The Rev. Steve Dornbusch grew up wanting to fly jets for the U.S. Air Force. Somewhere in his sophomore year of college, he decided that God should be more than a co-pilot.
Forty years later, Dornbusch is set to retire as senior pastor at Calvary Lutheran Church in Golden Valley after a lifetime of service to Lutheran churches in three states. He announced this retirement last January, and his final service at Calvary will next month he said. And after that?
“I’ll probably wonder what they heck I am going to do (that first Monday in retirement),” he said with a laugh. “My wife (Kathy) has always joked that ‘for the first year, you’re mine,’ to which I respond that I’ll give her two months before she changes her mind about that. I’ve always loved what I have done. It’s not a question of ‘I can’t wait to quit,’ just the opposite. But I’m feeling like the time is right in terms of where we are at as individuals, but also for Calvary. It’s a strong church, and in many ways, it’s best days are still ahead of it.”
The father of two and grandfather of four grew up in Paullina, Iowa. He wanted to be a career pilot in the Air Force and was taking classes for aerospace engineering at Iowa State when a higher purpose became clear.
“Thought the influence of mentors, I felt that God was calling me in a different direction,” he said. “I was on a scholarship with the Air Force, and committed for six years. They allowed me to make that change. After Iowa State, I went to Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul, and spent three years there followed by one year in an internship.”
After first serving there as an intern, Dornbusch became an assistant pastor at Edison Park Lutheran Church in Chicago for three years, and spent the next 20 years equally between Forrest City and Sioux City, Iowa. He was serving in Sioux City when the Calvary call came, and moved his family to Golden Valley.
“One of the most rewarding things is trying to chart a course to share a vision to what God is calling the church to be,” he said. “To do that in a way that include peoples, affirms people, helps them be on board, is one of the most rewarding but challenging parts of ministry. One of the realities of the church is that no matter what you do, no everybody will be happy. That’s always one of the hard parts.”
As someone who is “not real good at hobbies,” Dornbusch said that he is looking into volunteering with the John Maxwell Company, an organization that teaches leadership in Third World Countries. Other than that, he’s leaving things open – on purpose.
“I had one of my prayer partners tell me, ‘God won’t reveal what he wants you to do until this year is over,’” Dornbusch said. “I’m listening to that. I’m intentional about not making too many plans, but letting God lead in terms of what’s next.”
When Dornbusch leaves, an interim senior pastor will serve until a permanent replacement is found. Sharon Lindau, a co-chair of the call committee for a new pastor, said consultants had told the committee that the process to replace a longtime senior pastor could take as long as 24 months.
“We’ve also heard someone say you should plan on a month for every year that your pastor has been there,” she said. ‘That puts it in that 16 months-plus range. It’s partly looking for that new person when you have big shoes to fill, and it’s also partly laying the groundwork with the congregation for the kind of transition you are in.”
One of the committee’s early tasks was to write a profile of the ideal candidate. Lindau said qualities sought for Dornbusch’s successor included being “a wonderful preacher,” somebody who could be a theological match to the church and bring a leadership vision the way Dornbusch had.
“Steve has been a great, great pastor for Calvary,” she said. “He’s really taken the things that have always been great at Calvary and … done great, new things with them. I think outreach for churches used to mean overseas missions, and it’s become a lot more reaching into your own community, to people who need faith and practical help. He’s done a really good job of helping people understand how faith applies to life, now, today. He’s been a wonderful pastor.”