Jim and Janet Visbeek graduated from Northwest/ACTS in April 2006. They both earned the MA in Christian Studies, but Janet’s focus was in Chaplaincy. Dawne, one of their daughters, also graduated in April 2005 with the Master of Counseling degree. Jim is the Managing Director of Cedar Springs Retreat Centre, Sumas, Washington. They have three married children – Dawne, Aaron and Renee.
Jim, what led you and Janet to attend Seminary?
I was managing a large regional electrical and automation distributor in Bellingham, Washington. Every summer, Janet and I with our family attend conferences at Cannon Beach, Oregon. In 2002 the speaker challenged the audience to get off the curb and into the parade with respect to Christian life and ministry. God used that time to speak to me and encouraged me to start thinking about getting more involved in Christian service in some way. Without my knowledge Janet felt the same urging.
That same summer our daughter Dawne graduated from Moody Bible Institute in Counseling. She wanted to take a graduate program in counseling and applied to ACTS. When we shared what we thought God was urging us to do, she told us about ACTS and encouraged us to consider applying to seminary. So we decided to check it out.
We had not set vocational goals, but wanted to be obedient to God’s leading, unsure of how it all would turn out. So we applied to the MA in Christian Studies and were accepted. We wanted to be ready for whatever God might have us do.
Jim, you have been an entrepreneur for most of your adult life. How did you find the fit between your business experience and preparing in seminary for potential ministry leadership? What adjustments were necessary?
Yes, the adjustments were immense. I had to maintain my business throughout my seminary studies in order to support my family. Janet has a passion for Christian history and so she took to the studies naturally. For me, the move from the business context to the graduate classroom required greater energy and transformation. It required a different way of thinking – and writing papers!
Time management became critical. The first semester we both took four courses – we soon discovered that was a plateful! Yet, God enabled us to get through, but we moderated the pace during the ensuing semesters.
In some areas of study I found the relationship between business and ministry leadership quite similar. For example, in business I had to deal with a lot of conflict resolution and in seminary one of my courses dealt with conflict resolution and my internship that same semester involved me in conflict resolution work within a Christian agency. What I discovered was that the spiritual dimensions of conflict resolution in ministry contexts shaped the process and dynamics quite differently from my business experience.
We did the entire program part-time and through it all God marvelously enabled us to balance business, family, church, and seminary. The challenges were great, but God’s grace was sufficient. All five of our family were in college or grad school at the same time, so when we were all together, we would all compare our various studies.
Janet, what led you into chaplaincy?
When I began seminary, I had no inkling that I would select the chaplaincy option. My natural interests were in history and theology. I loved those subjects. In one of my Christian Leadership Development courses, my mentor happened to be a volunteer community support officer for the local 911 call centre. For one of my assignments I shadowed him in this work and discovered that I could minister in situations of personal trauma and death. So I followed this lead and found God opening up a whole new world of ministry opportunity. It was transforming for me.
Since you both were attending seminary together, how did this enrich the experience?
First, we are grateful for the spousal discount that reduced the overall costs substantially. Second, we discovered that our study patterns were quite different, but complementary. The papers we wrote when we took the same courses were very different. However, we could work through questions and issues together. Third, because our learning styles are quite different, we discerned different things in the courses.
After finishing Seminary, how did God lead you into your current roles?
When we graduated, we were still uncertain about the specific ministry situation that God might have for us. Initially we considered various opportunities for pastoral ministry. However, none of these seemed to be the right fit. Several months after graduation God directed us to the position of managing director at Cedar Springs Retreat Centre. As we interviewed for the role, prayed about it and considered our gifting and experience, this role seemed to provide a wonderful opportunity to blend business experience with pastoral ministry. We began serving in this role in Summer 2007. The longer we serve in this position the more it seems that this is what God was preparing us for many years ago.
Janet has the opportunity to work with staff, praying and encouraging them. She is a staff cheerleader, giving people hope. As well, she volunteers three or four twenty-four hour shifts each month as the support officer for the 911 emergency system in our area. This enables her to offer spiritual guidance for people in difficult, often life-threatening situations.
You are now leaders in the Cedar Springs ministry. Tell us about your vision for this ministry.
Cedar Springs desires to nurture Christian character and enrich the church by offering a peaceful, natural environment for adult discipleship. We want to fulfill this mission. And so we hope to expand our ability, for example, to help pastors who need a quiet space for restoration and recovery. Perhaps God will enable us to provide some programs that will strengthen marriages or help with parenting issues. Maybe we could offer some workshops on organizational leadership. We are also able to help fill in on Sundays for pastors in the area that need a break in pulpit supply. We are open to God’s direction here. We know there will be rich possibilities.
As you reflect back on your seminary experience in the context of the Cedar Springs ministry, can you discern general or specific ways in which your education through Northwest/ACTS has assisted you in pursuing God’s call?
In my (Jim) case Seminary enabled me to discern what ministry was all about. I had opportunities in my internship to teach, participate in conflict resolution, plan and initiate ministry projects, preach, etc. As I worked in my business, I would be reflecting on how means and methods of ministry were similar to but different from the business world. It also taught me not to be so judgmental. I do not know everything and I must listen to the views of other believers. When I reflect upon the way God led me in business and through seminary, I can see that He has equipped me in special ways to fill my current ministry position at Cedar Springs.
For me (Janet) Seminary opened up the world of chaplaincy. I probably knew it existed before Seminary, but I had no idea that God had gifted me for this ministry. The need to look at culture compassionately was impressed upon me. People are lost; the products of our culture constantly give voice to the pain of this lostness. There is a lot of hurt being expressed and God gave me through the Seminary the heart and skills to respond to these hurts through chaplaincy. As God transformed me through the Seminary experience, even my children noticed the difference.
Many people think that Seminary education only relates to people who are thinking of becoming pastors or missionaries. Obviously, this is not how God has led you, yet He has given you a very significant ministry. Do you think seminary education has relevance for Christians whose calling lies outside these traditional areas of vocational service?
We did not know how God would use us when we began our Seminary training. What we did know was that it was time to get started and to begin our preparation for whatever God had in mind. Seminary became for us the place to acquire understanding, skills, and spiritual depth so that we could serve wherever God would place us. We had to get up off the curb and into the parade and Seminary provided the best way for us to achieve that.
It has been transformational. I (Jim) remember reading the book Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. He challenged me as I was in my late forties to consider seriously what I was going to do with the last twenty years of my life. I was not satisfied with the status quo and this message energized me to seek God’s direction. Today I am filled with a sense of wonder that God has given us this opportunity at Cedar Springs. We would not be in this role today, unless we had taken those first steps several years ago.
Seminary can be a significant place to discern more clearly how God is directing your path and to be equipped to serve Him as clarity is received.