Thomas J. Egger arrived at Concordia Seminary in 1993 as a new Master of Divinity student from Muscatine, Iowa. His primary aspiration was to become a parish pastor someday.
“There was the opportunity to make an eternal difference in people’s lives, speak about Jesus and bring His strength and promises into the situations of life. Of all the wonderful, worthwhile things in this world, nothing seemed to compare with that,” says Egger from his new presidential office in Pieper Hall on the Seminary campus where he moved this spring. It was a move this former parish pastor — and now the Seminary’s newly installed 11th president — never imagined during his seminarian days.
Twenty-eight years after stepping onto campus as a first-year student, Egger’s passion for ministry remains unchanging even as God ended up calling him in another direction.
Egger became president in March and was installed in August. But as a Seminary graduate (M.Div. 1997; Ph.D. 2019) and longtime Seminary professor (2005-21), the new president is no newcomer.
“Steeped in Concordia Seminary; I think he bleeds green and gold,” says Dr. Todd A. Peperkorn, former chairman of the Seminary Board of Regents.
Egger doesn’t disagree. “My whole life is intertwined with and flows from this place,” says the 50-year-old. When he came to the Seminary from a liberal arts college (Central College, Pella, Iowa), he appreciated the refreshing and life-giving community here.
He loved hearing the Scriptures expounded and Christian doctrine explained, and “learning from men who love their Savior and are committed to the work of the Gospel, not just as an academic exercise.”
The Iowa native grew up in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), the son of engineer Dr. Carl Egger, a man who was a very involved lay person at Our Savior in Muscatine. His teacher-trained mother, Bonnie Egger, began the church’s preschool.
“The whole time growing up, my dad was always so respectful about our pastors,” says Egger. Thomas Egger, along with his older brother, Rev. Paul Egger, are the family’s first pastors. The elder Egger serves St. John Lutheran Church in Galva, Iowa.
After doctoral studies in the Old Testament, Egger returned to the Hawkeye State for his first call,
Zion Lutheran Church in Storm Lake. “It was a wonderful congregation,” he says. “They made pastoral ministry so rewarding and they took such good care of our family,” which included his wife, Tori, and four young children.
Egger loved serving God in the parish and walking alongside people through their joys and sorrows. He loved seeing the power of God’s Word in their lives. Initially when asked to consider leaving pastoral ministry for a faculty position at the Seminary, he declined. But later, as he thought about the children — his children and the children of others — he reconsidered.
The church needed professors with expertise in the Hebrew language and Old Testament history, and Egger had that specialized training. As a pastor, he knew it was important for congregations to have pastors with a firm and faithful grounding in God’s Word. As a father, he knew the importance of well-equipped future pastors.
The opportunity to help prepare the pastors, deaconesses and church leaders “who will proclaim Jesus Christ to my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and to other people’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren seemed very exciting,” Egger says. He joined the Seminary faculty as an assistant professor of Exegetical Theology in 2005.
Egger’s years in the parish shone through his 16 years in the Seminary classrooms. He delighted in connecting Old Testament texts with the work and promises of Christ. He also hoped that the Old Testament accounts of God’s often-unfaithful people would give seminarians a realistic picture of ministry today, and a deep sense of our continual need for a Savior.
Such knowledge gives future church leaders a resource to understand today’s changing culture and to proclaim God’s enduring faithfulness, says Egger. In 2020, he was named the Seminary’s Gustav and Sophie Butterbach Professor of Exegetical Theology in support of scholarship excellence and Old Testament studies.
“My whole life is intertwined with and flows from this place.”
— Dr. Thomas J. Egger
Dean of Faculty Dr. David Peter tells how his colleague shared stories from his pastoral ministry with students. “He focused on how we can put these truths being revealed to us in these biblical passages to practice and apply them in our lives and the lives of people we serve,” Peter says.
“Tom has a very pastoral demeanor, engaging with students as brothers and sisters in Christ, showing them Christian love and concern,” says Peter. “He is a consummate servant, which is what God calls us to be as leaders. Along with serving our students, he’s dedicated to serving God, the church and, already in the brief time he’s taken the helm, serving our faculty.”
When Egger was named chairman of the Department of Exegetical Theology in 2020, Seminary Provost Dr. Douglas L. Rutt was struck by Egger’s organizational skills and his proactive nature. “He told the faculty that his door is always open,” Rutt says. “He’s been very clear and firm about his commitments and also very willing to discuss things as he learns everything that goes along with his new role.”
Likewise, students should know that the Seminary president is “very personable and open,” says Dean of Ministerial Formation Dr. Timothy Saleska. “They should feel free to approach him with questions and concerns.
In June, Egger and his family were settling into House No. 1 on campus, where Egger plans to continue the same interaction with students he enjoyed in the classroom. Along with conversations after daily chapel services, he looks forward to sitting around a backyard fire pit with seminarians and chatting with them on the patio.
Egger and Tori — who teaches English online to Chinese students, though scaling back since the family’s move — now have six children, ages 13 to 26. The youngest, Ellen and Mary, live in the campus home. Stacey has an apartment nearby. Bonnie lives in Wisconsin, and Abram and Andrew, who are both married, live in Virginia. Andrew and his wife, Grace, are expecting their first child in October.
“I’m so grateful to God that all my children have great pastors, faithful shepherds to care for them,” says Egger.
Reflecting on his August installation during the Opening Service for the Seminary’s 183rd academic year, Egger again recalled his arrival on campus as a new seminarian. He spent his first days reading the history of the Seminary. Soon after, he got plugged into the Concordia Historical Institute, where he worked throughout his seminarian career, organizing materials on Dr. C.F.W. Walther, the first president of the Seminary and the LCMS.
Along with biblical history, Egger has an abiding interest in American Lutheran church history. “It’s an amazing honor to have that heritage as the foundation from which we serve, that tradition and those founding commitments of the Seminary that continue to drive our present commitment and mission,” Egger says.
The new president begins his leadership as the pandemic nears the two-year mark. “It is a time of joy and satisfaction that we can again participate in the most fulfilling aspects of our life together,” Egger says. “I’m stepping into this new role surrounded by a strong, seasoned leadership team, at a time of financial stability and great resources. It is the testimony of the strong support of our church body and of God’s people for the work we do together.”
Egger is thankful for all the support he has received already. “I pray for God’s help and wisdom and know and appreciate that many people are praying for me,” he says. “That’s no reason to stop working hard, but I believe He will provide the help and wisdom to keep our Seminary moving forward.”
Kim Plummer Krull is a St. Louis-based freelance writer.