Grace College Akron…A Ministry Degree Sweeter Than Chocolate!
Grace College Akron, a church-centered ministry training program has its share of interesting stories. Sometimes the path to full-time ministry isn’t what you would expect. How does one go from a chocolate bar character to a first-year Bachelor of Biblical Studies major? Read on to find out!
A Costume to Remember
Some people enjoy the simplicity of wearing a uniform. For Zach Shaffer, his uniform was a candy bar costume, “Nutrageous.” He wore this every day during his three years at Hersheypark, a chocolate theme park in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
Zach took the job at Hersheypark because of his struggles with social anxiety. He hoped that the constant interaction with guests would help him develop interpersonal skills that would equip him for life. But the costume became an obstacle to his success; “In some ways, it was easier to get lost in the costume and not be yourself,” he said. But Zach didn’t let the character hinder him in his goals.
Taking Off the Chocolate Mask
During his time at Hersheypark, Zach discovered ways to connect with people beyond his character’s role. He enjoyed the time he had to take off his mask and become a park guide, which forced him “to get comfortable in his own skin rather than the skin of the character he played.” Through this, Zach learned that he couldn’t hide behind a mask of chocolate forever.
As Zach stepped out of his comfort zone, he became so adept at customer interaction that he was promoted to a character and guide trainer. This promotion allowed him to give feedback and handle confrontation. As he began to overcome his social anxiety, he became more comfortable in settings with a diverse audience.
So how did Zach go from candy bar character to Biblical Studies major? In his free time during his park days, he was pursuing another passion — his relationship with Jesus Christ.
Momentum to Switch Paths
In 2019, Zach traded his costume for a Momentum Conference t-shirt and traveled with his local church as a leader with the youth group. Momentum is a national conference for high school students who gather for one week to grow their relationship with Jesus through guest speakers, worship concerts, and prayer time. Historically, this conference is fertile ground for youth to answer the call to full-time vocational ministry.
This is how it went for Zach:
While working at Hersheypark, he was attending a community college to pursue a career as a video game developer. Even though he hated the math and the coding classes, he was sure of this path. But during the last evening of the youth conference, an elder from his church asked Zach if he had ever considered becoming a youth pastor. The question came as a surprise to Zach.
“It was a light-switch sort of a moment, and for the next 24 hours, it was all I could think about. The next day, I’d made up my mind. I needed to dump everything and make a switch!” Zach said.
Grace College Akron
In the coming days, Zach reached out to his friend Kaitlyn Black who was attending the Grace College Akron program.
Zach learned from Kaitlyn that Grace College Akron is connected to Grace Church, a network of six church campuses in the area. GCA students are given ample opportunity to volunteer and gain experience working in a church while simultaneously pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies. This opportunity for experience, coupled with an education provided by professors who are practitioners creates an extremely compelling program.
On top of that, a Grace College Akron degree is available for $10,000 a year, and the program seeks to help students graduate with as little debt as possible. For Zach, this was an opportunity he “just couldn’t pass up!”
After talking about Kaitlyn’s experiences and answering Zach’s questions, they spent some time in prayer. “I have never experienced a movement like that from the Holy Spirit,” Zach reported. “I knew immediately that GCA was my calling.”
Zach has no specific destination in mind after graduation, but he’s certain that being a youth pastor will be his vocation; and lucky for him — this audience likes a pastor who will wear a costume from time to time.
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