Looking back over your years of teaching, what have you and your students really liked about pastors?" That question, which forms the basis of this article, threw me into a frenzy of reminiscing. Who had been good with the students? Which pastors had helped me as a teacher?
One special minister popped into my mind and put a grin on my face. He not only had encouraged me to bear my burdens, but had gotten beneath the load and helped me lift it.
While teaching in Maryland, I found it difficult to recruit chaperons for the ninth-and tenth-grade year-end trip. In desperation, I asked our pastor, Rob Vandeman, if he would go to New En gland with us. The kids liked him, and I hoped that they could get better acquainted with their pastor on the trip. Although he administered a large, busy church, Rob agreed to drive and chaperon.
Ten hours in a van full of teenagers thoroughly tested his Christianity. When necessary, he would speak firmly to his passengers, but in such a reasonable manner that the students were not offended. And as long as they weren't hurting anything, he was flexible enough to let the kids be young and foolish. He did suggest a change of tune, however, when they began the fifty second verse of "99 Bottles of Pop on the Wall!"
After a day of driving, he joined in a basketball game before spreading his sleeping bag on the gym mat with the boys. He even helped the guys booby-trap the gym door in case the girls invaded! Rather than staying with nearby friends, he ate what we ate and lived like we did. He took his turn at worship and prepared a brief, meaningful message for our Sabbath service.
Back at school I began to appreciate Rob's way of handling complaints from parents. He would listen sympathetically and then ask them to talk to the teacher first, the principal second, the school board chairman third, and if all else failed, get back to him! I liked dealing with complaints myself instead of having someone else solve my problems.
Delving further back into the past, I remembered another pastor, J. Fred Hughes, who supervised the construction of our church. Sunday after Sunday found him laboring beside his members. The teenagers enjoyed learning the techniques of wood staining or sanding from their pastor.
After we moved into the new facility, Elder Hughes arranged a unique Communion service. While parents engaged in foot washing, the pastor took all the children outside. There, at the edge of the woods, he stood before three life-sized wooden crosses to tell the story of the Crucifixion and the meaning of Communion. As a teacher who daily sought ways to convey God's love to children, I really appreciated Pastor Hughes's efforts to make the death of Christ real and personal to the children.
During my 11 years at Spencerville Junior Academy, we teachers interacted with youth pastors, assistant pastors, constituent pastors, and Week of Prayer speakers. Not all understood young people or related well to them. Those ministers who paid little attention to children at church received little attention from them when they came to speak at the school.
At times various pastors held a weekly assembly for us. We could always count on some to be there with a meaningful message. Others often called in to cancel--or didn't show at all. This made us feel that other things were more important than we were.
Baptismal classes provided a special test of a pastor's relationship with the kids. I think of the time Cindy returned from a session looking upset. I asked what was wrong.
"That pastor!" she exploded."this was our eighth Bible study, arid he still kept calling me Ellen, even after I corrected him. If he can't get my name right, I don't want him to baptize me!" And she dropped out of the class.
Of all age groups, youth are perhaps the most likely to sense insincerity or show. Some visiting speakers tried to entertain. Students laughed but later made fun of the shallow presentations. They were, however, quick to respond to someone with a genuine concern for their souls. Whenever good speakers brought a serious message liberally sprinkled with pointed illustrations, the youth listened and responded favorably.
I especially appreciated speakers who calmly called for decisions. In today's society, one is rarely called upon to make a firm decision for God. In our attempts to eliminate the long, emotional appeals of the past, perhaps we have a tendency to skip decision calls altogether, especially in youth meetings. But today's young people want to be challenged. When I asked one student why he hadn't been baptized, he responded, "No one ever asked me to." I realized then that I was as much at fault as the pastor.
An anonymous good shepherd
Veteran missionary Marion Brown told me of a turning point in her life. When she and a girlfriend ran away from academy, they hitchhiked south for three days until picked up by the police. When the school wouldn't take her back, Marion went home. It seemed to her that every one had questions about the escapade, and since Marion felt that most of her inquisitors were merely collecting information for gossip, she resented it deeply. She refused to discuss the matter with anyone, even her mother.
Then the pastor stopped by. As he came up the walk, Marion freshened her lipstick arid prepared to act streetwise. Everyone thought she was a tramp anyway. But to her surprise, the minister greeted her warmly.
"You don't know how thankful we are to have you back safe and sound, Marion," he announced with genuine concern. "We had special prayer for you until you were found. It's tough being a teenager, isn't it?"
Marion could hardly believe her ears. "I've heard you'll be home the rest of the year," the pastor continued, "and I was wondering if you'd consider being our Sabbath school secretary. We're such a small church, we need everyone to make it run right. You're good with reports and things like that. Would you be our secretary?"
Tears filled Marion's eyes as the love in his voice melted her rebellion. "But I can't," she protested. "I'm too bad."
The pastor smiled and shook his head kindly. "I don't think you're a bad girl, Marion. You're a good girl who made a mistake. We love you and so does the Lord, and I know you'll make a fine secretary. Will you do it?"
Marion nodded, unable to speak. After the pastor left, she asked her mother's forgiveness and then wept with her. The pastor's unconditional acceptance and his faith in her ability broke down her barriers. Today Marion testifies that those few kind words changed her life.
A young teaching couple also told me how their pastor's kindness blessed their lives. Bobbi and Alton Whidden had just moved to a new conference when they were asked to attend a teachers' convention. Their little daughter, however, was not invited. What could they do with Andrea? To their amazement, Pastor Ron Cook took their problem upon himself. During his welcome visit to their home, he offered to take Andrea to his home for the week to stay with his two girls. Years have passed, but the Whiddens still speak of that pastor with warmth and love.
Another pastor showed a most unusual level of support by offering to teach for a day and give the teacher time off. Another took a stack of spelling books home one weekend and brought them back graded Monday morning. Such acts show that some pastors recognize what a difficult job teaching is.
What the youth say
I've shared some of the things teachers appreciate about their pastors, but what do the young people like? I surveyed about 120 teenagers, and on the whole responses were positive and revealing. They like a pastor who sees them as individuals, who will call them by name and ask them about their lives. "Hi, Johnny! Still pitching those fast balls?" "Hey, Suzy! Nice catch!" Such comments warm the hearts of the hearers and are perceived as: "The pastor knows who I am and cares about me and my life."
Asked for specifics, academy students gave these replies: "Elder Bietz called me on my birthday to ask how my life was. No pastor had ever called me before for anything. That was so special!"
"I went with my pastor to chop wood for an old lady. We had a great time."
"Our pastor told me, 'Scott, you re ally add life to our Pathfinder group.' That really made me feel good."
"I liked working with Pastor when we painted the church."
"My dad's a preacher, and I like it when he asks my advice on his sermons."
"Our pastor spent hours with our family when my parents were splitting up. We would go to his house and talk and talk. He and his wife never made us feel less than a real family, even though we had problems."
"I appreciate our pastor because once when my friend and I got into trouble with our parents, he talked to them and got things straightened out for us."
"Our academy Bible teacher, Victor Brown, made us boys part of his family. We loved Friday nights at his house in front of the fire. He talked us into giving Bible studies, too, and when one girl gave her heart to the Lord, Pastor Brown insisted that we boys go into the water and stand with him during her baptism because we'd brought her to Christ. That was a real thrill!"
"The minister came to the hospital to see me the day after I checked in. He really cared."
"At camp, Buz Menhardt used to just sit by us and let us talk. We'd talk to him about anything because we never felt he was judging us."
"I like the way our pastor asks us to do things instead of ordering us to do them."
"When he joins us in sports, our pastor always plays fair. He doesn't call shots in his favor just because he's an adult."
"Our pastor isn't high and mighty. He's a real human. He makes mistakes, too, and he admits it."
One mother told me how much the youth of her church like their pastor, Mike Stevenson, Jr. An hour after teaching a Sabbath school lesson in which he compared struggling Christians to Olympic athletes looking for the judges' scorecards, Mike rose in church and made an eloquent offering appeal. At the close, he glanced down at the teenagers on the front row--and nearly lost his composure. Each grinning youth was holding up a church bulletin-scorecard with 8,9, or 10 penciled on the back. The pastor's young friends had rated his offering appeal!
What makes a pastor score a 10 with teachers and youth? Honesty, a sense of humor, caring concern, and love--character traits that come from a close association with the One whose love he or she is trying to convey. And after all, isn't that what pastoring is all about?
Teachers like pastors who:
Join in a school work bee
Help take the kids out Ingathering
Tell the children's story at church
Take time to talk to young people
Share the credit for a baptism with the child's teachers
Help to take students out on community projects
Support the teachers in school board meetings
Plan for children and youth in church activities
Use young people in worship services
Keep counseling sessions strictly confidential
Are honest and nonpolitical
Treat teachers as equals, not inferiors
Ask how they can help the school
Play ball with the students occasionally
Help to work out plans for financing worthy students
Don't expect special treatment for their children.