Called to Serve: ECC Student Gives Insight on his Journey to Pastoral Ministry

Leah Flolo, Contributor

This story was reported on and written for the Journalism 298: Special Topics course. 

Each generation that has preceded the up-and-coming age group has donned a title. Those born between years 1883 and 1900 are known as The Lost Generation, those up until 1924 being The Greatest Generation, with The Silent and Baby Boomer Generations following in their respective order. Then came generations X, Y, and Z, leading to the current Generation Alpha. Out of all the mentioned age groups, it seems that Generation Z, otherwise known as Gen-Z, has been the most talked about, the most vocal, and the most prevalent.


Why is that? There are many ways to answer this question, but for the sake of simplicity, Generation Z is progressive. As a group they are eager to speak their mind, take pride in their individuality, and preach acceptance. A significant amount of change in both society and culture has sprouted from this group, and that can be arguably seen as both good or rather ‘not-so-good’.


One topic that Gen-Z has known to be very open and unfiltered about is the matter of religion. Some associate with it, others don’t. The American Survey Center states that “In terms of identity, Generation Z is the least religious generation yet. More than one-third (34 percent) of Generation Z are religiously unaffiliated…”. That is roughly 4 in every 12 people that are unaffiliated. Believe it or not, that number is higher than the estimate for Gen-X or Y.


Even though a larger percentage of Gen-Z are affiliated with religion, a very small amount affiliate with Christianity. Having a biblical worldview as a current-day teenager and young adult is growing less common. According to a study done over the span of 20 years, research and resource organization Barna Group claims about “4% of Gen Z have a biblical worldview”. Falling into that percentage is Nathan Sommerfeld.


Currently as full-time student in his first year at Elgin Community College, Nathan is one of many working to get his associates degree in art. This level of degree is unique, for its achievement can lead to an array of future careers and majors for the prospective student. However, what Nathan plans to do with his degree may differ from what others have planned. Pastoral ministry is in his sights.


When Nathan was growing up, discussion about Christianity and faith was no stranger in the Sommerfeld house. Between daily prayers, discussions at the dinner table and eavesdropping on their mother listening to sermons, Nathan and his siblings were constantly exposed to the Christian faith. With his father also being the lead pastor at their home church and being very transparent with his children, Nathan grew up knowing the ins and outs of pastoral ministry.


“I have not hidden anything from Nathan. Ministry is hard, messy work at times,” said Nathan’s dad, Paul Sommerfeld. “There’s a lot of hurt, because you get to know the hurt of other people, and you carry that burden. There’s tension, there’s conflict that we have to work through”.


The family’s church is Riverside Community Church, located in St. Charles, IL. It is a small community, with the Sunday service seeing around 160 or so visitors. For over 35 years, the church has brought many together, which is represented in their motto: We are a family of friends who love God and one another. The church building itself is relatively small compared to its neighbors, Christ Community, New Covenant, and Hosanna, all being located down Randall Road.


“It’s a part of what we call ‘The Highway to Heaven,” said Nathan Sommerfeld.


Even though the church may not be as big in size as its neighbors down the highway, it is just as big in heart.


Since Nathan was young, he has attended numerous church-run events, whether it be Sunday Service or Awana, a nonprofit organization that is run through several church programs. Early on, Nathan was always curious about God and what it meant to be a faithful Christian. It was when he was a mere seven years old when his older brother inadvertently terrified him of the repercussions of sin by discussing the Lake of Fire and Hell, present in the Book of Revelation.


“I was scared; I was like ‘I don’t wanna go there’,” Nathan said. “So I asked my sister and was like ‘I don’t wanna go there when I die’ and she said ‘well, if you accept Jesus then you get to go to heaven’. And so that was kind of the start”.


From this point on Nathan gradually grew in his faith and came to the realization that there was more to being a Christian than simply having the opportunity to go to heaven.


Compared to others of his age, Nathan’s exposure to faith and religion in general growing up was drastically different. His parents were not afraid to have open conversations with their children and made it a point to make sure they had a good and supported relationship with God. In many cases, those falling into the range of Generation Z that claim to not have any affiliation with religion, or rather have left that affiliation behind them, didn’t grow up with such values instilled into them. The percentage of Generation X who had a Christian background was already low, so when those newly made Gen-X parents go and raise the next generation, that number is only going to decrease.


According to the aforementioned Survery Center on American Life, “The parents of millennials and Generation Z did less to encourage regular participation in formal worship services and model religious behaviors in their children than had previous generations. Many childhood religious activities that were once common, such as saying grace, have become more of the exception than the norm”.


One of the trickiest things that can come with parenting children is managing behavior. There are several books, journals, and articles that have been written over the years by professionals outlining behavioral studies in children and parental guides for managing such situations. However, in Nathan’s mother’s case, parenting was a breeze, compared to others that is.


“The things that we expected of our children, were things that God expected of us,” said Nathan’s mom, Debra Sommerfeld. “So if they were disobeying something that we set out for them, they weren’t disobeying us. They were disobeying God”.


This strategy proved effective, because from then on out, Nathan was a ‘walk-in-the-park’, as some may say. As he grew up, his personality seemed to simply blossom. Known for his admirable work ethic and unshakable spirit, the young man continued to make an impact on others’ lives, all the while continuing to grow and evolve himself. In his free time, Nathan finds enjoyment in gaming and spending quality time outdoors. The student also happily works part-time at a local bike repair shop, where he has the opportunity to meet others and form relationships with them. Nathan is eager to tell others about his faith, and many a time finds himself having quality conversations with them.


“A coworker at the Bike Rack said [to me], ‘I have a healthy disdain for his wholesomeness’,” Paul said.


Nathan has an older brother and sister, all of which were homeschooled by their parents. Nathan is very grateful for is upbringing, for he feels that it gave him a different worldview. He sees things differently than others of his age, and a lot of that is due to him already knowing the answers to a lot of the questions that others may have.


“I think a lot of people are really seeking something, seeking meaning,” Nathan said. “And they are going all different ways to find that. But, they’re asking questions, and they want to figure out ‘what is my purpose in life?’ and ‘why do I even exist?’ They want to figure out those larger questions”.


It is believed that such answers can be found within God’s word, which is why Nathan claims to see things so clearly. It wasn’t a singular moment when Nathan realized that he wanted to pursue pastoral ministry as his future career. His first teaching ‘gig’ was during a Sunday school session. Naturally, nerves began to run through him since it was his first time being the one talking instead of listening. But he knew what he had to do, stepped up to the plate, and gradually started to follow in the footsteps of his family members before him.


Both Nathan’s step-grandfather and father were/are pastors, so it almost seems ‘written in the stars’ for him. When Nathan expressed his interest in pastoral ministry at a young age, his father immediately helped him learn, and his curiosity and interest only blossomed from there. In summer of 2020, right when the COVID-19 pandemic started to heat up, Nathan had decided to take a gap year from school. In this time, he was asked to lead a home bible study with his friends biweekly. Agreeing to the proposal, Nathan kicked off his teaching in the book of James and studied his all-time favorite topic: apologetics.


“That’s kind of where I realized that I think God had given me a gift to help teach,” Nathan said. “I really enjoyed it and enjoyed studying the Bible. And it’s like every time when you’re just going through a book of the Bible, and you get to a passage and think ‘what is this saying?’, and then you dig into and you’re like ‘Oh, this is really applicable right now”.


As mentioned earlier, Christians often utilize the Bible to answer questions they may have, especially those that seem unanswerable. God’s word can be utilized in several different ways, instead of just providing answers to questions.


The modern day is one where many people find themselves in between a rock and a hard place. There are several politically and morally fueled arguments and questions that almost seem debilitating. Unfortunately, these disagreements have caused humanity to draw lines between one another, creating several divides of people. This is just one instance when the pages of the Bible begin to flutter.


“God didn’t just give us the Bible and give us his Word and give us all of these good teachings and these principles and stuff just for them to become obsolete 100 years after they were written,” Nathan said.


Between the widespread division of people, there seems to be a prominent divide between those affiliated with Christianity, and those who aren’t. A good percentage of the latter is evidently Gen-Z. Reasons for this are numbered. One in particular is that some see Christians as being hypocritical, or difficult to talk to about differing opinions.


“I’ve had people talk to be before and say to me what they believe and certain things that I don’t, and we will be talking and they’ll say, ‘You don’t agree with that do you?’. And I’m like, ‘No, I don’t personally. I believe the Bible says this about that’, but I can have a dialogue with you, and I can agree to disagree with you” said Riverside Church habitué Monica Scull.


There are always going to be topics and ideas that people disagree about. That is a given. Although regardless of the toils of culture-wars and the unending argument between friends, Nathan finds his driving force in the reconciliation that can come from it. According to his parents, Nathan has been a peacekeeper all his life. He finds satisfaction in seeing forgiveness and reconciliation between people, and that sense of fulfillment is what drives him forward in his pursuit of faith. Nathan often finds his faith giving him strength to help others.


“When he’s working on bicycles, and how he works with them [customers], he is not afraid at all to tell them he’s a Christian, and tell them something that impacts the situation,” Paul said. “I wasn’t so brave growing up to be like that”.


Nathan is not one to back down from a hard topic of discussion, and that to many is admirable.


As for Nathan’s future, it is quite literally in the Lord’s hands. He plans on finishing up his second year at ECC in the Spring of 2023 with his associates degree, but from there on he doesn’t know where he is going to ultimately end up. Moody Bible Institute of Chicago and Dallas Theological Seminary are both prospective schools for the student. Most pastoral roles do require a graduate-level education, although it is an option to pursue the career without one, depending on the church or denomination.


While his future educational plans may seem blurry, from here on out Nathan does plan to continue rooting himself in his faith and helping others in any way he can.


“All Christians are called to share the Gospel and to share this good news with other people. I think that regardless of where I’m at, God will be using me, and I think at the moment He’s calling me to teaching in pastoral ministry, but who knows where he calls me after that” Nathan Sommerfeld said.