A Pastor's Dark Night of the Soul

Meet John Kline, pastor at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Des Moines, Ia. Kline is not a man who is afraid to go to the top—including straight to God—when he needs help. And he’s also a man with the courage to look deep into his soul and find that he has not been a true follower of Jesus Christ.

His ability to take a hard look at himself — and then change— is what makes him one of the more fascinating characters in “The Stranger Among You.”

As a student Luther Seminary in St. Paul in the 1990s, he was a circle-the-wagons kind of guy. He wanted to stick to the Lutheranism he had grown up with. He took a very conservative line, rejecting both the liberal practices of more mainstream denominations and evangelicals.

One of Kline’s more conservative professors pointed out that his beliefs aligned with the evangelicals he was trying to exclude.

That comment penetrated. Kline started to look inward. He felt that he had become a sharp-tongued critic with a narrow worldview. He could not in good conscience reconcile what he was doing with Jesus and His work. “Jesus never takes a defensive position,” said Kline. “He’s always moving forward.”

Challenging his lifelong beliefs was hard. It filled him with doubt and fear. He considered dropping out of the seminary. And one night he went to the school’s chapel and prayed. And that night he had a life-changing dream—you can read about it in the book.

The result: he focused on being kind, generous, slow to anger and quick to love.

Before he graduated, he prayed to the Lord one more time. “I said, ‘Lord, okay, I gave You

my life. You can send me anywhere, but please don’t let me be bored,’” Kline remembered.

And the good Lord must have heard him.

Today, the former traditionalist revels in the church’s newfound diversity—which is not limited to refugees. Zion Lutheran’s once homogenous community now includes Pentacostalists, fundamentalists, and mainstream Protestants.

The man who once wanted his spiritual world to be nothing but Lutherans now regularly meets the iman of a local mosque for coffee. And the two of them have the same views of extremists who commit atrocities in the name of their version of God.

“If someone blows up an abortion clinic in the name of Jesus, my response is ‘They’re not a real Christian,’” Kline said, adding “An imam’s response to an act of terror in the name of Islam is the same: ‘No Muslim would do that.’”

For more about Kline—and other stereotype-shattering Americans, read “The Stranger Among You,” available as an ebook and in paperback on Amazon.

Kate Rice