Photo by Tucker Henderson
Trinity Lutheran Church Director of Christian Education Gary Bach is retiring after 40 years in the LCMS ministry. An open house will be held for him later this month.

By Tucker Henderson


After over 40 years working as a Director of Christian Education (DCE) in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS), Gary Bach of Trinity Lutheran Church of New York Mills is retiring.

An open house will be held from 11:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 26 at Trinity Lutheran Church in NY Mills. A catered meal will be served until 1 p.m. The event free to attend and is open to the public.

Bach was involved at his childhood congregation of Peace Lutheran in Hutchinson, Minn., when he was growing up and it was there that his interest in ministry was kindled.

“Well, in high school, as you do when you’re getting to the junior and senior year, you’re kind of thinking, ‘What am I going to do with my life?’ I was pretty active in our congregation. They had directors of Christian Education on staff, in particular Paul Berg, was there for much of our teen years,” said Bach.

Laurie, Bach’s wife, also attended Peace Lutheran in Hutchinson when they were just teens.

“Paul had a lot of influence on our lives, I don’t think he ever once said, ‘You should go into church work,’ but just who he was, his personality, his teaching, his presence in my life maybe steered me that direction a little bit,” she said. 

Contributed photo
Gary and Laurie Bach will be enjoying more time with their family (pictured) in the coming years of retirement.

“I think at one point I was looking at maybe being a math teacher and I was visiting with University of Minnesota in Morris, which had a good math program,” said Bach. “Then I visited with a divisions counselor from Concordia in St. Paul. I had a good conversation, decided to go for a visit, they drew me in and I ended up there.”

Bach’s career as a DCE began when he graduated from Concordia College from the DCE program. In a whirlwind of events, Bach graduated college a day apart from his soon-to-be wife, Laurie, within 12 days they were wed, and then they were packed up in a U-Haul truck headed for his first call to service in Nebraska.

“Our parents helped us move, but we were only about five hours from Hutchinson where we grew up,” Bach laughed. “But our parents probably thought it was the end of the earth back then.”

The formative years of Bach’s calling were spent in South Sioux City, Neb. at Hope Lutheran, which was a congregation that had never had a DCE before. There he figured out the hands-on approaches to leading education ministry and learned from his own mistakes.

“I worked with a really great pastor,” said Bach. “I don’t think the Lord could have planned it better for who to start out with as a ministry teammate. John Brogaard was amazing and he let me make my own way, he didn’t try to dictate what  I did, or look over my shoulder. At the same time, he let me make mistakes and learn from them.”

Bach’s next leadership call led him to White Bear Lake, Minn., where he spent the next 11 years of his career at South Shore Trinity Lutheran.

“Going to the next congregation in White Bear Lake, it was a very different setting. It was suburban, more white collar folks,” said Bach. “A little more of that kind of mentality, but again some great people.

“I think each congregation has been a highlight in a lot of ways,” Bach continued. “When you’re serving among God’s people, you meet some great people and develop relationships that you have for a lifetime.”

When Bach’s third leadership call came from central Minnesota, he accepted.

“South Sioux City, White Bear Lake, New York Mills—I always tell people I only live in cities with three words in the name. It just ended up that way,” he laughed. “It was August of 1997 when we came here from White Bear Lake. Coming back into greater Minnesota, in New York Mills, with a more rural setting, obviously, it worked out pretty good being here this long.”

In the beginning of Bach’s career as a DCE, oftentimes parishioners would consign him to youth ministry and didn’t realize just how expansive Christian education can be.

“When I started, the Director of Christian Education position, as a called and commissioned worker in our church body, was relatively new, historically,” he said. “I think that the assumption sometimes was that, ‘Oh, if you’re a DCE, you work with the youth.’ Yet, we were equipped as lifespan educators in a congregational setting. Teachers of the faith, literally, for all ages particularly with parish education in mind, but there were emphasis areas, and mine was youth ministry.”

As in any career that spans four decades, Bach has certainly seen changes in his profession over his tenure with the LCMS, including the growth of the DCE profession itself.

“I think I’ve seen changes in where people understand what DCEs are equipped to do,” he said. “Some still think, ‘Oh, you’re the youth director,’ which is fine, because many of us do that. I’ve always been kind of a generalist DCE position at all three churches I’ve served. I’ve had my fingers in a lot of things, education, youth-family, and here with our praise band and some music and worship. Not all DCEs do that.”

“Coming out of college, the old adage was, ‘Real DCEs use newsprint and play guitar,’” he laughed, “Which I probably did both.”

Highlights over his time in Christian education have been abundant and fill his memory.

“I think a lot of our LCMS youth gatherings, I’ve been to 13 of them, so they have been highlights as far as youth ministry,” said Bach. “Serving events or mission trips, many of those over the years have been great. We’ve had a lot of great Vacation Bible Schools, Sunday School Christmas programs, the adult classes I’ve taught, I’ve always enjoyed.”

“What I’ve really enjoyed—I get a lot of variety—I’ve always been able to work with different age groups,” he said. “I’ve always told people, if you’re having a bad day, go and visit our preschool or go over to the Elder’s Home and visit folks—they are just glad to see you.”

Over the past 25 years, Bach has endeavored to strengthen Trinity Lutheran’s educational ministry in NY Mills and in the process has learned a great deal about people.

“Listening is very important, but hard to do. At least for me. One of the best things you can do, the most loving thing, is listen to them. Intentional listening is hard, communication, being present with people when they need that. When you’re in a people profession, you deal with people, so you have to be engaged in that.”

Gary Bach on the importance of listening

Another lesson he’s learned over the years is not to discount anyone’s importance or worth to the community as a whole.

“In a congregational setting, you have your people that are very active, you have people that are not so active, and some you never see,” he said. “But I’ve learned never to give up on anyone. There’s always a point of contact that presents itself and you want to do that, you don’t want to be thinking, ‘Well, it’s not going to make a difference.’ You never know what God is going to do. If you connect with that person at that moment in that setting, you can’t make assumptions whether that’s worth it or not.”

As Bach heads into retirement, he draws wisdom from An Uncommon Guide to Retirement, a book by Jeff Haanen, which lays out the groundwork for finding or continuing your calling into retirement.

“It’s written by a Christian author,” said Bach. “He covers a lot of neat stuff, including that at the beginning of retirement, he suggests taking some sabbatical time, whether that’s a week, a month, a year just to settle in and figure out what’s next. Don’t rush, don’t say yes to too many things.

“He has a chapter on calling,” he continued. “You have your callings in life, whether it’s husband, father, DCE, whatever. Some of those are related to your job, but some of those callings will remain, some will be different, there will be new callings maybe. Luther’s concept of Christian vocation was very tuned in to that sense of calling. So, I anticipate seeing some things change, still being able to do some things that I feel gifted and I really enjoy doing, but maybe just in a different sense of where it will be, or some new opportunities that I don’t know about yet.”

The Bachs will be observing the longtime guidelines of the LCMS for the successful transition of the DCE position by taking a sabbatical from the weekly life at Trinity and will  attend other local LCMS churches during the coming year to help facilitate the change.

“We will take a break from Trinity, I will need to do that. It’s just a necessary thing I think when there’s a change,” said Bach. “Especially being here as long as I’ve gotten to be so that I can detach, people can move on with the next person who comes after me. It doesn’t mean we won’t ever come back, we’re not moving out of town, we’re still living in Mills, we enjoy our community and the people. We’ll find a different church home for a while. We thought it would be fun to go to different churches each week for a month or two to visit other churches in our area and in the circuit.”

Bach has built an innumerable amount of relationships over the years in this community and doesn’t plan on giving them up any time soon. He looks forward to making new ones in the coming years of retirement, but is also grateful for the ones he’s made during his career. Some of his closest friendships were made through the LCMS organization KINDLE Servant Leaders.

“It’s a professional growth opportunity, originally for DCEs like me, but they’ve expanded to what they call Second Chair Leaders in congregations, usually those that are not pastors, but have the opportunity to go through learning cycles on Christ-like servant leadership, which is our calling from baptism,” said Bach. “Their model for that has been really influential in how I think and do as a DCE and how I, hopefully, foster others to see that calling in their life too, whether it’s here at church, or in my family, or in the community, just in relationships you have. I think that’s helped me to finish well, hopefully, as I transition, seeing that calling will always be there, no matter what I’m doing. The relationships I’ve built through that with the two guys I’m Zooming with, we have come together through KINDLE and we just continue to have our small circle on Zoom. It’s been a good thing as a DCE, seeing them as friends and brothers.”

As the month marches on, Bach contemplates the part of his 40 plus year career that he will miss the most.

“The people,” he said. “One thing about a long tenure in a congregation is I, literally, like the teens I met with this morning, I’ve known them since they were born. There’s a lot of positives of having long-term relationships with people. I think for the most part, when you have that track-record with people, they know you and you know them, so it’s mostly a positive thing.  There will be other people we get to know, other people we don’t know yet that we’ll become friends or serve with.”

“It’s going to be weird, not being around with the same people that we’ve worked and ministered with,” smiled Bach. “I’ll miss the people.”