In January of 1979 I enrolled as a student at the Canadian Bible College in Regina. I hadn’t been a student for over a dozen years and my last experience hadn’t been all that successful. I had put it all on the line. I had resigned from a secure position. I had withdrawn all my accumulated pension money to pay my tuition, now it was up to me. How would I translate what I was going to learn in these classes into a career as a pastor?
One thing I didn’t realize was that God was already at work teaching me valuable lessons for pastoral ministry. I had been taught one even before I had responded to God’s call to enter pastoral ministry. I later realized that some of my most important lessons didn’t really seem like lessons at the time. They were almost more God saying, “Oh, by the way, here’s something for you to remember.”
The first such lesson came when we had just begun establishing ourselves at Parkdale Church of the Nazarene in Regina. We had decided to spend a weekend with my parents who lived in Assiniboia, an hour south of Moose Jaw. We didn’t go to church that Sunday. On Monday morning our pastor, Mark Caldwell called and asked if I would be available to have coffee with him. Of course, I would be available. I had tremendous respect and affection for this man. He picked me up at the office and we went for coffee. I asked him a question that had been bothering me since he called me. “Why did you call? Why did you want to see me?” His answer was very simple, but it has left an indelible mark on my soul. He said that as a pastor he felt it was his responsibility to make every person in his congregation feel needed, wanted, and missed if they weren’t there. It has now been over forty years since I was taught that lesson and whenever a person has been missing from a Sunday morning worship service, I have been reminded of this lesson. Sometimes I knew precisely why they weren’t there. I had sometimes been told that they would be away that weekend or I received a phone call saying that someone in the family was sick.
I realized that there was a real need for pastoral visitation. People needed to know that as their pastor, as their shepherd I was paying attention and cared about them. Unfortunately, some people will make the decision to move to another congregation and as a bit of a people pleaser I found that very difficult. What had I done that had brought about this decision. I tried to arrange for exit interviews to find out what I could learn from the situation.
For eight years I had served as pastor to seniors at Cornerstone church in Saskatoon. When COVID struck it was more difficult to maintain the personal contact that I had so cherished. I spent a lot of time walking in our neighbourhood and would often stop at the home of a person that attended our church. I would phone them from the sidewalk to see if they would be interested in seeing me. In most cases they were. They were glad to see me but a number of them had made the decision to start attending another church that was dealing with the pandemic differently than we were. It was difficult for me to have those conversations but that lesson I had learned from Mark Caldwell was still valid. They still needed to know that they were needed, wanted, and missed when they weren’t there.
My next lesson came just before we were scheduled to move to our first church assignment in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. I had developed a close friendship with a man named Dave Crofton. He and I played racquetball and he regularly beat me. I asked if he had one piece of advice to give me before I took on this assignment and he said, “Show them Jesus.” There was a small brass plaque on the pulpit of the church in Fort Saskatchewan and it was a quotation from John 12:21 “Sir, we would see Jesus.” Every Sunday as I stood to preach, I was reminded of this lesson taught by a racquetball wizard.
My third lesson came shortly after we had settled into Fort Saskatchewan. Bill and Margaret Baptiste had been the founding pastors of this congregation. Bill had died a few years before we arrived, but Margaret still lived in Calgary. She was blind and in care. Our district office was in Calgary, and I would stop in to visit Margaret as often as I could. On one of my first visits, I asked her, “Mrs. Baptiste, what advice would give me as I begin this grand adventure of pastoral ministry?” Her advice was simple. “Love your people,” she told me. Love your people. A necessary corollary is let them know that you love them.
I don’t want to denigrate anything I learned when I was a student at Canadian Bible College, but I think three of the most valuable lessons I learned were outside the formal classroom – let people know they are needed, wanted, and missed if they aren’t there, show them Jesus and let them know you love them.
These aren’t just lessons for the pastorate, they are for us all. So, remember these lessons as you minister in your church and Keep the Son in Your Eyes.