Commentary, Lutherans in the Twin Cities

‘Easter is just around the corner’

The Rev Paul Youngdahl: A life fully lived

Many people in Minneapolis have a story to tell about the Rev. Dr. Paul Youngdahl. Often this story begins with one’s earliest memory of meeting this giant of a pastor for the very first time. From there, each story takes on its own personal meaning — from an unforgettable experience of profound pastoral care Youngdahl provided in a time of crisis to a childhood recollection of a fun-filled boat ride across Caribou Lake on a sunny day at Cathedral of the Pines Camp. At the same time as he served as an enduring spiritual leader for the city of Minneapolis and beyond, Youngdahl touched the lives of tens of thousands of individuals — each one in a unique and deeply personal way.

For those of us who served with Pastor Youngdahl at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, we were given the rare privilege of watching the life and ministry of this man unfold. We have our stories too.

The Rev. Mary Brown

Pastor Paul Youngdahl was the most disciplined leader and best time manager I have ever known.

One December Sunday, I preached at the all-congregation communion services two days before December 24, when Pastor Paul Youngdahl would be preaching at nine hourly Christmas Eve services. During my first sermon at the earliest service, I noticed Paul sitting by himself up in the balcony. When I was finished preaching, I sneaked up to see what he was doing, hoping to catch him reading the sports page. Instead I found our senior pastor surrounded by Easter preaching books. “What are you doing?” I asked in disbelief. “Planning ahead, Mary. Easter is just around the corner.”

Since Youngdahl’s sudden and unexpected passing, a multitude of personal testimonies have been shared about his pastoral heart and commitment to be present in the best and worst of circumstances for the more than 13,000 souls in his own parish as well as an entire community.

Some might ask, where did he find the time? Along with serving as senior pastor for the largest Lutheran church in North America, Youngdahl was the top executive at the congregation’s five affiliated ministries: Mount Olivet Careview Homes, Mount Olivet Conference and Retreat Center, Cathedral of the Pines Camp, Mount Olivet Rolling Acres, and Mount Olivet Day Services, along with a satellite congregation in Victoria — which together employ over 800 people.

How did he do it all? Pastor Paul Youngdahl was the most disciplined leader and best time manager I have ever known. His masterful ability to lead and delegate, his singular focus on productivity through careful but thoughtful prioritization, and his undying commitment to providing the highest quality of ministry, both corporately and personally, contributed to him being one of the most effective pastors in this generation.

But most importantly, Paul Youngdahl simply loved being a follower of Jesus and sharing the good news of the gospel through his words and actions every day.

The most important number

While Mount Olivet’s children are grieving the loss of the pastor who for decades taught the stories of the Bible each evening in the chapel at Cathedral of the Pines, religious leaders and dignitaries are also expressing their own sense of sadness.

Youngdahl’s accomplishments are vastly more than can be described in a short commentary. In his fervor for evangelism, he often used Monday, his day off, to make phone calls to visitors who had attended the congregation the previous day, inviting them to return. He personally encouraged hundreds of young people to consider pastoral ministry, and was responsible for more seminary graduates than any other pastor I have known. A compassionate and faithful friend, he stood by individuals, both lay and clergy, during their darkest moments — never worrying about the consequences or his own reputation but always reaching out with the unconditional love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ.

If he learned about a congregation or community of faith in need, he quickly but quietly sent a meaningful gift on behalf of the congregation. The scope of Mount Olivet’s outreach to the community may be one of its best kept secrets. In the spirit of the gospel, Paul Youngdahl led a ministry that often did its good deeds in secret for only God to see.

Every pastor leaves a legacy. There is no question Youngdahl’s ministry impacted countless individuals. But those who knew him well will tell you he led his flock based upon the Parable of the Lost Sheep:

What do you think? If a shepherd has 100 sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the 99 on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the 99 that never went astray (Matthew 18:12-13).

For Pastor Paul Youngdahl, the most important number was one. And this, my friends, is the greatest legacy of all.

Mary Brown works in media with the Odyssey Network in New York. She is an ordained ELCA pastor and lives in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. She was on the Mount Olivet Lutheran Church pastoral staff for seven years.

Tags: , , , , , , ,