on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Wayne’s Eyes

First in a series, Mentors, people who made a difference in my life.

I was an inexperienced, 24 year old minister just out of seminary when I got a “job” at a church in Louisville as an “Interim Part-Time Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care.”  I still smile as I type that temporary title.

One evening after a church service, an older gentleman walked up to me and reached out his hand and said, “Hi Malcolm, my name is Wayne Oates.  I was wondering if I could take you out to lunch this week to talk about your future and what you would like to do.” (I discovered later he did this for hundreds of people through the years.)

Now the only way I could explain what this was like for me as a boy who grew up playing football in Alabama in the 60’s and early 70’s–this was like Paul “Bear” Bryant at Alabama walking up to me out of the blue and asking me if I wanted to be one of his assistant coaches.

You could have knocked me over with a feather.  My stomach was queasy, my knees were weak, and all I could squeak out was, “Yes sir.”

You see, Dr. Wayne E. Oates needed no introduction, he had written most of the pastoral care text books I read while in seminary (he published 57 books in his lifetime).  He was the father of pastoral care for many generations before me.

And so he took me out to lunch a few days later.

He asked questions about my dreams for the future, what I would love to do if I could, and I rambled.  Just before we got up to leave, he looked at me and said, “Well Malcolm, if you will enroll in my Intern program this summer, and if I like your work and you like me, I’ll invite you to do a one year pastoral counseling residency with me at The University of Louisville School of Medicine Outpatient Psychiatry Clinic.  Think about it and let me know.”

I thought about it for ten seconds and said, “Yes sir, I would.”

Over the next fifteen months, my experience with Dr. Wayne Oates changed my vocation and my life.

He taught me how to connect quickly with a stranger, how to listen deeply to another, and to trust my intuition as a pastoral counselor.  He instilled confidence by calling me a colleague rather than student, and backed it up by insisting that I call him “Wayne.”

I have dozens of Wayne stories, for another time.

But tonight, Wayne is on my mind just before the anniversary of his death on October 21, 1999.

Thank you, Wayne E. Oates, for seeing something in me that I could not see.

It has made all the difference.


Who is someone who took initiative towards you in your life and made a difference?  I would love to hear about it in the Comments section below.


  1. Steve Goss

    We had Dr. Wayne Oates down to Houston around 1985, when I was a second year Resident at Memorial Southwest Hospital. I sat at a table with Dr. Oates and other students after his major address, but was too much in awe to even speak. We had used his book, The Christian Pastor, in my first unit of Residency One. Someone asked him with all of his accomplishments – author, seminary teacher, therapist, trainer of Chaplains and pastoral counselors, national speaker – how would he like to be remembered.

    He simply said, “I’d like to be remembered as a Pastor.” I still feel the same tears in my eyes now, that I felt then. I’ve never forgotten that moment. I felt a connection to his response that I could not put into words.

  2. Sandra Langston

    What a wonderful person to have had in your life at that point! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Sherri Shepherd

    Wayne Oates was one of my favorite people. And one of the favorite things he taught me was, “Forgive, but don’t forget. Because if, after forgiving, you forget, then you are likely to repeat the same mistakes over and over.” This one concept has probably helped me avoid more difficulties than I can imagine. It seems so small, but is really a HUGE concept! It is impossible to apply this principle to one’s life without deep introspection……”what was my part?” as part of the process of forgiving. And then, remembering, so as not to repeat the scenario. And in this process, one develops self discipline and a peacefulness, secure in the knowledge that it is indeed ok to “forgive, but not forget” and move forward toward a more lovely future.

  4. Judy Cloe

    You certainly learned his lessons well, and I for one am glad you did.

  5. Rhonie Black-Tyson

    Helen Barnes from Bluff City, Tennessee made a big difference to me as an 11 year old girl. She was my Girls in Action (GA) teacher at my Baptist church. She was compassionate and caring with a fantastic sense of humor. We laughed all the time and she made our missions lessons entertaining but more importantly meaningful to a little girl. She believed in my dream of becoming a career missionary. When I announced to my 11 yr.old friends in our GA class that I was going to be a foreign missionary, they laughed and Helen hugged me and stated, “Rhonie, God has called you. He will make that happen”.Ten years later as I was heading to Natal,Brazil as a Missionary Journeyman, I remembered Helen’s support and thanked God for my friend and teacher.Later I served as a 20 year home missionary in CT.I lost contact with Helen many, many years ago but her love, compassion and wonderful sense of humor are never forgotten.

  6. molly flynn

    When i was in nursing school at Clemson in the 80s i had a traumatic rotation with the psych nursing instructor. (this was around the same time my oldest brother was waging a mortal battle against anorexia nervosa) She informed me that i should look at doing something else than nursing and gave me directions to get an appt at the career counseling ctr. At the same time, i also was doing an L&D rotation and that instructor told me i was a “gem in the rough” and gave me much needed confidence and I believe nominated me for Sigma Theta Tau. She helped me to see what i could be and gave my young self direction. 24 years later i’m still standing and practicing as a women’s health nurse practitioner.

  7. Harry Durham

    Thanks for sharing that great memory of Dr. Wayne Oates. Reading it triggered memories for me of a graduate school professor whose counsel, influence, and friendship were part of our lives until he died several years ago. What treasures these people are.


  8. Malcolm

    To all of you, many thanks for your comments!

    Blessings and peace,

  9. Tim Nickell

    Smartest man that I have ever known. I thank God for placing Wayne Oates in my path. We exchanged lots of letters through the years. Such beautiful handwriting with great wisdom.

  10. Jo Ann Baker

    Dr. Oates…what an incredible person. And I cannot think about Dr. Oates without thinking about Miss Pauline. What a team they were. They blessed so many but made you feel you were the only one. Thank you Malcolm for reminding me.

  11. Jackie Powell

    Mildred Render, my Sunday School teacher when I was young, and a member of SMBC until she went to be with the Lord a few years ago. She reached out to me and my family in a way that changed our lives forever. I look forward to our time together in heaven!

  12. Bob Blackwell

    Wow! What a tribute to a holy man of God! Thanks for all the responses to Malcolm’s reflection.

  13. Janet Griffin

    It was 1950. I was 12 years old and my sister Althea was 6. We were new to the neighborhood and some women were outside with the children while we played. One of the women talked about her “nigger” maid. My little sister looked up at her and said, “Please don’t say that word. It makes God sad.” A few weeks later my sister died unexpectedly having her tonsils out. Her words started this unusual journey we all took. “And a child shall lead them…………” Thank you again Malcolm…..for the memories.

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