Here at Luther House, we are grateful to have a strong network of pastors and ministry partners across the country, and internationally as well.
Pastor Craig Wexler serves a congregation just a few hours away from us in Pierre, South Dakota at Lutheran Memorial Church, and he recently shared a bit of his story, as well as some of the things he appreciates most about our ministry.
We’re grateful for Pastor Wexler’s service to his community and his gracious testimonial. Check out what he had to say below!
Tell us a little about yourself and your path to becoming a pastor.
I was ordained on June 19, 2010, so I just hit the 13-year mark. I grew up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in an Air Force family, graduated from Roosevelt High School and Augustana College — at the time, now it’s Augustana University. Then in 2006, I went up to Luther Seminary, which was much more vast back then and had some very unique ministry directions taking place at that time.
While I was at Luther, I did my internship in Stillwater, Minnesota. My internship supervisor, Pastor Steve Moline, was actually a former South Dakota pastor as well! My first call was to Hill City, South Dakota at Community Lutheran, where I served for six years. Now I’ve been here in Pierre at Lutheran Memorial Church for just over seven years.
How did you first get connected to Luther House of Study?
I crossed paths early on when Dr. Chris Croghan was at Augustana teaching a Lutheran Confessions course. I remember having to write my précis over and over and over again for him. Then, when I went off to Luther, I was literally on the grounds crew and maintenance one summer afternoon and heard through the grapevine that Dr. Croghan was there to defend his thesis in front of Dr. Steven Paulson and crew.
So, I actually got to sit in on his defense of his dissertation. I was there with two of our other grounds crew guys who also knew him — we were all sitting there in our scuzzy jeans and bandanas back in the corner away from everyone else. I walked up to congratulate him, and said, ‘Do I get to be the very first one to call you Dr. Croghan?’ And he replied, ‘I think my wife should reserve that honor first.’ But it was all smiles and hugs from there. So, I’ve had Dr. Croghan as a professor many times, but that was pre-Luther House days, certainly.
As time went on, things were happening in the workings of the synod office, and Bishop David Zellmer was working on the program to help foster rural ministry sites being able to retain their pastors. That’s when I first became familiar with the workings of Luther House, but it probably wasn’t until the last three to four years now where I really started to have an appreciation for the tools they were putting together and the conversations of Lutheran confessions coming out of their institution. So, that’s when I started paying more attention, but I’ve had a good working relationship with Dr. Croghan, specifically, for a number of years as a student and now as a pastor.
How have you benefited from Luther House’s resources?
I listen to the “Scripture First” podcast on a weekly basis, which is very helpful in getting thoughts rolling in a direction that I could take as a preacher. Now that they’ve brought in “Sing to the Lord” to include the music, that’s been interesting to follow as well.
Having a close working relationship with Chris and Sarah has also been great when it comes to theological discernment and conversations. I’ve bounced ideas off them on how to integrate opportunities for our adult education. In fact, right now, I’m finishing up Where God Meets Man — one of the books that they assign all their students to read and that I read many a time in my college and seminary days. We’re using that for adult ed here at Lutheran Memorial, and Sarah was quick to share the study guide questions they use in the classroom setting with me.
I’ve reached out to other seminaries for things, and it’s so difficult to leave a voicemail and wait maybe a couple of weeks for a possible response, or go to their website and maybe get an answer. What I’ve appreciated with Luther House is their approachability and willingness to hop on the phone or text and have a conversation. Certainly within a day or two, you actually get a direct response with direction and different resources.
What have been some of the greatest lessons or takeaways from your time with Luther House?
What it means to be Lutheran.
As flippant as that sounds, I don’t mean it that way at all. We live in a time where we call ourselves Christian, we call ourselves Lutheran, and especially in the American theater, just like a lot of other mainline denominations, we have broadened ourselves as far as what it means to be Lutheran, and I think we have walked away from our Lutheran confessional lens many a time.
What I’ve appreciated from my conversations and my time auditing classes is the reminder of what did Luther actually say to Scripture? How did Luther read Scripture? How did Luther preach Scripture? And what was the definition of the church for Luther? It’s helped bring me back to that central lens through which I preach and teach.
What do you appreciate most about the ministry?
Number one is their approachability.
In fact, I have one of my former youth right now who’s contemplating the call of ministry. Depending on where his direction feels pulled to serving God, I have his email and phone number waiting on hand to reach out to Chris and Sarah for a possible conversation on how they could enter into a theological education of sorts that allows him to stay in South Dakota and continue to be bi-vocational, because his reality as a young college student is that he has a debt load to manage. So, number one is that approachability — the ability to reach out to their staff and get an answer relatively quickly is incredibly helpful.
The other thing that I appreciate is the Luther House team’s bold approach to what the Law and Gospel mean and their unwavering defense of it. We live in a watered-down society that’s trying to get every aspect of culture to work together in the name of God, and while I think that is an honorable attempt, it doesn’t seem to be working. What I’ve gotten from Luther House is a concrete understanding of how we faithfully live out the Gospel and what that message actually says to our culture and our world. It’s a valuable reminder that Jesus and the Gospel aren’t here just to make everyone smile and feel good.
Anything else you’d like to add?
It’s my hope that as Luther House has clearly grown in its student body and its outreach, they can continue to be leaders amongst those who are trying to figure out what it means to be Scripturally-based preachers and teachers of God’s Word. There are a lot of institutions out there that are trying to strike the balance of being in the world and of the world, and Luther House is doing a good job of understanding what that means in its confessional and faithful teaching. I hope that they can continue being leaders not just in our neck of the woods, but broadening that camp, partnering with other organizations that are doing that, and doing it well.
We are grateful to Pastor Wexler for sharing his experience with us, and we’re excited to partner with his church for an education series this fall. Chris, Sarah, and Lars will be preaching and teaching at Lutheran Memorial on September 24th and October 1. If you’re interested in having Luther House staff preach or teach at your church, reach out to Sarah at email@example.com.
Additionally, if you have been positively impacted by our ministry, we are always looking for testimonials — whether it’s just a few sentences or your full story. Please feel free to email Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would be willing to share.