Character: Nate Shipley

I want to, in a series of post, introduce the main characters that make up the Columba community. I’ll begin with one of the key leaders and the founder, Nate Shipley. This is how I introduced him in my book:

God had been doing a work. Nate joined in on part of that—just a part, even if he seemed to be the leader. It was God’s work, with the Holy Spirit bringing amazing people to join in, making the community go way beyond anything Nate had imagined five years before. Back then, he left his job at Crestview Community Church to become a janitor at a downtown restaurant and began to serve in a leadership role for a new kind of Christian community hosted at the same location.

So much had happened. After thirty years of being a Christian, ten of these in full-time ministry, Nate truly met Jesus in the context of this very non-traditional Christian community. His heart felt open and free; he even felt relaxed in his work even though so much required his attention. Instead of feeling as if life pressed down on him, he felt life provided opportunities to celebrate. He also knew it was the Spirit’s work, not his own. Even after all the time since leaving that old world behind, his heart felt strangely warm.

He felt more than his own excitement. And the feeling went deeper than the large, half-finished mug of French roast sitting beside him could provide. God really works. To be sure, more than his emotions changed with this christological encounter. While he never wore a suit and tie in his ministry work, he certainly did affect the casual pastor’s look for a long while. Back when he persevered in traditional churches he owned quite a collection of Dockers and polo shirts to go with his short—but not too short—conservatively combed hair.

Now? He shaved once a week or so, if he remembered, mostly because of the itching. He wore his hair longer, finding a scattered wavy pattern that seemed to change style every day. Mostly he wore jeans on cold days and shorts on hot days, almost always with his Tevas. He no longer owned any polos. A collection of T-shirts reflected his mood day by day—some with art, some with cartoons, some just a solid color or a curious design. He became familier with the thrift stores within walking distance. Every so often he gathered the shirts he hadn’t worn in a while and traded them in.

He stood taller than average, a little over six feet, but his waistline lost a few inches. Thirty pounds makes a difference. This new life led to better dietary habits. Nate lost his house and his fiancée. This road to finding peace occasionally frustrated, confused, and angered him. It involved giving up so much and taking up so much. The hours of prayer and study and conversation seemed endless. He sacrificed time and energy with almost entirely no practical benefit— except for the joy.
Maybe there’s really nothing more practical than joy.

Every character has a history and every character has a struggle. For Nate, he finds himself feeling dry, not spiritually as much as in ministry. He isn’t quite sure he has a continuing vision for his role and thinks maybe he should plant a church elsewhere. Where does one find the renewed calling of God in life? Here, there? Nate doesn’t have the answer. But conversations with others in his community help him find the Spirit’s counsel.

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