How did you get into ministry?

I am the sixth generation of Lutheran pastors in my family, spanning about 200 years of ministry. So I had plenty of examples growing up! Nevertheless, I had intended on a career in law, but both during college and shortly thereafter increasingly felt the pull to proclaim both law and gospel as a pastor. My first weeks in seminary were confirmation that this is indeed how I wanted to spend my life and I have not looked back across nearly twenty-five years of ministry.

What connection (if any) do you have with Mount Olivet church?

I admired Mount Olivet from a distance while teaching at Luther Seminary and was grateful for several significant interactions with Pastor Youngdahl, but otherwise I am relatively new to the congregation and look forward to getting to know its rich history and present community.

Where were you raised?

I grew up in south-central Pennsylvania, the fourth of five children of a Lutheran pastor (dad) and school teacher (mom). My siblings now live in New Jersey, Virginia, Colorado, and Pennsylvania, but while the miles separate us we remain very close, each indebted to the unconditional love and wonderful example of my parents.

How has God shaped your character?

From a very young age, I have felt God’s presence, providence, and protection in my life. The saying with which we grew up in our household was, “From those to whom much has been given, much is expected,” and this desire to share God’s blessings with others has shaped not just my career but my life. I feel like this life was given to us to share, even to spend, on behalf of the world God loves so much, and I look to the Scriptures for examples of how to do that most faithfully.

What is your philosophy as a pastor and as a leader?

Traditionally, pastors have been entrusted to proclaim the Gospel, to teach the faith, to offer pastoral care, and to lead the congregation forth in mission. While these primary responsibilities still characterize the pastoral office, in recent years we have additional responsibilities in relation to living in a changed and changing world. In particular, because we no longer live in a culture that has a vested interest in congregations flourishing, and because there are so many alternative stories claiming our attention, the emerging generation is less likely simply to go to church because their parents did, but will only invest themselves in congregational life if it helps them make sense of their rather chaotic and at times confusing lives. Further, and again absent the support of the culture, it is critical that our members can themselves invite others to church. For this reason, pastors today have the added responsibility of training our congregation members to also be able to share their faith, care for one other, and extend the mission of the church through word and deed.

Two convictions shape my sense of leadership. First, vision and mission must come first. Everything - staffing, budget priorities, allocation of time and other resources - all of these must contribute to living into a coherent and clear vision of God’s preferred future for us. Second, leadership is about relationships — forming, sustaining, and nurturing leaders throughout the faith community who can play their role in achieving the mission of the congregation. For this reason, discerning and articulating a clear vision and investing myself in relationships with the staff and members of this congregation will be my initial and abiding priorities.

What challenges/opportunities do you see in Mount Olivet’s future?

Throughout the biblical witness, there is one overarching mandate: whenever God blesses you, it’s so that you can be a blessing to others. Mount Olivet has been blessed in so many ways, not least of which is through incredibly capable and committed leadership among its pastors, staff, and lay people. In addition, its traditions of excellent worship and music, its remarkable affiliated ministries, and its historically strong support bode well for the congregation. Indeed, I don’t think there’s much doubt that Mount Olivet will continue to be a strong faith community. I also think that God calls us to use the blessings and strengths of this congregation to continue serving the community in new and needed ways and to help lead the larger church in discovering how best to share our faith with the emerging generation. Our strength allows us to engage in some much needed experiments in outreach and faith formation for the sake of the larger Church and world. We will want always to build from the inside out, strengthening that which is already excellent, and then move to try other ways to reach people with the Gospel and to come alongside them with God’s love. The Church right now, I think, craves authentic, bold, and creative leadership, and I believe that Mount Olivet has the capacity to serve as a leading congregation in helping us offer faithful testimony to the Gospel in a changed and changing world.

What spiritual practice do you use to get closer to God?

For many years I wrote a daily devotion that walked through the four Gospels, and that daily immersion in Scripture was a very important spiritual practice. More recently, I’ve had less time for daily writing and so have focused my energies to engage the Gospel passage for the coming Sunday and try to explore its relevance to our world today and lay bare its capacity to shape and transform our lives. Beyond these regular encounters with Scripture, I find prayer - both communal and individual - to be a reliable spiritual anchor for me.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I haven’t had a typical day for several years! Part of that is simply the current leadership role I play, as in additional to the usual responsibilities of guiding a seminary I’ve been working to unify two seminaries that split apart 150 years ago. In addition, I have a fairly full calendar of speaking events and writing opportunities. This “creative chaos” has often been a blessing, as I enjoy doing new and different things, but also a challenge, as it has been hard to set routines. While I’ve enjoyed the opportunities I’ve had to exercise leadership in various quarters across the church, I also very much look forward to the weekly and seasonal rhythms of parish life.

Who is your favorite Viking?

The tenacity and sheer joy of the game that Adrian Peterson exhibits in each and every outing has regularly been an inspiration to me. He is so incredibly fun to watch because he delights in giving 110% on every play.

What is your favorite fall activity in Minnesota?

Walking around the Minneapolis lakes or riding the greenway are among my favorite ways to spend almost any season in Minnesota, but especially fall as the leaves are changing and there’s that slight chill in the air the fills me with anticipation for a new school and church year.