In two weeks, my family will load up our belongings and drive up to “the Eastside” of Seattle, where I will begin a new job as Director of Arts and Communication at Doxa Church under Pastor Jeff Vanderstelt. We are mourning the loss of the life we’ve known in Reno, but also are deeply excited about this new chapter in the Pacific Northwest.
Note: If you’d like to help, we’re packing up our house and loading things up April 7th and 8th (the Tuesday/Wednesday after Easter) and will need hands on deck for that. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or to request our address.
The Back Story
Fourteen years ago, I walked into a home in suburban northwest Reno. I was greeted a few steps in the door by a girl named Rachael. I later learned that her new husband was the leader of the bible study in that house, and that he was a janitor at the sponsoring church.
That room of young adults had more zeal than experience, more passion than plans, and more willingness than wisdom. And it grew. We filled that living room, and spilled out into the next room and up the stairs. We eventually moved to the church because of the humility and wisdom of Pastor Dan Frank. We didn’t have expectations early on but we grew in numbers very quickly. We made major transitions from bible study to college group to “church within a church” to a church plant to a multi-site church in an incredibly small amount of time in church world. It will forever be a resounding sign of God’s grace on my life that I was a part of what happened in those years.
At each major transition, we were exploding in numbers but we also lost people. Some left because they liked the previous iteration of what Living Stones looked like better and were unwilling to adopt the new one. Others left because Living Stones was becoming something different that wasn’t what they had signed on for. And yet others left because they tangibly lost something when transition happened; a relationship, a responsibility, a role…and that was painful to watch.
In those seasons, and over the last 14 years at Living Stones, I learned that transition is necessary, transition is beautiful, and transition is hard.
Transition is necessary.
Healthy things grow, and growth means change. This is fundamentally true of people, relationships, churches, plants, animals, businesses, and most things spinning on this planet. As natural as it is, change also can rattle our core and jostle our bearings.
When we started discussing de-centralization (the process of downsizing the central staff and giving autonomy to the 5 different Living Stones churches) in early 2014, there was a small voice in me that said big change was coming. I didn’t foresee that I would be one of the several staff to be let go due to structural changes and budget crisis last November.
A few weeks later my phone rang and it read “Jeff Vanderstelt”. Jeff and I had worked together at Acts 29 events, conferences, and training events in Reno in the past. He mentioned that he wanted me to pray about the possibility of joining his new team in Bellevue, WA as the worship and arts guy at Doxa Church. Bellevue is across Lake Washington from Seattle and was recently ranked the 2nd best place to live in America. I told him I’d pray about it, and for us to keep the conversation open.
For the last three months I’ve worked part-time in Reno for a phenomenal leader and a brilliant woman I hold a great deal of respect for, Erica Olsen of OnStrategy. She graciously agreed to bring me on until I figured out what was next. I got to travel a bit with her and do video work showcasing some of their clients, including trips to Boston, Ventura, and Juneau (seen below).
While I worked at finding a marketplace job and staying in Nevada, God kept slowly but firmly paving a way for me to stay in vocational ministry. We knew that staying in ministry would almost certainly mean leaving Reno. Ministry opportunities across the country popped up, which was a humbling and terrifying process. I got to meet some great leaders and hear about incredible churches all over, but nothing felt quite right.
Transition is beautiful.
The conversation with Jeff continued. After months of conference calls, leading worship there, fly-outs spending time with the elders and staff at Doxa, and seeking the wisdom of the Living Stones Elders, we agreed that God was leading our family to accept the position at Doxa. A beautiful unity arose from leaders on both sides of the equation. I’ve been thankful for the ways the LS pastors have come alongside me in a very difficult time.
The opportunity to remain in ministry and join a team like the one at Doxa is and will be a privilege. The staff is small and scrappy, yet big challenges await us in the next season. Doxa is roughly the same size in attendance as the downtown Reno Living Stones location, in a pretty incredible facility right in downtown Bellevue.
The Eastside is a very different culture than Reno to be sure. It’s incredibly wealthy and several massive corporations like Microsoft, Amazon, and Costco have headquarters or major operations there. Seattle is a global city with a ton of racial and cultural diversity. The picture below was taken in a commons area on the Microsoft campus I toured last month.
I’m thrilled to begin establishing Doxa as a place where Pastor Jeff’s vision for community and real-world Christianity breaks into the lives of musicians and artists. My hope is that Doxa quickly becomes a people and a place where artists belong. I will be building bands, overseeing creative efforts, and helping with various things like video projects and social media. From the perspective of the job description, it really is a perfect fit for my strengths and passions.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to tuck in behind Jeff Vanderstelt. He is a highly relational leader and remarkably gifted in communication and vision. I’ve been really impressed and encouraged watching how he leads the elders and the church. He’s transparent on stage, theologically solid, and a joyful man that genuinely wants people to know Jesus.
I have led worship at Doxa a couple of times now and am just beginning to get to know the congregation and the musicians there. There are some very talented people around who love Jesus and want to be a part of the worship and arts ministries moving forward which is incredibly encouraging.
Transition is hard.
We love our city and our church. Leaving them both will be painful. My family and I have ever only known Reno together. My wife and I met on campus at the University of Nevada, and both of my children were born at Renown hospital. Though I grew up outside San Francisco, I was born less than a mile from the downtown church location. I’ve traveled to 46 states and believe that people are beginning to realize what has been true for a while…that Reno is truly one of the best places to live. The revitalization happening here is something we feel connected to.
The relationships we have here make this move the hardest. My mother recently moved here. My last living grandparent is here. Kelly’s lifetime friends are here. The band members that I have been through so much with, live here. My fishing buddies are here. And yet we hear God calling us to trust him and leave…and that great things await us.
We will miss the unique things about Reno. Fishing in Washington is typically a much more involved and expensive endeavor (the nearest trout stream is almost three hours east, on the other side of the Cascades) so I will certainly miss the Truckee River.
After what I estimate to be between 1,200 and 1,300 services, I led worship last Sunday for the last time at Living Stones. Leading those songs on stage was emotionally intense. At the end of the service, Pastor George (one of the twenty people in the room when I arrived at what would become Living Stones in 2001) told the congregation of our transition, and then the elders prayed for us to send us out. After service, I spoke with people as they passed along their memories and well-wishes. While leading on stage was rough, hearing people’s stories and heartfelt gratitude between services was far harder. I was humbled by the number of people that expressed what a conversation or hospital visit from years ago had meant to them. That put me into tears.
We’re ready to fall in love with the Eastside of Seattle and invest our lives as a family in what God is doing there. We are honored to join the Doxa family and also aware that God wants to do huge things through the people of Doxa. We don’t know how long we’ll do life there but our hope is that it’s a place we can put roots down and watch our kids enjoy the activities available in the Pacific Northwest. We hope that a year from now, we’ll know the 425 reasons to love the Eastside.
You’ve read my thoughts on the matter, so here is a quick video with the rest of the family talking about what they think about moving.
Donald, Kelly, Oliver, and Harper