2 Stories, 2 Residents, 1 Life
Daniel and Brooke Norton
By Dave Miller
A few years ago I spoke with a young man on the phone. He was trying to figure out his future and what his next step should be in ministry. I listened to his story and experiences and knew that if he would just stick with it eventually he’d get picked up. The thing I kept reminding him was that great churches are always looking for great people. It came true in the Spring of 2016. This young man was hired at Central Christian Church in the Phoenix area.
“I was convinced that I’d be a preacher someday, and that could still happen,” says Daniel Norton. “But here I am in children’s ministry, and I’m loving it! I think that’s the story of my life. I’m convinced I will do something and then God shows me what I really should do. I am a product of divorce and I could have chosen to give it all up. I could have chosen walk away from the church entirely, but something about Jesus kept bringing me back. The more I tried to leave the church the more they pulled me back in. I just couldn’t shake this feeling that the local church was the hope of the world. And if I wanted to see it succeed I had to get on the inside of it. If I wanted it to look more like Jesus I had to pursue leading it forward.”
It was in high school when Brooke received her calling. “I had grown up with a woman pastor. My whole church supported me in my calling. It was at a high school conference where the speaker on stage was talking about surrender. I couldn’t shake that nagging feeling that I needed to do this with my life. Surrender for me meant pursuing ministry. That’s why I’m in Student Ministries. Trying to show young women that they too have a purpose in the Kingdom of God. They too are called to lead. They too are called to minister. I’ve never once questioned my calling and I want that same thing for young women in the church!”
Coming from different backgrounds, one common thread of Brooke and Daniel’s preparation was an 11-month residency experience. “Duane Boyett, who was then leading the residency program at Central Christian Church, came to campus one week to recruit students,” says Brooke. “I heard about a great program that would complement my education and truly prepare me for what was coming in ministry.”
Brooke took a leap of faith and applied for the program and sure enough was accepted! She moved to Arizona a year ahead of Daniel to pursue this leadership program. She spent her time working in Student Ministries during her residency. “It’s a challenge. Obviously, the culture here is different than where we are from in the Midwest, but students need Jesus, they need community, they need to know there’s hope. This is the same no matter where you find yourself,” she says.
Married in the summer of ’15 Daniel followed Brooke to spend 11 months working as a Children’s Ministry/Campus Pastor resident. It was during that time that he realized Children’s Ministry isn’t all that different from his original plans. “It’s like leading your own little church, with smaller people. I still have worship, greeting, small groups, and teaching opportunities. I think Children’s Ministry is the front lines of the church. Most of my time is spent with adults figuring out how to build better families that create build a better future. Children are the family leaders of tomorrow, so if we build better families now they’ll create better families in the future.”
The Nortons are always on the lookout for the ‘younger version’ of themselves who could be interested in the adventure that local church ministry provides. “We both had people who called ministry out of us when we were students,” recalls Brooke, “They pushed us to get out there and lead. That we just needed to follow Jesus and we could actually do ministry. The residency experience we had is key to where we are today in our leadership and jobs.”
“If you’re going to do ministry, then you need to get out there and actually experience it. Leadership is theorized in classroom, but it learned in everyday practice,” says Daniel. These first few years of experience in ministry have been the key to fan the flames of leadership and discipleship for them. It has helped them to realize that they actually can do this with their lives.
“It’s important to start off your first few years of ministry in great churches, because that’ll launch the rest of your career,” says Brooke. “Great churches are both big and small that are passionate about Jesus and developing younger generations to lead. If you learn to lead well early on, you’ll be launched forward that much faster.”
When asked where’s this headed? The Nortons agree that while they have visions of ministry effectiveness for years to come, right now they are content to be faithful where they are. “I think Jesus calls to be faithful to right now. When I worry about the future I start to get discontent and loose focus on what I’m doing now. I have to trust that God is directing my current reality for where he wants my future go,” said Daniel. “We’re still learning what it means to be married and in ministry together. If we just focus on Jesus right now, he’ll prepare us for what is to come,” adds Brooke.