One year out of the seminary, a pastor shares his journey into the public ministry.
Jacob Shepherd, pastor at St. Paul, Round Lake Park, Ill., remembers when he started thinking about becoming a pastor. It was in sixth grade, when he was golfing with his pastor. “I had started taking golf lessons and my pastor loved golf, so he took me out with him a couple times a month,” says Shepherd. “In my naiveté, I thought, Wow! Being a pastor is the coolest job! You get to be a people person, you work on Sundays, and then you play golf during the week. Who wouldn’t want to do that? Because I wasn’t from a church background, I literally thought that’s what being a pastor was all about.”
As Shepherd got to know his pastor and learned more about what a pastor’s job actually entailed, his interest was piqued further. Shepherd says the relationship with his pastor helped steer him toward the public ministry, but his journey to become a pastor started long before that.
Finding a church home
Shepherd was born into a military family. Both of his parents served in the armed forces, and he was born while they were stationed in Australia. When he and his brother were very young, his parents were discharged. They moved back to the United States and eventually settled in Aurora, Colorado.
Once there, they started looking for a church. Shepherd says his father was not religious and didn’t have strong feelings about where they went; his mom, however, wanted to find a “good confessional church” like the conservative Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod church she attended growing up. They tried a few churches in the area, but none resonated with his mom.
Then one weekend the Shepherds ran into one of their military friends who had changed career fields and become a WELS teacher. Their friend was serving at Christ Our Redeemer in Aurora. He invited the Shepherds to church with him. They accepted, and Shepherd says his mom loved it. She said, “Finally! This is what I remember growing up with.” On their way to becoming members, they went through Bible information class and his father was baptized and confirmed. Shepherd also began attending Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran School. “Looking back, it was God controlling the whole situation,” he says.
Discovering his calling
While in school, Shepherd and his pastor bonded over their shared love of golf. As their relationship grew, his pastor gave him advice and encouragement, which was helpful as Shepherd thought about his future plans. “I had been looking at attending the Missouri Synod high school nearby or the Catholic high school where a lot of my friends were attending. But then my pastor asked me if I had thought about becoming a pastor because he said I had the gifts to do that.” So Shepherd visited Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis.—one of WELS’ ministerial education schools—and realized that’s where he wanted to be.
During his time at Prep, Shepherd took an economics class and loved it so much that he considered switching career paths and going into finance. He even looked at some universities that offered accounting programs. But then his senior year rolled around and he participated in “Taste of Ministry,” where he spent two days shadowing a parish pastor. “On my first day, there was a funeral. Then there was the Monday evening service, where I did some readings and got to participate. Then on Tuesday morning, Pastor took us golfing.” Shepherd says that golf trip reminded him of the reasons he originally wanted to become a pastor and helped him finalize his decision. “From that point on, I never looked back,” he says.
Preparing for ministry
Growing up in Aurora, Shepherd spent a lot of time with friends from different backgrounds. Many of the friends he played soccer with were Latino, and he enjoyed immersing himself in their culture and learning Spanish. As he went through his ministry training, that passion grew.
When Shepherd attended Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., he took as many Spanish classes as he could and went on immersion trips to Ecuador and Argentina. While at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, he attended St. Peter, Milwaukee, Wis., a congregation that offers bilingual church services for its Spanish-speaking members.
During his vicar year at the seminary, Shepherd served at Redeemer, Edna, Texas, another WELS congregation that offers English and Spanish services. “That was cool,” he says. “I got to preach and teach, and I even got to lead one lady through the last six weeks of her Bible information course and see her get confirmed.”
All of these experiences uniquely prepared Shepherd for his current call in Round Lake Park, where he’s starting a ministry to reach the large Latino population in the area—many of whom are first-generation immigrants. “I’ve been interviewing people in the community, putting out surveys, and meeting with business owners to figure out, Where is our niche? What are other churches not offering that we can provide?” he says. “We want to serve our community both physically and spiritually. We want to create that trust and be there for them when they need help.”
Shepherd has already identified some potential outreach opportunities, such as teaching English and digital literacy classes and hosting citizenship classes at the church. He’s also preparing his congregation, a predominantly Caucasian group, for these new cross-cultural ministry opportunities as he works to instill a mission mindset. “I think that’s why God brought me here, because of my background and the way that I think about ministry. I really push people to think outside the box and try something new,” he says. “We are certainly praying that God will bless our efforts. We would love to see the Spanish ministry take off.”
Author: Alicia Neumann
Volume 109, Number 07
Issue: July 2022
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- My Christian life: From prospect to pastor - 2022/06/30