Go ’Guins

Staff Send-Off for YSU Team

We’re saying good-bye to the YSU Team in stages. The big, whole-church, whole-Sunday Send-Off was great. I can see how it will also be important to help with actually moving boxes and furniture, starting this weekend. Both for practical reasons and for emotional closure reasons. But today was our last Staff Meeting with the team in its current configuration. And it felt like it might have been the most meaningful stage of the send-off for me, personally.

Part of this is because it Staff Meeting feels like the space in which I’ve had the most meaningful interactions with A.J., Daniel, Brooke, Griffin, and Jana. Part of this was because we gave ourselves the time and space for actual interaction. And part of this was because our time together came at the end of some extended time in reflection and prayer.

So I tried to make a biblical connection for each individual to serve as a benediction.


Brooke

When I think of Brooke, the biblical parallel that leaps to mind is David and his Mighty Men. Of course, Brooke is a woman. And the army of warriors that she’s assembled is an Army of WOGs (a phrase she has popularized for “Women of God”). Still, there’s something resonant in the way that Brooke and David chased have hard after God and instilled a similar passion and pursuit with others around them.

Smoky Mountains Retreat: Hike to Charlie's Bunion

I knew Brooke as a student and even as a student-intern. But I feel like she really distinguished herself in my mind when she joined the leadership team for the Life Group that I was coaching in the Fall of 2018. Even though she was brand-new to the Quad Life Group and to our Staff team, she impressed me with her ability to clearly articulate the ways that God was speaking to her and challenging her on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis.

In the last couple of years, I feel like I’ve gotten to know Brooke as more of a peer. I think particularly of some long, meandering conversations on some long, meandering runs in the gulches outside of Estes Park, as we both trained for the Longmont Half-Marathon in the Summer of 2019. Or even more recently, I think of some early morning coffee conversations in the Smoky Mountains, talking about life and ministry. She’s a wise WOG.

Anyway, my prayer for Brooke is that she will continually find her strength in the LORD (1 Samuel 30:6).


A.J.

When I think of A.J., the biblical parallel that leaps to mind is Samuel. Particularly his early and enduring heart for righteousness and the glory of God. Many people know A.J. primarily as a worship leader — and he is excellent in this role. But I think even more broadly; A.J. has a prophetic voice. He says the things that need to be said. He points people to God and God’s ongoing mission to redeem the world.

ManMaker 2022

A.J. first distinguished himself in my memory when he expressed interest in joining a European Leadership Training program in the Spring of 2014. He was just a student (maybe a sophomore?) at the time, but he jumped in with both feet. He may have even been the most committed member of our small group! (It didn’t end up gaining critical mass to continue). When that initiative was ultimately scuttled, he found another way to spend his summer on mission. And that’s just been the entirety of A.J.’s mindset since I first became aware of him. He’s been eager to proclaim the name of Jesus in many places, locally and around the world.

NL-LT Team Meeting - large

More recently, I admire the way that A.J. has helped to develop an initiative for H2O Kent that we’ve taken to calling the Antioch Project. With this, we try to stimulate continued and growing engagement with global missions — bringing something to the church at least once a month, in one way or another. It’s been creative. It’s been missional. And I hope that it’s been formational, too.

I pray that A.J. will to continue growing “in stature and in favor with the LORD and with men,” just like Samuel (1 Samuel 2:26).


Daniel

When I think of Daniel, the biblical parallel that leaps to mind is Elijah: both his brilliance and his pathos. Daniel knows how to be funny, but he also knows how to be sad. All of that to say: Daniel is a skilled emotional leader, and he regularly leans into the power of God. These natural inclinations will be a tremendous asset to the the team, as they work to establish a new church at Youngstown State University.

Smoky Mountains Retreat: Hike to Charlie's Bunion

One of the ways that Daniel first distinguished himself to me was through a heartfelt conversation in the Hub after a teaching in which I shared some of my sin struggles. He showed a remarkable readiness to relate with me: freshman to pastor. That was both of our first years in Kent (for me, after my decade of ministry in Amsterdam). And that sense of brotherhood has really never dissipated, through all the years.

Groningen Group on the Streets

Daniel still amazes me with his ability to connect with people. Just this past weekend, I watched Daniel conjure up a guest pass at the Rec with his charm and humor. He just asked the desk worker to check his membership to see if he had any unused guest passes. And then, while she was checking the computer, he just kind of hunched down on the counter, used one of his silly voices, and said, “And I’d like you to say ‘Yes,’ even if there aren’t any on there” — busting into a brilliant smile immediately after saying this. The desk worker smiled a genuine smile at this and said, “There are no more guest passes for this account. But you’re good to go, anyway.” She seemed like her day was actually brightened by the interaction. And it just showed how Daniel has a remarkable way of relating to people.

I pray that Daniel will listen to the LORD and serve others so that they will know “you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth” (1 Kings 17:24).


Griffin

When I think of Griffin, the biblical parallel that leaps to mind is Solomon in his wisdom and generational greatness. Solomon possessed understanding and stature that were beyond his years, and Griffin is similar. He’s always ”punched above his weight class.” To borrow a line from It’s a Wonderful Life, he was ”born older” than his peers. And I think this supernatural maturity will serve him well in this upcoming transition to Youngstown.

H2O Welcome Week (2021)

Griffin first distinguished himself in my mind as a student-intern in the Fall of 2017. He was highly competent in the ministry duties to which he was assigned that semester. But what struck me the most was the way that he cared for his fellow interns during that time period. Both of the other interns that semester were learning and growing in distinct ways that Griffin seemed to intuitively sense and provide an appropriate ”big brother” response in gentle and understanding ways. It was pretty impressive.

More recently, Griffin has distinguished himself as a skilled servant-leader. He’s learned how to run the Production Team, in order to serve the new church plant. He’s taken the ”air traffic controller” role for our ManMaker event, to keep an overview of everything happening. He switched Life Group Coaching assignments, to better distribute our church’s human resources. And seriously: Everything that he does seems to succeed.

As he leaves Kent, I’m praying for Griffin that he will ”Trust the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your path straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).


Jana

When I think of Jana, the biblical parallel that leaps to my mind is Abraham and his faith to step away from the familiar in order to embrace the promises of God. She’s an intensely-loyal friend, sister, and daughter — so it was really pretty remarkable for her to choose Kent State University (2.5 hours away from home in Northwest Ohio) in the first place. Then, to move another 45 minutes east for this church plant, stretching herself and her loved ones even further — it just seems like the way that God called Abram (later renamed Abraham) to leave Ur for Canaan. A step of great faith in order to establish a new family on a new foundation in a new place.

Leadership Table Send-Off Committee

In my experience, Jana first distinguished herself in conversations about marriage and missions. I didn’t know her very well when she was a student. But around the time of her graduation, she and AJ started talking about marriage. And because A.J. had been thinking about missions, she also dived headfirst into that conversation. It was a lot for her to process. But she expressed great faith in it all. They ended up deciding to get married and to engage in missions on more of the local level than the global level. But I saw enough of her heart in that decision-making process that I knew she was a keeper.

Jana has more recently distinguished herself as a Life Group leader and coach for the New Front region on campus. And in so doing, she has gained my oldest son’s trust and admiration. Even though I presumed that A.J. was going to be the more natural connection there, as the male and the more experienced Life Group leader, Elliot has developed an especially deep respect for Jana. As a parent (as well as a pastor), it just does my heart good to see the good that Jana brings into my son’s life. I’m looking forward to seeing how she will replicate this process in Youngstown.

As Jana makes the transition eastward, I pray that she will continually look “forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). 

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