First-year Master of Divinity (M.Div.) student Christian Pieper can’t start a class without being asked if he’s related to Franz Pieper, the former president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.
“I get asked that in almost every introductory class,” he laughed. “As far as I know, I’m not.”
Pieper never seriously considered becoming a pastor until he was an undergraduate student at Concordia University Chicago, River Forest, Ill. Pieper grew up in the Lutheran church as part of a faithful family: His older sister is a teacher at Messiah Lutheran School in Oklahoma City and his younger brother is a student at Concordia University, St. Paul, Minn.
Although Pieper had thought about a ministry career as a high school student, he didn’t feel the call until college when he taught at a summer camp and discovered his love for teaching children about Jesus. “I love to see people experience the Gospel,” he said. “That’s when I knew.”
Initially, Pieper was pursuing a degree in accounting, but after he felt the pull to become a pastor, he enrolled in Concordia Chicago’s Pre-Seminary Program, switching his major to business administration with an emphasis in church/nonprofit management.
“A number of students already know before they get here that they’d like to be a pastor,” said Dr. Jeff Leininger, director of Concordia Chicago’s Pre-Seminary Program and university pastor. “Sometimes, however, a young man will already be here studying in a completely different discipline and God will begin tugging at his heart. This was the case with Christian.”
Concordia Chicago’s Pre-Seminary Program is a fellowship of young men who support and encourage each other in friendship, faith and study. One of the most valuable aspects of the program, according to Pieper, are the weekly dinners led by Leininger. During these weekly meals, students in the entire program gather for fellowship. Sometimes, area pastors, missionaries, chaplains and other guest speakers and presenters attend to share about their work.
“It’s a time for me to connect with the guys personally; to see them face to face, to ask about their lives and to pray for them. After we share the meal, we go to the ‘real feast’ together to receive Holy Communion with the campus community,” Leininger said.
Pieper’s spiritual and intellectual growth was significant during the Concordia Chicago Pre-Seminary Program, Leininger said.
“Christian has a heart for people, gets along with them well and has a natural way of applying the Scriptures to everyday life,” Leininger said. “When I see a student great with people and greatly immersed in the Scriptures, then I know he’ll be a great pastor.”
In his free time Pieper likes to sing, hang out with his friends and play basketball. He sang in the popular Concordia Chicago Kapelle choir during his junior and senior years. At the Seminary, he plays on the Preachers basketball team, which is coached by Dr. Timothy Saleska, associate professor of Exegetical Theology and dean of Ministerial Formation. According to Saleska, Pieper has many gifts for ministry.
Christian Pieper, left, is a member of the Preachers basketball team. Here, he and the Preachers take on alumni players during the Alumni Basketball Game Feb. 9, 2018. Photo: Michael Thomas
“He listens to others well. He is respectful of the opinions of others. He is a very relational and likable person, and so he is a person who makes friends easily,” Saleska said. “In addition, he shows a large capacity for empathy and compassion. All of this, combined with a deep desire to share Jesus with others, means that he will be a tremendous blessing to the church in which he will one day be called.”
Pieper is enjoying the friendships he is continuing to make on campus with his fellow seminarians with whom he can have confession and who can relate to his life during and after his time at the Seminary. He believes many of these friendships will be lifelong.
“Watching a young man like Christian come to Concordia, not really knowing what he was doing and where he was going, and then seeing God take hold of him and cause him to grow in incredible ways — that’s what it’s all about for me,” Leininger said. “There’s no greater joy in ministry then being a small part of God preparing servant leaders for work in the church and world.”