brian valley stands in front of bethany community church

Brian Valley ’15 wasn’t planning to be a pastor when he first enrolled at Seattle Pacific University. He didn’t major in theology.

Instead, he studied international affairs as a political science major and minored in history, hoping to work for an international nonprofit organization.

Yet Valley quickly found himself intrigued by his required theology classes and started taking theology electives in addition to his required major and minor coursework. Today, he is director of youth ministry at the Green Lake location of Bethany Community Church, a 103-year-old Seattle congregation with six campuses in the Seattle area.

“He is mature, deeply faithful and consistent in his relationship to Jesus,” said Professor Emeritus of Educational Ministry Ed Smyth. “I was impressed with his openness and desire to be faithful to whatever it was that God wanted for him in life.”

brian valley

Valley’s experience his junior year as a Peer Advisor, now called a Resident Advisor, on Fifth Hill clarified his sense of calling to ministry. The journey to recognize his vocation took place in a yearlong small group with Smyth, one of 29 such groups Smyth led while on faculty.

At Smyth’s encouragement, Valley told the group’s 11 other men that he was considering ministry as a vocation. To Valley’s surprise, no one was even the slightest bit shocked. We know, they responded. It’s been obvious for a while.

In today’s world of social media and technology, being a teenager is increasingly more complicated, with increased isolation, anxiety and social pressure.

Smyth said Valley’s faith is apparent in his work and relationships. “He is smart. He knows why he believes what he believes and lives out that belief commitment in his day. That is the kind of person who does incredible things for the Kingdom of God.”

Valley has attended Bethany since his first quarter at SPU. The church’s senior pastor, Richard Dahlstrom ’79, also found Bethany  after moving to Seattle to attend SPU.

Valley began working at Bethany with a full-time youth ministry internship after graduation. When he accepted his current director position in May 2018, he was pursuing a Master of Divinity at Duke Divinity School, and decided to finish his degree online through Fuller Theological Seminary.

“We want to minister to these students where they are in their lives: in their neighborhoods, at their track meet, at their band concert, at school, and at church,” Valley said.

In today’s world of social media and technology, being a teenager is increasingly more complicated, with increased isolation, anxiety and social pressure. A federal report from 2016 reveals that the suicide rate among U.S. middle school students doubled from 2007 to 2014, and suicide now claims more lives than car crashes. Generation Z, people born between 1995 and 2010, reported more issues with stress and mental health than any other generation, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2018 Stress in America survey.

“We want to minister to these students where they are in their lives: in their neighborhoods, at their track meet, at their band concert, at school, and at church,” Valley said. He wants students to encounter God in all aspects of their lives, not just on Sunday.

One of Valley’s earliest memories of Seattle Pacific is hearing from Professor Emeritus of English Luke Reinsma about the SPU approach to Christian education. “Our worldview, which includes our faith, is like a house,” he remembered Reinsma saying. It’s a house built of many different components and materials.

brian valley stands on the staircase

“You don’t disassemble it and leave college students confused, uncertain, and wondering,” Valley said. Instead, the goal is “to take apart the pieces of that structure, look at them, and consider: Where do I come from? What do I believe? What experiences are shaping me and the world around me: the context of my culture and different aspects of my identity?”

During that process, he said, “maybe you realize some of the pieces weren’t made from the best material. You can rebuild the structure with a more solid foundation, but still have many of those core pieces. We don’t throw away everything we grew up with.”

This is what Valley experienced in SPU’s honors program, University Scholars, where he met some of his closest friends, and it’s also how theology professors approach the University Foundations courses, which every student is required to take.

“The Church has the opportunity to offer something that is real and certain,” Valley said. “The resurrection is coming. We’re people who know the end of the story. Our world needs that hope.”

What sticks in Valley’s mind is this paraphrase of something he read in seminary: Are you an optimist or a pessimist? I’m neither. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

Being a Christian doesn’t blind Valley to the pain and injustice in our present world. He doesn’t always expect happy endings on this side of God’s creation. Yet Christ’s resurrection gives him hope and motivates his ministry work.

“The Church has the opportunity to offer something that is real and certain,” Valley said. “The resurrection is coming. We’re people who know the end of the story. Our world needs that hope.”

brian valley sits at a table

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