Fishers “Village Pastor” Joe Freeman: Retirement Is Not The End of Service
Writer / Lisa Mitchell
Photographer / Brian Bosmer
Pastor Joe Freeman is known throughout Fishers as the “village pastor”. He is a true example of a pastor called to service by being a part of the community and everywhere he goes, he is connecting with people in name of his call to be of service for expanding God’s kingdom. That is his calling, his vocation, and his true passion. It’s who he fundamentally is.
He has no plans to let his retirement from Heartland Church change how and what he does, it will just allow him a little more time and flexibility to be out in the community doing what he loves. He has served as the Teaching Pastor of Spiritual Formation at Heartland for the past five years and spends the majority of his time counseling, mentoring, and teaching: one person, one couple, and one class at a time. Prior to his time at Heartland, Pastor Joe served as Lead Pastor at Christ the Savior Lutheran in Fishers for over 30 years, during which time he established himself as the community’s pastor, not just the leader of a single church body.
His style of ministry is based on building personal relationships and when he is counseling with someone or teaching a group, they have his undivided attention. He gives the gift of being fully present to everyone that he interacts with. That’s what people really connect with and remember him for. That effort and attention is given not only to those he counsels in a church environment but just as much so for those he connects with in the community while at restaurants, pubs, movie theaters, and the other places that people are out living their everyday lives. Connection isn’t limited to the walls of a church for Pastor Joe, he believes in meeting people where they’re at.
One of the most influential people in Pastor Joe’s life was his mentor at Yale Grad School named Henri Nouwen who taught him that “the only ones that have the right to speak to the many are those that have cared enough to care for one person at a time.” And that’s how Pastor Joe has lead in his spiritual life, to care for one person at a time and earn the right to be heard. Nouwen also helped to form Pastor Joe’s key heart emphasis for his 41 years in ministry which he proclaims as, “Lord may this be my ministry to join others their journey and help them to see Jesus.”
Pastor Joe intends to continue joining others on their journeys after his official duties at Heartland are concluded. One of his dreams is to spend extended time in Ireland and building connections between a local church and a local pub, helping worlds to collide in meaningful and impactful ways and helping people see they are more alike than different To help realize his dream, which he had relayed to me in a “maybe someday” tone during our interview, Heartland Church matched donations of many people who Pastor Joe has impacted and who wanted to see his dream come true. At his retirement party on Friday January 6th, they surprised Pastor Joe by presenting his with a trip to Ireland and a $10,000 check to send him out into his new ministry field. It was a dream come true moment for both Pastor Joe and those who love him and support his efforts.
Heartland’s Lead Pastor, Darryn Scheske, says Pastor Joe’s impact in both Heartland and the community as a whole is nothing short of world changing. Since being “refamilied” at Heartland Church after an early retirement from Christ the Savior Lutheran, Pastor Joe has counseled over 600 people and the positive impact he has directly had on those people has exponentially changed countless lives as a result of his care and connection.
Scheske says, ““In 30 seconds he can make you feel like you’ve known him all of your life.”
That sentiment was echoed by everyone that I spoke to. The impact that Pastor Joe has had is truly life changing and he has walked with them through the most difficult and most joyous moments in the lives of those he has served. Person after person that I spoke with had the same sentiment about Pastor Joe: He loves people, unconditionally. Even those that feel unlovable, unseen, and unimportant, Pastor Joe loves on them and shows them that they are cared for and important to God. He truly embodies the love of Jesus and gives it freely to everyone he meets, with no conditions and no reservations.
Jennifer Reardon-McSolely, who has worked closely with Pastor Joe says, “Pastor Joe has the gift of loving the unlovable. He is challenged by it and he pursues it fearlessly.”
Angie Dewey, Family Ministry Team Leader agrees and shared, “Pastor Joe’s ability to really impact one person at a time is his legacy. He sees the significance of each person and helps them see how to be the best version of themselves.”
The stories of how he’s loved people, the attention he’s given them, the connections he helped them form during times of transition and difficulty just kept coming.
One such story came from Sylvia Schertz, who works in HR at Heartland, and recently suffered the loss of her husband. She and her husband had counseled with Pastor Joe prior to his passing and she continued to seek his wisdom after her loss. One of the most impactful words of comfort that Pastor Joe offered her during a dark moment was, “In the balcony of our lives. In God’s Kingdom Care” and it assured her that when people have gone before us, they aren’t gone, they are in the balcony cheering us on. That word of encouragement continues to comfort her during difficult days. She often uses the hashtag #balconyview to share her hope and the words of wisdom that Pastor Joe offered her when she needed it most.
Pastor Joe may be retiring from his official position at Heartland Church but his heart for service, connecting with people, and mission of helping people personally grow to know Jesus has no plans of slowing down. It’s not a job to him, it’s just who he is.
Pastor Joe, thank you for your dedicated service to the people of Fishers and for always having wise words of advice and a hug freely offered to those who cross your path.