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Pastor encourages future church workers

A young Spencer Mielke wore a white acolyte robe in the sanctuary of Trinity Lutheran Church in Danville, Ill., and intently watched as his pastor led the liturgy. And that’s when it hit him. Mielke wanted to be a pastor. “I could so vividly see myself doing that,” he said. “The door was so wide open that I could not miss it.”

A sophomore in high school at that time, Mielke says he had thought about being a pastor for much of his childhood, but that Sunday in church was a pivotal moment. It was a moment of clarity.

After graduating high school, he attended Concordia University Chicago, River Forest, Ill., signing up for the Pre-Seminary Program. He went on to earn a Master of Divinity at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis in 1998 and took a call as an associate pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church and School in Elkhart, Ind. He’s been there ever since.

Mielke says he never “wrestled” with God about discerning his call into ministry. He says the desire to serve the church was “just there.” However, he’s fully aware that that’s not always the case for young men with the gifts for ministry and that some prospective pastors need extra encouragement. Mielke says if he sees such a candidate he’s going to be the one to give encouragement.

In nearly 20 years of ministry at Trinity, Mielke has made one of his main missions to find and encourage the next generation of pastors. And it’s working.

“I can’t think of a greater mission than supporting workers that are in the process of being formed and shaped.”
— Rev. Spencer Mielke

One son of the congregation is now in his first year at Concordia Seminary. One is in the Pre-Seminary Program at Concordia University Wisconsin, Mequon. Several more middle school- and elementary-age boys in the congregation have expressed interest in the ministry. “The youth of our parish are the church; they’re also the future of the church,” Mielke said. “We need to shape their hearts and form their lives in Christ. We cannot put enough effort in that.”

So what’s the secret? Mielke says the Holy Spirit, obviously. But he says it’s also about forming relationships and encouraging involvement in the life of the church.

He says through the years he’s “tapped the shoulder” of several young men and asked: “Have you thought about being a pastor?” And then he followed up with reasons why he believed they were suited for the ministry.

Additionally, he believes in encouraging young men to be involved during worship services. It begins during the confirmation years, where young people begin serving as acolytes, but Mielke says the congregation adds responsibilities as they get older, such as carrying the cross on festival days and helping with Communion. But he says sometimes the students come to him. Recently a young man in his congregation came to him with a “career day” type project, saying he wanted to be a pastor and asked to shadow Mielke for the day. “I had no idea he wanted to be a pastor,” Mielke admitted. “We worked on a chapel message that day, we made a visit to a member of our congregation and we talked about a pastor’s prayer life. It was a great day.”

There’s also another partner in ministry that Mielke credits: Concordia Seminary Director of Ministerial Recruitment and Admissions Rev. Bill Wrede. Mielke and Wrede were friends at the Seminary and now they work together to coordinate a special admissions visit each year at Trinity. Wrede spends the whole weekend in Elkhart, meeting with middle school students, holding office hours, hosting a luncheon for especially interested students and occasionally preaching for Sunday worship.

“We work together to cultivate encouragement of future pastors,” Mielke said. “The Lord works in a multitude of ways, and calling servants of the Word can begin through the hearts of other people. The Spirit can use us. We’re called to be His channel.”

Wrede’s yearly visit was an integral part of first-year seminarian Evan Veen’s journey to the Seminary. Veen attended Trinity as a boy and said Mielke talked to him about being a pastor during Veen’s high school years. In fact, Veen said the ministry was something he had never considered until Mielke brought it up. Just as he was starting to take the idea seriously, Mielke announced Wrede was coming. “He (Mielke) said to me, ‘This is something I really think you need to check out,’” Veen remembered. “He told me it was something he could really see me doing, and that he was praying I would consider it.” Veen said he went to Wrede’s visit with an open heart, and by the end of the visit, he knew he was heading to the Seminary.

And now Veen prays it comes full circle, as he plans ahead to his own ministry and the people of his parish. “Pastor Mielke was encouraging, a mentor to me. I hope when I’m in the parish, I can see those who might have even the smallest inkling of going into the ministry,” Veen said. “I’d like to encourage every part of that I can, the way he has for me.”

Future Church Workers
Rev. Spencer Mielke, right, poses with the school children of Trinity Lutheran School following a chapel service. Photo: Corey Cox