Name: Tom Elia Erlenwein
Relationship Status: single
Education: high school graduate
1. What are your talents and strengths?
I like digging deep and supporting people in developing their full potential. I am an extreme person, and when I do something I pursue it with all my strength and commitment. It’s all or nothing. I am always ready to learn something new and to learn from my mistakes. I am an emotional person who doesn’t hide my feelings, and you always know where you stand with me. I understand when there is only one path left, and will follow that path and face all the consequences. I can make decisions quickly.
2. What career did you want to pursue before you became a believer? What were your passions?
I was not sure yet. After graduation I was not sure what would be a good fit for me. As a child I wanted to be a police officer. My passion was always the next thing that caught my attention. Australia, different small projects with friends. Action was always a part of it.
3. In what ways were you shaped by your parents and your home environment?
I am the third child and the youngest; I have another brother and a sister. My parents are Christians and raised me with these values. I find it difficult to answer this question, because so much that shapes you comes from your parents. I always knew that my parents loved me. That is critical.
4. When and how did you become a believer? How did your change of heart to become a pastor come about? Was there a specific situation that acted as a catalyst?
Even though I grew up in a Christian environment, I didn’t always live my life with God. At the age of thirteen and fourteen I just wanted to do what I wanted, and my belief in God was in the way. I started working in a restaurant in our village, so I wouldn’t have to go to church on Sundays. My friends and I started to drink, and later we also started to take drugs regularly. Shortly before and after graduation everything degenerated and I only cared about the drugs. With other friends, I then flew to Australia for work and travel. While I was there, the consumption of drugs triggered a mental issue, which led to my requiring psychiatric treatment. Through my travel health insurance I was flown home and spent another month in psychiatric treatment here in Germany. During the time in Australia and even before, I survived several life-threatening situations, and in spite of sometimes very severe depression, I never committed suicide. When I was in psychiatric treatment, my brother visited me. He gave me a Bible, and a letter in which he described what God had done in his life. When I had read the letter, I started reading the Bible and gave my life to the Lord.
I realized that he kept me alive, even though I actually should have died.
With His help, I was able to address what had happened and to make things okay. In the time that followed, He increasingly prepared me for what I have started now. In between, I worked at a hardware store. When I started my training to become a retail salesman and realized that that work is not for me, I met with an independent career counselor from my small group at church. Through evaluation of my strengths, it became clear that pastoral service would be a good fit for me. At the same time, my mother found out about THS through an online sermon by Inga Haase. To me it was a clear sign of God’s leading me, so I signed up.
5. Aren’t you worried that a pastor’s life can be boring and stressful? Sacrifices, high moral requirements, continual interactions with annoying people or even unemployment?
Well, clearly the life of a pastor is work-intensive; there is no need to beat around the bush with that. In any case, it definitely won’t be boring. When working with people, there is always something new, and as leader of a church one gets to help decide the church projects. For me there is almost nothing more thrilling than developing a project out of nothing. The other things, such as unemployment and sacrifice, are out of my hand.
I believe that God gives us what we need, and I am sure that if he is educating me, He also has a place where he can use me.
I don’t worry about that.
6. Couldn’t you build the Kingdom of Heaven just as effectively as an entrepreneur or politician?
I am not able to do that, even though politics has always interested me and entrepreneurship also has a certain appeal.
There is a specific reason that I am not able to do so. God has not called me to those areas.
If he calls me in that direction after I complete my studies or at some future point, then I can do that. No matter what, it depends on His strength, not on mine.
7. Through THS-Academy you receive realistic insights into the everyday life of a pastor – what does it look like? What do you especially like about this, and what don’t you like?
The everyday life of a pastor is very diverse: office work, youth work, social projects, and much more. I really like this, because times when one works alone and times when one works with other people alternate. Even the daily work structure for a pastor is different from day to day. One day, just show up for a three hour office meeting; another day your presence is required from 9 AM – to 9 PM (with breaks of course) and you have to do all sorts of different work. It can be difficult to continue to work at different tasks and have to leave them unfinished at the end of the day, or without being able to see a clear outcome, in contrast to, for example, cleaning a bathroom, where you can immediately see the results of your work.
In spite of this, this job is absolutely amazing, because the things that we share with others are amazing.
8. What must a developing pastor absolutely learn?
It is very important to set the right priorities. Without doing that, one can easily get into stressful situations. Being able to say “No” is a key skill for a pastor/leader. In addition, one must learn that not all people are the same as oneself and that that is good. One has to be able to leave people be and have understanding, but still be able to give them a shove at the right time, so they don’t remain stagnant. It’s a balancing act and one often falls down at the beginning. But it is worth it, because then you can help people find the right place for their strengths.
9. Many pastors dream of great breakthroughs and church growth and are ultimately disappointed. Some leave. Why do you think this is?
One reason for this is my view of the difference between the expectations of church members and my own imaginings. One can put on a super, evangelistic event, during which many give their lives to God. However, if the church is not ready for new members, and the majority of church members prefer to remain within their familiar circles, the new Christians will have a difficult time and will probably not stay in the church.
In order to avoid such a scenario, it is important to have a vision and to live that vision.
If as a church you prioritize a specific areas, and also communicate that in a way that everyone knows it, then many conflicts can be avoided. Here it is also important to compromise and listen to what is important to the people in the church.
In addition, I feel that success should not be measured by the number of church members, but by how closely the church follows its vision, and what God says about what one is doing.
Growth will come, and one is also preaching to those who share the work at the church.
10. Why did you decide to undertake your studies through THS-Academy, rather than through another theological college?
For me, the practical part especially made a difference. I just couldn’t image studying first and then starting work after three years or more. I learn best through practical application. But I also didn’t really look at other programs. God orchestrated everything such that I was sure THS was the place for me. That has also been confirmed.
11. So far, what have you learned most? How have you changed through this program?
It is difficult to summarize. Actually there is change in all areas of my life.
When one is at THS, God confronts you with those parts of your life that don’t fit yet and that he wants to heal.
That just happens alongside the lectures and work. You learn a lot about yourself, but you also learn a lot through the lectures and work. It is the full package.
12. When you imagine a typical week in 10 years – you can dream big – what does it look like?
I travel together with my wife and other people to Eastern Europe (or elsewhere) to support our help projects. After that we go to together with the churches we started and grew and evangelize on the streets. If we already have children, they will come with us and learn how amazing the world can be, and also how God gives new hope and works miracles. In one of our offices, somewhere in Europe, we develop new projects and so give people the opportunity to work. Depending on what is going on, the emphasis will be more on church community work or projects or conferences or political engagements. It is many-sided and rarely calm, but it is what God wants, and because of that it is the best thing. (Changes to these plans can come up on short notice, and spontaneity and the will to change is always the foundation.)