Pastors can help public education and expand ministry opportunities by building relationships and trust with local school officials, a Houston pastor told clergy and educators at a faith summit in Memphis last week.
Ed Hogan, senior pastor of Jersey Village Baptist Church in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Houston, said when he and other ministers met with their local superintendent several years ago, all the other ministers did was complain. Feeling that was counterproductive, he tried another approach, volunteering at his local elementary, middle and high school.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
“I want to be your friend,” Hogan said he told educators. “I want to get to know you. I’ll help you in any way, shape or form.”
Tasks like tutoring and chaperoning field trips developed into weightier responsibilities, such as serving on a drug-and-alcohol task force and a bond committee. “Along the way, I discovered it’s about relationships and trust,” he said.
Hogan said ministers sometime come in off the street thinking their title or position gives them a right to special access to schools. “Well, those teachers and administrators are leery,” he said.
Because of relationships with school personnel, Hogan said, “I probably have extraordinary opportunities to help people in the school district I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to help,” like visiting the hospital and praying with a teacher in ICU.
Once, after a student committed suicide, the school’s principal, a member of Hogan’s church, asked him to be the one to tell the teachers. Hogan showed up at school at 6:30 a.m., telling teachers one-by-one that one of their students had died, three of whom he had never met.
By the time students arrived, Hogan said, they had been text-messaging each other and already knew. Because a minister came to school and told them face-to-face, he said, the teachers were better prepared to deal with a difficult day.
“Relationships and trust are the absolute keys to churches and religion being involved in the public school system,” Hogan said.
Last year Cypress-Fairbanks IndependentSchool District reciprocated by honoring Hogan with its “Friend of Education” award.
Hogan said ministers need to wear their “First Amendment hat” when ministering to public schools. It might be OK for youth in a church to invite their minister to visit them at school during lunchtime, for example, but the minister should avoid trying to proselytize other students while there.
“We understand as ministers we are guests on campus,” Hogan said. “We have no right to be there.”
“Because we work with the teachers, because we work with the principal, because we dialogue with them and they trust us and they know we are not going to step over those boundaries,” he said, “I think it gives us opportunities to do what we otherwise would not be able to do.”
Hogan said he tells fellow pastors in his school district, one of the fastest-growing in the country, they cannot “be a pastor” to all 60 schools, “But you can take time to know your local elementary, middle and high school principal by name, volunteer to make hotdogs at volleyball games,” he said. “You can build trust.”
Brent Beasley, senior pastor of Second Baptist Church of Memphis, summarized discussion of the two-day meeting, sponsored by the Tennessee Education Association in cooperation with the BaptistCenter for Ethics.
“Sometimes we have to say no and sometimes we have to say yes,” Beasley said. “The challenge is knowing that proper balance.”
“We say no to coercion and proselytizing and pushing our religion on students and using religion to control school boards or divide communities,” he said. “We say yes to encouraging and speaking positively about education and proactive efforts” to improve it.
“We certainly, as church leaders, as you do, recognize the need for reform in our schools and problems you face,” Beasley said. “At the same time we say no to religious leaders who tell people of faith the exit public schools. We say no to the demonization of public schools that some Christians engage in.”
“We say yes to public schools as best we can,” he said. “We say no to trying to deride them, bring them down.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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