As a high school student, the Rev. Michael Koepke thought he could help people as an engineer.
Instead, he decided to help engineer their lives for God.
Koepke, 33, recently moved into Ahwatukee with his wife, Sarah, and their three children, ages 1 to 5, to become the new pastor of Lamb of God Lutheran Church, replacing the Rev. Scott Martz, who accepted a pastor position in Texas.
He came to minister to the approximately 140-member congregation from a five-year stint as pastor at a church more than twice that size in Ann Arbor, Michigan – and that suits him just fine.
While one reason he moved here is his wife grew up in South Phoenix, Koepke also saw beauty and opportunity at Lamb of God.
“The church is just a gorgeous church, situated up there and the mountains,” he said. “But when I got the call, I just a thought about the area and I talked to a lot of different pastors and the different council members at Lamb of God. And I guess for me, I just saw a lot of potential and opportunity to reach people in the area and to just help them understand Christ and try to serve them in whatever ways that we could find to do as a congregation.
“I think that drew me as well, just in the sense that there wasn’t as much in-house kind of stuff that goes on in a larger congregation. I thought it might free me up a little bit more out and among the community a little bit more.”
That sense of service guided him from what he originally thought he’d be doing – following in his engineer-father’s footsteps.
Growing up in a Christian family, he said, “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do for probably most of my high school years.”
“My dad was an engineer and so I had been considering that pretty strongly,” he said.
But teachers and pastors also suggested he consider the ministry, telling him “I have some gifts for it.”
What gifts does he think they were talking about?
“I guess they saw some personality traits in me,” he replied. “They thought I was pretty good with people.”
“I guess they saw an overall warmth and how I was open to people, taking an interest in their lives. I think they just thought that might fit well with what a pastor would do in the ministry.
“And I guess when it came down to it, I knew I wanted to serve and help people in my life and I knew I could do that as an engineer. But I just kind of thought that as a pastor, I might be able to do that even more.
“Really, it’s about telling people about Christ and what he’s done for us and the peace that we have through him,” Koepke continued. “And that’s really what I wanted to spend my life doing.”
Teachers and pastors also saw his academic strength.
A graduate of Martin Luther College in Minnesota, he earned his bachelor’s degree in 2008 in biblical languages, having studied the Bible in Greek and Hebrew.
”Studying for the ministry in our synod requires a lot of language study,” he explained, noting that the college – he also met his future wife there – has a “singular focus” on training students to be either Christian teachers or ministers.
While he also studied German and Spanish, learning Hebrew and Greek were essential as well as required.
“The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the new testament in Greek. So, through the course of MLC and then on to seminary, we will have read through the entire New Testament in Greek. The Old Testament is a bit longer, so we don’t get through the whole thing in Hebrew, but we do study certain portions of it and go through that in class.”
“It was pretty intensive,” Koepke added. “I was pretty blessed to be able to, um, have that training going through.”
And it comes in handy on the job.
“When I prepare a sermon and the portion of the Bible I’m looking at, I’ll always go back to the original as part of my study,” he said. “That way I cannot have to always rely on a published translation; it helps you get the meanings of the words and then from there I’ll use that to develop a sermon. It is a fairly regular study of mine.”
While he and his wife arrange their new home, Koepke also is becoming acquainted with Ahwatukee before he launches any programs either at the church or in the community.
“Being pretty new, right now I’m just going around to our members’ homes and just kind of sitting down with them and just getting to know them.”
“I don’t want to start anything new without really getting to know the people and knowing their backgrounds and where they come from. So that’s my primary goal right now.
“As far as how to get out into the community and how to serve people, I think that’s going to grow from what our members’ gifts and talents are. I know Lamb of God is part of an HOA (Club West), so I’d like to maybe attend some of their meetings and just listen to what the people in the community are talking about and what their needs are.”
But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been giving his outreach mission some thought.
“One of the interesting things that I’ve been looking at is just this concept of neighboring,” he explained. “You can have all these big programs and such at a church, but, one of the biggest commands Jesus had is to love your neighbor as yourself. I think if we could just get to know our literal neighbors, the people that live across the street or next door, if we can encourage all of our people to do that then as we get to know our neighbors, we understand what their hurts and problems and needs are and try to impact the community in an organic way.”
Lamb of God Lutheran Church is at 599 W. Chandler Blvd. Information: mylambofgod.org.