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Lawmaker for the Waymaker

Lawmaker for the Waymaker

A journey from the pastorate to politics led Tim Walberg to Congress, where the Moody alum represents southern Michigan—and an audience of One
  • Nancy Huffine
  • February 8, 2024

Open doors. Closed doors. Tim Walberg ’73 can trace them like a thread running through his life.

Tim grew up on the South Side of Chicago with dreams of spending the rest of his life far from asphalt and skyscrapers.

“I loved the outdoors,” Tim says. “I did a lot of camping, worked with Christian camp programs, and just couldn't see why that wouldn’t be God's will for my life.”

After graduating from high school in 1969, Tim planned to major in forestry and land management at Western Illinois University with one goal in mind: “to be sent to Glacier National Park to work for the rest of my life,” he laughs.

A door opens to Moody

Away from his home and his comfortable Christian environment, Tim found his first mission field in his college roommate. “He was a hippie drug dealer,” Tim recalls, “and this was the first time my faith had really been challenged.”

Eventually befriending his roommate, Tim felt the Glacier National Park door closing and another opening. “My desire was to go into campus missionary work and to work with Campus Crusade or InterVarsity.” That would mean a change in education focus, and for Tim, the choice was clear.

Moody Radio was on at home from before I got up in the morning till the time I went to bed at night,” he says. “My parents would listen to it, my grandmother listened, and I attended a number of Moody Founder’s Weeks as a kid. So Moody was the place!”

Tim transferred to Moody in 1970 and began majoring in Christian Education. In 1971, Tim’s then-girlfriend Sue Polensky joined him at Moody.  

“Tim and I were high school sweethearts who met at church,” Sue ’74 says. “Our first date was to a youth activity to hear Chaplain King from Bridewell Prison. Two other friends were supposed to join us later for pizza but stood us up.  Tim must have enjoyed our time together because he asked me out the next week!”
 

Led to the pastorate

In 1973, as Tim was finishing his senior year at Moody and looking forward to opportunities in campus ministry, another door opened. He was recommended for a pastoral position at New Haven Baptist Church in New Haven, Indiana.   

Dr. Harold Garner, a favorite professor of Tim’s, not only recommended him for the job but encouraged him to rethink his campus outreach plans. He told Tim, “God works through open and closed doors. Don’t throw this out without at least seeing what it might be.”

Tim and Sue Walberg

 

Tim took the job at New Haven Baptist and married Sue a year later in June of 1974. After spending five years on the pastoral staff, Tim wanted to expand his education. He took time off to complete a master’s degree in cross-cultural communications at Wheaton College and planned to return to New Haven. But a new door opened.

Union Gospel Church, a small country church in Tipton, Michigan, needed a pastor, and Tim and Sue felt they should at least “see what it might be.”

As they drove up to the church, Tim remembers thinking, “We had only seen a church that small on Little House on the Prairie. This was a farming community, and there were more dairy cows than human beings. I would be their first full-time pastor. They didn't know whether they could afford me or pay me, but they would do their best.”

Unexpected new calling

Four years into the Michigan pastorate, Tim was drawn toward an issue that had always been close to his heart. “I went to the state capitol building in Lansing with a group from Right to Life to meet with our state legislator. He was supporting our governor, who was supporting funding for abortion.

“I remember sitting in the room with him, pleading with him to support life. He even said he had never received so many letters on one subject. He asked me to pray before he went down for the vote, and I thought, ‘We did it!’”

But the representative voted for abortion funding. The next day, Tim remembers, “Just sort of spontaneously, I said to the president of the Right to Life group, ‘That made me so frustrated yesterday—I feel like running myself!’”

The Right to Life president later approached Tim with a surprising request. “She came to me and said, ‘The group has talked, and we’d like you to run.’ I just laughed,” Tim says. “I told her, ‘I’m a pastor. I don’t think politics is where I’m going to be.’ And she said, ‘I’ve heard you speak about the will of God in your life, that He moves through open and closed doors. Is this door closed?’ After I challenged her for using my own words against me, I said, ‘No, it’s not closed.’”

Without any funds or political experience, Tim and Sue asked God for direction. Within a few weeks, two local men offered to help fund Tim’s campaign. Another man who had previous political campaign experience offered to be Tim’s campaign manager.

Sue Walberg says, “Looking back, we can see how the Lord led us through open and closed doors, some of which we didn’t understand at the time. In hindsight, several circumstances kept us living in Michigan, which God ultimately used to bring Tim to serve in Congress.”
 

Doors opening and closing

Tim won the state election and served in the Michigan House of Representatives from 1983 to 1999. In 1999, he stepped away from politics to become president of Warren Reuther Center for Education and Community Impact in Blissfield, Michigan, where he focused on jobs and education for the northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan region.

In 2001, a familiar name came knocking at Tim and Sue’s door. Moody Bible Institute offered Tim the opportunity to lead a new division called Strategic Partners.

“We connected with major donors, some of whom had already been involved with Moody and others who had never been involved,” Tim says, “to give them a vision for what Moody Bible Institute was attempting to do around the world.”
  

Serving in the nation’s capital

While still heading up the Strategic Partners division at Moody, Tim threw his hat into the ring for a 2004 congressional seat and experienced the first loss in his political career. But in 2006, the door to Washington, DC, opened again, and he was elected to represent Michigan’s 5th congressional district in the US House of Representatives.

Tim Walberg

 

After losing reelection in 2008, Tim regained the seat in 2010 and has held it ever since. Currently in his eighth term in Congress, he serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

While some of the laws passed in Washington are concerning to Christians, Tim says the spiritual climate in the nation’s capital isn’t as foreboding as the media sometimes reports.

“It really is not the dark place that people think it is. It’s no darker than any business or factory or any other community,” he says. “There are Bible studies and prayer groups going on every day of the week while Congress is in session, including every Thursday morning for the past 81 years or so. There’s a bipartisan Congressional Prayer Breakfast that meets at 8:00 a.m. on Thursday mornings. Of course, you're not going to read about that in the papers.”

The weekly prayer breakfasts attract congressional staffers from a range of belief systems. “We meet together, we break bread, we pray, we sing, and we talk about the goodness of Jesus in our lives,” Tim says. “Sometimes those that talk about their faith walk are not believers in Christ. But it gives those of us who are believers in the room a chance to begin to know and minister to our colleagues.”

As a Christian in government, Congressman Walberg faces his share of difficulties. His biggest challenge? “Living out my biblical worldview and not succumbing to acquiesce in any way, shape, or form to anything that God condemns,” he says. “I can’t—by silence or direct statement—condone what God condemns.”

Something else has always been important to Tim. “I’ve taken the position that I'll never lie about my opponent. I'll tell the truth hard,” he says with a chuckle, “if that’s their record or their position. God has always blessed that.”
  

Moody’s ongoing impact

Tim and Sue look back on their years at Moody with not only fondness but gratitude. Sue says, “I’ve used my Christian education training in numerous ways over many years, including homeschooling our children and now as a co-leader of a Bible study for congressional spouses. And, of course, I married Tim! God has used him to stretch me, grow me, and bless my life in ways I could have never imagined.”

Tim still carries great respect and admiration for his Moody professors, especially Dr. Garner. “My professors would say, ‘We're going to teach you the best principles, the best practices, and the best ability to communicate. But you need to know that Scripture says, ‘Not by might nor by power but by My Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.’

“Then Dr. Garner would change that,” Tim remembers, “and he would say, ‘Not by might of excellent methods or by power of polished techniques, but by My Spirit.’ Professors would encourage us to ‘go fast slowly,’ to let the Spirit lead. Don't dump everything all at once but always keep moving forward.”

Tim says his professors at Moody practiced what they preached.

“That was something I saw in my professors as they trained us in some of the best principles to use in our ministries, trained us in the tools that can be vital when experiencing challenges in understanding the Word of God as clearly as possible,” he says.

“They trained us to not back away from [the Word] but to see it as efficacious for all areas of life. That was my Moody experience, and I thank God for it.”

About the Author

  • Nancy Huffine

Nancy Huffine is a long-time freelance writer for Moody Bible Institute and Moody Alumni & Friends magazine.