My Story

Like I hope you are, I'm on an adventure with Jesus! I didn't expect to be doing any of this, but God brought me on a very unique journey and here I am, loving it!

From Physicist to Pastor

Once upon a time I was going to be doing something very different for a living! My original vocational training was as a scientist. I loved (and still love) physics and everything I got to learn in that field.

It's actually a bit hard for me to put into words how powerful my first experience with physics was. I first came across the subject in high school, where I was taking the infamous "AP Physics" course, which was generally acknowledged to be the hardest course we had at the school. While it definitely wasn't easy, I found the subject unexpectedly made a lot of sense. It was almost as if a light-bulb flipped on and the world made sense. I succeeded beyond my wildest expectations and knew I wanted to keep exploring this fascinating area of study.

When I went to college (Bethel University, B.S. Physics, Applied Physics 2004), I knew I wanted to major in physics. As I jumped in, I discovered the same success. By the time I graduated, I was the stand-out student in my program and I decided to continue on to graduate school. I enrolled in a graduate program (University of Illinois, Ph.D. 2010) and got to work in theoretical quantum mechanics. More specifically particle physics if you know the field.

A sample page from my Ph.D. Thesis

Just as I had previously, I found the topics fascinating and I continued to thrive in my department. When I completed my degree, I had managed to not only get my doctorate, but rack up a number of departmental awards and scholarships as well. I also has the opportunity to work with the physics education group and spend a few years writing college courses to help test their pedagogical research.

During my time working towards my Ph.D., I was attending a local church as well. My faith had always been important to me and I knew I needed the support of a local church family while I undertook the strenuous and not-overly-faith-friendly environment of a graduate program in the sciences. Due to some friends I knew in town, I found myself in this interesting charismatic church that called itself a "Vineyard". Growing up baptist, I had no grid for all this Holy Spirit ministry stuff, but I tolerated it because a church family was important to me.

After a number of years, God "snuck up" on me and introduced me to the Holy Spirit in a radical and unexpected encounter in China. Believe it or not, I wound up casting a demon out of a woman before I even believed in prayer ministry! You can catch the full (and almost unbelievable) story here:

After this experience, I had to process a lot and rebuild my faith around something I never saw coming. By the time I completed my graduate program, I was hooked on the Holy Spirit and knew I couldn't leave our local church community. I was excited about physics (and good at it too), but I knew that I would live with regret if I had discovered God was on the move in our local community and I changed the channel and moved on with my life.

I shared my plan to stay in town and our senior pastors invited me to come on the staff team and oversee our healing ministries. This was not at all expected, but led to more than a decade of pastoral ministry in that local church, the Vineyard Church of Central Illinois.

And Church Resourcer

A few years into wrapping my head around pastoring, at the suggestion of our senior leader Happy Leman, we started a program called School of Kingdom Ministry (sometimes "SoKM" for short). Leveraging the years of classroom practice from my graduate teaching, along with years of training and equipping in small groups and even in running a martial arts school for years - that's another story - I pulled together a curriculum and started teaching and training our first class.

Initially our aim was to provide nothing more than an additional layer of training to our prayer ministry team at the church. Much to our surprise however, God breathed on the program and other churches began to come to us and ask to host the program as well. Over the course of the next few years, SoKM grew to hundreds, then thousands of students in locations across the country and around the world.

US SoKM locations as of 2020

The decade that I led SoKM was a wonderful, and often very hard adventure! Along the way I had to learn how to entrepreneur this whole thing into being (an unexpected journey my physics background didn't prepare me for). I discovered I have a knack for preaching and writing I had no idea was in there, and published a couple of books. I started travelling and speaking at various churches and conferences. Along the way my pastoral job expanded to include executive responsibilities and oversee conferencing, itinerant ministry, and so on. It was a wild and busy season!

As a result of having the opportunity to see and partner with hundreds of churches first hand, I began to see patterns in the challenges churches were facing and working to overcome. As a scientist I couldn't help but start chewing them over. Why is it that nearly every church feels they have a discipleship problem? Why is it that issues of calling cause tensions in so many church contexts? At the same time, I also began to really feel a burden for the younger generations and the way the church is struggling to reach them effectively. Surely it's not that Jesus has failed! So what is going on?! I begin to research, think, and ideate about the future of the Church.

Life Disrupted

A few years into turning all this over, I begin to develop a set of thoughts and vision for what could be a potential alternative - but it's a pretty massive shift from what I've seen and been a part of so far. The solution I'm imagining isn't just a matter of adjusting our messaging or adding a ministry: I'm seeing revisiting what kind of thing a local church itself is. What if we built local churches as an ecosystem instead of an organization? Is it possible the future is more decentralized than centralized? What if we're approaching technology and the opportunities it presents all wrong?

As all of this slowly begins to crystallize, the whole world is disrupted. COVID lands in early 2020 and everything in the whole world is thrown up in the air. And my life is too! Like everyone, I immediately begin to grapple with how to do my job and life my life in an entirely new pattern. But that's not all...the Lord very quickly begins to make it clear that this disruption is the marker of a new season beginning for me. And that season meant stepping away from all the layers of the last season and creating a blank slate for partnering with the Lord in a new way in the next one.

This was an incredible shock to my wife and me! It wasn't within our field of vision at all to leave Urbana and do something different. All we had imagined for the last decade was living out our days with the cherished friends and family in central Illinois for years to come. But the Lord was insistent and our lives our his. We began a lengthy discernment process which led to overwhelming confirmation that this what God was asking of us.

At first we didn't know a lot about our next assignment: we just knew that God was saying that he wasn't going to give us further instructions until we were "in motion" (by which he meant no longer in Urbana). So we focused on transitioning School of Kingdom Ministry and the other things we were involved in and heading to the windy city.

This was such a hard thing for us! We had 17 years of history at our home church! The church we not only had met the Holy Spirit at, but the church we had been trained and released into ministry it. On top of that, almost two-dozen extended family had moved to central Illinois over the years. We had to say goodbye to all of that. We had dozens of farewell dinners and coffees. We grieved, and grieved again. And eventually it was time to go.

Transition & the Next Assignment

Our transition to Chicago (summer 2021) was a massive step of faith for us. We had to put our house on the market and plan to move without any next steps! No job, no place to live, nothing. Needless to say, this was pretty stressful!! At what felt like the very last minute before we had to leave, God connected us with an interim opportunity working for a church in Chicago I had known for a few years, The Chapel. This interim opportunity give us a place to live and a transitionary salary as we figured out what God was saying for what was next. It was an unbelievable moment of God's faithful provision for us.

The next year and a half felt like living in the hallway. We had left our last season of stability, but we hadn't entered the next one. We lived in four homes in less than 24 months! Along the way, I worked to replant a campus for The Chapel, then when the Lord made it clear he was bringing that campus to a conclusion, I closed it down. We made some dear friends along the way and God worked to refine us as pastors and leaders in some really stretching ways!

Along the way, the Lord started to clarify what to aim towards with our next assignment. We were going to go and establish what he and I had been talking about for years! It was time to "put our money where our mouth was" and work to establish a church community in the shape he had been showing me. We were going to do Church Pioneering through Church Planting. It was an exciting prospect! Through a process of searching to find where there is grace for innovating in human collaboration, God directed us to Phoenix for our church experimentation.

So in February 2023, after nearly three years in process, we moved to Phoenix to start our new adventure out here! As we've done that, I've been in awe of the unique blend the Lord has put together in my life for our experimental work:

  • The experimental approach and analytical mind and thought process of a trained scientist.
  • A love of the Holy Spirit of someone who has been God-ambushed and whose life will never be the same for it.
  • Love for people and passion for their growth that comes from more than a decade of pastoral ministry in the context of a local church.
  • The entrepreneurial bent of someone who has started multiple businesses and organizations, including one that has gone international in scope.
  • The communication skills of a local church and conference preacher and published author.

Only time will tell what the Lord will do with our experiment. Will we find a different approach to how do church that feels native to the 21st century? I have no idea! I hope so. What do I know for sure is that I can't not give it my best shot. To not be willing to push my chips to the center of the table and take the radical risk with God would leave me with regret, and that's something I don't want to carry. So here we go on another adventure. Come, Holy Spirit!!