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In Memory of My Mentor

On this All Saints Day, I thought it appropriate to repost this article I wrote October 11, 2010 upon the passing of the first lead pastor I served under. He is certainly one for whom I sing, “For all the saints, who from their labors rest…” 

I got an email this morning (11Oct2010) informing me of the passing of the Rev. Norman Schanck, a pastor and friend who meant a great deal to me. Norm was the pastor I hope to be someday. Everything I know about being a good pastor, I learned from him through the privilege of serving with him for more than five years.

I met Norm through a phone call in 1995. I had no idea who he was, but he wanted to talk to me about my ministry. I had served a local church for five years as a student-pastor and what was then known as a “probationary elder,” and I was done. I had applied for a “leave of absence” and had gotten a job in the 9-to-5 world. I was convinced pastoral ministry wasn’t for me, and I needed out. Norm called me because he saw something else.

He remembered me as a candidate coming before the Board of Ordained Ministry on which he served, probably because we were both alumni of West Virginia Wesleyan College, a small school in Buckhannon, WV. He invited me to lunch at a diner, a practice we continued for years to follow, including last summer at that very same diner. Over lunch he invited me to interview for a job as part-time youth pastor at Middletown United Methodist Church. I guess I wasn’t quite ready to leave ministry completely because I accepted the job.

That was lesson #1 from Norm: He saw me. He saw something in me no one else seemed to see. Then he reached out. Sometimes we pastors get so caught up in running the organization called the church, we forget about our call to develop people. I pray I will always have eyes to see more than crowds, but actually see individuals. I want to have the courage to reach out, invite someone to lunch, and offer my support.

Norm and I worked together until his retirement five years later. Those were great years. I was growing fast and soon I was an Ordained Deacon working full-time at the church and part-time at the 9-to-5 job. My interests in ministry were growing too, including a desire to try “contemporary worship.” While I’m not sure that Norm was ever into the whole “contemporary worship” thing ”“ no one loved the hymns more than him ”“ we talked about giving it a shot.

Lesson #2: It doesn’t have to be my idea to be a good idea. I think lots of times in the church get very caught up in thinking we know what is best all the time. I hope tat I can support the ideas/passions/enthusiasm of others. I am so grateful for the room Norm gave me to grow, and I hope I do that for others as well.

Working with Norm I learned several other lessons like:

Lesson #3: Love your people. Norm had this ability to make everyone feel special ”“ and I mean everyone: the kids, the young families, and the octogenarians; the people who came to church every Sunday and the ones we only saw on Christmas Eve; the leaders in the church and the rest of us. I hope I do the same.

Lesson #4: Don’t sweat the small stuff. One of the things I remember most about Norm was his laugh. Norm was one of those people who laughed with his whole being. The laughs came often and easy. He was fun to be around – a great pastoral quality.

Lesson #5: Do the little things. When Norm retired, Middletown UMC started to notice some things were going undone. There was this one window which suddenly seemed to get dirty a lot. We later learned that when Norm arrived very early on Sunday mornings to make sure the building was ready for us to come to worship, he cleaned that window. I want to be the pastor who straightens up after the kids, knows where the cleaning supplies are, and can put away a stack of tables and chairs in record time.

Lesson #6: Say “Thank you.”Â A woman in the church once told me that one of the things she most appreciated about Norm was, “he knew how to say ‘thank you’.” If you had served on a committee for years, helped in the kitchen for youth group meals, or just stuck around to lend a hand after an event, Norm was quick to let you know how much he appreciated what you had done. It seems so simple, and yet I don’t do it enough.

Lesson #7: Have a life. Norm had kids and grandkids he deeply loved. He took time to spend with them. He enjoyed his retirement with his wife and family. Lots of pastors can forget that and give absolutely everything to the church at the expense of their families. Norm knew better. I hope I do too.

For all of these lessons and more, I am so grateful for that phone call 15 years ago. I am thankful for the opportunity I had to share in ministry with him, and to learn from such a wonderful mentor what it means to be a good pastor. Thanks be to God.

Which brings me to lesson #8: In the end, what really matters, is that God will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”Â (Matthew 25:21 NIV). That’s my goal as a pastor, but more importantly as a Christian. I hope it is yours too.

Well done, Norm. Well done.


  1. […] as he picked out some simple tune in the living room. There are times I recognize the voice of a pastor who taught me so much. There are members of the first church I served whose faith continues to be an inspiration 30 years […]

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