Westminster church's new pastor puts people first

March 28, 1994|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Contributing Writer

Westminster Bible Church's new pastor, Craig Schoenberger, considers himself a people person.

"Our priorities are people," he said. "Our" meaning himself, his wife and two children.

The 41-year-old, a minister for only 3 1/2 years, didn't always put others first.

As a teen-ager, Mr. Schoenberger started working for a private country club in Ohio, where he spent 17 years. During this time some things happened to make him reflect on his faith.

"My mother became deathly ill very quickly and that got me to asking spiritual, eternal questions," he recalled. "My mother did pass away in my presence, and four years later I was still asking the questions.

"At that time, I was a materialistic, selfish person who wanted to make money and never mind who I stepped on to do it."

But the questions still nagged at him. Then one of his employees, a Christian who worshiped regularly, invited Mr. Schoenberger to his church.

Mr. Schoenberger was skeptical and began questioning the man, but found him to be "genuine, different."

Mr. Schoenberger was 27 then and had not been to church since he was about 10, he said. He had attended a Methodist church as a child.

"My wife and I went with this man to his church one Sunday, and I heard the word of the Bible for the first time [as an adult]," he said.

The experience opened him up to religion, but not enough to give up the material things his job provided. Besides, Sunday was a big day for golf, and the church was 20 miles away.

Eventually, with the help of other employees, he found another Baptist church closer to the country club and began attending services there.

"God used that church to convince me once and for all of my need to be saved," Mr. Schoenberger said.

"When you trust Christ, your life is turned around. God totally changed me from inside out, he totally changed my perspective."

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Schoenberger gave up his position at the country club and enrolled in Biblical studies at Baptist Bible College in Clark Summit, Pa. From there he went to Dallas Theological Seminary, where he earned his master's degree.

The road to the ministry was not an easy one, "but where God leads, he provides," the pastor said.

Six weeks before leaving for college, he suffered a ruptured disc and underwent surgery. For the next four years, he was physically unable to work, though he did attend school.

The couple, with two young children, scraped by with the help of other people and scholarships. The college provided free housing and utilities while the Schoenbergers served as dorm parents.

After earning his master's degree, Mr. Schoenberger took a position as senior pastor of Bethany Baptist Fellowship in Ferndale, Wash., in fall 1990.

He learned of the opening at Westminster Bible Church through the Dallas school and applied.

After completing questionnaires, telephone interviews and visiting the church, he was accepted.

"They finally called and we said yes, and now we're here 3,100 miles later," he said.

The Gorsuch Road church, incorporated 34 years ago yesterday, calls itself "a warm, friendly place." Its mission is to "reach up in worship, reach in to encourage and reach out with the gospel," the pastor said.

Mr. Schoenberger is the church's eighth minister, replacing the Rev. Roger R. Reece, who was with Westminster Bible Church almost 12 years.

The church has a congregation of 55 families, with attendance Sundays of more than 100 worshipers, he said.

Mr. Schoenberger arrived to take over his new charge March 7 and gave his first sermon March 20.

He and his family are settling into a new home, new church and new school, he said.

His wife, Susan, is getting the house in order, while Robert, 18, and Melissa, 14, are students at Westminster High School.

His first sermon "went great," he said. "Everybody has an upbeat attitude, and the atmosphere is good, one of anticipation and joy as we look forward to a future together," Mr. Schoenberger said.

Mr. Schoenberger said he plans to make Westminster home "for the next 30 years" and to immerse himself in the church and community.

His goals for the church are to reach as many people as possible, help them mature in the word of the Lord and encourage them to go out and minister to others, he said.

"I'm ready to settle down for a long-term investment in the ministry and in the people I serve," he said.

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