Part of the shared mission of Charis Fellowship churches is training leaders. While there are a variety of ways to do this, many Charis churches utilize hands-on ministry training through internships and residencies as a central tool for preparing young leaders for future ministry.
Joel Zook is one pastor who benefited from this model of training. He was the first person to complete the two-year residency program at Grace Polaris Church in Westerville, Ohio, serving from 2019–2021. Prior to his residency, he received a bachelor’s degree and Master of Divinity from Grace College and Seminary.
As part of the residency program, Joel was mentored and shepherded by the pastoral staff in specific areas of ministry. He worked most closely with Zac Hess, who serves as the training pastor and oversees the internship and residency program.
“During his residency, Joel had the opportunity to explore and discuss various aspects of the local church ministry,” Zac said. “His teaching, shepherding, and leading gifts grew, and he became more confident as a pastor.”
During his second year of the residency, Joel had the opportunity to preach frequently at Southview Grace Brethren Church, a Charis Fellowship church about an hour north of Grace Polaris in Ashland, Ohio. The former pastor of Southview, Mark Abel, was transitioning into a full-time role as the executive director of Keep an Eye to the Sky Ministries and Grace Polaris partnered with Southview Grace to provide pastoral leadership during the transition.
Joel said, “The residency provided the perfect transition between seminary training and full-time pastoral ministry. It helped round out my formal education while giving me the space to discern giftedness and sharpen ministry skills.”
Because of the wide array of ministry experiences he had during his residency, Joel was well equipped to step into a full-time lead pastor role. In September 2021 Joel accepted the position of lead pastor at Southview Grace and his family relocated to Ashland. Southview Grace was founded more than 60 years ago, originally as a second location of what is today Grace Church in Ashland, until it became an autonomous congregation years later. It was founded with the goal of reaching people with the Gospel on the other side of town. Throughout the decades, led by a long line of faithful pastors, Southview Grace has been fueled by that desire to make disciples of Jesus.
Over the past year, Joel has sought to lead the church in fulfilling their mission of pointing people toward Jesus. Specific ministries at the church offer age-appropriate gatherings where everyone from young kids to senior citizens can engage in Bible study and community.
“We truly believe that Jesus changes lives,” Joel said. “We love providing a variety of avenues for people of all ages and backgrounds to encounter Christ in His Word and be transformed by it.”
Southview Grace works to fulfill their mission outside of their church walls as well. They have recently launched two new ministries to reach different parts of their community. The first is an outreach called The Table where Ashland University students and young adults are invited to the church for a home cooked meal and time of fellowship. The second is English as a Second Language classes, offered in partnership with Grace Church.
Two long-term ministries of Southview Grace are Honor Bus and Wifflefest. Honor Bus, led by Southview Grace member Elaine Hess, is a ministry that takes veterans to Washington D.C. to visit the war memorials. Wifflefest is a Fourth of July community event in Ashland that has been going strong since it began in 1999. The festival is hosted by the church and consists of a multi-day Wiffleball tournament, sometimes with more than 100 teams participating.
Joel said, “I walked away from the residency with greater confidence to lead God’s people, a deeper love for the local church, and a wealth of pastoral relationships. I’ll forever be grateful for Grace Polaris Church’s investment in me, my family, and, by extension, those I have the privilege of shepherding today.”