Learning to Lead:
Four Theology Students Share Experiences from Pastor Mentoring Program
Eleven Walla Walla University theology students participated in the Pastor Mentoring Program during the 2013-2014 school year. The program is set up to provide practical training for theology majors in real church settings. Each student in the program had many opportunities to make a difference in their community while learning how to be a leader for God. Four of these students, Natalie Dorland, Blake Engelhart, Rob Folkenberg, and Anthony Lyder, detail their experiences as part of the program:
"The experience with the Pastor Mentoring Program that has made the most difference for me has been my involvement with the youth of the University Church. I helped give Bible Studies to a girl from Rogers Adventist School, was a staff member in the High Five Youth Group, and enjoyed teaching various children’s Sabbath School classes.
"The highlight for me has been the growing relationships that I’ve formed with the kids, which I hope to keep forming in the coming year! Some of the kids that attend High Five in particular have gone through some really rough situations. Though my advice may not make a huge difference, it has been rewarding to just be there as someone for them to talk to—someone who will listen and care.
"A moment I especially enjoyed was when we did a leadership day with the kids. Some went to the skit group, others to the baking group, and so on. I was one of the leaders for the preaching group. As we began and the kids split up, I didn’t really expect anyone to come to the preaching group. But lo and behold, three did come!
"I got to train one student on how I prepare sermons, and I helped walk him through some steps in deciding what point he wanted to make and some Bible stories and illustrations that would apply and explain his point. I felt so proud when he was able to present the little sermon he had prepared. It reminded me of when I was in grade school and was given the opportunity to speak. What made the difference for me was having someone to mentor me and believe in me. When I looked at that kid, I tried to see the best potential in him and encourage it, and I only hope I can be one of those who believed in him and helped push him toward his dreams.
"I have learned so much through this program, and I’m excited to continue learning. It has been a rewarding experience and an inspiration and catalyst for the future."
"This year I was privileged to work primarily with junior high students from the University Church and from Rogers Adventist School. Young people at this age begin to grow into the people they will be for the rest of their lives. It is a crucial time in their lives because they are forming their identity.
"I worked beside University Church youth pastor Kris Loewen with three students (Christian, Chase, and Fisher) at Rogers Adventist School after the three expressed a decision to be baptized. We led these students in Bible studies up to their baptism during fall quarter. Even after their baptism, we continued to meet with them. It was such a wonderful experience getting to know these kids and leading them into a closer walk with Jesus through a better understanding of the Bible and God’s message in it.
"Through working with Pastor Kris, I was also able to participate in, and later help lead out in, a retreat for young-adult men. In March, we took most of the Walla Walla Valley Academy senior class on this retreat. During this time together—through talking, listening, and doing—we experienced a growing awareness in ourselves and in others in the group of the work that God is doing in us. As the retreat progressed, the men shared many of the things they struggle with. One student, especially, opened up and shared a lot of especially heavy stuff he had on his heart. He cried out for help. We were there; we showed up, we were present and available to help him through his time of great need, which included praying for him and referring him to someone trained in dealing well with the pain he experienced. All the young men opened up and shared their struggles. We were able to dialogue with them, teach them, learn with them, and grow together to a closer understanding of who God is calling us to be..
"God’s presence has been greatly experienced on this campus. The Pastor Mentoring Program is a great way for students to intentionally get involved in not only His presence, but His work."
"As a student pastor intern, I have had the privilege of being part of a small Collegiate Sabbath School at the College Place Village Church. A few students come from Walla Walla University, and just as many come that attend Walla Walla Community College or are in the working world already. One particular Sabbath, the regular leaders of the Sabbath School were out of town, and I was in charge. It was a very small group on that Sabbath, and I wondered how discussion would go, as this forms the backbone of our time together. There may have been six people there.
"Perhaps two-thirds of the way through our time, several had to leave. That left me and three or four other young men. We were now in dire straits, or so I thought. In reality, God was preparing us for a special time together. I had been able to get to know the guys pretty well over the time I had been at the church, so we were all fairly comfortable with each other. Soon the discussion came to areas where we were able to talk about struggles men tend to have with the opposite sex. There was honest discussion as we chatted about something real in our lives. We resonated with each other, discussed ways of dealing with struggles we had, and I left very encouraged and happy.
"God has a way of taking moments that could go the wrong way and turning them into pivotal experiences. I won’t soon forget the time that only a few guys stayed for the entirety of Sabbath School. God led us to solid, uplifting discussion and perhaps gave a young man something he needed to hear that day. Being privy to such moments is exciting and just one of the great things I experienced as a pastoral mentee."
"There is something amazing about the way God uses us when we are truly willing. Throughout this quarter, I have had the incredible opportunity to work with Pastor Mark Etchell at the Walla Walla City SDA Church. While duties like preaching and learning technical abilities from Pastor Etchell have also been a focus of this experience, my main duty this quarter has been as one of the youth pastors on his leadership team. As part of this team, I work with two others to plan, prepare, vision, facilitate, and conduct weekly meetings and outreach to young people at the City Church. This has been such an amazing experience I could probably tell story after story about the way God has worked through this ministry for His Kingdom, but one stands out in my mind.
"Throughout the entire year a consistent theme for us in discussion time has been the existence of sin in the world. We have spent a lot of time talking about why bad things happen to good people, God’s plan for every individual, and the message of salvation. Many of the kids we are working with come from broken homes and really tough backgrounds. One girl in particular had her mother pass away after a pretty terrible car accident. She has consistently asked questions about life after death, and one night we decided to split up into groups to go through some of the harder questions the kids had on the more personal level. I went around my small circle of teenagers and asked them about any unanswered questions about God they may have, and promised to do my best answering.
"I am by no means a scholar yet, and I have so much to learn, but what took place next is a testament to how God uses us even through our inadequacies. The same girl mentioned above raised her hand and asked, “If God is a loving God like you’ve said, how can he send people to such an awful place like hell?” Now it is one thing to have a stock theological reply for someone, or a thesis statement to put in a research paper, but answering this question in real-time, for someone who is truly seeking, is something I have never done before. But as I said, the Holy Spirit was at work, so I had the amazing privilege of telling her about the love of God, how God does not force people to love him, and how at the end will leave people to what they have chosen, because he loves them that much. I told her what Seventh-day Adventists believe about hell: that it is not a different dimension where God tortures people for all of eternity, but a final event to eradicate sin and death in this world.
"After I had explained this, she looked quite puzzled and asked “but even if it is only an event and not forever, isn’t it still cruel for us who will be in heaven to know our loved ones are destroyed in hell?” To this I admitted to her that, while it will be difficult, there will be a time when we will get to see all the moments when God tried his hardest to love our loved ones, even more than we do! I concluded the conversation by challenging her to be the one to share the message of God’s love to her family and loved ones so there is no question as to the opportunity everyone has to be included in the kingdom and family of God. She quietly nodded and quit asking questions.
"While this experience was not specifically “soul-winning,” I believe it is an amazing stepping stone for what God wants to do in her life in the future as we continue to work with her. God is at work in the lives of all of the kids we have coming to this youth group, and I am excited to see how he tugs at their hearts. Hopefully we will get to celebrate a baptism at some point!"