David Ellefson plays bass for the heavy metal rock band Megadeth. He also takes online classes from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.
"Most people want to become a rock star," said Ellefson's pastor, Jon Bjorgaard of Shepherd of the Desert Lutheran Church, a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod congregation in Scottsdale, Ariz. "David's a rock star who wants to become a pastor."
The non-traditional mix of rock and religion has almost always been a part of Ellefson's life. Growing up in Minnesota, his family drove from their farm each Sunday to Our Savior's Lutheran Church. Ellefson, now 47, was confirmed there at age 16.
A few years later, in the summer of 1983, Ellefson moved to Los Angeles, and within a week of his arrival had formed Megadeth. Soon, he was playing bass on stage with other metal bands, such as Metallica and Slayer. But the rock star lifestyle eventually caught up with him. At age 25 Ellefson entered a 12-step recovery program, and it was there he recommitted his life to Jesus Christ. He later married, had children, and moved with his family to Arizona.
Ellefson, who has started both a contemporary service at his church and an additional music ministry called MEGA Life, remains with Megadeth, and the band will begin a new tour with Motorhead next week.
Ellefson has learned to keep his faith and his onstage persona separate. As for songwriting, he now tries to "stay away from darker themes."
"Some people want to morph things together into one, but I have a hand in both worlds," he said. "I love praise and worship music, and I love heavy metal."
Ellefson will tend to his studies during down time on the tour bus, but he knows it won't be easy. Classes begin each Monday, though homework is posted a few days earlier. On Tuesday nights, Ellefson and eight other students will participate in a two-hour live online session with a professor teaching from a Concordia classroom. Once a week he meets with Bjorgaard to discuss the week's work. And late in the week, he uploads homework for the professor to grade.
After two years at Concordia, Ellefson will be eligible for ordination as a pastor.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.