Concordia Seminary Newsroom

Concordia Seminary Newsroom and Press Releases

Meet Dr. William “Bill” Knippa

Spend a few minutes with Dr. William “Bill” Knippa and you realize this man deeply loves his Savior and cares passionately for others.

The senior pastor at Bethany Lutheran Church in Austin has served the congregation for nearly 43 years. He grows contemplative when reflecting on his ministry ahead of his service anniversary in January 2020. “It’s been a real blessing,” he says, “and I’m deeply thankful for the experience of walking with people through generations.”

He has been a part of many wonderful ministerial experiences including when the congregation relocated to its present site 20 years ago. “Our original facility couldn’t handle the number of people God was bringing to us,” Knippa says. “But our people stepped out in faith to pursue a new location.”

While only moving 4 ½ miles away, the transition was huge. “People were connected to a given location, anchored by deep memories,” he says. “In moving ahead, it was important to realize that nothing had changed except the outside. The hearts of faith, the love of Jesus and the commitment that is the DNA of Bethany to reach out to neighbors and serve in the community remained.”

The new church building has provided an opportunity for good growth, but Knippa says challenges remain. Bethany, like other congregations across the United States, is figuring out how to adjust to shifts in culture, the marginalization of the body of Christ and the church, and changing patterns of worship. “We are in a constant state of assessment of what we’re doing to open the doors of Bethany and provide opportunities for people to hear the Gospel,” Knippa says.

Among the blessings for which Knippa is thankful is that at least seven former sons of the congregation are now serving as pastors in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Counted among those is his son, Michael, who is the campus pastor at Lutheran South High School in St. Louis who is working on his Ph.D. at Concordia Seminary.

Dr. William Knippa. Photo: Erica Tape
Knippa credits his parents and his first pastor for their witness and the encouragement they offered to him to enter the ministry. His stay-at-home mother was a busy volunteer at church and school. His father worked in sales. Their example was the genesis of his philosophy today — embraced by his congregation — that “we love our children and we love other people’s children. Don’t just think of what does my child need, but what do others need, too,” he says.

The family attended Concordia Lutheran Church in San Antonio, which Knippa acknowledges was quite formative. “My pastor, Rev. Guido Merkens, was a dynamic, evangelistic pastor,” Knippa says. “He was very encouraging — he would say ‘before you say yes to something else, say no to the ministry.’”

That seed was planted around the time Knippa was confirmed in sixth grade. He attended Robert E. Lee High School in San Antonio, and then enrolled at Trinity University in San Antonio as a premed student. Six weeks into his college career, he felt the call to ministry pulling at him deeply. He dropped out of the university on a Monday morning and entered the pre-seminary program at Concordia College-Austin (now Concordia University Texas) the next day.

After completing that program, Knippa graduated from Concordia Senior College in 1969. His studies took him then to Westfield House at the University of Cambridge in England for a year, to learn from Dr. Martin Franzmann and to savor Franzmann’s expertise in New Testament exegesis. It was considerably different from his experience growing up in a large, suburban congregation. “There was more of a sense of the church being a witness in a less inviting culture,” he says, “and it reinforced for me, as a pastor later, the importance of building community and being light and salt.”

Knippa went on to earn his Master of Divinity at Concordia Seminary, graduating in 1973. He recalls the sense of community on campus with fondness. “One of the great delights was connecting with fellow students,” Knippa says. “We did life together and grew together.”

His studies also were marked by a fascination with how the mind works and how relationships are built. This interest led Knippa to pursue advanced study in psychology — he graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a doctorate in 1979.

While completing his terminal studies, Knippa served as part-time assistant pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in Austin for one year, and then as dean of men at Concordia College. He also served a one-year internship in the psychiatric wing of the University of Texas Student Health Center. “This work, which was quite a full load, helped me gain a deeper understanding of the human condition,” Knippa says, “and prepared me well for future ministry.”

“Life is a series of adjustments to transitions. The Lord speaks into our anxious spirits His peace and blessing.”
–Dr. William Knippa

Today, in addition to pastoral ministry, Knippa also is chairman of the Seminary’s Alumni Council, which serves as a link between the institution and its alumni. “It’s a real privilege to be connected to the ministry of Seminary through this role and to have a role in its continued growth,” Knippa says. “I’m proud to share with brother pastors about the good and substantive work that the Seminary does.”

Ask Knippa about his plans for the future and his reply is long — he looks forward to continuing to serve at Bethany until he senses it is time to step back. He wants to continue to love and serve people, and to continue to look to the Lord to see what He would have him do within the church. “Life is a series of adjustments to transitions,” Knippa says. “We must be adaptable to change and to moving on. The Lord speaks into our anxious spirits His peace and blessing. Part of what pastors do is walk with people through transitions and I know there will always be another one.”

He also looks forward to reading good books, traveling with his wife, Melissa, and spending time with their three children and six grandchildren. No matter what the future holds, Knippa is confident of this: God’s grace and love are going to endure forever. “I want everyone to know this and be a part of it,” he says, “because this matters for eternity.”

Vicki Biggs is senior vice president of Seminary Advancement and chief communications officer at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.