I’m sitting in my office at Pine Valley Church, which I guess, technically, is probably not my office anymore. All that’s left in it is my desktop computer, which I’ll be packing up at the end of the day. As we’ve been wrapping up our time here in beautiful Bayfield, I’ve been reflecting on how this has been such a season of personal revival for me.
God brought us to Bayfield, 5 years after taking off from Rapid City. We have been in Duluth, MN, and Grand Forks, ND, for education, and a short one-and-a-half-year stay in Denver, along the way. I came on staff at Pine Valley, initially, as the full-time youth pastor — and a nervous one at that. I didn’t know if I still had it in me to lead students; I was feeling old-for-the-job and it seemed like the task of re-aligning the already amazing After School Program was almost too big. But thankfully, with the help of my good friends David and Carrie Van Hoesen, it was a piece of cake.
David came up to me one of my first weeks on staff and offered to help me in any way that he could. I asked him and Carrie to take leadership of the Sunday evening events while I focussed on putting some time and thought into the Wednesday night programming. They did, and the Sunday Night Encounters immediately started blowing up. David and I become really close friends in ministry, tearing up almost every week, sharing the stories of God’s goodness and impact through the NextGen ministries at Pine Valley. He is the kind of youth pastor that every lead pastor wants to have at their church. What an incredible friend, pastor, and leader he is!
Those two years of youth ministry were some of the most fruitful years of ministry I had ever experienced. We saw so many students say “yes” to Jesus and so many others come back to Him and start following Him wholeheartedly. I really believe it was God’s grace-gift to me, to get to experience a big “last hurrah” of my years as a full-time youth pastor. Here are the highlights videos from those two years — memories that I will never forget…
Carrie also became a quick friend, giving my family one of the most meaningful gifts I think I’ve ever received. She made these “love buttons” that light up when you touch them after my Mom passed away. Mom was always known for saying “push your love button” to pretty much everyone when they were having a bad attitude. These “love buttons” still make me smile every time I see them.
Scott and Carrie Kujath, our pastors, for these three years, have taught us so much about grace, love, and leadership. They have cared for and fiercely protected my family at every turn. And Scott released me to do things and challenged me to go beyond where I’ve ever gone before. It was when he hired me that he said, “I see you building up the youth ministry program, equipping a team up there, and then transitioning into more of an associate pastor position.” In the back of my mind, I was excited about that possibility but unsure that I could really do it.
When the two-year mark came along, there I was sitting in Scott’s office and he was transitioning me into the associate pastor role. It was the first time, this year, that I spent a lot of time thinking through and processing things from a more senior level of leadership. With Scott’s help and direction, I think we saw God do some pretty cool things this year at Pine Valley. And it really prepared me, in a whole lot of ways, for the transition I’m walking into now.
Carrie has always been an encouragement to me. And always at the right time, too. When I’d be walking off the stage from a Sunday morning thinking, “That was a mess.” She would come over and say something that shifted my whole attitude — time and time again. I am so thankful for the amazing example and thumbprint these two have left on my life. Your influence has made me a better pastor and leader.
Pastor Margaret, and her two After School Program side-kicks, Jill Shocklee and Caron Jacques, reminded me again of the incredible role that kidmin leaders play in the church. Margaret is one of the wisest NextGen pastors I have had the privilege to know. Her quiet, but strong confidence speaks so loudly to me and the others on staff, and I believe, to a whole generation (or two) of the little ones that she ministered to here at Pine Valley. The children’s ministry, under her leadership, has been a life-line of vitality and strength for families in this area.
Caron and her family were hosts to my family, letting us stay in her own home while we looked for a place to call her own. What a blessing the Jacques were to us. And what incredible God-potential in all of their lives. Jill and the Shocklee’s have also quickly become some of our faves — family trips to the lake and Honduras team meetings. Jill is co-leading the trip to Honduras with Deanna. We are so thankful for these amazing friendships.
Joey and Connie Cusenza quickly become close friends of the Shoup family. I’m actually staying at their house right now, for these last few days that I’m in Bayfield. Connie’s wisdom, her heart for deep intercession and worship, and the way she pastors and cares for so many in Bayfield is pretty amazing to me. And Joey, well… he makes me laugh. LOL! Together, they are such a potent and powerful impact on this community and have left a spot in our hearts that we will carry with us forever.
And what can I say about the Prothero family that hasn’t already been said by anyone else who knows them? Lisa and Terry Prothero, and their whole family, is such a gift to the Body of Christ. I can still remember meeting Lisa for the first time and greeting her with an, “I am so honored to meet the matriarch of the Prothero family.” I had known and played with several of her amazing and gifted kids at District camps through the years and was genuinely an honor to get to meet THE worship leader of the whole gang. To play with any/all of the Prothero’s these past few years has been nothing short of a joy ride. You are the best of the best — the cream of the crop.
And Terry has been a techy friend and peer that I could get lost in long conversations with — talking about music, gear, and techy things that nobody else would probably care about. What a cool guy! He has more wisdom and experience in his pinkie finger than many of us on this planet will ever have in a lifetime. And with a heart of gold to boot. I love the Prothero family and to get a chance to grow as a musician and worship leader with these guys over the past few years was a dream come true.
And not to forget any of the rest of the staff as well: Julie, the O’Reilly’s, and Linda have all become like family to us. Pine Valley’s team truly is a family.
From my two years as a youth pastor, I don’t want to forget the amazing team that I had the privilege of working alongside. You made it incredible: Denise, Claudia, John, Jesse, and JoLayne. And I’m honestly without words.
Denise and Claudia, you are rocks in the NextGen ministry at Pine Valley. A firm foundation that sets the course for Jesus to move. You are heroes to me. John, you became one of my closest friends and encouragers in Bayfield. You’re like a brother. I legit cried alligator tears when we said “good-bye”. Jesse, you and your family may be quiet but your influence and love are loud. We love you. And JoLayne, thank you for being one of the first families to invite us over for dinner. Your family is all world changers and I’m pretty sure I’ll be hearing about all of the great things that God is going to continue to do through them. You are loved.
Dominick McCullough, thanks for being a friend and coach to me through leading the Alpha Class. That group of people became a light to my fire to see real and genuine community develop in the church again. And what I mean by that, is the “church at large”. It sparked the desire in me to see that as an integral part of the church-family life. Thank you for helping me to see that. And we got to meet that firecracker, Bonnie Celona, through all of that, too. Pretty cool.
I could go on and on and start naming all of the Pine Valley students who I love and admire. You, in many ways, rekindled a fire anew in me. Thank you for worshipping God with all your heart. Thank you for caring about bringing in your non-believing friends — many who are now following Jesus! And thank you for re-energizing my faith!
And I could start listing all of the amazing friends who I have met in and out of the church in Bayfield as well. But this post would run on forever. And it already has. I know I’m leaving some out — that’s the danger in a rambling post like this. But I wanted to try and express my deep gratitude and sincere love for the community of friends that we’ve developed in Bayfield.
We will do our best to come back and visit, but you guys need to try and come up to the beautiful and fun Black Hills to see us, too!