My Top Ten Ministry Moments of 2023

Top Ten Ministry Moments of 2023

It’s that time of the year for retrospection.

After posting my I’ve posted my Top Ten Songs of 2023, Top Ten Books of 2023, and Top Ten Hikes of 2023, I thought that I would turn my attention to things that might be considered more substantial, if perhaps also more intangible. Specifically: ministry and family life. The very nature of ministry, in particular, makes it hard to summarize and hard to point out “finished products.” It’s also challenging to represent ministry highlights with 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 going to do my best, even if the results might be imperfect…

So anyway — without further ado, here are my Top Ten Ministry Moments of 2023, in ranked order:

  1. Baptism Celebration at the End of the 2022-23 School Year (April)
  2. Kent State University’s Global Block Party (August)
  3. Ninja Lambs Pizza Party (November)
  4. H2O Kent + H2O Youngstown Staff Hangout (November)
  5. Centennial’s Podium Finish in the H2Olympics at the Fall Retreat (September)
  6. MTD Cultivation in Richland County (July)
  7. Spring Break Trip to Youngstown (March)
  8. Welcome Week Message about Psalm 134 (August)
  9. Reflecting on the 20th Anniversary of our Family’s Move to the Netherlands (January)
  10. The H2O Network Conference (February)

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

H2O Church Network Conference in Columbus

#10 – The H2O Network Conference (February)

In February, we traveled to Columbus for the inaugural H2O Church Network Conference. None of us knew quite what to expect with an event like this, but it somehow surpassed all of our expectations anyway. It was special to invite all of the people from all of the H2O Churches in our region to gather together for a 24-hour conference, and it really did feel like the large crowd of like-minded staff and students created some valuable momentum for moving forward. This conference functioned both as a sort of 15-year anniversary celebration (remembering the first multiplication from H2O Bowling Green to H2O Bowling Green and H2O Kent) and as a time of casting vision for what the next 15 years might look like.

Cityscapes - Linnaeusstraat wide

#9 – Reflecting on the 20th Anniversary of our Family’s Move to the Netherlands (January)

In January, our family marked the 20th anniversary of our move from Bowling Green, Ohio, to Amsterdam, the Netherlands. In some ways, that seems largely irrelevant to our day-to-day lives and ministry at Kent State University… But then again, the lessons that we learned in regards to proclaiming Christ in Post-Christian contexts are still paying significant dividends, all these years later. I’m also still serving on the Board for Stichting GC-Netherlands (the non-profit organization we established to support missionaries working cross-culturally). And I’m still involved in monthly coaching calls with Great Commission Europe missionaries from the Netherlands, Germany, and Sweden. Over the summer, we even got to travel back to Amsterdam and the Netherlands — and even though we made a conscious decision to focus on family connections more than ministry connections, we ended up bumping into some people who God seems to be preparing for another church plant in Amsterdam, and our wintertime reflections on our experiences from 2003 proved to be pretty helpful and applicable.

H2O at the KSU Blastoff 2023

#8 – Welcome Week Message about Psalm 134 (August)

I don’t consider preaching to be one of my favorite or most-strategic parts of being a pastor (even though it’s often a pretty close association between “pastor” and “preacher” for many others). But I’ve been finding my voice more and more as the years have gone on, and I don’t mind this element of church leadership as much as I used to. In fact, when it fell to me to bring the message for our church’s first worship gathering of the new school year, back in August, I felt like God really worked in me and through me in preparing and delivering that message. And I feel like the message was well-received, too.

H2O Kent Spring Break Trip to H2O YSU

#7 – Spring Break Trip to Youngstown (March)

I loved the team that we formed for our Spring Break Trip to Youngstown in March. It was a good mix of experienced student-leaders and people who were newer to H2O, and the team also included people from Brazil and Nigeria (in addition to a majority of Americans). We had a lot of fun and fruitful experiences together in the Mahoning Valley that week. But my favorite moment of the trip was the morning of our third day at Youngstown State University when my partner Joe and I got to have some really meaningful conversations with YSU students on the Cushwa Bridge, just outside of the College of Nursing. I believe this trip later proved to have a catalyzing influence in getting our church to engage in outreach back in Kent.

Ministry Team Development in North-Central Ohio

#6 – MTD Cultivation in Richland County (July)

In early July, I got to spend two days meeting with some of our longest-standing, most-generous, and most-meaningful ministry partners in Richland County (where I grew up in Ohio). My mission agency calls this work “Cultivation,” as a subset of “Ministry Team Development” (or “MTD”) — and the time with our supporters demonstrated how these phrases are apt metaphors, particularly in Ohio’s county that calls itself “Richland.” Over the past two and a half decades, we’ve developed fruitful relationships with a broad cross-section of Richland County Christians: farmers… factory workers… nurses… pastors… plumbers… landscapers… accountants… and others. It really feels like a privilege to reconnect with so many faith-filled, salt-of-the-earth men and women.

H2O Fall Retreat Photos by Jana Ozanich

#5 – Centennial’s “Podium Finish” in the H2Olympics at the Fall Retreat (September)

Since getting established as H2O Kent’s most-recently started Life Group — right at the front end of a century pandemic — H2O Centennial has kind of been the “runt of the litter” among our church’s student Life Groups. That’s been kind of discouraging at times, but it’s also been special to watch God work through adverse circumstances. This year, we brought a pretty decent contingent to our annual Fall Retreat (wearing green, with coordinated ball-caps!). And when the time came for our H2Olympics competition, I was really proud of the way that our group conducted itself during these events. We somehow managed to stay competitive without becoming over-competitive. We cheered for each other. We kept a good attitude when we got a score that was lower than what we thought we should have gotten. And in general, we just had a good showing. I believe our group ended up in third place, which isn’t really a place that gets any honor in the H2Olympics. But I like to think of it as a bronze-medal “Podium Finish” that I’ll remember fondly for years to come.

H2O Kent + H2O YSU Hang-out at AirBnB

#4 – H2O Kent + H2O Youngstown Staff Hangout (November)

It seems kind of funny to call this a “Top Ministry Moment,” since it was basically just a bunch of friends goofing off, playing games, and eating snacks in an AirBnB in Lansing, Michigan. But I think of it as significant because it felt like more of an “adult relationship” between two different staff teams from two different churches who nevertheless share a common history. The H2O church plant at Youngstown State University (originally sent out from H2O Kent in the summer of 2022) is still small, but it’s growing and doing really well for itself. The staff team there are working together well. And our staff team in Kent has also recovered from the shock of saying good-bye to some beloved former-colleagues. So, when we picked a time for our two teams to hang out together on the last night of the Collegiate Conference in central Michigan, it felt really special to be with each other and see that we’re all doing well.

Ninja Lambs Pizza Party

#3 – Ninja Lambs Pizza Party (November)

Collegiate church ministry is usually like filling up a big bucket at the beginning of the school year and watching it slowly drain over the course of the year. This Fall Semester, however, has been exceptional. So, towards the end of the semester, H2O Kent decided to celebrate this exceptional semester with a Ninja Lambs Pizza Party (🥷🐑🍕🎉). “Ninja Lambs” referenced Luke 10’s story of Jesus’s followers going out “as lambs among wolves” — but somehow, apparently, not getting devoured… suggesting that maybe those lambs had some special training in martial arts. And the “Pizza Party” was just what it sounded like: a celebration of partnership in the Good News, fueled by 21 pizzas and 21 bottles of sparkling grape juice, as well as some other refreshments to round things out. We had an open microphone where people shared story after story of how our little “Ninja Lambs” proclaimed the Good News of His Kingdom at Kent State University — and it was so encouraging!

Global Block Party

#2 – Kent State University’s Global Block Party (August)

I met an international student named Yusuf, from India, on the first evening of our outreach to new students at Kent State University, back in August. And later that same week, at the University-organized “Global Block Party,” Yusuf personally (and enthusiastically) introduced me to several of his friends: Ahmad (from Jordan)… Liza (from Kazakhstan)… Laila (from Russia)… Kevin (from India)… It was really amazing to see the international enrollment numbers rebounding after some truly dismal years during the worst of the COVID-19 Pandemic. They’ve been a more meaningful part of our church this year, beyond any other year I can remember, and we also concluded the semester with an International Thanksgiving Feast. But I think that Global Block Party was where a lot of the momentum was initially generated, and I’m thankful that God is continuing to work among students from all around the world.

H2O Kent Baptism Celebration

#1 – Baptism Celebration at the End of the 2022-23 School Year (April)

What a Sunday this was! We got to celebrate two families dedicating their children to the Lord plus ten individuals publicly proclaiming their faith in Jesus through baptism! But the part that I celebrated the most was the baptism of three students from the Centennial Life Group. Molly came to H2O through a more familiar path: being invited by a cousin, making friends in her residence hall, making the Christianity of her parents her own. Danny came to H2O through a far less conventional path: finding faith in Jesus through watching Christian influencers on TikTok, applying for H2O’s internship online, and then jumping into church involvement with both feet. And Riley “stalked” the church on Instagram for a full year before coming to her first Bible study and beginning a six-month conversation that led to her putting her faith in Jesus. It was really special to hear these stories again and celebrate what God has done in each of their lives.

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