Story Magazine - Third Quarter, 2002

Brothers in Christ: mentoring and friendship combine for pastor and lay leader

The adage may be "Who's on first?" but at Bethesda Evangelical Lutheran Church in Carlton, Minn., the more accurate question may be, "Who's mentoring who?"

The relationship between Pastor Mike Fossen, '95, and lay leader Scott Kiehn is living proof of the personal and congregational benefits that can result from a mutual belief in shared ministry and mission.

"The same understanding of partnership in ministry is what drew us together-- the congregation and Mike as pastor," Kiehn said.

"We were both on the same page in our understanding of ministry as the Priesthood of All Believers--a mutual partnership," Fossen added, referring to Ephesians 4.11-12. "My role is to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ..."

The two men often complete one another's sentences, or follow one another with similar thoughts. There is always plenty of laughter. "It's our M.O.," Fossen joked. "We've spent a lot of time together, not only in formal leadership roles in the School of Lay Ministry and mentoring, but also in friendship and the interest we share in fishing, hunting and trapping.

"We really have benefited in so many ways," he continued. "It's been a blessing , not just for ourselves, but for the congregation." The two friends share their outdoor passions and faith together and with a small group called Fishers of Men on fishing trips into the Boundary Waters two or three times a year. "We do Brook trout and Bible Study, Catfish and Catechism, and Lake Trout Evangelism," Kiehn said. "We tried to do something with Small-mouth and Smalcald but it just didn't work."

"Our wives think it's just a cover, but that's not true," Fossen laughed. "Again, it's one of the blessings of being here. Part of the function of the group is getting together for fishing, but it's also to grow in our faith as men."

Their friendship has grown over the past five years but the seeds were sown from Kiehn's involvement in the Northeastern Minnesota Synod's (NE MN) School of Lay Ministry.

He had been president of the church council about a year when the congregation found itself without a pastor for three months. Supply pastors were utilized but the congregation pulled together and kept the ministry of the church going.

"We realized we could do it on our own," Kiehn said.

An interim served for nine months prior to Fossen's call. Meanwhile, Kiehn felt drawn to enroll in the synod's lay school. The interim signed his application, but Kiehn asked Fossen to be his mentor--a key component in his synod's two-year program.

Programs vary but NE MN requires participation in a study group, two weekend retreats annually and the Growing in Faith to Serve (GIFTS) program, held twice a year at Luther Seminary.

Kiehn's group did independent study, then met monthly to discuss the readings and materials. He and Fossen met for additional discussion and "debriefed" after each GIFTS program. GIFTS includes additional reading and four "rigorous" days of classes taught by seminary professors.

Kiehn continues to take two weeks of vacation to attend both the summer and winter sessions. "The Bible study and education doesn't give you all you need," said Kiehn, who enjoys teaching ninth grade confirmation. "The more you learn the more you want to learn. That just drives you.

"In regard to leadership, the School of Lay Ministry helps you stretch yourself. You ask, What am I going to do with this and what is God going to do with me? I've done things I never dreamed of six years ago but Pastor Mike encourages me."

In addition to preaching at Bethesda, Kiehn does pulpit supply for a nearby congregation. Most recently, with the Bishop's permission, he presided over Communion in Fossen's absence. "It's obvious Scott has been given many gifts for leadership in ministry," Fossen said. "Part of the total experience is to use the gifts first of all and to be open to the new horizons they might lead to. In the School of Lay Ministry there has been opportunity for education and reflection with colleagues and myself."

Fossen views Kiehn as "a good friend and brother in Christ...a colleague and a peer...a great encourager" for both the congregation and himself-- which benefits all of them.

Those benefits expanded further last year when Fossen and Kiehn team taught a Lay Ministry Weekend that addressed biblical models of leadership, leadership styles and mentoring.

Mentoring may have brought the two men together but their special friendship is deeply rooted in both faith and fellowship.

"You grow in it," Fossen said "You can't force it."

"You can't force it," Kiehn agreed, "but you have to be intentional about it."

"Mentoring is a two-way street--all the way," Fossen said.