Serve #19 – Joel Hanson



Guest post by Anna Cisewski

A lot can change in 25 years. For Joel Hanson, worship pastor at Church of the Open Door in Maple Grove, MN, this has never been truer. He is a much different man than the kid he was with a talent for music and a need for fame a quarter of a century ago.

In 2004, Joel became the worship leader at Open Door, but he didn’t quite feel like he fit. To him, his job was to “sing in front of a large group of people and be good at it.” But he discovered that being a worship leader went far beyond the stage and the microphone. He needed to be a pastor, a shepherd.

After three years working at Open Door, Joel’s life seemed to be unraveling. After a series of poor and hurtful choices, the church leaders sat down with him and gave him the option to resign. He left.

But the next day, something happened that surprised him and in the years to come became more significant: the lead pastor, Dave Johnson, called him to ask how he was doing. Suddenly Joel realized that what he had expected of the church simply wasn’t true. He wasn’t ostracized or rejected because he had failed. Dave told Joel that he just couldn’t imagine “not being around the fire of life” without him. So instead of abandoning Joel to the humiliation of being released from a church, he was pulled back in.

“[They] helped me, not put myself back together, because those parts weren’t going to work anymore, but they helped me figure out what I was meant for.”

And then they hired him back. Instead of creating a safe distance, the church asked him to serve with them again. And throughout all of that, they redeemed Joel’s perception of what the church really is.

Now, almost ten years after the second time he was hired as worship pastor at Church of the Open Door, he fulfills his job very differently. Now, he views himself as a shepherd; a leader with the opportunity to partner with other people and equip them to use the profound impact that they have within the church and take it out to their communities.

Joel serves because to him, it’s not about the performance or the fame that he had when he was younger. It’s about the fact that there is a beautiful story in the hope he shares every day.

“I’d rather be known for being a normal human than have to continually prove that I’m someone else. Because God works in the ordinary and that’s the story I just can’t get away from anymore. It doesn’t matter who I’m talking to, it’s always true. And to me, that’s the most beautiful part about the Good News, is that is happens everywhere.”

Twenty-five years ago, Joel thought he had to hide behind himself and his music. But now, he doesn’t carry that burden, he feels like a free man. Even in a church, where so many seem to feel the need to put on a clean face and a clean shirt to be accepted, the real and messy parts of life are what matter to Joel.

“What if we just showed up as we are, because that’s the only thing we actually can be and that’s the only place where good can actually happen.”

Have you been exhausting yourself by trying to hide? Take a note from Joel Hanson, tell your real story. You might be surprised by how healing and freeing it can be.

Best wishes,

Shawn Nielsen

Mobile. 612.750.2593

Studio. 763.498.7375





            “Tell Your Story”


Posted on December 20, 2016, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Dear Shawn,

    Your story about Joel reminds me of a similar story about Richie Sherber, who was a young man…he was actually running from the Lord many years ago. He now heads up Teen Challenge in Minneapolis. Thank you for sharing your story and HAPPY NEW YEAR to you and your sweet family.

    Love, Grandma Janice

  2. What a powerful story! Artfully and beautifully told. Thanks for telling it! And thanks, Joel, for sharing the lessons you’ve learned along the way.

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