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Pastor Mark Zehnder

About Always Forward Ministries

In 2017 Mark began to work with his Board at King of Kings on a succession plan and leadership transition, knowing that he planned on retiring in 2022.  In January of 2020, Mark passed the baton of Lead Pastor to his successor, Pastor Greg Griffith.  Going into all of this Mark and his Board were well aware of the fact that a large majority of churches do not fare well in this regard. With this in mind, Mark and his team committed themselves to constant prayer while Mark conducted dozens of interviews, listened to podcasts, read books, and in general, learned all that he could about leadership transitions.


King of Kings has experienced the blessing of God in all of this and has not only survived this leadership transition but is thriving more than two years later.


All of this has prepared Mark for his new ministry to pastors, boards, staffs, and churches that has led him to create Always Forward Ministries.


Always Forward comes from a favorite story in Mark’s life.  He remembers as a little kid when his grandpa and dad and uncles would be together at family reunions.  Invariably the conversation would turn to theology, the church, or whatever was going in on the lives of these 4 pastors.  Mark recalls how his grandpa would encourage his sons when the going got tough with a slangy, abbreviated two-word German phrase, “Immer Fort.”  “Immer Fort,” he would say to them with earnestness and intensity.  They heard their father loud and clear and knew what this phrase meant: “Always Forward!”


Always Forward Ministries is Mark’s way of helping pastors and churches navigate the difficult challenges of pastoral leadership transition.  With his background and history of a 40+ year pastoral ministry, he believes that God has positioned him to help churches continue to move Always Forward.   

About Mark Zehnder

Mark’s grandfather, C.R. Zehnder, was a Lutheran pastor who had three sons…all who became LCMS pastors.  Mark says with this pedigree, he didn’t even have a chance… it was in his genes! Now, it seems those genes have extended at least one more generation as his son Zach makes it 4 generations of Zehnder pastors. Mark obtained his Masters of Divinity from Concordia Seminary, St Louis in 1981 and went on to get his Doctorate of Ministry from Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA in 1999.

During Mark’s 40+ years as a pastor, he has certainly experienced a wide variety of churches. Mark has commented on many occasions that he understands what it’s like to be a pastor of a church of 4 or 4,000. He has served at three very different kinds of churches:

  • Small, traditional, country church, Zion, Ulm, AR

  • Brand new mission plant that was one of the fastest growing congregations in his denomination, Faith, Collierville, TN

  • Large, complex, 100+ staff, $5 million budget, 4,000 members, King of Kings, Omaha, NE


Likely because Mark has come from a long line of pastors, he has always had a heart for pastors.  Mark has served pastors in three significant ways over the years:

  • He chaired the LCMS Megachurch Conference for 12 years

  • He served as a mentor to pastors in Pastoral Leadership Institute (PLI) for 15 years.

  • He has taught and encouraged pastors all over the world at pastor’s conferences in places like Nigeria, Kenya, Japan, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, and Brazil.


Mark and his wife, Sharon, will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary this summer.  They have been blessed with their three children, Eric, Zach, and Charista.  If you want to see Mark and Sharon smile, ask them about their grandkids!  They have five…Nathan, Brady, Benton, Jada, and Remi.


Fun facts about Mark:

  • He is a 7 on the Enneagram, which means he likes to have fun!

  • His top five gifts in the StrengthFinders: Activator, Woo, Futuristic, Competition, Positivity

  • He is a songwriter and worship leader.

  • His favorite thing to do in pastoral ministry has always been preaching the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

  • He loves golf and has had 4 hole-in-ones and a double eagle!

  • He is a constantly frustrated Cleveland professional sports fan (especially the Browns!)

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