by Lisa McIntosh

Each year in The Lutheran, we introduce the wider church to the newest pastors of the LCANZ, including sharing a bit about their work and family backgrounds and their call to the ordained ministry. It is both amazing and encouraging to learn of the many different paths our shepherds have taken to get where they are today. No two are exactly alike. And God uses their experiences for his kingdom as they serve in our congregations, schools, care settings, or district or churchwide ministries.

Among the ranks of serving pastors in the LCANZ are former funeral directors and footy umpires, fast-food outlet managers and farmers, taxi (and bus) drivers and teachers, economists and engineers, scientists, business bankers, finance and IT industry specialists, medical doctors and defence force personnel, cleaners, counsellors and copywriters, retail managers and sales staff, and even a prize-winning livestock photographer. And the list goes on.

But what do these ‘former lives’ mean for present-day ministries? Do any of the skills learnt behind a fast-food or shop counter, or on a tractor, in a laboratory, factory or classroom really translate into a parish setting?

Rev Dr Dan Mueller, who has served the Walla Walla Lutheran Parish in New South Wales since 2017, thinks so. A former software engineer and research scientist who worked in the Netherlands for several years, Pastor Dan believes there are two aspects from his ‘previous life’ that God continues to use in his ministry. ‘Firstly, I always had a desire to help and heal people. This is why I specialised in medical computing’, he says. ‘In particular, I designed algorithms and wrote software used by doctors in hospitals to diagnose and treat various medical conditions including cancer. This desire to help remains in my pastoral ministry. Now I help by speaking God’s gospel word of comfort; now I heal with water, bread and wine.

‘Secondly, my time living abroad and travelling, has shown me the diversity of God’s wonderful creation. It was a thrill to meet people with vastly different stories from my own. This connects with cross-cultural ministry. We need “many eyes” to see the cross. Each culture, each person, each story, enables us as individuals and as a church collective to hear, see, know, experience God more fully.’

Pastor Matt Bishop’s own experience backs up the idea that God can use any work or vocational journey to grow his kingdom. Pastor Matt, who currently serves at Blair Athol in South Australia and was ordained in 2015, was an Economic Policy Advisor with the Commonwealth Treasury, worked in the Australian Government’s Department of Finance, was deployed to the Papua New Guinea Treasury, and managed a McDonald’s franchise and served as a kitchen hand with the fast-food giant.

‘I don’t think too much is wasted, right down to being able to use my previous “Maccas” experience to place 24 pancakes expertly on a barbecue hotplate at the local high school breakfast club our (former) congregation ran in Morley Western Australia’, he said. ‘Being able to take a big-picture approach, assess competing narratives, and have some financial skills has helped with my service on the LCA’s Council for Local Mission, and more generally, in the parish as we think about where Christianity is at in an increasingly “no-religion”, if not hostile, society. More generally, my research and policy development skills, and my God-given inquiring mind, continue to find all sorts of applications.’

With Pastor Peter Klemm’s call to the ministry taking more than 20 years to come to fruition, he also had plenty of time to explore different occupations. Pastor Peter, who serves at Cummins on SA’s Eyre Peninsula, was a farmhand on his family’s farm after leaving school, next headed to Central Australia to work at the Finke River Mission store at Hermannsburg/Ntaria, then worked in roles including tyre-fitter, delivery driver and selling batteries, stockfeed, petrol, hardware and paint, as well as quoting jobs for tradesmen for HR Sanders in Clare in SA’s Mid-North.

Pastor Peter believes that his previous roles have helped him to be able to relate to people from all walks of life and ‘to always lean on God in all things’.

‘I believe God has placed me into ministry after moulding me over a number of years’, he says. ‘God has given me a pastoral heart, a thirst to know more about him, a willingness to listen to other people and a yearning to visit people, whether on the tractor or header, in aged-care facilities, or their homes.’

Pastor Peter Heintze also comes from a rural background and says he spent 34 years ‘wandering in the wilderness’ before studying for the ministry and being ordained in 2017.

‘God was preparing me for something that I did not think I was capable of, or even worthy’, says Pastor Peter, who serves at Coonalpyn in SA’s South-East. ‘What amazes me is how God uses our journeys through someone like me, who did not like school, left as soon as I could to work on the family farm for 20 years, which I did not like, but I did learn a lot.’

As well as having been a primary producer for two decades, Pastor Peter worked as a cleaner, a school handyman and tutor, a Community Development Employment Projects supervisor, a mining laboratory soil sampler, a Big W warehouse employee, a Centrelink work supervisor, a painter/renovator and in water compliance.

‘The different occupations, the diverse range of people I worked with, the people skills I acquired, the life experiences gained, the myriad of role models, and the power of the Holy Spirit helped to prepare me for the ordained ministry’, he says.

Another pastor who spent many years of his pre-ministry life in his family’s business is Darryl Shoesmith, who serves at Christchurch in New Zealand.

Pastor Darryl, who previously studied at Queensland Agricultural College in Gatton, worked at the college as a vet’s assistant for a year while undertaking an honours endorsement in wildlife management. The following year though, he was employed at the family firearms shop as a retail assistant.

A love of the craftsmanship of firearms and their history led to study in gunsmithing in the US in 1982 and, after returning to Australia and Shoesmith Firearms, he worked as an employee for several years and then managed the business until 2008 when he retired early.

While Pastor Darryl had given thought to studying for the ministry earlier, it was only in his fourth year of retirement, after discussions with the pastor taking his father’s funeral, that he pursued his new vocation.

And he believes his customer-service background has helped prepare him for serving a parish. ‘Dealing with, speaking with, getting to know, so many different types of people on a day-to-day basis is a good grounding because it is not just about them, but is good for knowing yourself’, he says.

And how would he best explain to people that you can have both firearms as a hobby and a love of sharing Jesus’ message of reconciliation and peace? ‘Like other tools – a good chisel for the woodworker, a quality sharp knife in a chef’s kitchen – (firearms) are not necessarily killing implements, but articles used for appreciation and peaceful enjoyment’, he says. ‘Jesus’ message of reconciliation and peace pertains not to objects, but to the human heart.’

Pastor Joseph Theodorsen also had customer or client-focused roles before studying for the ministry and being installed to serve Top End Lutheran Parish Northern Territory earlier this year. After attending school in Western Australia, he was a service station attendant then manager, a clerk, a recruitment consultant, a Bachelor of Education student and taxi driver who had explored the option of becoming a Specific Ministry Pastor at his home church of Geraldton before moving to Adelaide to attend Australian Lutheran College to study to become a General Ministry Pastor.

‘There are many ways God had planned for me to grow as his servant through the various roles I had before the ordained ministry’, he says. ‘Many of them were customer or client-focused, and a desire to help people was always very strong for me. Also, the wide range of people that I would interact with through these roles, particularly as a taxi driver and at the service station, was great preparation for the ministry. To have had such a large amount of experience with people from all walks of life helps in many ways.’

Like the other pastors who’ve shared their reflections here, South African-born Roelof Buitendag didn’t start out wanting to be a pastor. After a move to Australia and studies in psychology and science, his main role was as a sleep scientist, but he had also worked in casual jobs as a shop hand at a convenience store in West End, Queensland, in a bagel shop, as a bartender, hotel cleaner, sales attendant and paint mixer with Dulux Paints, bricky’s labourer, and a youth coordinator.

Pastor Roelof, who serves at Ipswich Queensland, believes God’s will for our lives is often only ‘revealed as we walk on that journey’. ‘Everything beforehand has helped me relate to people and hopefully helped me communicate the reality and truth of the God of the Bible into the utmost needs of people’, he says.

‘In the end, my studies and career in psychology, science and sleep science have made me more aware, and more passionate, about the issue behind the issues that so many people face every moment of every day – and, most importantly, that there is an “ultimate remedy” to the issue behind the issues, and his name is Jesus.’

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