‘Behind the pulpit’ includes perspective of retired Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran pastor
Paul Harrington says one of his daughters pointed out that he should write about his experiences as a Lutheran pastor.
Harrington has many stories to share after working as a pastor in two Lutheran churches for approximately 41 years, including Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Apple Valley for 33 years.
He recently had the chance to do so with a new book he co-wrote with two other men who had long-standing ministries in Lutheran churches.
“Behind the Pulpit: Three Seasoned Lutheran Pastors Share Their Mega-Church Stories” by Roger Eigenfeld, Duane Paetznick and Harrington was published on August 31 by Kirk House Publishing in Burnsville. The book is a “side-by-side” account of Eigenfeld and Harrington of their ministry experiences with Paetznick’s comments. Eigenfeld served at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi for 33 years.
The book is for anyone with a significant interest in the health and well-being of any church and looks like a handbook on congregational development, Harrington said.
“I would like to think that anyone who read this book would find a new appreciation for the church,” he said.
Harrington grew up in several cities, spending much of his childhood in St. Louis, Missouri, and later graduating from high school in Livonia, Michigan.
He attended Concordia College in Moorhead, where he earned a BA in English and later Luther Theological Seminary where he earned an MA in Theology and Theology.
He and his wife, Margaret, who have been married since 1968, first resided in Apple Valley after moving to Minnesota and later moved to Rosemount. They have a son, two daughters and 11 grandchildren.
Harrington said he was drawn to the ministry from an early age. He has always been “exposed to very good preachers.” Their family attended Lutheran churches and his parents always managed to find good congregations even with so many times his family moved, he added.
“I can hardly think of a time when I didn’t think I wanted to be an ordained clergyman,” he said.
He served only two congregations in his 40-year career.
From 1972 to 1980, he served at the Sylvan Lake Lutheran Church in Pontiac, Michigan.
“It was kind of a struggling little suburban congregation and we had just had a lot of fun building this,” Harrington said. “It was a very healthy congregation when we left. “
In 1980, Harrington said a friend told him that the American Lutheran Church was interested in developing a new congregation in the Apple Valley area. He interviewed and decided to take the call to serve there.
His family moved to the area in November 1980 and spent the last weeks of the year getting to know the community. He visited city and school district officials, sent out flyers and published a notice in the newspaper to publicize the new congregation.
Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church held its first service in January 1981 at Rosemount Elementary Gymnasium, Harrington said. A press release on the book says the church grew from just three families to over 9,000 members by the time Harrington retired.
“My wife was very understanding. I had really long hours, ”said Harrington, adding that he often worked 60 hours a week when the church was first started.
In addition to growing membership, Harrington guided the congregation by moving to Greenleaf Elementary in Apple Valley and later to the church’s current site at 12650 Johnny Cake Ridge Road in Apple Valley. The land was purchased in 1983 and the original church building was constructed in 1984. There would be four building additions to the site and an additional land purchase to expand the church property in the years. future.
“I would say we’ve had very steady but solid growth, that’s what I wanted. I didn’t want an explosion because we wanted to incorporate these people in a meaningful way into the life of the church, ”Harrington said.
Harrington said one of the biggest challenges was helping people believe Shepherd of the Valley would be a viable congregation. He said that “mission” churches, those that started from scratch, have a high death rate due to leadership or financial problems or sometimes other outside factors. Some people were reluctant to come before the church had its own building or others, like the elderly, had difficulty identifying themselves because most of the congregation was younger at first.
The other big challenge early on was finding the right land for a permanent church house and funding those building projects on budget, Harrington said. He added that one thing that was not taught at the seminar was how to find a good general contractor and the process of negotiating with the county and city for necessary permits and road improvements.
Harrington was Senior Pastor until 2009 and became Pastor Emeritus; where he continued to exercise different pastoral functions, but gradually reduced the number of his services until his full retirement in 2013. He said he decided to devote more time to his family while he was still healthy.
He and his wife still hang out with Shepherd of the Valley, but he joked with current Senior Pastor Rick Summy, saying all he wants to do is “worship here and I want to drink coffee and eat donuts with all my friends ”.
Paetznick worked with Harrington and Eigenfeld at various points in his ministerial career. He was director of Christian education at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church for 13 years and then was associate pastor at Shepherd of the Valley, where he worked for 27 years.
Harrington said Paetznick called him in 2020 after things got stuck during the COVID-19 pandemic with the idea of co-writing a book between him, Harrington and Eigenfeld. Paetznick had seen the congregations of St. Andrew and Shepherd of the Valley grow and he was interested in the perspectives of the two pastors.
Thus, Harrington and Eigenfeld wrote about their approaches to different ministry topics, which have been the subject of 15 chapters, including leadership, stewardship, staff, preaching, missions, and mega-churches. Paetznick reflected on the experiences shared by his two former colleagues.
“They reflect on what it was like to be leaders in these times of growth, development and change. The book examines how a climate of welcome and trust has helped each of these churches to grow, ”according to a press release.
The three men worked on the book virtually, communicating via email and video conferencing. The book was sent to the publisher earlier this summer, Harrington said.
He said that another book he would like to write in the future would be about the best sermon illustrations.
“Something I’m always looking for… when people preach they’re telling stories that you remember, that you take home with you, you can apply them to your life,” he said. “As one of my teachers used to say, ‘When you tell a story, if you have to explain it, it’s not a good story. The story should be explained. “