Left six-figure income and pushing paper around

Found God in Vista jail

Greg Stenzel: "Our only hope is in Jesus Christ, crucified for us."
  • Greg Stenzel: "Our only hope is in Jesus Christ, crucified for us."

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church

4335 Van Dyke Avenue, City Heights

  • Membership: 110
  • Pastor: Greg Stenzel 
  • Age: 58
  • Born: San Francisco Bay Area
  • Formation: American Lutheran Theological Seminary, Minneapolis, MN (now at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN)
  • Years Ordained: 14

San Diego Reader: What’s your main concern as a member of the clergy?

Pastor Greg Stenzel: My main concern is that (and this has been going on for hundreds of years, but it seems more prevalent today) humanity is constantly trying to save themselves. When we ask what our purpose in life is — where do we go when we die — society is always saying, “I’ve been a good person, so surely God will accept me.” My main concern is that people are being led down a path to their destruction unless they recognize that because of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, all of humanity is cursed, and our only hope is not through our good life and doing good works; our only hope is in Jesus Christ, crucified for us. Because of that, we have peace with God.

SDR: Why did you become a minister?

PS: I had felt called to pastoral ministry when I was 13 or 14 years of age. I thought God was calling me to do that. In high school, I was picking out colleges to help me for seminary and that sort of thing. Then after high school, I got a job and started earning money and that sense of call faded into the sunset, so to speak. So, fast-forward nearly 20 years, I’m in my office making a lot of money — easily a six-figure income — pushing paper around and I remember saying to myself, There’s more to life than this. That’s when almost immediately the call to ministry returned. Through a series of events and a time of prayer between my wife and me, here we are today.

SDR: What’s the mission of your church?

PS: We exist so that all people may know the forgiving love of Christ Jesus our Lord. We want people to realize what it means to be a Christian in our respective stations in life, whether as husbands, wives, parents, children, or neighbors to other people, and that we live out our lives as Christians sharing a message of God’s forgiveness with others.

SDR: Where is the strangest place you found God?

PS: As Lutherans, we believe God is present wherever his word is present. Wherever people hear his word, holy scriptures, God is there. So I suppose the strangest place I found God is in prison when I was meeting with an inmate at the jail in Vista. I shared the word with him, and he was receptive.

SDR: Where do you go when you die?

PS: For the Christian, when we’re absent from the body, we’re present with the Lord. Jesus tells this incredible story in the gospels where on the last day for everyone in all creation there is going to be a massive resurrection. The just and unjust will alike be risen from the dead. Jesus tells this wonderful story where the angels are going to separate all the peoples the way a shepherd separates sheep from goats. To the sheep on his right, he’s going to say, “Come, you who are blessed by my father, enter the kingdom that has been prepared for you.” To the goats on his left, Jesus will say, “You who are cursed by my father, enter into the place that has been prepared for you,” which is basically hell.

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