Berntsen served 17 years as a pastor in Perkasie, PA, and chaired a synodical candidacy committee
The Rev. Dr. John A. Berntsen of Perkasie, PA, a veteran parish pastor with more than 30 years of experience serving congregations in Pennsylvania, has been appointed director of student services for The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.
In his new post, Berntsen will guide seminarians through the candidacy process leading to rostered ministry positions in the church and support them in their formation as church leaders. He says he looks forward to encouraging seminarians to come to terms with “what it means to finally accept the mantle of leadership.”
Berntsen most recently served 17 years as senior pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Perkasie, PA. Prior to that he was pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Macungie, PA, for seven years. He’s also served parishes in Lehighton and Whitehall.
A native of Clinton, IA, Berntsen says he became interested in the seminary position in part due to his 10 years of experience as a member and chair of the Candidacy Committee of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Lutheran seminarians get counsel and oversight from a synodical (regional) jurisdiction of the ELCA as they prepare for ministry. Meetings with such committees are a key part of the leadership discernment process. “I really have enjoyed getting to know seminarians through the candidacy process,” Berntsen says. “And I can really relate to some of the struggles they go through. So this new position gives me the opportunity after all of my experience to focus on being a closer part of this process for more seminarians.”
Berntsen was influenced to become a pastor by the pastor of the small church he grew up in. “He was a strong public speaker and preacher and made the Word come to life for me,” Berntsen recalls. Berntsen's father was “bivocational,” he says with a smile. He ran an insurance business but also was a choir director “and knew all the hymns of the church and classical oratorios. When we came home from church we would always discuss the pastor’s sermon at lunch,” Berntsen recalls. Berntsen sang in the St. Olaf Choir at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, from which he graduated cum laude in 1970. He became a vocalist as a youth in Clinton, and learned to play the trumpet and French horn. But he also loved sports, participating in basketball, track, tennis and football. He grew up two miles from the banks of the Mississippi River.
Berntsen says that over the years he has resisted trendy ideas that emerge about being a church pastor. “I’ve really enjoyed taking things as they come one day at a time, without the pretense of a master plan” he says. “I was around my last congregation for a long time. You need to grow in all the skill set areas such as preaching and pastoral care. I have to say, daily life in a congregation has been truly joyous for me. People have invited me into their lives during many sacred moments. I have really enjoyed preaching, studying the scriptures, the weekly rhythms of the church and the pattern of preparation for worship, the feast and meal of Holy Communion and pastoral care visits.” He says he has also enjoyed relating to teenagers and admires their passion for faith.
He is the author of Cross-Shaped Leadership: On the Rough and Tumble of Parish Practice (The Alban Institute, 2008). “I wanted to write about the theology of vocation for leaders of parish life,” Berntsen explains. “In terms of theology I wrote about what keeps a leader going and surviving, being shaped under the cross by the realities of parish life without any illusions,” he says.
Berntsen earned his Master of Divinity Degree from Yale University Divinity School (1973) and was awarded his PhD in 1985 from Emory University in Atlanta, GA, where he concentrated on systematic and liturgical theology, especially the work of theologian Karl Barth. He was ordained into the parish ministry in Iowa in 1980.
In addition to his candidacy work, Berntsen has held several volunteer synodical posts, including serving on the Bishop’s Advisory Committee in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod and chairing the Worship Committee of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod. For three years he was a guest lecturer in religion at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, and has taught as an adjunct professor of Systematic Theology at Mary Immaculate Seminary in Northampton, PA.
Berntsen’s spouse, Mary Lynn, is a hospital information specialist. The couple has two adult children – Matthew, an Indiana University senior majoring in bassoon performance, and T. J. (Thomas), a Lehigh University sophomore.