Be faithful to the Word. Don't compromise the truth.
Those two short sentences have guided alumnus Herbert Schiefelbein through his life’s journey during which he has become a pastor, husband, father, and grandfather. Those words have served Herb well, so much so that they have become the advice he imparts to current Concordia University students.
This past summer Herb visited Wisconsin and noted that his stop back to campus was a highlight of his life. We followed up with him during a recent phone interview from his home in Billings, Montana. “Stay close to the Word,” he advised during the interview. “That’s God’s power for your life. You can’t get it any other place. That’s where God promised to meet you.”
The 90-year-old man of God began his journey toward his vocation many years ago. Initially, it was not his plan to become a pastor. It was, however, his brother’s plan to become a missionary. But when Herb’s brother accidentally drowned, he told his parents he would be willing to go into the ministry. For years, Herb struggled, wondering if he made the decision to become a pastor for the sake of his parents, or for the sake of the Lord.
But one day, his wife, Fran, erased all of his doubts. “She said she would love me if I would be a pastor or not,” Herb shared. “From then on, I didn’t want to be anything but a pastor.”
And a pastor he became, in addition to a father and grandfather. Herb has seven children (one who is in his heavenly home); 17 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren, with one more on the way. He was married to Fran for 65 years; she passed away last year.
His Concordia Years
Herb was a “Six-Year Man,” attending both Concordia College High School and Concordia College. He still remembers his graduation day in 1947. Because the war was ending, graduation got pushed up to January, and Wisconsin had something like 24 inches of snow over the weekend, he said. Thankfully, because his family lived in Milwaukee, Herb’s parents were able to trudge through the snow and blizzard conditions to see him graduate.
During his time at Concordia, Herb sang in the chorus, played intramural sports such as softball and football, was a chief usher for the gymnasium, and “was one of the truck drivers that would go out to farms and get produce,” he said.
But one of the most memorable things about his years at Concordia was the warmth he felt with the student body. “There was that congeniality that was just wonderful,” Herb said. “We were all bound with Christ.”
It was his time at the seminary that transformed Herb into the pastor he is today. During a sermon-writing class, he received a low grade with the following remark from his professor: “If you would turn to the Gospel of Jesus Christ for something to say, the angels will have something to rejoice about.”
“I was so mad,” Herb said. He marched right into that professor’s office and demanded an explanation. The teacher responded: “Show me where you have preached the Gospel.”
What Herb learned that day was, although he might have had a good biblical sermon, he didn’t have a Gospel sermon. His words did not speak the Good News of the Lord.
“From then on, I would always ask myself the question, ‘how are you going to present the Gospel?’” he said. “That has changed my ministry and the way I preach to this very time.”
Once a Pastor, Always a Pastor
Herb served as a minister and pastor for many decades before officially retiring in 1995. That doesn’t mean he stopped preaching, though. “There’s an old saying,” he said with a laugh. “Ministers never retire. They just go out to pastor.”
He delivered his last sermon on Thanksgiving at Trinity Lutheran Church in his hometown. “I enjoy every opportunity I get to still do preaching,” he remarked. And when asked if he plans to preach again, he responded with a resounding YES.
Until then, Herb will continue to learn. “I’ve never gotten to the point where I know it all. I just love teaching Bible class because I learn so much in the preparation,” he said. “I want to make sure what people are getting is God and not me. I think of myself as the voice of God.”
And, he added, ministry is such a tremendous responsibility and honor. His words of wisdom to Concordia’s pre-seminary students?
“Just remember you’re the servant.”
—Advancement Communication Specialist Susan Suleski wrote this story.
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