About our new Lead Pastor, Joel Zeiner:

On Sunday, October 17, we pray over our new Lead Pastor, Joel Zeiner as our Elder team installed him. Although he is new to this particular leadership role, he has been part of Christ The Rock for more than two decades.

Pastor Joel grew up in Appleton. When he was a teenager, he accepted Jesus Christ while attending a family camp at Green Lake Conference Center. He started attending Christ The Rock with his family when he was in high school.

After graduating from Appleton West, Pastor Joel earned a degree in Comparative Religion from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2001 then went to seminary at Yale Divinity School, where he received his Masters of Divinity in 2005.

Joel first joined the church staff as a Youth Pastor in 2005. Then he became our Missions Pastor in 2014, and as such, became part of our Senior Leadership Team. In 2019, his ministry focus shifted, and he began serving as our Teaching Pastor and Weekend Services Director. Joel accepted the role of Lead Pastor when it was offered by the elders in early 2021.

Joel and his wife Jenn have been married for 12 years,  and have three children, Finnleigh (10), Ainsley (8) and Bode (5). He loves spending time with his family, and also enjoys golf, fishing, biking, canoeing, and reading. He also serves on various boards for the YMCA of the Fox Cities, where he is a life-long member.

In addition to his educational qualifications, Pastor Joel’s ministry is fueled by his love for Jesus, and his love for this local church and the Fox Valley. He is passionate about introducing people to the Gospel, and seeing them grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.


About Christ The Rock’s Leadership Structure:

We believe in transparency and accountability in church leadership, so our leadership structure includes several teams plus a Lead Pastor. Our Elder Board provides doctrinal guidance and annual direction. Our Senior Leadership Team leads our pastors, staff, and volunteer ministry leaders as they carry out our vision and mission, with the Elders’ guidance. Our Lead Pastor is part of the Senior Leadership Team and also meets with the Elders.

In addition, our Elders work with a volunteer Financial Advisory Team. This team is made up of financial professionals who offer accountability and advise our leaders on best practices for non-profits in ministry.

[pdf-embedder url=”https://www.christtherock.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/CTR-Org-chart-w-logo-Update-Oct2021-PDF-1.pdf” title=”CTR Org chart w-logo Update Oct2021 PDF”]



Sun., Oct. 10: Honoring Pastor Curt


On October 10 we honored our Lead Pastor Curt Drexler on his final Sunday before retiring from staff. It was an honor to celebrate his leadership, which started in 1988 — and was hallmarked by integrity, faithfulness and a shepherd’s heart.

We invite you to watch this recap of his ministry, and the profound impact he’s had on the life of Christ The Rock, and on so many individual lives:

Click here to watch “Honoring a Legacy: Pastor Curt Drexler.”


Staff Celebrates Pastor Curt

On October 7, the CTR staff had a fun surprise for Pastor Curt before he retired from his role as Lead Pastor. After cheering him down the back road to the church, there was a ceremonial unveiling: the road is now officially named Drexler Drive in his honor! Staff shared words of thanks and blessing, and had a time of prayer under the gorgeous blue sky.


Pastor Joel Zeiner

Pastor Joel Zeiner

CTR Elders Name Pastor Joel Zeiner as Next Lead Pastor

During worship services January 31, Christ The Rock’s Elders announced that Pastor Joel Zeiner will serve as Lead Pastor starting in October 2021. He will begin his new role following current Lead Pastor Curt Drexler’s retirement.

Pastor Joel is well-known to our CTR family. He served CTR students as our Youth Pastor for six years, and was our Reach (missions) Director for five years. For just over three years, Joel has been our Director of Weekend Services, a Teaching Pastor, and a member of our Senior Leadership Team. But Pastor Joel first became part of Christ The Rock long before serving on staff. Read more below.

Click triangle to see less.

Pastor Joel and Jenn Zeiner, with Ainsley, Finnleigh and Bode

About Pastor Joel: Pastor Joel first became part of Christ The Rock long before serving on staff. Joel began following Jesus during his high school years, and his family began attending Christ The Rock at that time. After graduating from Appleton West High School in 1995, Joel attended UW-Fox Valley and UW-Milwaukee.  During his college years, he also served and studied at Youth With A Mission in Denver, Colorado, where he felt a call to full-time ministry. Upon completing his undergraduate studies, he enrolled in seminary, earning his Master of Divinity degree from Yale University.

While his education is an important aspect of his qualifications for being Lead Pastor, our Elder team also looked at his character and heart. The Elders deeply respect his love for the Fox Valley, and his commitment to the mission God has for Christ The Rock Community Church.

Pastor Joel is also a devoted husband and father. Joel and his wife Jenn have been married for 11 years, and they have three children, Finnleigh (age 9), Ainsley (age 7) and Bode (age 4).

In the Months Ahead: We will continue sharing this process with you. Next steps include realigning some of our current staff hours to ensure that all our needs are covered, which may include hiring a position to bolster oversight of the business side of the church. We will share those decisions and changes with you as soon as they are clarified.

Meanwhile, Lead Pastor Curt Drexler and the Elders will be working with Pastor Joel to create a seamless handoff of responsibilities. As part of the transition, Curt will mentor Joel for the next 8 months, after which time, Joel will begin his new role as Lead Pastor in October 2021.

Lead Pastor Curt Drexler Announces Retirement Date

Lead Pastor Curt Drexler, Elder

Lead Pastor Curt Drexler

Last fall, Lead Pastor Curt Drexler shared that he will retire from his role in 2021. After 33 years on staff, three of which have been as the church’s senior leader, Pastor Curt will enter a phased retirement October-December 2021. He will continue to serve as Lead Pastor until then. Scroll down for a video announcement.

This process began nearly five years ago when the Elders asked both Curt (who was then CTR’s Executive Pastor) and founding and Senior Pastor Bill Lenz to begin thinking about a plan for retiring from their ministry positions. Four years ago, Pastor Curt shared his intentions with them to retire in 2021. After Pastor Bill’s unexpected passing in 2017, CTR’s Elders appointed Curt to the position of Lead Pastor and he has served as the church’s senior leader since that time.

We are grateful for Curt’s steadfast leadership throughout many changes. He has served faithfully as the church grew from a street outreach ministry into a fledgling church community, and beyond.

Pastor Curt directed moves to different locations as well as renovation and building projects; helped oversee the church’s expanding local and global ministry, and has been a consistent, transparent leader throughout and after the crisis of Pastor Bill’s death. His leadership is marked by humility, sacrificial love for others, and consistently prioritizing the most important thing in both his personal life and ministry: sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are also thankful for Marian Drexler, Curt’s wife, who has been an integral part of Christ The Rock. Marian has volunteered in many capacities including our Lay Counseling Program, Children’s Ministry and worship teams. She also worked on staff for 17 years in several roles, as receptionist in Christ The Rock’s early years, and later as part of the Weekend Service team and our Restore Team, which cares for people through support groups and counseling. Together, Curt and Marian have touched many lives in our church and community.

About the leadership transition process, Pastor Curt says, “The Elders and I will continue to work side by side to create our plan for a smooth transition of leadership. In our humanity, we tend to like things to stay the way they are, but change is a normal part of life in every organization. Especially in the church, we have the security of our good Father being the One we follow over and above any human leader.”

Curt will continue to serve as Lead Pastor through the next 12 months and will be part of a planned mentoring process to fully prepare for the leadership transition. With this first step of announcing Curt’s retirement date, the second phase is in progress as the elders seek God to discern who He is preparing for the Lead Pastor role. The third step will be planning who that person will need in supporting roles around them. Then Curt will spend several months mentoring and coaching the new Lead Pastor.

The next steps in CTR’s leadership transition will be announced in the first quarter of 2021. All future updates will be posted here.

As a church, we thank Pastor Curt for his tireless, Christ-centered leadership for more than three decades. We pray together for God’s blessing upon him and Marian as his formal ministry years transition to retirement. And along with him, we embrace the future God has for us together as we continue to build a community that seeks the lost, loves the hurting and makes disciples who follow Jesus Christ.


All-church meeting announcement | Oct. 2020


Questions you may have:

Why promote from within vs. conducting a search?

One crucial decision our Elder team had to make was whether to promote from within or conduct a search for candidates from outside Christ The Rock. Our Elder team received some wise advice from a church who is in the middle of the same kind of transition. Their rationale was this: if you aren’t happy with the direction in which your church is currently headed, look outside your congregation for a new leader. If you like the direction the church is headed, explore your options from within. Because we are excited about where God is leading Christ The Rock, we chose to consider internal candidates and promote from within our staff. Our Elders considered several of our current staff for this role – God has blessed us with a deep bench of godly leaders!

Who is responsible for choosing the Lead Pastor?

When Christ The Rock first began, we looked at several different models of leadership. The two most predominant are Congregational, and Elder-led. A congregational model is democratic: the congregation votes on issues like the church budget and hiring of senior leaders. Since CTR was founded, we have been an Elder-led church: the elders are biblically responsible and accountable before God for those kinds of decisions. Our Elders have taken that responsibility seriously throughout our history, and especially for this processs. They’ve examined how other churches have approached these kinds of transitions, read books about leadership changes, conductied numerous interviews, and committed this entire process to prayer.     

Why a phased approach?

Rather than waiting to share all details after an entire plan was in place, CTR leadership has chosen to share plans with you in real time, as each part of the plan takes place. The most important reason for this choice is so that you can pray for our Elders and Senior Leadership Team through every step of the leadership transition. We also want to model healthy transparency in leadership, and offer opportunities for real-time feedback and questions.

What will the process look like?

This leadership transition will continue to happen in phases. The first public phase was to share Curt’s retirement announcement and timeline. CTR’s Elders have been praying and discerning who God is raising up to serve as our next Lead Pastor. After that will come a time to assess the needs and make decisions about the support team around that leader so the church remains strong, focused, and equipped to carry out what God has called us to do and be together. The months following will be dedicated to mentoring and coaching for the Lead Pastor and any staff members who will take on new responsibilities. We will share news and prayer requests each step of the way, with Pastor Curt retiring and transferring leadership in the last quarter of 2021.

What will the the leadership transition mean for ministry?

Christ The Rock’s mission and vision is not changing, even though our Lead Pastor will be changing. We will continue to seek the lost, love the hurting and make disciples. And as always, our vision is that all people, no matter their story, would come to know, love and follow Jesus.