Connections Pastor Candidate

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I want to introduce you to Vincent Derr, a passionate and visionary  candidate for our Connections Pastor position. Vincent currently serves as Director of Student and Children’s Ministries at Blessed Hope Church in Vinton, IA. The church has grown rapidly while he has been on staff, providing invaluable experience working side by side with the pastor addressing challenges of growth and change. Vincent is engaged to be married to Victoria Litwiller of Waverly, IA. They are both interested in establishing a home together in our area. The Search Committee is planning to bring Vincent in to candidate for our Connections Pastor position on the weekend of March 22, 23, and 24. This will give him and Victoria a chance to meet all of you and for you to see Vincent’s heart and calling. I hope you enjoy reading Vincent’s story of how God has worked to prepare Him for this time: 

I didn’t grow up in the church; in fact in High School I was decidedly agnostic, almost atheistic. The first Bible I saw opened in my home was my own after I had become a Christian in college. Growing up I remember going to VBS, but it wasn’t really for spiritual formation. VBS was simply about being with my friends. I don’t remember much from VBS other than snacks, games, and a chipmunk video. That chipmunk I’ve come to learn is Chadder Chipmunk. 

Anyway, going into college I wasn’t Christian or really anything. I got assigned a Christian roommate and I was really frustrated with the situation. Luke and I got along just fine, and he had a lot of Christian friends. His friends became my friends. Suddenly I found myself surrounded by real Christians and not the stereotypes I had in my mind. They believed, really believed, and lived it out. Luke and our friend Jake would be gone about three times a week leaving me alone and bored. I figured out they were going to worship and small group. 

I eventually got up the nerve to ask if I could tag along to small group and they said yes. It was their Christmas party and I was shocked by how cool everyone was with me just showing up. I think Jake and Luke had told them about me and had them praying for me. Winter break came, and I kept pondering how nice they all were to me. During this time, I was really struggling with college and self-worth. Their hospitality and kindness made a huge impact on me. Spring semester started, and they decided to work through Crazy Love by Francis Chan, the first Christian book I ever bought. I didn’t talk much; I didn’t know anything. As I read and listened to them talk about God and the Christian life, my heart became softer and softer. They really revealed that I hadn’t really rejected God but a cultural caricature of God. 

Winter Jam is a Christian concert tour that comes through Des Moines and all my friends were going. They kept asking me all week to go with them. I thought Christian music would suck, but they asked one more time before they left and, well, I didn’t want to be alone, so I said yes. We went and while there my notions of Christian music were blown apart. The whole-time thousands of people were praising God and I was wrestling. David Crowder came on, which was great; they put their lyrics on the screen. I could sing along and not just pretend to sing. The song How He Loves wrecked me; I had never heard the gospel until that song. I kept thinking, if that’s how God sees me, then I want that.  I want to follow that God. Afterward the minister got up and gave the gospel with an invitation to stand up. I didn’t stand. I thought that was hokey, but I did commit my life to Christ that night, January 21, 2011. 

From that moment on I consumed as much Christian material as I could: apologetics, sermons, and history. I wanted to learn as much as I could. I remember reading “well known” stories, freaking out and asking my friends if they knew these things were in the Bible. They did. Stories like Jesus walking on water, or a guy being lowered through a roof to Jesus, or the entire Exodus story. I kept thinking “is anyone telling people about this amazing stuff, like people need to know!” I was so on fire for Jesus and the Bible. God really started to impress on me to tell people. 

My sophomore year I had heard about a mission trip that campus ministry was going on to south Texas over winter break; it sounded amazing. I could feel God pulling on me, but I thought it was too expensive. Then at the deadline God broke through and said, “Go, trust me with everything.” I went and helped build homes, feed the poor, and care for children. It was on that mission trip that God asked me to fully commit; up to this point I had been dating God, holding onto my old life while reaching for him. God completely had me.

One worship service, Joe Brummel, the campus chaplain, spoke so powerfully I was moved to tears. I hugged him after worship and said, “Thank you!” as I left the building. I sat down by a playset and just poured all my sin and life out before God. My friends came out and prayed with me as I confessed everything. In that moment I felt the embrace of God. I had never felt fuller and more loved in my life. 

So, going into the spring semester of my sophomore year, I decided to be a Religion major. This was not a popular decision among my family. Everyone tried to convince me to pick something else. I had taken an Intro to the New Testament course my freshmen year, to get it out of the way, since it was required. In that class God awoke in me a deep thirst for knowledge about him. The more I got to know Joe and interact with him the more he encouraged me to step into leadership in campus ministry. I became part of team he oversaw, led small groups, and stepped into Intervarsity. Through all this God kept saying, “Yes.” Every close Christian friend and mentor were encouraging me and seeing things in me. 

I decided to try my hand at camp ministry, so I became a camp counselor at the camp where Joe served as programmer. My relationship with Joe has changed greatly over the years. What started as a simple minister/college kid relationship turned to minister/summer counselor which turned to mentor/mentee and now friends. It was an honor when Joe said to me during staff affirmations that he didn’t consider me an employee or some college kid, but a friend. Joe has seen my faith walk from the beginning until now. 

While working at camp, going on mission trips, and being near Christian ministers I felt God’s call to ministry. I ignored it and down played it for a long time, but I couldn’t ignore God anymore. At this time, I joined Trinity Reformed Church where I was baptized and in conversations with their pastor was encouraged to go to seminary. While still at Central College, I took a pre-ministerial class focused on calling. I read The Call by Os Guinness, that book impacted me and confirmed my deep suspicions of God’s call on my life. On March 16, 2014, I was baptized in obedience to Jesus’ call. I then went to seminary in Holland, Michigan where I studied for two years in residence. After my second year, I felt God’s call to leave and pursue youth ministry. I am taking courses online as I can pay for them. I have committed to no longer taking on debt for schooling. I am continuing my pursuit of my M.Div. The clear understanding of my calling is that one day I will seek ordination. 

In seeking youth and children’s ministry, I found Blessed Hope Church in Vinton and have been ministering here full-time for over two years. There are so many details that are not in this short summary of my testimony and I’d love to share more fully or answer any of your questions. I love talking about how God has moved in my life; it reminds me of his faithfulness. Thank you for taking the time to read my story of faith. 


Blessings - Pastor Harrison


Teenage Culture Spotlight: Video Games

For decades now, video games have had an important role in teenage culture. The playing of video games today by teens is probably best known as simply, “gaming.” Gaming ranges from handheld devices, tablets, PlayStation 4, X Box One to computer play. There is even a loyalty and following based on the mentioned gaming devices. But we’re far away from the days of playing Super Mario Brothers with a friend next to you on the couch. Gaming is done across states and even international today. And teens aren’t just spending a large amount of time playing video games- entire YouTube channels are dedicated to encourage viewers to witness someone playing a live game and this includes celebrities, professional athletes, and yes, even our teens. 

Now I have to admit, I’m in over my head on this one. When I was younger, I always loved to battle my dad in a video game because he was downright horrible and had no idea what he was doing. Put me on a new gaming system now and I have become my dad! But I’m not alone in this struggle; I also know that parents in our church are trying to figure out how to handle video games from early ages all the way through High School. Obviously, you’ll see that a big takeaway from this article is to stay engaged with our kids regarding all activities, and not just the big ones like school and sports. Hopefully this article can be of help if you know a gamer or are currently living with one. ☺ 

The Steam Store: Is it Possible to Monitor Your Child’s Use of It? (by Samuel Gronseth II)

If you or anyone in our family play video games on the computer, you’re probably familiar with Steam. It’s been the premiere supplier of computer games since 2003, and most games you can buy on a computer are sold primarily, if not exclusively, through this free program.  

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Recently, Steam has been making changes to which games it sells and how it presents them. This culminated in an announcement in June of 2018, when Steam concluded that, “the right approach is to allow everything onto the Steam Store.” This, of course, includes games with relatively graphic content compared to most commercial video games, which may alarm parents who are concerned about what their children are exposed to. 

Let’s look at how this came about, what it means for parents, and how you can successfully monitor which games your children have access to on this popular platform. 

What Happened and How?
With an artistic industry like video games, many changes are bound to come to what kinds of games are made and how they’re sold. Steam has long struggled with how to enable independent game development on its platform while still maintaining control over what is sold through its service. They’ve tried a number of systems to encourage indie developers to use their platform, such as Steam Greenlight and Early Access, and all have met with mixed success because of this struggle; allowing anyone to put games onto Steam has resulted in exceptional growth alongside a dearth of half-baked or offensive releases. 

This may sound like a complete negative, but it’s a little more complicated than that. Positive effects include the popularization of the visual novel, as the genre (which is basically like reading a book with pictures and music, and a changing story depending on the player’s choices) had existed almost exclusively in Japan and languished in obscurity here in the west. It’s also made it easier for independent game developers to create unique experiences that push the medium in interesting new directions. 

But there have also been a number of controversies since then, including the release of a controversial game called Hatred (which Steam allowed on the platform despite the equivalent of an X rating), an influx of softcore porn games, and some games that were basically low-effort, unfinished tech demos. And Steam’s attempts to balance an open platform with control over what was released on it seemed to cause more problems than they solved. 

Which leads us to the decision made in June. 

What Did Steam Decide, and Why?
“We’ve decided that the right approach is to allow everything onto the Steam Store, except for things that we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling,” said Valve’s Erik Johnson. “Taking this approach allows us to focus less on trying to police what should be on Steam, and more on building those tools to give people control over what kinds of content they see.”

Setting aside concerns over what content we, as Christians, may or may not believe is appropriate to be expressed in art, the dilemma is a legitimately difficult one. Video games are a rapidly growing art form, and much progress has been made in the last couple decades by allowing people to try new things and make their own video games without the developmental requirements imposed by major game publishers. It is legitimately important to allow indie developers access to the kind of exposure Steam offers. 

But there’s a reason console manufacturers like Nintendo have such stringent standards; they want their brand to be associated with quality games, and are careful with what they allow in their game libraries. It’s understandable that Steam would want to retain power to curate the content it allows on its store. But attempts to police it infringed too far on that open platform mentality for their, and their users’, liking.

The result is a relatively lax approach to what content is sold on Steam.  

What Does This Mean for Me and My Child?

In short, it means Steam is no longer responsible for controlling what content your child has access to: you are. 

It’s understandable to be a bit alarmed at this development, especially if you’re the kind of parent who watches their child’s gaming habits from the sidelines more than engaging with it yourself. The reactionary response may be to simply disallow Steam from your house. And if you wanted to simply remove this program from your child’s life in favour of other options like Good Old Games or Humble Bundle, that would be a viable option.

But I would posit it’s also an overreaction. Steam is still the premier service for purchasing games for the computer, and there are many wonderful experiences, for both you and your children, that are only available on that platform, or would otherwise require a game console to play. So if you’re still with me, let’s go over how you can control what you and your child see on Steam.

Steam still has a level of content control; they have an approval process, and their statement about “things that are illegal, or straight up trolling” indicates that they will not allow illegal or arbitrarily provocative content. But this indicates a shift in priorities; rather than controlling content beyond these basic standards, they put the onus on the user (that is, you and your child) to control what they see, and provide the tools necessary to do so.

The tool you need as a parent is Steam Family View, and you can access Steam’s guide to using it here:

With Family View set up, the changes to Steam’s content allowances won’t put potentially inappropriate content within view of your child. You are the one in control of what they see. 

And ultimately, controversial though these changes may be, that seems like a fairly reasonable demand to make of a parent. We can argue whether certain content is appropriate to have readily available on platforms like Steam, but we can all agree that the responsibility for what your child is exposed to (and when/how those boundaries begin to loosen as they mature) lies with the parent, not any company or storefront. As long as you’re aware of these issues and the tools at your disposal, your child can safely enjoy all the wonderful things video games have to offer (which this reviewer has previously made clear is a lot) while you protect them from things they may not yet be ready for.


 Blessings - Pastor Bryce




1 John 5:14 says:

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”


There has been so much “life” happening with our Rock Solid Kids. Wrestling tournaments, hunting trips, dance recitals, baptisms, deaths in families, new babies in families, sickness in families, answered prayers in families. 

Mid-January during Children’s Church we were discussing John Chapter 2 (Jesus’ first miracle). At this wedding, Mary approaches Jesus about something as “trivial” as more drinks at a reception. What a lesson in this scripture! 

So, first Mary asked, then Jesus responded, BUT did not answer her. What did Mary do next? She walked away, turned to the wedding’s servants, pointed toward Jesus and said, “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5).  

What confidence! She didn’t even know His answer, but she knew that He was going to do SOMETHING. 

What supplies Mary’s boldness? Her intimacy with Jesus. How do we pursue intimacy with Jesus? Prayer. 

With all the “life” happening in our young families, good or bad – we can’t do it well without a healthy prayer life.
To break down 1 John 5:14 a bit…

  • We can’t have confidence if we rarely approach God 

  • We can’t align to His will if we don’t know Him enough

Our families need prayer to be the centerpiece of our lives (or maybe the table?) to weave through this hectic life. So much life happens in the day we live in. Jesus wants to be in all areas of our lives and our children’s lives. In January we talked about this in detail – Jesus wants to be a part of it all!

Our 2019 goal of being bold for Christ is nothing without praying to the one who supplies that confidence. We hope you find more ways to allow Jesus in your various activities and daily happenings. He wants to be there and there’s a great reward when we let Him. 


In Christ — Crystal Carroll

Children's Ministry Coordinator