The Hound of Heaven

During a recent lunch with some newer friends, the question was posed: “How did you decide to become a pastor?” My answer usually catches people off guard. “I didn’t.” It’s not that I didn’t want to or that I haven’t settled on being a pastor. No, I’m saying that I became a pastor, not as the result of my desire and resolve, but only after submitting to the relentless pursuit of a loving God.

I always wanted the American Dream: to be a respected man with a “good, secure” job, a nice home with a white picket fence, a beautiful wife, and 2.2 kids. That became my life’s ambition and singular focus. I married Amy, who had a similar plan, and we worked toward our collective goal. But after the loss of our second daughter, Elizabeth, our faith was challenged, and God took a central position in our daily lives.

We still pursued our dream, but strange things started to happen. We joined a church and were given a Spiritual Gifts survey. It said my gifts were teaching and preaching. I thought, “Yeah, that can’t be right. If you really knew me, you would know what a bad idea this is.” I was still very rough. I did drink, smoke, and chew, and I did associate with those who do. But often our conversations centered around God and the Bible. So as it turned out, it wasn’t a bad idea. The church leaders encouraged me to start teaching a young adult Sunday School class. I really enjoyed it, and many people affirmed my calling.

About seven years ago, I was visited by Dr. David Veum, the President of Lutheran Brethren Seminary. I will always remember my first time meeting him. He had traveled from Fergus Falls, Minnesota all the way to Mentor, Ohio—a suburb of Cleveland. He asked to speak with me. As we strolled around the property at Pilgrim LBC, he asked me about myself and my family. Then he asked me the question: “Have you ever considered going to Seminary?” My answer… “No.”

Up until that point in my life, I had been working hard to build the life I had always dreamed of. I had determined to become a career Firefighter and Paramedic, a job that, in my mind, commanded respect. I had spent years training and competing for a good paying, union job with security and benefits. I had my dream job, and we were raising our kids in our dream community, living in a home nicer than we dreamed of.

At about the same time, we also got a Fox Hound/Coon Hound-mix puppy named Milo. He looks like a long-legged beagle. He’s the kind of dog you see in those classical paintings of red-coated hunters on horseback riding alongside a large pack of dogs, usually with a lone fox in the lead. We had never owned a hound dog before, but we quickly learned they are not like your common Black Lab or Golden Retriever. We were told, “If he ever gets off the leash, don’t chase him. They can easily run more than 50 miles when they hunt.” Hounds are very stubborn, focused, and relentless, especially when they hunt.

Bob Heggestad is Pastor at Pilgrim. I had heard that his father, Rev. Knut Heggestad, would tell people, “Do not go into ministry unless you can’t get out of it.” For me, it all started when Dr. Veum asked if I had thought of going to Seminary. He asked me to consider it and pray about it. The first issue was that it would require us to move our family to Fergus Falls, MN. Amy said, “I don’t want to go to Nineveh!” After talking it over, we determined we couldn’t. “Sorry, can’t go.” Dr. Veum responded, “That’s OK, we just renewed our accreditation and started online classes.”

“Well, we really don’t have enough money to pay for classes.” Again, Dr. Veum encouraged us to pray about it. Within a short amount of time, Pastor Bob let us know that some church members wanted to help support us financially. We were told this was another affirmation of my call. It was also affirmation that, like a hound, God was pursuing me and gaining ground. I had run out of objections.

Hounds are pack hunters. When one catches a scent and gives chase, they all become excited and join in. That’s what happened when I applied and was accepted to the Seminary. So many members of the church became excited and supported me with encouraging words, prayers, and finances. One of our congregation members built me a special laptop computer. When we opened it up, it read: “Nineveh.”

My professors at Lutheran Brethren Seminary also affirmed my calling. So many times, I felt inadequate and wanted to give up, but they encouraged me and were patient. They challenged my ideas and taught me that we all are called by God to join him in his Missio Dei, which means the “Mission of God” or the “Sending of God.” It is God’s great mission to restore humanity to himself through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. He calls us, his Church, to take part in this same mission. Not only did God pursue me, but he caught me and invited me into the pack.

I graduated from LBS, and I am currently serving as the Associate Pastor at Pilgrim. I returned with a newfound motivation to call others to follow Jesus, to partner in mission and to unleash new leaders of the church. We have developed a vision statement based on three Scriptures:
Jeremiah 29:5-7 directs the Babylonians in exile to, 

Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.

Matthew 28:19-20, the Great “Co-Mission,” instructs us, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

And finally, Jesus tells us in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

From these Scriptures we discerned God’s vision for Pilgrim: “Reach our Community, Grow in Christ, and Go in Mission” or “Reach, Grow, Go.” We are reimagining our local communities as our own personal mission fields. I would encourage congregations to identify and empower those whom God may be pursuing in your churches. Unleash new leaders and help them get into the hunt—God’s Missio Dei.

Pastor David Martin serves Pilgrim Lutheran Brethren Church in Mentor, Ohio as associate pastor.


Pastor Jim Osvold - January 21st, 2023 at 10:43am

God bless you in His calling upon you

Camille Steinberger - January 23rd, 2023 at 10:24am

Thank you so much for all you do. So happy you submitted to this calling. God's blessings and guidance for you and your beautiful family....