By Timothy Fish timothyfish.net
I went over to grab another slice of pizza. Every other pizza I had ever tasted came in at a far second to this pizza. I decided that God must really be good to put me in a position where even the pizza was great. Everything was working out right. Our senior pastor had made it clear that he thought I would make a good replacement for him when he retired. I was not sure when that would be, but since he was over eighty I did not figure it would be very long. I secretly made the decision to keep the things in my office to a minimum. That would make it easier to move my stuff into the larger office down the hall when the time came. I did not tell anyone about that because I did not want people to think that I was just sitting around waiting for when I could move up to Senior Pastor. It was not that there was anything wrong with my idea. I believe that it is biblical. Moses trained Joshua; Elijah trained Elisha; Jesus trained the apostles; Paul trained Timothy and Titus. There would times that I would wonder if I should train Neal and then expect him to take over the youth ministry when I moved on.
[Ah, here’s some narration. I can even see some humor trying to peek through the shroud of stuffiness your language (lack of contractions) throws over it.]
“So, what do you think?” Tiffany asked as she came up behind me.
“I think I am overwhelmed,” I said.
“We’ll do alright,” she said and scratched my back with her fingernails. “They are all good kids.”
[She must be his wife. For a second I was creeped out there. A lot of names came at me and I forgot Tiffany was even the one he came in with. Please do introduce her as his wife.]
With one word, Tiffany had said that I was not going into this thing alone. Sure, I had the title, for what little it was worth, but we would be doing the work together. To me, that is how a family is supposed to serve the Lord. It does not always work that way. I have seen some families where the man works in one ministry while the woman works in another. In other families, he serves in the ministry and she stays home with the kids. I think it would be better to remain single than to have a family that you only see when you pass each other in the halls at church. What would be the fun of having someone to talk to if you do not have anything in common?
[With the hours a pastor puts in, I understand he’s happy they work in the same ministry. I get what you’re saying, but be careful. Have him focus on the positive—the benefits of having his wife work at his side. Don’t say anything negative. Readers will often mistake your character’s opinions for your own. You seem to be saying that no one should get married if they aren’t going to work together. Like they can’t have anything in common outside of a job. In that case, they’ll dislike your character and you.
Our youth pastor’s wife is a stay-at-home mom. She’s by his side working with the youth when she can, but her main responsibility is to her 3 kids, all under the age of 4.
I’m a writer. My husband does construction maintenance. He’s laid back. I tend to worry. What we have in common is deep faith and a sense of humor. (See, you managed to offend me, and I’m here to help! :o)]
“Yes, they are good kids, but I didn’t realize that there would be so many of them,” I said.
“These are only part of them. Maybe your predecessor wasn’t as bad as what some people seem to think.”
“That could be,” I said. “Or it could be that kids like Neal have had a major influence.”
I do not know how much influence Neal had with the man who worked with the youth before me, but he had a tremendous impact on my own efforts to lead the youth ministry. As an associate pastor, [Finally, a job title. We need this info sooner.] I had other responsibilities as well, so there was a temptation to let the youth ministry slide some. Sometimes, I did not even notice that I was letting it happen, but Neal did. I could always tell when he did not think I was doing enough.
[Wait a minute; I was at a pizza party in someone’s house. Now I don’t know where I am, or how much time has passed. Other than meeting Neal, did anything happen at that party? Finish up that scene, then move on, with an obvious transition.]
“We should go on a float trip this summer,” he might say.
“We’ll see,” I would say. “It takes money to do that kind of stuff.”
“Most of us have money we can pay,” he would say.
“Let me think about it.”
“Isn’t there a big youth meeting coming up?” he once asked.
“Yes, there is,” I said, remembering that I had promised to take the youth group.
“When do we have to have our paperwork in?” he asked.
“Not for a while,” I said and then went back to my office and discovered that it would have to be in a lot sooner than I had thought. After that, I was more careful about keeping everything organized. He never told me directly that he thought I was falling down on the job. I just felt it at times.
[That little bit of remembered dialog might sound better in summary. The “might say” “would say” gets a little tedious. Try something more along the lines of: Neal often made activity suggestions, such as a summer float trip. All I could think of is the money it would take, until Neal reminded me the teens had their own money to spend. Or he’d nudge me into remembering the teens had permission slips that should be due.]
It was a few weeks after I started working with the youth that Neal walked into my office and I panicked as I tried to think of what I had forgotten. It was right after school let out for the day, so I assumed that he had dropped by the church on his way home.
“Brother Wayne, have you got a few minutes?” he asked me, calling me by my first name rather than my last. [If someone introduces him by full name earlier, you won’t need that explanation.]
“Sure, what is on your mind?” I asked and swiveled my chair so that I could face him rather than look at the sermon notes on my computer screen.
Neal did not answer immediately. He took a seat in front of my desk. He sat there for a few moments while I waited.
“I want to do something important,” he said.
Finally something I can help him with, I thought. “Would you like to teach the high school Sunday school class this Sunday?” I asked.
“No,” he said, “I mean, I will if you want me to, but that isn’t what I mean.”
“Maybe you had better explain it to me,” I said.
“I’m not sure if I know how to explain it,” he said.
“Give it a shot. I’m sure you can muddle through it.”
[Telling the kid he can muddle through isn’t exactly going to be a confidence booster. Unless you’re trying to show this pastor fumbling.]
“You know how in the Bible it tells about all these different individuals who did something that no one else would do and it made a difference? I want to do something like that.”
“I don’t follow you,” I told him. He was clearly thinking about something different than I was. I was concerned about a sermon for Sunday night and a lesson for Sunday morning. Tiffany and I had an appointment to visit a church member that evening. I had just heard that a couple of church members were talking about getting a divorce and here was Neal talking about who knows what. I could not figure out what could be more important than teaching a class or sharing the gospel with others and I had seen him do both of those.
“I want to be a Bible character, you know, like Moses. He led the people out of
“You want to be Moses? A Bible character?” I asked. He was not making sense and the last I had checked, God was not calling any more people to lead the children of
“I don’t want to be Moses,” Neal said. “I want to be like Moses.” [Again, give us some body movements, expressions. Not only to avoid “said” once in a while, but to flesh out the dialog, add emotion, and give us something to picture—something to anchor us in the scene. Neal doesn’t quite know how to say what he’s trying to say. How is that frustration echoed in his body language? Does he fidget? Is he making eye contact, or avoiding it?
The pastor doesn’t understand. What does that do to his body language? Maybe he’s leaning forward, trying to catch something the boy isn’t saying.]
“You want to be like Moses?” I asked. Once more, I could not make sense of what he was saying. The only thing I could do was echo him.
“Not just Moses. Sampson, Gideon, Nehemiah, Esther, any of them. Like Joshua. He stood up and told people that he and his house were going to serve the Lord. Don’t you think that made a difference when he did that?”
“Yes, I am sure it did,” I said.
“That’s what I want,” he said. “I want to be the one who makes a difference.”
“You are already making a difference,” I said. “You are the most dedicated teenager I know. You may not see the results of what you are doing now, but someday all of these seeds you are planting will take root and produce fruit.”
“I’ve heard all of the clichés before,” he said. He was visibly growing impatient [show us this—how so?] with me because I could not understand. “The guy who mows the yard is told that someone might have been saved that wouldn’t have come to church if the grass hadn’t been mowed. The lady that cleans the restroom is told that people might stop coming if the restrooms smell bad, so she has a part in people being saved.”
“I don’t remember telling anyone that, but I would agree with that statement,” I said.
“Is it really true?” he asked.
“Of course it is,” I said.
“Then why is it that we keep doing all this busywork, the grass gets mowed, the building cleaned, the classes taught, the sick visited and the number of baptisms keeps going down?”
“Maybe some churches are not doing their part,” I suggested. “Baptisms at this church have increased some since last year.”
“Three or four,” Neal said. He had seen the same numbers I had. “That is hardly worth bragging about.”
“Any increase is good,” I reminded him.
“Why do we have to settle for just a small increase? Isn’t God big enough to give us more than that?”
“All I can say is that we need to pray and expect more from God.”
“I don’t want to just pray. I want to be right in the middle of it. I want to be the one he uses.”
“You want to be the one who turns the tide,” I said. I was finally beginning to understand him.
“Exactly!” he said. “I want to be the one who does that one thing that everyone looks back at and says ‘that is where it all started.’”
(There’s really no good place to divide this section, so I'll just have to interrupt this conversation. Until Friday.)