After 34 years of ministry at Forest Park Baptist Church, Rev. David Steinhart will retire on May 19. He and his wife Angie plan to move to Michigan.
Members view Steinhart not as someone who imposed his vision of church on them, but describe him as faithful, humble and “giving them room to become who they were created to be.”
“Dave gave me opportunity after opportunity to learn and to grow in the 17 years I’ve known him,” said Steve Kott, who is now a pastor himself in New Hampshire. “He gave me room to fail and mess up but was always there with wisdom and encouragement when I needed it.
“He has helped me work through personal issues that I have, to understand family better, to be a more loving husband and a more patient father. He has helped me to know that my experience is normal, not expecting too much of me at any time.”
Sean Blaylock, another member, echoed Steinhart’s encouraging nature.
“His ministry has encouraged and guided me to take significant strides in my spiritual maturity,” Blaylock said.
Angie Steinhart likewise described her husband as honest, humble and faithful.
“He has always been transparent with our people about his own spiritual journey as he seeks to know and honor God,” she said.
Steinhart said that when he came to Forest Park Baptist Church, 133 Harlem Ave., in 1986 as a 32-year-old young man he had a lot of self-doubt, particularly regarding how to be a leader in the church.
“In the Evangelical world, there are these general kinds of expectations of what pastoral leadership is, and I felt that I could never measure up to those kinds of expectations,” he said.
Things began to turn around when, at the age of 50, he became involved in a three-year leadership development program that helped him understand how he is “wired,” and which freed him from trying to squeeze himself into a mold not suited to his gifts and temperament.
“I came to look at it this way,” he said. “My strength as a leader comes from my integrity as a follower of Christ. I have tried to use every gift and talent and ability that I have for Christ and the church, and there are gifts and abilities that I don’t have.”
Right from the beginning of his ministry, Steinhart’s instinct was to work as a team with the members of the congregation rather than making decisions autonomously. What the leadership development program helped him do was affirm that his collaborative style was valid.
Steinhart put it this way: “God did not call me to make the congregation into the kind of church I wanted. God called me to serve among these people and help them follow Christ more deeply. I look at leadership more in terms of a husband and wife relationship than as a leader and follower.
“We went through some hard times in the congregation but together we’ve moved on. I don’t feel that I was ever pitted against the congregation. We faced some struggles and went through seasons of difficulty, but we did it together.”
Steinhart said that, as in a healthy marriage, sometimes he would “surrender” to something he did not favor, and sometimes the congregation would say in effect, “OK, we’ll go along with this.”
“I think that style,” he said, “has contributed to our relationship lasting so long.”
As he matured, Steinhart said he focused more on faithfulness as the standard by which he measured his life than on success.
“On that day God is not going to say ‘man, you really did not grow that church.’ He’s going to be more focused on if I lived a faithful life and had integrity,” he said.
He added: “Isn’t it amazing, what we have seen in the last two years, the scandals in our Chicago area with these powerful pastors…When the church seeks power, they lose Jesus.”