Healing People, Pastors and Congregations

After decades of pastoring, counseling, teaching and preaching, Dr. Bennet Yorton ’50 says one thing hasn’t changed: There is no substitute for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This truth has guided him as he has taught theological students, helped rehabilitate fragmented churches and burnt-out pastors, counseled married couples, and raised his family.

Bennet and his wife, Cathie Hart Yorton ’48, have spent a lifetime teaching what it means to follow Christ. Both of them have pursued education with a passion. After graduating from Oregon State with a degree in science, Bennet was one of only 13 graduates in pastoral theology from Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., where he earned bachelor of divinity and doctor of pastoral theology degrees. He also received elementary and secondary teaching credentials from Los Angeles State College.

Cathie graduated with a B.S. in secondary education from the University of Oregon, holds elementary and secondary teaching credentials, and has taken enough graduate courses to qualify for several master’s degrees. Yet in all they have learned, their message to others remains simple: Develop your own relationship with Jesus.

Both attended Westmont before transferring and praise the college for its crucial role in providing an atmosphere where “not only is academics the main thing, but academics plus walking with the Lord is the main thing.” The open commitment to academic and spiritual excellence gave them the foundation they needed to live a life of service.

Bennet’s career has included teaching in various public school districts and at Denver Seminary and Judson College in Portland, Ore., as well as counseling with the Beaverton Family Counseling Center and Link Care East. Cathie has taught school for many years while being a pastor’s wife and raising their three children.

Ordained as a Conservative Baptist minister, Bennet has spent 28 years pastoring churches in California, Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming, and Connecticut. Through the Center for Church Effectiveness, he has worked to restructure dysfunctional churches into healthy institutions.

Bennet ministers to the total person, which involves addressing rational, emotional, and physical needs in addition to spiritual ones. He extends this practice to institutions as well. Restoring unity in fragmented churches is a challenging part of his work. He has brought healing to congregations with divisions or pastoral concerns by creating an environment of openness so church members can be honest about their disappointments and seek a biblical resolution. Bennet says God has intervened in seemingly impossible situations to reunify churches plagued with problems.

Many of these difficulties stem from the exclusivity Bennet observes in churches today. To counter this trend, he has promoted the recognition and ordination of women in pastoral ministry, has counseled people that other Christian pastors have turned away, and has worked to bring healing in churches that have been divided.

He also believes the church has forgotten about the older generation. Congregations are becoming much too generational, which indicates that older people are considered less important.

In response, Bennet serves as the pastor at an assisted living facility for the elderly. “I am a pastor, and, by nature, this means intergenerational,” he comments. “But these people in turn pastor me; they are wonderfully mature spiritually, and even if they aren’t spiritually mature, they have so much life experience to add to what I know.”

This outlook reflects Bennet’s view of pastoring and teaching. He explains that Christians are all called to pastor one another and work together to grow in their relationship with the Lord. He applies this concept first-hand in his household. “My wife and I work as a team, both in raising our kids and in doing the work of the church. No matter what I have accomplished in my life, the things I am most proud of are my wife and my children.”

The Yortons keep their center of operations in Oregon, but still travel frequently to work with churches in crisis and visit their children and grandchildren.

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