My Faith Journey

Upbringing

My story begins on a small, cattle ranch in the Northwest, an hour north of Seattle. I was raised on this farm, the oldest of three children, to parents who proclaimed faith in Jesus shortly after I was born. My spiritual awareness started in a small Assembly of God church where my family would be found every Sunday morning and evening, as well as every Wednesday evening and any other events the church would hold throughout my upbringing.

Salvation

It was through the investment of faithful church leaders, in both the kids and youth ministries, that I came to proclaim Jesus as my Lord and Savior at a young age. I was far from the perfect child, often acting “good” only when it served my selfish desires. My youth was a struggle between being a “good Christian” and doing whatever brought me attention, happiness and comfort. Even though my faith journey was filled with failure, I sensed a call to serve Jesus through vocational ministry. This started the next phase of my journey and the darkest.

College

Following this call to ministry, I followed one of my best friends to a small bible college in Springfield, Missouri. The cultural differences I encountered in the Midwest, along with a starkly different religious culture, made it feel like I went back in time to the 1950’s. My slightly rebellious personality did not do well with being told I couldn’t go to a movie theater and that I had to keep my hair in the style of an extra from “Leave it to Beaver.” While I vowed to never return after every year of college I ended up graduating from the college, serving on the staff of a large Assembly of God church due to the mentorship of a dear friend and father-figure, Tom Matrone, and even started a masters degree in choral conducting at Missouri State University.

Seth in College

The Tug-O-War

During my college years, I wrestled intensely with my call to vocational ministry, starting with a dual major in both Preaching/Evangelism and Music. I felt a call to ministry but had no real desire to work within the stuffy confines of a church filled with religious people who seemed to be going backward in time culturally. After four years of my immaturity, excuses and frustrations I graduated and decided my vocational ministry would take on a very different look. I sold everything I owned that wouldn’t fit into my Honda Civic and drove to New York with a dream to become a famous conductor of choirs and orchestras.

The City That Never Sleeps

By what some may call a fluke and what I call the plan of God, I was accepted as one of the six students into Maestro Harold Faberman’s orchestral conducting masters degree’s program at Bard Conservatory of Music. While this experience grew my musicality by leaps and bounds my spiritual growth was stunted as I focused on selfish ambition. At the end of my time in New York I had a spiritual awakening one day while reading through Paul’s letter to the church in Rome (Romans) and saw two trajectories in front of me: one where I continued to pursue self-satisfaction that ended in an unfulfilled and dissatisfied life and one where I pursued a vibrant relationship with Jesus and discovered that pouring out my life for him and for others would leave me more fulfilled and satisfied than anything I could accomplish on my own.

A Journey Home

After graduating with my masters degree from Bard, I returned to the Northwest, moving away from my charismatic religious roots in an attempt to discover what the other side of the evangelical tracks looked like. I found myself on staff as a Music Director at a Lutheran church where Jesus began a work of grace in my life revealing my need to move past religion and into the depths of his gospel of grace and mercy. Desiring to use my musical experience to a greater level of fruitfulness for Jesus, I took a quick detour back to my Assembly of God roots moving to Olympia, the Capitol City of Washington State, serving at a church as a Creative Arts Pastor. God did an amazing work of grace during my five years there maturing my theological understanding of grace and salvation through a deep pursuit of the Scriptures.

Seth Conducting

Joy & Sorrow

Coming to the conclusion that I found my theological leanings more reformed than charismatic I accepted the position of Music & Production Director with Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Yes, that Mars Hill. My faith was deeply developed at Mars Hill through the influence of Mark Driscoll, a cadre of other spiritual giants (though some you may be unfamiliar with although they stand as giants in the faith in my eyes) as well as faithful friends. During my time at Mars Hill my vocational journey transitioned from Music Pastor to Executive Pastor to eventually moving back to Olympia and becoming the Lead Pastor of that local satellite campus. The dissolution of Mars Hill Church was one of the most painful experiences of my life causing massive emotional turmoil both within the church and within myself.

A New Chapter

As the Mars Hill chapter closed my wife and I felt called to remain as faithful shepherds to the people we called our spiritual family, which culminated in the birth of a small church plant we affectionately now call Harbor Church. Our first year together was filled with pain and joy as we worked through the pain of closing a church and birthing a new one. During 2015, we sent out over twenty families to places all over the world who are serving in global missions, new military stations, and new callings in their own vocations.

A Vision

Harbor Church starts the second year of our journey in 2016 and the future could not be brighter. God is doing an amazing work among the two hundred plus people who call Harbor their spiritual family. Jesus is transforming us and the city around us through the vibrant relationship he has called us into with himself. The vision God has given to me for our church family is to develop us into leaders of the faith who are sent out into our homes, into our communities, into our businesses and organizations and into every other area and aspect of life.

This blog will not be filled with the wisdom of a man who has been tested through decades of experience. These writings will not be forged through the long-burning fires of years of wisdom. What you will read is the pain, the sorrow, the joy and the excitement of what has and is happening in the life of a young man who has tasted the pleasures of the world and found them lacking compared to the feast of grace that has been given through the free gift of grace and salvation given by Jesus Christ. This is the story of a faith journey that God is writing daily in the life of a simple man who wants nothing more than to encourage your own faith journey toward the feast of grace that is found in the banquet of salvation that Jesus Christ has provided free of charge through his life, death and resurrection.

I hope my writing encourages you in your own faith journey. Don’t be afraid of baby steps. And don’t compare your faith journey to anyone else’s. God has his own plan for you. And it’s a plan I hope to hear over the course of our time together.

Full Steam Ahead,

Seth Winterhalter