Leading Up: Learning to Work with Your Boss

If you are in children’s ministry, there is a good chance that you are NOT the boss. You could have a direct supervisor above you. You may report to the head pastor. You might even be accountable to an elder board. Regardless, you will have to learn the art of leading up: coming with a new idea, a proposed change, or a big request to someone who is above you.

The Bible instructs us, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, and will give an account,” Hebrews 13:17 (NRSV).

You can learn your boss, obey and submit to them, and work together for the good of the kingdom, by knowing their leadership style.


Leaders tend to fall into two categories: vision driven, or data driven.

Generally speaking, vision-driven leaders tend to be characterized by words like: definite, certain, sure, convinced, undoubting, spontaneous, and restless.

On the flip side, data-driven leaders tend to be characterized by words like: unconvinced, suspicious, cynical, doubting, hesitant, and questioning.

Now, within those two larger buckets of vision-driven or data-driven leadership, there is an even deeper breakdown. Vision-driven leaders can be either performance oriented or people oriented. Data-driven leaders can be either pennies oriented or process oriented.

Let’s discuss each of these four categories.


Performance-driven leaders thrive on making big moves. The lens through which they see the world is achievement. These types of leaders see potential growth as paramount. Performance leaders get fired up to “take the hill” and often have a “win at all costs” perspective. If there is a plan to make it bigger or a strategy to make it better, performance-oriented leaders are on the edge of their seat.

Now, let’s contrast this with people-driven leaders. People-driven leaders are motivated by life change. The lens through which they see the world is story. People-driven leaders want to know, “What is the transformation this will bring to peoples’ lives?” These types of leaders are most interested in having the compelling narrative defined, and long to connect the mission to a deeper story line. If there is a plan to bring about life change, people-driven leaders are all ears and are on the edge of their seat.

As we transition our discussion from visionary leaders to more data-conscious leaders, remember that visionary leaders are often quite optimistic while data-driven leaders are often cautious and skeptical.


If visionary leaders can be either performance or people driven, data-driven leaders tend to focus on the pennies or on the process.

There are certain leaders who are driven by pennies. These leaders are most concerned with stewardship and budgeting. These leaders will ask questions like: “Is this the wisest use of kingdom resources?” Leaders in this category will probe deeper by asking, “Is there a more efficient way of doing it?” Another common question might be, “Is this the right time to do this according to the budget?” They might lead with caution and ask, “Where is the money coming from?”

Our final leader fits into the data-driven category but is far more concerned with process than with pennies. Process-oriented leaders are concerned with systems, structure, flow of traffic and more. Process leaders love the internal gear systems of the church. Because of this, these leaders intuitively know if a seemingly isolated change will actually throw a massive monkey wrench to the whole church. Process leaders will ask questions like, “How does this fit into the bigger picture?” They will want an explanation about how this change will gel with the rest of the current ministries. Process leaders think long term.


We tend to communicate to others in the way we wish others would communicate to us. But to be successful in leading up, you must do your homework and learn your leader.

Remember, there is no one superior way to lead. A healthy ministry needs both, people who are willing to look at the vision, and people who will examine the data. Your boss may have a different leadership style than you—and that’s a good thing!

Jesus Himself stated that He came not to be served, but to serve. (Mark 10:45). Do not come to your ministry leaders expecting them to serve you, but come to them with a willingness to serve by knowing and adapting to their leadership style — and watch your ministry thrive.

You can access this entire magazine for free here: Edition 32

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