It’s that time of the year for retrospection.
After posting my Top Ten Songs of 2019, Top Ten Books of 2019, and Top Ten Hikes of 2019, 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 2019, in ranked order:
- Receiving the Hospitality of Syrian Refugees in Stockholm
- Leadership Transitions at H2O Kent
- Coaching H2O Kent’s Off-Campus Life Group
- The Collegiate Mentoring Program
- Celebrating Twenty Years of Ministry with Reliant
- Walking with Jake and Delaney through their Preparations for Marriage
- The H2O Kent Teaching Team
- Focus on Ministry Team Development
- Ministry at the Rec
- The Aspen Project
And again, for any who might appreciate more context, my explanations for each selection are included with the listing (reverse rank-order), below:
#10 – The Aspen Project
One of the things that led to the establishment of H2O Kent in northeast Ohio was the area’s density of college students. Of course, we loved the idea of reaching out to the 30,000 students at Kent State University. But we also recognized that there were over 150,000 students at 44 institutes of higher learning within roughly a one-hour drive from Kent State University — and we wondered if God might want to use H2O Kent as a launching point for further missional initiatives at some point. Back in September, we borrowed the imagery of an Aspen grove, from nature, and started talking about how to send out “runners” to other parts of the Northeast Ohio “forest” to see new life sprout on new campuses. This “Aspen Project” took a significant step forward when we secured commitments from ministry investors to fund four student-internships to focus on four different test campuses. Not much has actually happened at this point, but it’s exciting to think about what God might be starting to do through this.
#9 – Ministry at the Rec
Back in January, I bought a membership for the Beverly J. Warren Student Wellness and Recreation Center. This was partly because I wanted access to a swimming pool, where I could start training for a triathlon. But it was also partly because I was intrigued by the ministry possibilities that could come with spending more time at this hub of activity on campus. In August, we experimented with some Welcome Week outreach at the Rec — and it ended up being one of the most effective ways to make connections with international students that we’ve experienced in recent years. I’ve also gotten to know more students through regularly playing basketball on Saturday mornings. In this, I’ve had to dial in my level of intensity for the sake of prioritizing my own health and maintaining relationships over winning basketball games. But I’d say it’s been a good process of practicing 1 Corinthians 9:22-23, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
#8 – Focus on Ministry Team Development
Fund-raising is a part of my job. This can be challenging; and in the darker moments I can feel scared to make new contacts, frustrated by the amount of time it takes to build a ministry team, and anxious to find a different job where I just get a paycheck without stressing about raising support. But it can also be rewarding; and when I’ve got a healthier perspective I feel incredibly grateful for the relationships that undergird the work we do in prayer and financial support, freshly-envisioned for the strategic implications of ministry to college students, and encouraged by the freedom and flexibility that comes with support-based ministry. God has met me in my renewed focus on Ministry Team Development (MTD) through 2019. We’ve seen almost $800 in new monthly support commitments this year, and even though we still have about $700 in new monthly support yet to raise, the last year has given me confidence to pursue the remaining shortfall in the year to come.
#7 – The H2O Kent Teaching Team
In May, we bid farewell to one of my co-pastors: Matthew McClure (more about that coming up). One of his key responsibilities during his years in Kent was the H2O Teaching Team. So without Matthew, others (including myself) have been forced to step up. And it’s been really beautiful to watch the way this has worked. I’ve enjoyed the slight uptick in my own teaching responsibilities — but even more, I’ve enjoyed helping other, younger, leaders develop their skills in teaching and preaching. For example, I think of feedback sessions with Daniel, who’s preparing to lead a church plant from H2O Kent in the next couple of years. Or I think of co-teaching a session of The Well with Nick, in his first year on staff with us. The process doesn’t always go smoothly, but it’s a great privilege to see our Teaching Team grow and develop.
#6 – Walking with Jake and Delaney through their Preparations for Marriage
This has been a big year for Jake and Delaney. They’ve both graduated from college (Delaney in May; Jake in December). They’ve both started their careers (Delaney with a non-profit called Rahab; Jake with Progressive Insurance). They’ve gotten engaged to each other. And in January, I will be officiating their wedding. All along the way, they’ve continued to pursue God in really beautiful ways — including Jake’s baptism this fall — and I’ve especially appreciated the ways they’ve invited Marci and me to walk with them through all these significant life developments. Pre-marital counseling (a pretty standard practice in our ministry) has been great. But we’ve also been invited into other aspects of their lives along the way, and Marci and I have really enjoyed the opportunity to do ministry together with these guys.
#5 – Celebrating Twenty Years of Ministry with Reliant
I went to our mission agency’s New Staff Training in January of 1999 and was released to assignment at Bowling Green State University in May of 1999. That means 2019 marked two full decades of ministry through Reliant Mission (formerly Great Commission Ministries)! I’ve stayed with Reliant through a couple periods of organizational restructuring (including a process of rebranding in 2015), a transition to Amsterdam in 2003, and then another transition to Kent in 2012. Each step of the way, I’ve seen God work in powerful ways. Twenty is really just a number, but it felt significant to mark this milestone in 2019.
#4 – The Collegiate Mentoring Program
This summer, I was invited to assume a bigger ownership stake for our network’s “Collegiate Mentoring Program” in Colorado. I worked together with Mike Klunke, a pastor at Illinois State University, to mentor six emerging leaders from across the country. The group sessions were great, learning theology, spiritual disciplines, and practical ministry skills. The Wilderness Retreat was powerful (as I’ve gotten to experience in previous summers). But the individual mentoring sessions proved to be the most meaningful spaces where I saw God work this summer. Wow! I still get chills to think of the way the Holy Spirit moved in some of those conversations on the balcony of the Leggett Center at the YMCA of the Rockies. I’m eager to see how God will use these young leaders in the coming years.
#3 – Coaching H2O Kent’s Off-Campus Life Group
Ministry among Off-Campus students is more challenging than ministry On-Campus. The students are older. They’re further along in their studies, which requires more intensive focus on class projects and professional development. They’re more spread out, in terms of their geography, their commitments, and their relationships. It’s very common for Off-Campus students to start out strong, in their commitment to Christian community, but then fizzle as the school year continues. This year, however, I feel like we’ve had an exceptionally strong Off-Campus Life Group. Almost every Thursday night Bible study has felt lively and meaningful. Relationships actually strengthened over the Fall Semester, and I’m curious to see how the rest of the school year will unfold.
#2 – Leadership Transitions at H2O Kent
Over the summer, my co-pastor Matthew moved to a different city. We dropped from a plurality of three to a plurality of two: Jason and me. We were still plural (more than one). But we also recognized that our plurality was smaller, older, and more homogenous. Matthew was five years younger than Jason and me. His personality and leadership style were significantly different from mine, and Jason’s. And even though I’m sure we would have been able to muddle forward with the two of us — it didn’t feel as healthy for us, or for the church. So we started praying and talking with God about how to move forward. And over time, it seemed like the Holy Spirit was directing us to invite not just one (or two, or three) new person (or persons) to join us at the Leadership Table for H2O Kent. It felt like God envisioned us to invite four others to join us: Mark, Daniel, AJ, and Lauren. Leading with this group of six has been clunky at times, but it’s actually gone much more smoothly than I would have expected. We work well as a team. And I feel like the best elements of this leadership transition are yet to come.
#1 – Receiving the Hospitality of Syrian Refugees in Stockholm
I was a part of a small mission team from H2O Kent who traveled to Stockholm, Sweden, in May. Our visit happened to coincide with the Muslim observance of Ramadan. Over the course of our week in Stockholm, we actually got several opportunities to break the Ramadan fast with Muslim friends. But my favorite was the Syrian dinner prepared for us by a family we met in the park that week: Feras, Jasmina, Nadia, Mohammed, and Leah. We played with the kids while we were waiting for the sun to go down. We heard stories of the life Feras left behind in Damascus. We listened to the story of how Feras and Jasmina met each other. We learned about their process of moving to Sweden. We talked about Jesus. It was amazing. Feras and Jasmina were remarkably open, and I felt very welcome in their home. I hope to see them again in 2020!