What do you want to be when you grow up? For many of us, this question isn’t so easy to answer! To inspire the next generation and career changers to consider sacred and joyful vocations in church work, LCMS developed the Set Apart to Serve (SAS) Initiative. In support of the initiative, St. Luke’s is interviewing some of our called church workers. Today I got to spend a few minutes with our senior Pastor, Rev. Dr. Tige Culbertson. I think you’ll be surprised and inspired to follow God’s will for your life after reading about Pastor Tige’s journey. Let’s go!
Was the decision to become a pastor an easy one? Since I was in third grade, I wanted to go to the United States Naval Academy. I wanted to be a pilot. In the application process for the Naval Academy my senior year, I had a good friend, we were the only two guys in our youth group. We went to a small church. We always had each other’s back from a Christian perspective. We got a lot of religious persecution in school. But our senior year, my friend started falling away from the church, getting more and more into philosophy and world religions. He shared with me that he no longer believed in Jesus. He was more well read than I was and I didn’t know the questions to ask or the conversations to engage in. I felt unprepared to have those conversations with him about faith. At that time, I felt God’s calling into the ministry; to be able to have those conversations with him and people like him, who were struggling with their faith. The decision was difficult because everybody on my father’s side of the family had been in the military. I would be the first one in a long line of Culbertsons’ not to be in the military. I was not looking forward to telling my dad because he was very proud that I was looking forward to going into the Naval Academy. That was a big deal. When I shared with him that I was going to seminary instead, he was so excited, so supportive. That made that part a lot easier.
Were you the first person in your family to choose a life of service in the church? Yes. My family was always very involved with the church. If church was open, we were there. Dad was an Usher and elder teacher and mom was really engaged as well. Faith was always a really big, important piece of our family. They were really excited when I shared with them the direction I was heading.
Did you go to a Christian or public high school? I went to public school through high school. For college, I went to a synodical school because I knew I wanted to go to seminary. I figured I better start going to a Lutheran school to get a foundation for that process. I attended Concordia College – River Forest, now called Concordia University Chicago. That’s where I got my Bachelor’s degree. That was my first exposure to Lutheran education.
What skills would you say that you have helped you do your job really well?
The most important thing is caring for people. Even though you have a long to-do list, none of those things can ever be more important than the person that you’re face to face with at that time. And so you have to have a huge heart and compassion for the needs of other people. You have to love.
What are you good at? That’s a hard question. In my mind, I believe that I’m good at teaching and preaching; those are two of my favorite things to do. I think those are areas that God has blessed me. Those are also areas where God gifts somebody, because it’s the Holy Spirit working through you, and not really you yourself doing it. I think being able to listen to somebody and connect the dots, that’s something that God has enabled me to do well. When I’m counseling somebody, I see how different pieces of what they talk about are related and connected, how they impact different aspects of their life; that’s something that God has gifted me with as well.
When you’re talking in front of large groups of people, do you get nervous still or is that something you overcame? I’d say the nerves have changed over time about what I’m nervous for. When I was first starting as a vicar and a young pastor, I was nervous just not to mess up. Then as I had more and more practice, I felt more competent in the mechanics of it, and became more concerned with the Lord; let me be responsible to your Word. Let me preach what the Lord would have said. Now that’s my greatest concern going into the pulpit, not to mislead somebody.
What community groups are you involved with right now? The big one right now is the Goods and Grace Neighborhood Grocery Store that we’ve started with community partners to help solve inflation struggles within the Casselberry community.
I’m involved with a group of men at St. Luke’s. We meet every Thursday. It’s a lot of fun, we get to connect, and I share the upcoming sermon for Sunday. I find out how familiar the men are with the sermon and what questions they have, so that I know at what level to preach the sermon. I go over the sermon many times; so it’s helpful to know if this is something that people want to know more about and not take questions in the pews for granted. It’s a really enjoyable time, not just to bounce ideas off of that group of men, but also to invest that time with them and see them grow in their discipleship and their understanding of scripture.
I also like to pour into the staff here at St. Luke’s. I remind them, not to be content with where they are today, but continue to grow and develop as disciples.
What are you looking forward to? I haven’t been creative in taking time for myself. I’m very excited that yesterday I spent time with Sherri looking at my schedule for the next couple of months and planned a staycation in November. It’s the calm before the storm of December and Christmas season. We marked a week off the calendar for me to be out of the office, resting, refreshing in devotion and prayer, and getting ready for the season of December.
Is there anything else you’d like to share? I would like to encourage those who may be considering professional church work; it’s absolutely amazing to live out your faith surrounded by other fellow Christians who are excited about the Great Commission. The world needs a ton of great leaders who are Christians in every field; doctors, lawyers, teachers, and government officials. But there’s something special about knowing that every day I get to wake up with the intentionality of serving God and making an impact in his church. I get to do something for a living that I have a hard time understanding that I get paid to do what I get to do. It’s a blast serving God with other people who are passionate about God, and who constantly, by their gifts, grow and stretch me and to consider how we better reach our community with the Gospel. Professional church work is an amazing thing to do with your life.
So, no regrets in your career choice? Well, every once in a while, I think I could have made a really great FBI agent or professional chef . But at the same time, I know I’m exactly where God wants men and I wouldn’t change a thing.
Pastor Tige and Blake Flattley from 1517music.org during a Fuel Worship Gathering.
Do you have a story to share, we’d love to hear!