Story Magazine - Fourth Quarter, 2003

Annual Report: Called to Evangelize

John D. F. Nelson, Master of Divinity, 2002
"When I was little, people would ask me 'Are you going to be a pastor like your daddy?'" recalls John Nelson. His answer? "No!" But one year after graduating from Luther Seminary, Nelson serves at Transfiguration Lutheran in Bloomington, Minn.

"Following college I had two choices, go to seminary or move to Vail, Colo., and be a ski bum--I went to Vail." But God's call followed him there. "The Lutheran church in Vail asked me to run the mountain top worship services each Sunday," Nelson said. "God was saying, 'Fine, Jonah, you can run, but I'll just put you to work here!'" He soon became rostered as an associate in ministry and within three years Nelson was "doing everything except presiding over communion. I felt called to serve the congregation more completely." That year, Nelson became one of Luther's first Internet-based students, finishing his entire first year online.

"At seminary I developed a passion for evangelism. I focused on outreach and adult education in order to empower people to live a life of discipleship and mission. This past year, I found a church interested in those same goals."

Still, "the challenge of leading a congregation in mission is much harder than I anticipated," Nelson says. "Remember, there's a cost to discipleship." Nelson likens the challenge to scaling the mountains of Colorado. "I've discovered the climb is much longer than I thought, and I am now much more patient and poised for perseverance than I was last July."

That perseverance sometimes has looked rather unconventional. Three weddings he's done have involved Rottweilers, horses, and even cattle walking through the receiving line. "Faith is 24/7, not just a Sunday thing," he says. "Sometimes you need to swallow your theological pride and do a wedding in a field with cows." For Nelson, the question has become, "Are you willing to stand in a place you wouldn't expect so you can proclaim Christ, and lift up how God is working in a couple's life?" For that, he's earned the reputation among the other pastors at his church as "the animal wedding guy." But, as he says, "If stables and livestock were good enough for Jesus, then as his disciple, they're good enough for me."