My Top Ten Ministry Moments of 2018

It’s that time of the year for retrospection.

After posting my Top Ten Songs of 2018, Top Ten Books of 2018, and Top Ten Hikes of 2018, I thought that I would turn my attention to things that might be considered more substantial, if perhaps not as tangible. Like ministry and family life. Ministry, in particular, is messy. The highlights of a year in ministry cannot often be represented by a single image (if indeed there are images at all) or a single paragraph, like the other categories I’ve considered. Still, I appreciate the way that a retrospective exercise like this helps to heighten my awareness and appreciation of everything God has been doing. So I’m giving it a try, even if the results might be imperfect…

So anyway — without further ado, here are my Top Ten Ministry Moments of 2018, in ranked order:

  1. The Development of Daniel, AJ, and Lauren
  2. The Revival of the Breakfast Club
  3. Facilitating a time of Spiritual Solitude in the Wilderness with the Collegiate Mentoring Program
  4. Huddling around Hunter
  5. The H2O Freshmen Scavenger Hunt
  6. Preparing and Preaching a Sermon on the Dividing Wall of Hostility (Ephesians 2:14-17)
  7. Walking and Talking along the Old Settlers Trail with Daniel and Nick
  8. Full Vacations for H2O Staff (including me)
  9. Visiting the Rineharts in Stockholm
  10. H2O Kent’s Ten Year Celebration

And again, for any who might appreciate more context, my explanations for each selection are included with the listing (reverse rank-order), below:

#10 – H2O Kent’s Ten Year Celebration

We celebrated the 10th birthday of H2O Kent in October, with a bunch of different activities including a 5K race, a brunch, a tailgating party, a banquet, and a worship gathering (I was also proud of the fact that I wore a different H2O Kent T-shirt to each activity!). I wrote about it at the time, but further reflection has cultivated a deep appreciation of everything God has done (and is doing) in this church. We’re certainly not perfect, but we’ve fostered a strong culture of plurality, humility, and family that has lent itself to slow, steady growth through the last ten years — and the weekend of celebration in October helped to cast vision and perspective for the next ten years to come.

#9 – Visiting the Rineharts in Stockholm

I’m super-proud of Aidan and Chelsea Rinehart. They were sent out from Kent in the Fall of 2017 to join a missional movement in Stockholm (Sweden) which seeks to establish outposts of Gospel engagement throughout the city. They’ve had their ups and downs, as should be expected with any cross-cultural move, but they’re doing really well: educating themselves, building relationships, and reaching out to the campus of the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) and others in the Östermalm section of Stockholm. They’ve also started praying more for the
Södermalm section of the city, and I really appreciated the opportunity to visit these neighborhoods with them. I got really sick while I was there, but I slogged through and this visit ultimately resulted in some of my best social media activity of the year.

#8 – Full Vacations for H2O Staff (including me)

Some may not feel that “Full Vacations” should not be counted as “Ministry,” but I think they should. I felt convicted at the end of 2017, when I realized that I failed to use nine days of vacation time from that year. It was a signal to me that I was becoming more inclined towards self-reliance, workaholic tendencies, and “American” attitudes that felt so foreign when our family first moved back to the United States from our decade of ministry in Europe. I started talking with our Staff team about the Gospel proclamation that is inherent in resting well — trusting Jesus to be the Savior of the world, not ourselves. With some extended conversation and careful planning, I believe we succeeded in using up all our allotted vacation time in 2018. The church kept going through it all, and I’d like to think that we’re in an even healthier position, moving forward.

#7 – Walking and Talking along the Old Settlers Trail with Daniel and Nick

Spring Break is not really a “break” for those of us in Collegiate ministry. We recruit students to join us for mission trips that help us to serve those in need, expand our vision for Collegiate church-planting, and foster Spiritual Disciplines. This year, I worked with a couple of Staff and Interns to facilitate our Spiritual Disciplines trip in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. And while it was a good trip for all the students involved, those of us who worked to lead the trip were pretty burned out towards the end of the week. At one particular breaking point, I went for a walk with two of the key leaders. Over the course of this hike along the Old Settlers Trail of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, we processed the week’s happenings, prayed through some relationships in crisis, and just generally encouraged one another in the Lord. It was an unscripted part of a heavily-scripted week, but I felt like it may have been the most strategic moment of ministry that I was personally able to facilitate.

#6 – Preparing and Preaching a Sermon on the Dividing Wall of Hostility (Ephesians 2:14-17)

In all my years of preaching, I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more insecure going into, during, and immediately following a sermon. I learned a lot about the sin of Racism and the institutional justices to which I’ve been largely blind, as a person of privilege. I was very thankful for the support I received from my friends Eric and Darnell; still, it was challenging to address an issue as complicated and convicting as this one. I posted some of the notes from my message, online, so you can give it a look if you’d like. In any event, though, I feel like I grew a lot through that sermon — and I hope some others from the church were able to grow from it, as well.

#5 – The H2O Freshmen Scavenger Hunt

This was one of the wilder moments from a wild week of Welcome Activities, in August. Somehow, I ended up in a group composed entirely of freshmen who walked up while we were explaining the Scavenger Hunt organized by H2O Kent — and even though we were perfect strangers to each other when things kicked off, we ended up having a really fun time together running throughout campus, meeting more freshmen, and completing assigned activities such as the one pictured above, where a freshman allowed his body to be used as a surfboard for another red-headed freshman, on the Esplanade. I wrote a more elaborate story about things at the time — and there have been plenty of other outreach events since then — but that particular evening stands out in my memory as a good example of living on mission at Kent State University.

#4 – Huddling around Hunter

I’m very proud of everything God has done in the life of my friend Hunter. When I first met him, at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, he was dealing with a lot of challenges including addiction, obstacles to his education, challenges to employment, strained relationships, and lack of community. I started sharing the Gospel with him late on a Thursday night, in downtown Kent, and eventually other friends like Nathaniel, Dylan, and Armand helped to live out the Gospel for Hunter to see. As a result, Hunter gradually started to follow Jesus and ultimately proclaimed new life in Christ through baptism. He has since joined the Army, and he’s currently preparing for his unit to ship out to Iraq — so he definitely needs our continued prayers — but it seems to me like Hunter has come a long way since that first night we met.

#3 – Facilitating a time of Spiritual Solitude in the Wilderness with the Collegiate Mentoring Program

Over the last three years, the Collegiate Church Network has developed a unique program for supporting and stimulating the staff from our churches. It’s coordinated with our summer Leadership Training program in Estes Park, Colorado, where the staff work to facilitate a transformative experience for college students — but this Collegiate Mentoring Program is designed to be a transformative experience for them. This summer was my second time helping to lead elements of this initiative, but it was the first time I took the reins for the group’s time of Spiritual Solitude in the Wilderness of the Rocky Mountain National Park. This year’s group had to overcome some unique challenges, such as a nursing mother and a completely uninitiated outdoors-man… But they ended up being a really fun group, and I pray that their experience fasting and seeking God helped to enhance their ministry effectiveness for this year and years to come.

#2 – The Revival of the Breakfast Club

When I was a college student at Bowling Green State University, one of the key inflection points for my spiritual development was a daily practice developed with other men on campus — where we made a point to spend deliberate time with God at the beginning of the day and then catch up with each other and process the things God was teaching us over breakfast on campus. This summer, I felt like God prompted me to revive this practice with some student-leaders; and we’ve made it a whole semester as a “Breakfast Club.” We meet at the Kent State University Library around 8:00 AM, and by 8:10 AM we’re off to different sections of the Library to spend time reading the Bible, journaling, and praying. Around 8:40 PM, we reconvene in the lobby of the Library, and then we hang out there or in the Hub of the Student Center until we have to leave for other obligations. There’s not much glitz or glamor in this type of ministry (much of the time it’s just me and one other student), but I’m really glad to be doing it. I’m praying that more may join us in the Spring Semester!

#1 – The Development of Daniel, AJ, and Lauren

I feel like our Staff team is in a really healthy place right now. We’ve got a fine crop of new Staff, just graduated within the last year or two. There are a couple of us, pastors, who have been doing ministry for the better part of two decades now. But I’ve been especially encouraged this year by the development of our Staff’s “Middle Class.” Three in particular — Lauren, AJ, and Daniel — have been doing ministry for a few years, now, and it seems like they’re really taking ownership within our ministry, each shouldering unique burdens according to their personalities and spiritual gifting. I meet with all three of these leaders every Monday morning, usually while drinking coffee — and I’m very excited to see how God is developing this next generation of leaders to take the church places we would never otherwise be able to go.

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