When I met Sean he was living in Warren Hall at Whitworth University. He loved Warren Hall with everything he had. He was dorm president and somehow managed to be dorm counselor as there was always someone in his room for prayer or conversation. He told me he wanted to finish his master’s degree and return to be Resident Director of Warren Hall. “Wouldn’t it be cool to live in the apartment here and hang out with all the future students?” I didn’t know someone could be so all-in, committed, heart tied to a dorm.
(Yes, this is us in Warren Hall. And yes, this is pretty much what it felt like when Sean was knocking...er...sweeping me off my feet.)
When we got married we had to move out of Warren Hall and into an apartment. Our first year married was the year of radio. Sean started with the school radio station and then landed an internship at the local Christian radio station. He loved radio with everything he had. He dreamed about a career as a radio d.j. and explored different radio markets. After graduation when job options were slim, I suggested we move out and move on. It tore Sean apart to imagine leaving radio. He was all-in, committed, heart tied to radio. I matter of factly responded with, “You can stick with radio but we either have money for one month of rent or a U-haul. Go ahead and pick.”
Ultimately the U-haul won out and we trekked out to Lynden, WA. The goal was to make ends meet as quickly as possible so he landed a bartending job our first week living in a trailer in my parent’s driveway. Sean threw himself into learning drinks, studying technique, and watching Cocktail. He loved bartending with everything he had. It was the challenge, the people who would hang out until after hours pouring their hearts out, and the dynamic of something completely different. The last thing I had expected was him to be all-in, committed, heart tied to what was only intended to be a summer job.
The pastor of a new church in town came to the bar to talk to Sean about youth ministry. He was enthusiastic and had vision for what Sean could do to propel a nearly-new youth program. He was ready to hire Sean on the spot. When Sean came home to talk about it, he was hemming and hawing a bit. “I don’t know…do you think youth ministry would be a good fit?”
I raised my eyebrows. “Umm…yes. For sure. Yes.”
“That means I’d have to quit bartending…”
A wry smile from me. “Yes, but I think that’s ok. I think you’d like youth ministry.” I had a hunch that he might love youth ministry with all he had. I had a hunch he might be all-in, committed, heart tied to youth ministry.
I was right. It took all of two weeks for him to declare he had the best job ever.
For fifteen years Sean has loved youth ministry with all he has; all-in, committed, heart tied. He has grown from an optimistic, fun, zealous, mentor who throws huge concerts and builds epic youth rooms to a strategic, community building pastor who teaches students to have passion for Scripture. He is a dad who understands trauma, hard lives, and comes alongside hurting students. He used to work to inspire students. Today he works to disciple them.
Sean started Big Oak nearly a decade ago; a non-profit that sponsors and organizes big multi-church events (camps, concerts, leader training, the Stagecoach) and manages his own speaking schedule. Big Oak works in tandem with things youth ministry does…it simply makes it bigger, more wide reaching, and involves people with all kinds of talents from all kinds of churches. Sean loves Big Oak with everything he has. Talking about it gets him fired up. When he tells you why you should be all-in, committed, and heart tied to what it does…you may end up donating toward it.
(Yes, this is a one-of-a-kind truck that happens to fold out into a stage.)
Four and a half years ago I threw in the homeschooling towel and we sent our kids to Ebenezer Christian, a small Christian school on the outskirts of our town. We thought it would be a temporary decision, but I must admit I love this school with everything I have! Sean was skeptical initially, but within a couple months was all-in, committed, heart tied to the way it was impacting our family and our kids’ growth, academically and spiritually.
We asked God to give us a way for tuition income if this indeed was the best decision for our family. Out of that, Beat Farm was born. Beat Farm is Sean’s favorite job when he’s not doing his other favorite jobs. He is a d.j./mc/sound tech/light tech/provides his own equipment (including an occasional glitter cannon…or t-shirt gun…or anything that shoots party stuff). His calendar quickly booked a year in advance.
The only thing better than one job Sean loves is THREE jobs Sean loves! The only problem with multiple awesome jobs is that it doesn’t multiply his time. This past year we started asking questions about where we’d like to be in upcoming years. “Is this maintainable? Is this what is best for our family? If it’s not, what would we do differently?”
I prayed my way through the summer, asking God very specifically for some things to transpire in our family. I wrote them down, surrendered them to God, and determined to accept whatever His hand gave.
This month Sean was told about a job at Faithlife (Logos) Bible Software. Faithlife is the biggest Bible software company in the world and happens to be 17 miles from our home. Even after a conversation with his potential new boss, Sean was skeptical. He didn’t want to apply for something new when he loves what he already does. As we talked about the opportunity, we realized this job at Faithlife would mean Sean could focus on doing one thing well instead of juggling three jobs and hundreds of students. Financially and logistically, it looked like it could answer our prayers and questions.
The sleepless, prayer filled, wrestling, weighing, days and nights began.
“Would I even enjoy being a National Presenter for Faithlife?”
"Hmmm…could you enjoy speaking to thousands of people at conferences across the country about studying the Word of God? Could you sell them the same tools you’ve been using in youth ministry for years? Products that you inevitably sell people anyway, simply because the products work for you and you believe in the mission of the company? Attending conferences of your favorite speakers and authors with opportunity for growth and education? I’m pretty sure you could love being a National Presenter with everything you have. I’d say it’s possible you might even be all-in, committed, heart tied to something like this…"
At first we thought we might simply be answering a financial situation. Now it's seeming to be more than that. As we’ve asked God, “What is the season intended for?” we keep circling back around to our 12yr. old, 10yr. old, 8yr. old and 6yr. old. This season of training our own people while all living under the same roof is incredibly brief. We keep asking what is best for Sean’s health, for the health of our family, for our own relationships with God in the long haul.
All we’ve ever done is ministry…and perhaps we’ll get to circle back around to it at some point. For now, we’ve arrived at something new. Much like Sean, it’s still about the gospel, it’s still unconventional, and it will certainly give him stories to tell.
This morning Sean baptized a 12yr. old student. It was a slightly emotional, surreal moment because Sean also baptized the student's mom when she was a 13yr. old student in our ministry. We never dreamed we would do this long enough to be pastoring the children of our former students!
Immediately after baptisms, Sean announced that while we will still be attending our church, he will no longer be on staff. Ah, it's been an emotional week.
One day this week Sean came into the kitchen, burdened. He had lost hours of sleep thinking about the students he was leaving. Fifteen years of a lifestyle, identity even, doesn't just end overnight. He was working through the fear and unknowns, but mostly the sadness of not doing ministry for the students he loves with the leaders he loves.
I was sweeping the kitchen and paused with a vivid memory. "I don't know if you remember, but when I stopped leading my girls' small group because we were having kids, I felt so terrible about ditching out on my girls. I was really worried about Emmy because she didn't really have anyone else at that point. I remember driving and praying–feeling so responsible. I was immediately reminded that if God had a new season of growth for me, He also had a new season of growth for Emmy. He wasn't going to give me something new and abandon her. It was hard to relinquish–partly because I was her person and partly because I liked that role. Then, when I stepped out of leading, God brought Monica, Tarrah, other leaders and even other friends to her. Then God brought a YWAM staff and a godly husband to Em. How amazing is it that after all of that a decade ago... I just got a text from Em this morning." I pulled it up on my phone. "Check it out. An ultrasound of her little girl...and she texted it to me."
It's going to be a different season for sure. In this moment it's hard to relinquish. Yet we know God is faithful and big enough not to just take care of our family; He's big enough to take care of hundreds of students, leaders, congregations, and can even probably supply another d.j. for your wedding.
Sean will spend the next month training up the staff who will be taking his place with their own fresh vision. We're thankful for a month to transition and to celebrate the long list of prayers that are being answered. Then we'll be on to the next adventure to love with everything we have; all-in, committed, heart tied.
Just throwing myself out there a bit...