Shawn Oswalt was always eager for real-life experience with urban ministry. A pastoral residency program at Awakening Church of Colorado Springs, Colorado offered him the chance to engage in real ministry—but he never imagined the risks they’d joyfully take for his growth.
Shawn knows his passion is urban senior pastoral ministry. He finished his last year of classes from rural Oklahoma Wesleyan University online in order to church plant in Anchorage, Alaska. When he heard about Awakening Church’s residency program, he jumped at the opportunity. Awakening Church is one of the few that offers a senior pastor residency, and its urban setting is an added bonus.
Awakening Church is deeply committed to mentoring pastors. When Shawn arrived in 2013, the congregation was no more than 400 but hosted multiple resident pastors, each in a specific area of ministry.
Even more impressive is its intentionality in mentoring each of its new pastors. The residency at Awakening Church is a 2-year program, with the first 90 days set aside for the church and the new resident to get to know one another. Shawn describes that initial adjustment time as critical in framing his next two years. Upon arrival, Lead Pastor Kevin Goos took initiative to understand Shawn’s passions and craft a plan to maximize his residency.
After 90 days, Shawn immersed into the ministries of the lead pastor role, from service planning to weddings to board meetings. Before long, Kevin trusted Shawn with leadership of a Saturday night service, and scheduled him to preach to the Sunday morning congregation several times a year.
Kevin’s trust surprised Shawn. “I’m not your prototypical pastor type,” laughs Shawn, referring to his tattooed right arm and gauge ear piercings. “Kevin took a risk in letting me lead.”
The risk paid off. Through his residency, Shawn gained clarity for his calling to senior pastoral ministry. When he first left OKWU, he was drawn to the excitement of church planting. Reflecting on his time in Anchorage, Shawn realized, “Church planting was a selfish desire for me. I wanted to start fresh, without the baggage and history of a church.”
At Awakening Church, God rekindled Shawn’s passion for the existing church community. He experienced the messiness of congregational ministry, but also the joy of leadership. Under Kevin’s discipleship, God confirmed Shawn’s call to senior pastoral ministry.
Now in the final month of his residency, Shawn offers advice to students looking for a program: “Look for a church that’s willing to take the risk to help you grow. It’s important to have a pastor who’s going to be in your corner 100% of the time, allowing you to fail but also picking you back up.”
For him, that’s lead pastor Kevin, whose trust called Shawn to high standards but also provided grace for his mistakes.
Shawn knew his calling was senior pastoral ministry. He hopes other students who feel that call seek out their ministry passion. “Most students out of college go into youth or worship ministry residencies. But if your passion is for senior pastoral ministry, go after it.”
Shawn doesn’t know what the future holds, but he suspects it will involve congregational ministry in an urban setting. His story testifies to the value of passion and perseverance, and the discipleship of a pastor who considered him worth many risks.”
Gabriela Garver is a staff writer for Education and Clergy Development. Recently returned from a year studying in Istanbul, Turkey, Gabriela is finishing her undergrad degree in International Relations at Indiana Wesleyan University. After graduation, she hopes to work with refugee resettlement. When she’s not writing, Gabriela enjoys walks, talks, and road trips.