Pastor Appreciation Month

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. I want to express my appreciation for those pastors that have helped shape my own ministry. I start a ways back. I appreciate the solid foundation of faith and family upon which my great-grandfather Henry Gaertner raised his family.

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Henry Carl Gaertner

He was ordained at Zion Lutheran Church in New Orleans in August 6, 1899. He went on to serve at Trinity in Port Arthur and Salem in Malone Texas. A memorable story from the beginning years of his ministry occurred in 1902. According to the Port Arthur “Herald” of September 14, 1902, the school children had been greatly annoyed by ‘yellow jackets’ or wasps stinging them near a sidewalk. In an effort to end the menace and control the insects, the Pastor Gaertner set fire to some grass near the sidewalk, which quickly waxed out of control and ignited the building while school was still in session. The flames spread rapidly to the main sanctuary as well, and within an hour, both buildings were reduced to cinders. The financial loss was about $3,000, and was only partially covered by a $600 insurance policy. The church building was quickly replaced in 1903 and the school building followed in 1904.

My grandfather Henry Emil Gaertner became a pastor that served God’s Word in New Mexico and Minnesota. His two brothers, John and Carl, also became pastors.
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(names not necessarily in order) John, Carl, Henry (my grandfather), Pauline (my great-grandmother), Esther, Ruth, Bertha, Paula, Hulda, Marie, and Margaret. This picture was taken I think at Pauline’s 75th surprise birthday party in 1955. She had been away visiting one of her daughters, and when she returned to Waco all of her children and their spouses were together for the first time since 1934.

My father, Mark, became a pastor and served congregations in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana. Inside my father’s generation of Gaertners there are several pastors and women married to pastors. Growing up my father helped me understand the importance of seeking opportunities to use our God-given gifts to love God by serving our neighbor. No matter what career I imagined, my dad helped me consider how this path would use my gifts to serve others.
Mark Gaertner Ordination 1971

Ordination of my father, Rev. Mark Gaertner in 1971. My grandfather is on the left.

Throughout college and seminary I continued to find God providing me wonderful mentors in the Christian faith. Daniel Brokopp, campus pastor at Valparaiso University, demonstrated the noblest virtues of ministry.
My field education, during the seminary years, was wonderfully guided by my second cousin, Ronald Rall. Ron emphasized seeing the gifts God had given to the lay people in the congregation. No one works by himself in the ministry. During my vicarage, Wayne Puls at Trinity in Hicksville, New York, helped me understand the wide scope of challenges a pastor will experience daily.
In 2001 I was ordained into the Office of Public Ministry at Trinity in Clinton Twp. Pastor Harry Henneman and my father served me the Word of God from their preaching at Trinity. My first call was at Grace in Niagara Falls. I fondly recall Henry Gerike playing the organ at my installation. My beginning in Niagara Falls was shaped by the mentoring of Thees Carl Hoft. Thees is a patient man who gave me perspective on how to be a pastor that does not burn out quickly. John Brunner was the District President. John and Karen kindly let my wife and I stay in their basement apartment for 45 days because the closing on our home was painfully delayed. As much as John served as an administrator in his role as district president, he even more so served as a pastor to me. Pastors in a congregation should always seek out a pastor, I did not have to try hard to find a pastor. John was always ready to receive my phone calls or emails and remind me of the winsome ways to be a pastor to everyone in the congregation.
Since December 2008 I have served as the pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Hamburg, Michigan. David Maier serves kindly as my District President. I don’t know a man besides David that can match a strong handshake with an equally genuine smile. His churchmanship is a demonstration to me of how pastors must be authentic in pastoral love and care for each person entrusted to his care.
Besides pastors as mentors and guides, I have also enjoyed the peer support of so many pastors.
Indeed beyond these men, my wife Christi Dunklau Gaertner has been a constant and necessary wonderful support in my life. I am a pastor today largely because of conversations we had together our senior year in high school. No doubt in my mind, God knew what he was doing when he placed her into my life. She is my rib. Each breath I take is easier because she is on my side.

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New Growth in the New Year

I am interested with how God will grow our membership as a congregation in 2017. Connection to a local community of believers is important. St. Paul wrote to the people in Ephesus, “There is one body and one Spirit . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). It is in the local church that we have the opportunity to experience unity with those the Spirit has called to faith. Jesus love His church, and so should we.

There is nationally a decline in church membership, and I am interested in slowing this decline at St. Paul Lutheran Church. To turn the tide against decline, I believe that God is providing our congregation with the gifts and resources necessary to reach the unreached and raise faithful children. God provides to us His Word which leads us to trust in Christ. Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ is His witness. We all can share the good news of Jesus with our friends and neighbors and invite them to church.

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The growth of the membership in our congregation will happen in more than one way. Congregations gain the overwhelming majority of their membership from natural growth, which is what happens when families in our congregation have more children. Our easiest growth is from children of adult members raised in the faith. As couples have children and the children are then baptized at St. Paul Lutheran Church, our congregation will experience growth. We had some joyous baptisms in 2016, and I look forward to more in the new year. Infant baptism is a wonderful opportunity to witness that faith is a gift from the Holy Spirit and not a work of our own reason or strength.

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As our congregation grows through infant baptisms, we remain concerned that these children remain connected to a local church. I want all children baptized at St. Paul Lutheran Church to be nourished and strengthened by God at work in His Word. The LCMS has lost 1 in 5 baptized members since the peak membership in the 1970s. The backdoor loss of people concerns me. We need to plan effectively for the spiritual care of people who are baptized at St. Paul Lutheran Church so that they remain connected to Jesus. Handing down our faith to our children and our children’s children is important. Our congregation has joined the Family Friendly Partner Network to be better equipped as a church to partner with homes to pass on faith in Christ. Throughout 2017 we will look for opportunities to provide families the resources they need to be His witnesses.

We will also experience growth in 2017 through Lutherans from other congregations moving into this area and transferring their membership. As people move around they have to search out new banks, doctors, grocery stores, and also a new church. Church shopping can be an exhausting experience. I hope people visiting St. Paul will find a community of welcome and grace that helps them feel at home. When looking for a new church, people should place a high priority on joining a congregation where the Word of God is clearly preached and the Sacraments properly administered.

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We will not only experience growth through our own tribe (German-American Lutherans), but we will also discover that God is sending people to St. Paul who have not grown up Lutheran. I find it exciting when new people are present on a Sunday morning at St. Paul. I am encouraged when I see people going across the aisles and introducing themselves to guests. Outreach to people in our community is important. We desire to be a community that welcomes people who come from all sorts of experiences because we trust that Jesus Christ is the Savior of all the nations.

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There is a decline in religious identification in the United States. The recent dramatic increase in the number of people who claim no religious identity or affiliation is alarming. Our task is clear in this age of declining identity with religion. We will witness to people the truth. We are sinners in need of a Savior and Jesus is this Savior. Our message must remain focused on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the United States the attitudes of young people on average is negative towards religious institutions. There is a growing skepticism concerning any institution that claims authority. This negative attitude of young people may not be new, but it does remind me of the need for us to share Jesus Christ more than share the building or institution of the church. We do not invite people to join a corporation. We invite people to join the Body of Christ gathered at St. Paul Lutheran Church.

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I trust the Holy Spirit has placed in our community people who will believe the Word of God and find welcome at St. Paul Lutheran Church. I am confident the Holy Spirit has gifted each person in our congregation to be His witnesses. Please pray to God to send the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to see the people He places into our lives.