Take one sheet of paper from the envelope on your tables and one pair of scissors, one each for every two people. Work with a partner at your table. Pretend that paper is the problem you face. Your challenge is to cut a hole in that one piece of paper that is large enough for the two of you to walk through.”
I give this sample exercise to pas- tors and teachers. I have conducted numerous full-day interactive workshops where pastors and teachers sit in small teams around a table planning, dreaming, and working together on mission. Our challenge in Christian education is to cut a hole large enough, to have a passion deep enough, and to make a path wide enough for pastors and teachers to walk through together. I have received numerous testimonies from pastors, teachers, and conference administrators about how this day gave them a new appreciation of each other’s ministry and provided them a new opportunity to explore ways to enhance both of their missional goals.
Organizations do not exist in iso- lation. Rather, they are embedded in a wide variety of social networks that provide opportunities to achieve their goals. Churches, schools, and the constituents they serve also exist within a community—a social network. If we follow the logic that an organiza- tion’s success is contingent upon how they put their resources to work, then we can conclude that it is important to understand how to capitalize on existing relationships. These available relationships are an asset to an organi- zation, and it is only as we utilize these relationships in collaborative ways that the benefits will be fully realized.
Specifically, how can we, as an organization, maximize the potential for Adventist churches and schools to partner in ministry?
Schools and churches
Teachers: “How can you intentionally connect the church to your school for those who may tour your facility and for non-Adventist parents?” I ask pastors: “How can you intentionally connect the school to your church for visitors, Bible study interests, and new as well as old members?”
It is easy to forget our interdepen- dence upon each other and set out alone to pursue our organizational mission. Many churches and schools function within comfortable “boxes” without regard to the opportunities within arms reach. However, even in those times when there is an admission of the need to develop interorganizational connections, there is an accompanying challenge in knowing how to forge those links in a sustainable fashion. All too often, we see two buildings with two different ministries and two disconnected missions.
Adventist schools and churches are embedded within a system that provides them with rich opportunities to achieve their missional goals. The Seventh-day Adventist Church and school are referred to as a system; yet research reveals that these two parallel organizations often function in isolation to each other and fail in utilizing avail- able relationships in the attainment of their missional goals.2 A collaborative relationship between the two ministry leaders, Adventist pastor and teacher, would enhance the missional goals of both the church and the school.3
Sahlin strongly argued for the need to collaborate as a team in furthering the goals of both the church and the school. He says that this sense of connectedness is missing and many Adventist schools are operating at arm’s length from the church.4 Patterson summed up the problem in this man- ner: “Consequently, two parallel organizational systems—the church and the school—function at the local level with minimal structured interac- tion between the denominationally employed leaders serving each.”5
According to the statistics on the North American Division (NAD) Department of Education website, the Adventist Church of today operates over 7,200 schools worldwide, with nearly 1.5 million students.6 The primary aim of Seventh-day Adventist education, it says, is to provide opportunity for students to accept Christ as their Savior, allow the Holy Spirit to transform their lives, and fulfill the commission of preaching the gospel to all the world.
The website of the NAD, meanwhile, states that the church seeks to enhance quality of life for people everywhere and to let people know that Jesus is returning soon.7 A close examination of the goals of these two entities reveals that they are closely aligned, as both have a redemptive purpose.
Adventist schools operate in close relationship with Adventist churches. Children often attend both the school and sponsoring church, and much of the school budget comes directly through appropriations from the local church. This relationship of both the church and school provides an opportunity for the two entities to collaborate in such a way so as to benefit both. The goal of early Adventist education was to prepare the student for a life of service, and while that goal has remained, another emerged as being central. In the book Education, Ellen G. White said that the work of education and the work of redemption were one and the same.8
Introducing students to Jesus as their Savior should be the ultimate goal in every Adventist classroom. Many pastors and teachers were concerned that a failure to collaborate may lead to the demise of the church and the school; however, some feel that the ultimate price to be paid may be that some may not be in heaven as a result of a failure to work together in positive ways to achieve missional objectives.
According to Lowell Rasmussen, the church’s two greatest commands were to preach and to teach, to evangelize and to educate. “If one is neglected, the other suffers; if either one is neglected, the church suffers. The educational program of the church and the evan- gelistic program of the church must go hand in hand.”9 He wrote that the Christian school is the most indispens- able method that we have of saving our children within the church.
United in mission
Perhaps Adventist schools should adopt a power-packed statement con- tained in the Lutheran Board Manual for Elementary Schools: “Lutheran theology and educational philosophy clearly advocate a united ministry of pastor and principal. These two are considered to have calls from God to serve in the ministry, and they are partners in the gospel. The Lutheran day school should be an integral expression of the church’s mission. To separate the ministry of the pastor from the ministry of the school will result in failure. The pastor and the principal should meet together regularly to coordinate their efforts and to improve the effectiveness of their ministry as partners for Christ. They are a part of the same team.”10
It is not a matter of two different or separate entities but, rather, one entity with two branches, each realizing the vital part they play toward reaching their missional goal. The mission of the school is an extension of the mission of the church. If you try to separate the two, then both fall short of the missional goal that God has entrusted to you. The bottom line in the missional goal of both the church and the school is redemptive in nature.'
In one school I recently visited, the classroom teacher asked all the stu- dents to repeat their mission statement. Those young elementary students repeated their school’s mission state- ment in unison, word-for-word, and by memory. The students were clear as to what the mission of their school was. In addition, the church held this same mission statement. This common mis- sional goal was forefront in the minds of all involved in both church and school.
Conversations between pastor and teachers regarding the commonality of mission center on the realization that they are both aiming for the same goal and that together they have the pos- sibility of achieving far greater results than by working independently. So much more can be accomplished when working together for the same goal than could be accomplished if you act alone.
Common goal attainment is per- haps one of the biggest arguments that one can use to promote this high level of collaborative practice between pastor and teacher. Newton Hoilette writes: “There is no need for conflict, for feelings of inferiority or privilege. Both pastors and teachers are on the same team. Instead of rivalry, there should be professional and spiritual collegiality. There is a need for parity, for mutual respect, regard, support, understanding, and cooperation.”11 If the goals of the Adventist pastor and those of the Adventist teacher have parallels, then perhaps the application of collaborative theories into daily classroom practice would benefit edu- cators, students, schools, churches, and our communities at large in positive ways.
Why it matters
As a direct means of fulfilling their missional goal, pastors and teachers identify the best way to help the stu- dents make a decision to accept Jesus. If the pastor is an active participant in the life of the school, this means that the students have greater opportunity to develop positive relationships with the pastor. In turn, this naturally leads to a great probability that the student will have spiritual discussions with the pastor and be drawn to Jesus.
The pastor and teachers working together in a positive relationship sets a positive role model for students. In addition, when an Adventist school has a positive relationship with the church, it creates a sense of security for the older church members, who could be assured of the sustainability of the church as they witness young people from the school taking on leadership roles and becoming active participants.
Combined planning and dreaming also are seen to lead to improved health of the pastors and teachers. Pastors and teachers in collaborative relationships express greater happiness, decreased stress, less anxiety, and fewer sleep- less nights in knowing that they have a “partner in ministry.” Successes are shared with their ministry partner as are burdens and concerns. Having another to help “shoulder” the burdens makes them easier to bear.
Recommendations for pastors
Because this article is targeted spe- cifically to pastors, I will include some recommendations to maximize the pastor/teacher relationship. However, there are recommendations for teach- ers too. Recommendations for pastors include the following:
1. Closely align the goals of the church and the school so that a common mission goal is clear.
2. Identify your strengths and weak- nesses. Hold discussions with the school staff on how you may maxi- mize the use of your strengths in order to attain your ministry goals.
3. Make the school a priority in your calendar.
4. Be visible and active on the school campus on a regular basis.
5. Schedule special Sabbaths in the church calendar to focus on Adventist education.
6. Schedule regular times with your teaching ministry team to discuss goals and dreams.
7. Discuss any differences with teach- ers and deal with conflicts in private according to scriptural principles.
8. Be a cheerleader for the school, staff, and students from the pulpit.
9. Be intentional about creating opportunities to get to know your educational partner in ministry outside the school environment.
10. Pray daily for your teachers as partners in ministry.
11. Do not expect perfection in your educational partners in ministry.
12. Make full use of that “relational oil” of collaboration as you build relationships with those you serve in the church and school family. In so doing, your ministry will be blessed.
At the close of our workshop I ask: “What are the benefits of a positive pastor-teacher collaboration for church members, parents, and children?” What are the benefits for your ministry? Then pastors pray with their team-member teachers. But it does not end with prayer. We then appeal to pastors and teachers:
1. Define your commitment or the change you want to make.
2. Describe it as a clear, realistic, and measurable outcome.
3. Identify the steps.
4. Define resources needed to make it happen.
5. Sign it and have your ministry part- ner sign it as well.
What an encouragement it was for the teachers to know they had the support of their pastors. What an encouragement it was for the pas- tors to know that their teachers were passionate about lifting up Christian education. In setting out to describe the collaborative practices of Adventist pastors and teachers, I listened to them tell a story of collaboration at its best. It is a story of the possibilities when one pastor and one teacher unite in their common missional goal: the salvation of young people. Indeed, Adventist education and evangelism are inseparable. If we are to fulfill our common mission, Adventist pastors and teachers must link their arms in col- laborative practices, raise their voices in collective prayers, and cut a hole large enough for both ministry partners to walk through.
1 This article is based on the dissertation, “A Multiple-Case Study Describing Collaborative Relations Between Adventist Pastors in the Eastern United States,” written by Pamela Consuegra, PhD (Andrews University, School of Education, 2012).
2 See Stan Patterson, “Organizational Expectations and Role Clarification of Pastors and Educators Serving K–10 Schools Operated by the Georgia-Cumberland Conference of Seventh-day Adventists” (unpublished doctoral dissertation, Andrews University, 2007); Monte Sahlin, “Preacher-Teacher Collaboration,” Ministry, August 1985, 12–14, 17.
4 Monte Sahlin, “Pastor and Teacher: Cooperating for Success,” Journal of Adventist Education 48, no. 1 (Oct–Nov 1985): 8–11.
5 Patterson, 5.
6 Seventh-day Adventist Church, North American Division, “Education,” 2012, http://www.nadadventist.org/article/27/ministries/education [This link is no longer valid.]
7 Seventh-day Adventist Church, North American Division, “About Our Church,” 2012, http://www .nadadventist.org/article/2/about-our-church.
8 Ellen G. White, Education (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1952), 30.
9 Lowell R. Rasmussen, “Minister in the Making: Evangelism and Education,” Ministry, January 1950, 15, 16.
10 Martin F. Wessler, Board Manual for Lutheran Elementary Schools (St. Louis, MO: Board for Parish Services, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, 1987), 32.
11 Newton Hoilette, “The Same Gift: ‘And . . . to Some, Pastors and Teachers,’” Journal of Adventist Education 55, no. 2 (Dec. 1992–Jan. 1993), 4.