A PRINCIPAL isn't always sure that he is looking forward to a Week of Prayer. Sometimes a minister is recommended to conduct a series of religious meetings by a faculty member, a board member, or by the conference president. After the principal lets the coming Week of Prayer speaker be known, he hears many statements some are comments and some are warnings. "He did all right at Fair Haven Academy." "He is so serious he'll put the students to sleep." "He'll do fine if he doesn't bring his wife along." "You'll have fun." "I'd advise you to have the conference president caution him about his talk on love."
Every academy campus has a personality. Every academy campus has a changing personality. Every academy campus has traditions, even traditions about Weeks of Prayer. The incoming minister should in quire about the prayer bands, about dormitory counseling hours, about the ordinance service, and about the special music. I would advise the Week of Prayer speaker to try to be on the campus at intervals weeks or months before the series of meetings begins. He should talk not only to the principal and faculty but also to the students.
Get the Feel of the Campus
How disappointed I was when a guest speaker came for a series of meetings and approached the students on the subject of the remnant church prophetess as though the students really didn't believe in Sister White! Too often a speaker approaches the students as though they are down on religion. I cringe when he scolds the students for sins that are not even a problem in that particular academy. How I like a Week of Prayer speaker to come early enough to get the feel of the campus. I encourage every speaker to inquire about the tone of the campus. The principal hesitates to tell the guest what to talk about, but he would be most willing to suggest some topics that have been overused or misused. A principal sometimes even would like to ask the preacher to emphasize a solution to a campus problem.
The preliminaries are over; the speaker is on the job. The students are there two hundred strong; the song service is over. The students hate to be taken away from a football game or even a study period. They figure they have plenty of religion in worship talks, sermons, and Bible classes. Now what is the newcomer going to prove? What new thing does he have up his sleeve?
O Week of Prayer speaker, you had better not get tired. You had better not be out to the academy just to get away from the pressures. You have an audience! And they want something to listen to.
Have Something to Say
Academy students can tell whether you have anything to say. I assure you, they'll listen if you have something to say. They don't want pictures or slides about your trip to the Holy Land. They don't want to hear about your air flight. You don't need to take time to convince them that you were once a great quarterback or a hot-rod fan. You don't need to explain to them about your ability to understand teenagers or tell them how much you enjoy your own teenagers.
You may wonder what to speak on. Academy students want to hear a preacher speak on any subject on which he has a real conviction. Young people cannot be fooled on sincerity. Sincerity is the first prerequisite toward the presentation of a good speech. Students may disagree with the speaker, but they respect a person who believes in what he says. Youth are eager to listen to a speaker who has a message, not just a talk.
Watch Your Language
Watch your language, preacher. The youth may use their slang and jargon, but they don't give extra respect to the preacher who thinks he'll gain the favor of students by splashing in "cool" phrases here and there. Just recently a minister was speaking at an academy youth meeting about a widow who had had difficulty in saving money to send her son to an academy. He introduced the incident by saying, "There was this gal who was saving money for her son's education." Soon the same preacher said to the teenagers, "I don't know what these guys would do," turning to his colleague preachers sitting behind him. The young people may smile and think the speaker is clever; but they don't size him up as a man of God with a burden for souls. They size up the situation for what it is---a bid for popularity.
A preacher should use words that are simple, well chosen, and dignified, and that build strength in the message and do not attract to the cuteness, sharpness, or greatness of the speaker.
Check Those Illustrations
There is another don't I would like to mention. I have heard a few Week of Prayer speakers try to win the favor of the students by using many illustrations from the sports pages. A speaker can approach a student body as if all the students under stood the background of every baseball player on the Dodgers team. We as a denomination try to encourage the students to take sports from a recreational, physical, and social interest; but when our preachers talk to them as if they know all the details about football, hockey, or the world series, it seems they are condoning that which our textbooks do not condone. Our organization is injured by doctrines teaching one thing and preachers preaching another!
How I dislike having a minister---especially a minister speaking to youth---refer to his foolish, youthful escapades. I have heard them laugh in the pulpit over their academy pranks. Even if there is no laughter, some students take courage that they, too, can have their fling and come back to the church and God after they taste what the world is all about. Don't speak of your sins unless the Holy Spirit urges you to; and I hope then it would be with hesitancy and shame. We ordinarily say nothing about anything we are ashamed of. Surely you can find third-person illustrations, or refer to your own as a third-person situation.
Talk Against Sin
Preachers are using far too little emphasis, lately, on the sinfulness and ugliness of sin. I know we need to hear of the love of Jesus; but we are failing to tell our youth that Jesus loves so much that He hates sin with a perfect hatred. Youth are telling themselves and one another (and they have gotten it from their elders) that it is what is in the heart that counts, and not what is on the outside. Students are trying to convince themselves that God loves the sinner and He will overlook the rock music, the short skirts, the coffee and slang. We need Week of Prayer speakers who will call sin by its right name. Our academy youth are almost convinced that being a Christian is easy, and all is simple if they will only be baptized or say they believe. Are we going to quit telling our youth to give up the world and be a separate people with a strange message?
I have heard a few Week of Prayer speakers tell me that they do not want the students to become too emotional. "We don't want a lot of tears," they say. I have felt like replying, "Try it, Pastor, try it. I dare you to get them in tears." How I long to hear a preacher who brings tears to the eyes of the youth as they hear of the love of Jesus or the shamefulness of their sins. We need tears of joy and tears of sorrow in our academies. Try it, preacher, just try to get the youth to be involved to the extent that they cry. Never do this for emotion's sake; but preach so that tears are a natural result.
Pastors, use songs during the Week of Prayer that soften the heart and subdue the spirit. Why get the students clapping their hands and stomping their feet on some song that is elementary in thought and unrefined in action? A person finds songs to express the depth of his experience with God. Let's give the students credit for finding a more elevated experience and more elevated way to express their love for God than the "banging around" that some Week of Prayer songs come to.
Call for Decision
Pastors, have you ever made an altar call by saying, "Now, with your heads bowed and your eyes closed, who will put up his hand for God?" Youth don't go for a bashful approach to accepting the challenge of living for Jesus. Ask the youth to stand right up or come to the altar.
I have heard good ministers say that they will never, never go to an academy for an other Week of Prayer. I realize the minister has had a rough situation. The largest problem, I believe, is that the students have had to sit through too many meetings when the speaker was unprepared for the specific occasion and unprepared to give a message from God with convincing force.
I want to thank the ministers for taking time from their busy schedules to come and talk to our academy students. The youth need someone other than the regular staff from time to time, and I realize I cannot expect all ministers to be able to see the situation as it appears to an academy principal. But let me assure you that I appreciate very much the concern and help that the different ones of you bring to stu dents on our campuses.
Oh, preacher, preach! Yes, preach to these students and they'll listen!