Some people know their niche in life almost from the beginning. Most of us have to do at least a little wandering around before we hit on what feels right. For the Rev. Joel Krueger, finding his ministry was a process of successive approximation. He and his wife, the Rev. Dr. Kate Winters, have been co-pastors at The First Church in Belfast, United Church of Christ, since 2004.

Krueger grew up the youngest of four children in Fond du Lac, Wis., in a United Methodist family. Growing up, he was involved in his church’s youth group — in fact, in his early years, his parents were involved as well — and as a teen, the group was his main social outlet, he said.

After studying art education in college, he decided he didn’t want to teach after all and went to work for a Methodist social-service program for immigrants in Tacoma, Wash., for two years. Later, he attended seminary near Chicago, and it was during this time that he and Winters met. This period of his life was also a time of questioning the religious assumptions he’d grown up with.

His first pastorate, in Rippon, Wis., was with a senior pastor whose personal problems made the experience a difficult one for the young minister. From there, Krueger moved to Madison, Wis., where Winters, then a Roman Catholic, was working at the University of Wisconsin Newman Center. The next five years he described as a “wilderness” time for him, during which he sold interior decorating products for a stone company.

While Winters was at the Newman Center in Madison, Krueger said, he “learned a lot about liturgy” from attending services there. The couple married in 1994. Subsequently, a change of bishop brought new strictures to Winters’ job and they moved to Ohio, where they belonged to a combined United Church of Christ/American Baptist congregation. During this time, the couple decided they wanted to be in ministry together.

After a return to Wisconsin that lasted four years, they came to Belfast six years ago as co-pastors of The First Church. “Our primary job,” Krueger said of the position he and Winters share, “is to love the people.” Beyond that, they have divided one full-time position into two jobs that let them make the most of their complementary strengths.

Krueger does most of the administrative work at the church, attending committee and church board meetings; he also takes charge of the youth ministry and gets involved in building maintenance and music for worship. Winters oversees the church’s liturgy and worship, leads adult education, and does most of the pastoral care. They alternate preaching.

While Krueger can often be found in the pastor’s office at the church, “Kate’s office tends to be primarily coffee shops,” he said.

He explained that when they were looking for a church, they wanted to return to the East Coast to be near Winters’ family, and Winters was also interested in teaching at Bangor Theological Seminary. Of the decision to come to Belfast, Krueger said, “It felt like we were led here.”

He is fed spiritually by being out in nature, especially watching birds, and finds making pottery, his preferred art form, “meditative.” He values the entry into people’s lives afforded by his work and the opportunity to get to know the families in the church.

He has enjoyed watching the youth group learn to work well together and being part of their activities. Childless themselves, he and Winters “see the church kids as our kids,” he said.

Krueger also has a dramatic streak, which he indulges sometimes in his sermons, creating characters such as Brother Advent, the Witness to the Light, the Prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist to bring the message of Scripture to life.

While the numbers in the congregation are not increasing — he said the church has about 130 members — Krueger is pleased that individuals are growing in their spiritual and faith life and the church has some vibrant small groups and is developing strong lay leadership.

“I have a lot of good feelings [about The First Church],” he said. “I know God is calling us toward some important things.”