Organizations do not exist in isolation. Rather, they are embedded in a wide variety of social networks that provide them with 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 organization’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 organization, 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 link arms and partner in ministry?
It is easy to forget our interdependence upon each other and set out alone to pursue our organizational mission. Many churches and schools function within comfortable “boxes” without regard to the existing opportunities that lie within arm’s 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 linkages in a sustainable fashion. All too often we see two buildings with two different ministries and two disconnected missions.
Yes, 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, and yet, research reveals that these two parallel organizations often function in isolation and fail in utilizing available relationships in the attainment of their missional goals (Patterson, 2007; Sahlin, 1985b). A collaborative relationship between the two ministry leaders, Adventist pastor and teacher, would enhance the missional goals of both the church and the school (Sahlin, 1985b; Patterson, 2007).
Sahlin, (1985a) strongly argued the need to collaborate as a team in furthering the goals of both the church and the school. He goes on to say that all too often, this sense of connectedness is missing and many Adventist schools are operating at arm’s length from the church. Patterson (2007) summed up the problem in this manner, “Consequently, two parallel organizational systems—the church and the school—function at the local level with minimal structured interaction between the denominationally employed leaders serving each” (p. 5).
According to the statistics on the North American Division Department of Education website, the Adventist Church of today operates over 7,200 schools worldwide with nearly 1.5 million students (Seventh-day Adventist Church, 2012b). It goes on to further state that the primary aim of Seventh-day Adventist education is to provide opportunity for students to accept Christ as their Savior, to allow the Holy Spirit to transform their lives, and to fulfill the commission of preaching the gospel to all the world.
Regarding the mission of the Adventist church, the North American Division Church website states that the Seventh-day Adventist Church seeks to enhance quality of life for people everywhere and to let people know that Jesus is coming soon again (Seventh-day Adventist Church, 2012a). 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 from appropriations from the church. This relationship from both the church and school provides an opportunity for the two entities to cooperate and collaborate in such a way so as to benefit both the church and the school. 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 (1952) said that the work of education and the work of redemption were one and the same. Introducing students to Jesus as their Savior should be the ultimate goal in every Adventist classroom.
According to Rasmussen (1950), the church’s two greatest commands were to preach and to teach, to evangelize, and to educate. He states, “If one is neglected the other suffers; if either one is neglected, the church suffers. The educational program of the church and the evangelistic program of the church must go hand in hand” (p. 15). He goes on to state that the Christian school is the most indispensable method that we have of saving our children within the church.
United in Mission
Perhaps Adventist schools should adopt a power-packed statement contained in the Lutheran Board Manual for Elementary Schools (Wessler, 1987), “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” (p. 25).
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 towards reaching their missional goal. This realization that the ministry of the church and the school are the same is what propels the ministry forward for both entities. 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.
When was the last time you examined your calling? In one school I recently visited, the classroom teacher asked all the students to repeat their mission statement. I stood witness as those young elementary students repeated their school’s mission statement in unison word for word and by memory. The students were clear as to what the mission of their school was. In addition, this same mission statement was held by the church. It was consistently kept before the students, parents, and every church member. This common missional goal was forefront in the minds of all involved in both church and school.
Conversations between pastor and teacher regarding the commonality of mission center on the realization that they are both aiming for the same goal, and together, they have the possibility of achieving far greater results than working independently. So much more can be accomplished when you are working together for the same mission and the same goal than could be accomplished if you act alone. In other words, there is greater power and potential in two than there is in one.
Common goal attainment is perhaps one of the biggest arguments that one can use to promote this high level of collaborative practice between pastor and teacher. Hoilette (1993) puts it this way, “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” (p. 4). 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 educators, 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 benefits to include a greater potential on the part of students that they would make a decision to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. 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.
Pastor and teacher working together in a positive relationship sets a positive role model for students to emulate. This idea of setting a positive role model for students was identified as being an important role of the Adventist pastor and teacher. And what better way to teach a concept than to live it and have the students as a witness.
In addition, when an Adventist school has a positive relationship with the church, it creates a sense of security for the older church members. They are not so concerned if their beloved church will continue after their death, but they are 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 were seen to lead to improved health of the pastors and teachers who practice it. The health benefits are not to be minimized as they are very real. Pastors and teachers in collaborative relationships express greater happiness, decreased stress, less anxiety, and fewer sleepless 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 is seen as making them easier to bear.
Recommendations for Pastors
Since this article is targeted specifically to pastors, I will include some recommendations to maximize the pastor/teacher relationship. However, please be assured that there are also recommendations for teachers. Recommendations for pastors incude:
1. Closely align the goals of the church and the school so that a common missional goal is clear.
2. Identify your strengths and your weaknesses. Discuss ways with the school staff that you may maximize 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 the teacher 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 teacher as a partner in ministry.
11. Don’t expect perfection in your educational partner 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.
In setting out to describe the collaborative practices of Adventist pastors and teachers, I listened to their voices tell a story of collaboration at its best. It is a story of the possibilities when one pastor and one teacher join hands in their common missional goal of 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 arms in collaborative practices towards this goal attainment. We can accomplish more for Jesus if we work together as ministry partners!
Pamela Consuegra is the Associate Director of Family Ministries, North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists
Hoilette, N. (1993). The same gift: And to some pastors and teachers. Journal of Adventist Education, 55(2), 4-7.
Patterson, S. (2007). 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, Berrien Springs, MI.
Rasmussen, L. R. (1950, January). Minister in the making: Evangelism and education. Ministry, 15-16.
Sahlin, M. (1985a). Pastor and teacher: Cooperating for success. Journal of Adventist Education, 48(1), 8-11.
Sahlin, M. (1985b, August). Preacher-teacher collaboration. Ministry, 12-14, 17.
Seventh-day Adventist Church, North America Division. (2012a). About our church. Retrieved from http://www.nadadventist.org/article/2/about-our-church
Seventh-day Adventist Church, North America Division. (2012b). Education. Retrieved from http://www.nadadventist.org/article/27/ministries/education
Wessler, M. F. (1987). Board manual for Lutheran elementary schools. St. Louis, MO: Board for Parish Services, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.
White, E. G. (1952). Education. Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press.
Note: This article is based on the dissertation, “A MULTIPLE-CASE STUDY DESCRIBING COLLABORATIVE RELATIONS BETWEEN ADVENTIST PASTORS AND TEACHERS” written by Pamela Consuegra, PhD (Andrews University, School of Education)