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Published: Saturday, 12/10/2005

Pastor takes a long-term approach

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
The Rev. David Claassen has written a weekly newspaper column for 30 years and has published several books. The Rev. David Claassen has written a weekly newspaper column for 30 years and has published several books.
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After the Rev. David Claassen was ordained and he began looking ahead to a career as a pastor, he made an unusual request of God: "I said, 'Send me some place I can stay a good long time - or a lifetime.'●"

That heartfelt prayer was answered, as the minister known as "Pastor Dave" celebrates his 30th anniversary this year as pastor of Toledo's Mayfair-Plymouth Congregational Church.

Such commitment and longevity go against the flow in an era when the average term for a pastor is five to seven years and an estimated 1,500 people leave the ministry for secular jobs every month, according to Eugene Heacock, executive director of the Sandberg Leadership Center of Ashland Theological Seminary.

Mr. Claassen, 55, is part of the tiny minority of ministers who have decided to stay and pastor the same flock rather than look for greener grass or bigger pastures.

"I've had the privilege of marrying adults whom I had baptized as infants," he said with a smile.

The tall, softspoken pastor with the distinguished silver hair and beard grew up on a farm near Parkersburg, Iowa, and knew early in life that he wanted to be a minister.

He earned a bachelor's degree from Central College in Pella, Iowa, and a master of divinity from Trinity Evangelical School in Deerfield, Ill., and was named pastor of Mayfair-Plymouth in 1975.

When he arrived in Toledo, the church had attendance of about 120 Today, the number to about 300.

"We've seen slow, steady growth, but not miraculous growth," he said. "I've had my struggles with playing the comparison game."

He said it was difficult at times to look around and see the rapid growth of other churches, and he was nagged with the question of whether he truly was following God's will.

Eventually, however, the answer became clear to him.

"The Christian culture emphasizes bigness, but most churches in America have less than 100 members," Mr. Claassen said. "A lot of pastors struggle with feelings of insecurity. But not everybody is called to pastor a mega-church. Some of us are called to pastor a midi-church, and some are mini-church pastors. We need to hear more affirmation for all pastors."

He said pastors need to "disqualify themselves" from the comparison game and focus on where God has sent them to serve.

Essentially what it comes down to is, Where does God want me to be? And since I ve come to understand that, I ve felt a renewed strength of God s call on my life.

When a minister commits to long-term service at a church, he or she doesn t have the liberty to run, Mr. Claassen said. That forces the minister to resolve problems rather than avoid them.

Some of my greatest personal growth has been through forgiveness and the re-establishment of relationships, Mr. Claassen said.

Serving 30 years in one place, he said, creates a sense of leadership by influence more than by position. It s who you are, not what you are.

He said the Mayfair-Plymouth community has become like a family to him, and adds: I don t ever catch myself saying those people, because those is us. I m part of that.

Ray Fritzsche, 68, agrees that the church is like a family. He and his wife began attending Mayfair-Plymouth about six years ago and immediately felt right at home.

It has to be because of the pastor, he said. He s very open, and very supportive in anything you do or try to do.

In July, Mr. Fritzsche said, he was helping do some construction work on a friend s house when he fell 14 feet off a ladder. Doctors said he wasn t expected to live through the night.

The only reason I m standing here today is because of Pastor Dave. He came through for us with prayers and got the church praying, Mr. Fritzsche said.

Mr. Claassen, an avid reader, cites inspirational authors Brendan Manning, Henri Nouen, Philip Yancy, and Eugene Peterson as some of his favorites.

He gets up early each day to write, believing that polishing his writing skills complements his ability to write and give sermons.

I ve written an inspirational column 52 weeks a year for 30 years, he said. The columns are published in the Bedford Press and two papers in his home state of Iowa.

Mr. Claassen also has written several books.

The first, Object Lessons for a Year: 52 Talks for the Children s Sermon Time, was published by Baker Press in 1986. It remains in print after 19 years and has sold more than 50,000 copies, including translations into French-Canadian and Japanese.

Earlier this year, Mr. Claassen s second book, Silent Words Loudly Spoken, was published by Lima-based CSS Press. It offers more than 700 thought-provoking statements suitable for display in church signs.

A science-fiction book, Moon s Mercy: Hello from Bedford, has not yet been published, and Mr. Claassen s latest effort, Journey to the Emperor s Throne: A Children s Story for People of All Ages, was published this year by Lulu Press. The book is printed on demand, making use of the latest publishing technologies that produce copies only after an order is placed.

Words are not Mr. Claassen s only published media. The minister is an accomplished photographer, specializing in nature and landscape shots, and has had a number of photos printed in magazines.

I consider nature photography a form of worship, he said.

For his 30th anniversary as pastor of Mayfair-Plymouth, the congregation presented him a Nikon D70 digitial camera.

Mr. Claassen and his wife, Diann, have been married 33 years and have two children a son, Dan, 27, who is a detective in Indianapolis, and a daughter, Julie, a missionary in Mexico.

Contact David Yonke at:dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.



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