission your church is on, you are already halfway to the finish line!


Rich Ellerington and Chris Cartwright having fun at the Gathering 2016


Leading up is also about a willingness to be led. That means we show a willingness to joyfully serve outside our area of responsibility, and an ability to submit when the answer is ‘no.’

Hebrews 11:13 says, ‘Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.’ Let’s be youth leaders who are a joy to work with!

Remember, leadership is not about authority, it’s about influence. So if God has given us a fresh vision, a new idea, or an important responsibility, then let’s be good stewards by leading up well.


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Director of LIMITLESS

Tim Alford lives in Malvern with is wife Jen, son Tobijah and daughter Aria.

He is the National Director of LIMITLESS, the youth movement of Elim Pentecostal Churches in the UK and Ireland. He is a passionate communicator of the gospel, having spoken at churches, conferences, schools and events all over the world. Tim is the former frontman of [dweeb], a frustrated supporter of Arsenal, and has on more than one occasion been to the cinema in Star Wars fancy dress.


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