Ern Lemke, Former Church Leader and Volunteer Minister Brisbane, Australia

Summary: A thoughtful interview with one of the church’s senior stewards. Read to gain wisdom regarding what biblical stewardship really is about and how one may serve as a steward in the senior years of life.

Life sketch

In searching for senior stewards to share their experiences with us in this issue of DS, Erika Puni introduced us to Pastor Ern Lemke. It did not take long to get acquainted. Elder Lemke was so generous of heart and willing to converse with us, despite his other commitments and busy schedule.

Before the interview, we want to share a bit of Ern’s life history to give you a fuller picture of this mentor-steward and disciple of Christ. From 1948 to 1952, Ern served as an evangelist and district leader in Papua, New Guinea. For his travel, he had a 45-foot mission launch. After completing evangelistic meetings in December 1952, the Lemke’s rose early to leave in the launch for Port Moresby.

Ern says: “When I pressed the starter button to start the ship’s engine, there was a tremendous explosion. Tragically, the ship was torn apart, burst into flames and sank. My wife and two older boys were killed. Only our baby son and I were rescued, and we were both severely injured and badly burned by the explosion.”

Ern and his infant son recovered in Australia over the next two years. “I served as a pastor-evangelist in Western Australia after that,” he told me. “My present wife Val and I married in 1954, and we were called again to mission service in the South Pacific.” Elder Lemke served in various positions in New Guinea and the Cook Islands until 1971. Returning to Australia, he worked in administration and lastly served as stewardship director of the South Pacific Division until his retirement.

Interview

DS: Pastor Lemke, how long has it been since you retired? And, if you don’t mind my asking, how old are you?

EL: I have been retired now for 20 years, and on my next birthday I will be 84.

DS: How was it for you when you first retired? Did you find the adjustment difficult? Especially in the beginning?

EL: When I retired, I continued to enjoy the fellowship that I found in service, and because of my involvement this way, my adjustment to retirement was not difficult.

DS: During your retirement years, how have you continued partnering with God as His steward? Can you look back and list some of the activities?

EL: Since my retirement, I have served as a volunteer in several capacities. In 1985, I became director of Christian Services for the Blind and Hearing Impaired in the South Pacific Division. Then in 1991, I was involved in stewardship ministry for the South Queensland Conference. From 1995 until now, I have been caring for the spiritual needs of the residents of the Adventist Retirement Village in Brisbane, Australia.

From a mentoring perspective

DS: Have you been able to mentor stewardship leaders in the church since your retirement?

EL: During my years of volunteer service, I have had the wonderful opportunity to mentor other stewardship leaders and members by helping them understand the fundamental principles of Christian stewardship that have so wonderfully blessed my own stewardship ministry through the years.

DS: As a mentor, what is the best advice you could give to leaders in presenting biblical stewardship?

EL: I believe it is important to understand that Christian stewardship involves so much more than just finance. True stewardship involves the wise and unselfish use of life—all of life—and successful stewardship is only possible when our entire life, body, possessions, abilities and time are committed to God for His guidance.

DS: What would you tell these leaders NOT to do?

EL: In stewardship counseling, do not overemphasize the need or importance of financial giving for the support of God’s work. When a person makes a total surrender of his or her life to God, under His guidance and direction, financial giving will take its place in harmony with His will and life will be wonderfully blessed.

DS: What would you say to a senior citizen who asks what he or she can do in partnership with God, at this time of life?

EL: I would counsel seniors to talk with the Lord about their desire to serve Him. And it may be helpful for them to counsel with their pastor. But remember, God does not require more of us than He will make possible for us. Naturally, we become less active in our senior years and may not be able to do all that we once could do, but in a less active way, the Lord will still make it possible for us to serve Him.

DS: What if they have physical limitations or a lack of funds?

EL: These same principles apply. When no other avenues of service are available, we can still serve God very effectively through prayer, remembering, “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results” (Jm 5:16, NLT).

Looking at personal stewardship

DS: Did you always understand biblical stewardship as you do now?

EL: No. I did not always understand biblical stewardship. I began to understand the importance of what I now believe when I began serving in Papua, New Guinea. The people there had very little in financial possessions, and the only way they could be effective stewards for the Lord was through living lives totally consecrated to Him, trusting Him to bless their efforts to share His love through them.

DS: What is the most important lesson you have learned from God regarding stewardship, and how has this affected your life?

EL: I think the most important lesson I have learned is that God really can be trusted. When Jesus gave the Gospel commission, He said to His disciples, “Wherever you go, make disciples.… Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to do everything I have commanded you.” Then He gave that wonderful promise, “Remember that I am with you always, even until the end of time” (Mt 28, GWT).

I believe God’s call to ministry has been and still is to make disciples and to teach them about His plan for their lives, so that they may get to know Jesus and want to follow Him. This understanding of Christian stewardship changed my life and enabled me to make the message of salvation known to men and women in ways that otherwise may never have been possible.

DS: Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Pastor Lemke! It will be an encouragement to our readers as they contemplate retirement and the future.

EL: It has been my pleasure. I must confess that ministry for me has been a wonderful and most rewarding experience, and while there has been devastating tragedy and loss in my life, I thank God for the privilege of having been able to serve Him!

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January–March, 2006

Senior Stewards