Four Writers Reflect on Their Call to the Ministry

by James Heine

Because we focus on pastoral recruitment, education, and support in the May issue of The Lutheran Witness, we asked our clergy contributors this question: Who first encouraged you to consider the pastoral ministry, and what effect did that encouragement have on your life and on your desire to become a Lutheran pastor?

Rev. John E. Schroeder, emeritus, is a member of Messiah Lutheran Church in St. Charles, Mo.; Dr. Gerhard Bode is assistant professor of historical theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis; Rev. Timothy C. Cartwright is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Ashland, Org.; and Rev. Jeff Sippy is the senior pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church and Springfield Lutheran School in Springfield and Nixa, Mo.

For all four men, the Christian lives their families and their congregations modeled for them, and the gentle encouragement they received, played an important role in their desire to become a Lutheran pastor.

Here are their answers:

John E. Schroeder (‘Lifeline’)

“My father was Rev. Rupert Schroeder in Cleveland, Ohio. I think he was already an influence before I was three years old. However, when I was three, I began my first Sunday school class, and the man who taught the class–Mr. Walker–was a home-run hitter for the West Park, Ohio, baseball team, so in our eyes, he was pretty famous. He was such a kind Christian man, and such a warm, friendly man, that whenever he came into class–and he would always arrive a little later than we did–we as kids would say, ‘Here comes Jesus.’ That’s the impact he had on us, because he was so kind. He taught his Sunday school lessons with such energy and detail and enthusiasm that they just became alive for you. That experience, together with the influence of my father, helped me decide that I wanted to become a pastor. I wanted to be a pastor who could teach children like Mr. Walker, and a pastor who could preach good sermons like my dad.”

Gerhard Bode (‘The Gift of the Holy Spirit’)

“My father is a Lutheran pastor, as were both my grandfathers. I grew up in a parsonage, and so I had a front-row seat in seeing what pastors do. My father was–and still is–a very good example for me, and I learned a lot by observing him as he served in the ministry. I knew well that being a pastor requires dedication and hard work. I also was aware of the ways in which God uses pastors to serve and care for His people. Over time, I realized that to be able to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people was what I desired to do. My parents and grandparents encouraged me to consider the ministry. They never pressured me, and would have loved me if I had followed a different calling. Still, I always knew that they supported me in my desire to enter the ministry, and their continued encouragement has meant a great deal to me.”

Tim Cartwright (‘Finishing the Race’)

“My father-in-law, Rev. William Rempfer, first encouraged me to purse the pastoral ministry. He died in 1991 of a massive heart attack. He saw my abilities when I could not see them clearly. At the time, he was in a wheelchair, and he was living with the aftermath of a cerebral hemorrhage. He always lived in ‘hard hope.’ Because he had to learn to speak all over again, you had to learn his language and manner of speaking. During the years of his service as a pastor he had battled depression and its related issues. He had endured hospitalization as a result of his battle. He was smart, tender, and quick-witted. He was a passionate man. He spoke the Gospel. His life needed the Gospel’s strength. I think God, in His wisdom, knew that I needed such a man to direct me to the pastoral ministry.”

Cartwright adds that his father-in-law’s life, in addition to his encouragement, made a strong impression on him as he considered the pastoral ministry. “Due to the way in which his life as a clergyman unfolded, he was, for all intent and purpose, without a pension during his disability-laden retirement years,” Cartwright recalls. “He lived in a borrowed home when he died. When he spoke of proclaiming the Gospel, both Word and Sacrament, you knew it was not because of earthly gain.”

Jeffrey Sippy (‘Searching Scripture’)

“I grew up in Federal Way, Wash. My home church is St. Luke’s in Federal Way. I had the finest of mentors–the sainted Rev. John Malkow and Hub Firhaber, DCE. These men were real, honest, and devoted servants of the Lord. They were passionate for the Word of God and passionate for people. They were genuinely engaged and interested in those they served. I grew up experiencing the church as the center of my life. I was affirmed, encouraged, embraced, accepted as I was, and loved. I remember people of the church being interested in my schooling, my work, my family, and my sports. It was a community of believers.

“My older brother, Martin, was probably the first to really encourage my faith life and expression. Marty would coach me in my sports, encourage me in my schoolwork, and read the Bible to me in the evening. He encouraged my public witness: If you want someone to know Jesus, talk about Jesus. It was all so natural and everyday. I don’t know how else to say it. ‘Let’s throw the football and let’s read the Bible’ were generous invitations from my older brother.”

Sippy also speaks for his colleagues when he says “the ministry has been an absolutely incredible life. … Ministry has many, many dynamics, challenges, and blessings. To me, there is no greater blessing than to live in the blessedness and certainty of God’s daily forgiveness and the care of His Son, Jesus, and to daily share and proclaim the same with other people. I am humbled. I am honored. To God alone be all praise and glory.”

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