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Five years ago, my wife Donna and I invested our entire nest egg into buying an old farm in Brutus, MI. We refurbished the old barn, and created a young adult ministry, because there wasn’t one in the area. It turned out almost exactly like we pictured it, but then when it was still in its infancy, Emmet County shut us down. It was actually quite ugly, and they threatened to condemn the property if we even had a bible study in the farmhouse.

“The Barn” in its heyday…

So now, rather than the vibrant ministry we hoped to launch, Donna and I have a mountain of debt, a second property to pay taxes on, and a really nice barn we’re not allowed to use. It’s really easy to feel angry, foolish, and defeated.


The young adults who were part of the fledgling ministry did not get shut down. They continued to meet in other locations. They kept meeting for worship music, bible studies, and fellowship. In fact, the core group of people still meet to this day, years after the actual barn was shut down. They still call their group “The Barn”, even though many of the current group members were not around when the actual barn was involved.

Over the past 5 years, 4 couples who met or got their start at the barn have gotten married. One of them is my eldest daughter, the singer in the video clip above. Her and her husband are expecting their first child, and our first grandchild, in September. The group of young adults that got started at our short-lived ministry continues to grow and flourish, even though my wife and I are no longer a part of it at all. Our barn sits empty, but I’m not sure I can consider it a failure.

Our goal when we started The Barn was to create a community of young adults who could grow together, and lean on each other as they transitioned to adulthood. We always intended for the group to take over once it was established. We wanted… exactly what happened. It just wasn’t exactly the way we expected it to happen.

Donna and I can always make more money. We can have a bit less extravagant retirement, which can start a few years later than we intended. Because when we decided to invest everything we had into the lives of the young adults we cared for, our intent was to change their lives, not create a business. And their lives are not only changed, but continue to change new lives who only know “The Barn” as a weird name that references some place they used to meet.

The Barn is both the biggest failure, and largest success we’ve had the pleasure to be involved in. It didn’t turn out like we planned, and yet it also ended up much better than we ever hoped.

Success, it seems, comes in many flavors.

5 thoughts on “Success”

  1. Shawn,

    I have followed your blogs for years, originally starting a decade ago when you public in Linux Journal.

    I think you titled this right, Success. You and your wife gave the spark that started the wildfire, figuratively of course. The ultimate impact that you had on these kids’ lives will be changed for eternity. Looking out from the world, one might look at the barn, not know the back story, and just say what a terrible decision y’all made, but in truth, you have done exactly as commanded. You have gone and been the Church, and now the next generation will and has taken it and continued its growth. Even though things didn’t turn out exactly like you wanted, the Father is using you for his glory. Good job. I hope something can be done with the barn though.

    Congratulations on your first grand baby coming soon.

    Best from your internet friends in Texas

    • You’re incredibly kind, Chris. Thank you so much, truly. It’s easy to get frustrated, and then a “Facebook Memory” showed me the video clip, and it helped me realize that it really was a huge success. Just a short one. 🙂

      And now, we occasionally use the barn for “movie nights” with friends, and my (adult) children will sometimes have little parties with their friends out there, playing video games on the big screen. It’s obviously not the same as when it was an active ministry, but it’s enjoyable to use the space for something.

      OH! And my daughter, the one in the video, got married in the barn. We didn’t even ask Emmet County if it was OK, we just did it. The barn isn’t huge, but it wasn’t a huge wedding. It was the middle of winter, but thanks to all that insulation we put in, and the heater we installed, it was a cozy ceremony. And since that’s where her and her husband met, it was the perfect venue. Again: A success. 🙂

  2. Shawn, I shared my unexpected event with you via email a while back. You actually responded same day which was well.. unexpected but appreciated. Yea I lost everything in the event but I’m now watching so many people benefit from the experience they gained with me over the years. Some even followed me to my new employer which is fantastic. You’re right success is what u make of it.

    • Scott — I do try to reply when folks take the time to message me. And with my new diagnosis and subsequent ADHD medication, I’m a bit better than before. Still, I am so horribly forgetful, I fear I’ve left people hanging more times that not.

      I’m glad to “see” you again though. 🙂

  3. Shawn,

    I’m taken aback—not even a Bible Study in the HOUSE? Our church has several ‘Life Groups’, as we call them, who meet in each other’s homes on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s Bible Study, sometimes it’s sharing prayer and praise. and sometimes, we are just breaking bread and fellowship. I can’t imagine the county, city, township or whatever saying we could not do that–I’m just…wow.

    But God is in everything we do for Him, and I’m glad you call it a ‘Success’. Touching just one person would be a success, but 8 lives were affected in a positive way. Congratulations on the grandchild, our eldest one just stayed 3 days with us. They live an hour and a half away, so we don’t get to see them as much as we would like.

    Enjoy! and may God make His face shine upon you and give you peace.


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