The pastor of my youth was a special individual and unique among pastors. For me, from about age 7 to age 20, he built the definition of “pastor” that will last a lifetime. There is something different, something pure in his way.
He’s a brilliant speaker who leaves you leaning forward. When he speaks – clocks disappear. His studied pastoral heart coupled with his gifted writing skills have shared his insights with other ministers for generations. While his knowledge and understanding are deep his motives are pure and simple and thus his message is clear to all ears. This is the man. He is one of the few men I’ve met in my life who actually has a twinkle in his eye.
As a teenager, our family church was large for such a small town. Each Sunday you could find between 500 – 600 people at this church associated with a small college just across the street. My pastor led this diverse group for sixteen years, a tenure which speaks to both his effectiveness and to the affection of his parishioners. I knew other preachers but he was the only pastor I knew for my growing up years. Even kids know the difference. Preachers have priorities – pastors have purpose.
When I turned sixteen it was time for the long-awaited Right of Passage of getting a driver’s license. With my savings I bought my first used car – a 1963 Olds Cutlass Convertible. It had a 3 speed manual transmission with a stick between the bucket seats, a peppy 330 cubic inch V8, and an AM radio. (I’d never driven a manual transmission before so when Mr. Hunsaker took my money and told me I could back it out of his garage, it was a jerky and embarrassing start/stop/stall process.) Here’s a picture of what it looked like in my dreams however my 1963 Cutlass was actually white with a black top and black interior.
Here’s a cheesy 1963 General Motors ad for the upcoming ’64 Cutlass which looks just like the ‘63s. Aside from the white interior, this was my car although, as I said earlier, I had an AM radio – I didn’t actually have musicians in my car as they do in this ad.
This $300 car was cool but would need help to be really cool. Being a fan of automotive design, I tried repainting the black accents on the stock hub caps but the car still looked like its owner was 58 years old. So, I removed the hub caps and painted the wheels flat black. Next, I applied eight coats of cleaner wax to every square centimeter of that glorious machine so even the rust spots were protected from road grime. The carpets were shampooed and the seats cleaned and treated. I now had a signature look – clean black & white, top down sporty, but I was missing one key ingredient – the sound of presence.
With the help of my buddy who knew all about cars, I added two “glass packs” to the exhaust system to get the desired deep throaty presence. Not loud, not obnoxious, but it made a statement of sophomoric sophistication. Of all the many cars I’ve owned this one got better gas mileage when moving than when idling at a stop sign. With the clutch in and the top down, you just had to pump the gas when stopped just to hear that wonderful rumble from the glass packs. Now I was sight AND sound.
The pastor called our home and asked to go for a spin in the new car and would I pick him up after school at his office. This man with the ever-full Day Planner and a Rolodex full of important adults – called my home.
I drove up to the side door of the church just outside his office and gave a gentle rev of the glass packs to let the neighborhood know, in a subtle way, that Craig was here for his 4 o’clock. I assumed by now he knew it was my signature sound. He bounded out of his office and approached the passenger door. He was a giant of a man in a diminutive body. This afternoon he wasn’t wearing his usual suit coat . . . his tie may have been undone. He stuck his head in the window, greeted me and gave the ’63 Cutlass an admiring look.
He took his place in the passenger seat and I eased up to the stop sign . . . coasting and lightly revving the motor. There were no warning dings about seat belts – we didn’t use them – the only sound was the gentle rumble of my presence. As we drove around the corner and headed to the edge of town for a test drive, he looked about the car for things to admire. He picked up on the clean look of the dash, the appearance and feel of the fine black vinyl and he noted how clean the windows were. When he offered to buy a Coke I turned the car toward the A & W Root Beer stand by the high school. I parked in my usual spot and my normal waitress came to the car to take our order.
I could tell the conversation was now subtly drifting away from car talk. I was a little nervous. Was he going to suddenly spring the Four Spiritual laws on me? What would I say? How could I respond in a respectful manner that implies – Yes, I’ve worked through that theology, thank you very much, but tell me, what do you really think about Walker brand mufflers? I thought this was supposed to be about cars this afternoon.
There was a little lull in the conversation. I had run out of things to demonstrate – I only had AM radio and I’m pretty sure he had wipers on his car. And then he said with a calm and clear voice, “Craig . . .” – (Oh boy, here it comes!) – “Craig, I’ve noticed you . . . haven’t been paying attention . . . to my sermons.”
“Uh, ahh, buh, …duh,” I stammered. “Well, I make sure I stay reverent and respectful of others, Pastor, but it’s a college crowd, you know. You’re preaching to the college profs and students. It’s over my head . . . way over my head. I’m only a sophomore in high school. You use big words – sometimes four and five syllables. I’ll be still, I’ll be courteous – but it’s just not meant for me. In time, I’ll be there.”
Nice comeback I thought – articulate, definitive, truthful, and respectful. Maybe now would be a good time to mention I’m thinking about getting an 8-track player.
He thoughtfully paused and then offered, “OK, Craig, I’ll make you a deal. I will be very careful in my outlines and in the words I use and I will deliberately speak in a manner a high school student can grasp and then we’ll talk about it again sometime. OK?”
GULP. He had me. He had put his very pulpit in play – the main tool of his trade.
He had won the day. But his victory didn’t occur at his generous close. He had me very early in the conversation and may not have even known it. It wasn’t when the power of his position and tenure preceded him or when his aura caused me to flinch at the possibility of being backed in to a theological corner. And it wasn’t when I fogged up and stumbled through a silly response to his main statement.
He had me when he said, “Craig, . . . I noticed you…” He noticed me. This man of God, this pastor to hundreds of smart and industrious people, this man who keeps peace among conflicting committees and among the flower display ladies and who deals with divorce and depression and budgets and sermons and who stops everything on a Thursday afternoon to say to a drifting high school sophomore . . . “I noticed you.”
Do I notice others?
Do I notice the teen, the fourth grader, the poor, the sick, the elderly, the lonely? And when I do, do I respond in a manner following Jesus’ example? Do I engage without any expectation of return? Not to raise me up but to lift their spirits?
The most basic act of acknowledging a person brings them worth. A simple greeting and a good word is an easy place to start. It’s a gift freely given and gratefully received. It can embolden and has an unbelievable shelf life. There’s no reciprocation necessary – none expected. It’s a grace thing.
I was made worthy with words. I didn’t need to wash his car, or perform a religious task, or respond with a promise to love and respect. I didn’t deserve the recognition but it came my way in spite of me. He noticed me.
Who are you noticing this week?