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Alumni Profile: Zac Bush ’13

Alumni Profile: Zac Bush ’13

Zac Bush ’13 (Photo Credit: Cassie Bush ’10)

“You can’t throw a rock without hitting a church,” Zac Bush ’13 says of his hometown of Tyler, Texas, just two hours from Dallas.

But too often, attending one of those churches took a back seat to playing hockey. Bush played in traveling leagues growing up, with games taking the place of youth group. His faith began to deteriorate until it looked like what he learned in seminary is called, “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”—when people believe God wants them to be good, happy, and God will step in to help resolve a problem. Later he got involved with a tough crowd and even tougher lifestyle playing junior hockey after high school, which left his faith hanging by a thread.

A knee injury devastated his goaltending position and made him further question God. “I went through this really dark season,” Bush says. “I was sick of God, just done with Him.” Bush faced the likely end of his hockey career and applied to a few colleges in Texas, but was denied because of a technicality about community college transfer credits.

“I called my dad freaking out—he said to pray about it, and I remember thinking, ‘That’s just fairy tales and pixie dust,’” he says. The next day, Bethel called. “All the other schools had stopped calling, except Bethel. I thought, ‘Maybe I need to pay attention to this.’” At age 20, as a non-traditional student, Bush found himself packing a car and driving north to move into an Arden Village townhouse with five random roommates to play D3 hockey as a Royal.

“Up until then, my friendships were all contingent on my performance—and then there were those crazy Welcome Week-ers. I felt something different. I felt—maybe for the first time—that I was a beloved son of God,” Bush says. “The authenticity I felt at Bethel made me realize, ‘man, these people actually believe this.’”

While playing hockey and grappling with his faith, Bush dove in to campus Bible studies and Dining Center meals with teammates and roommates. “A beautiful thing happened,” he says. “The coaches, my professors, this incredible group of guys—the community aspect of Bethel transformed me.”

He started leading a Bible study as an unofficial Bethel hockey team chaplain, and began to feel an unmistakable call into ministry. He took a summer ministry job at Westwood Community Church in Excelsior, Minnesota. He got involved on campus as the executive director of student ministries, a Shift freshman Bible study leader, and Welcome Week team member. His passion for the student body—and for the hurting in the world—grew more profound, and he began spending countless hours studying the Bible and grappling with tough questions in his mentors’ offices. Biblical and Theological Studies Professor Jim Beilby and Adjunct Associate Professor Dale Durie; then-Assistant Campus Pastor Ross Manders; and Campus Pastor Laurel Bunker had a huge impact on his life.

“Yeah, Aunty Laurel. We’re related,” Bush jokes. “Aunty Laurel” has fond memories of Bush, too. They first met in the CLC Circle, she recalls, when Bush’s Texan accent stuck out from his Minnesotan surroundings.

“The first thing I saw were those cowboy boots!” Bunker says. “I said, ‘Son, where are you from?’ He was always ready with that megawatt smile—and so much kindness and respect for those around him.

“He’s an extraordinary communicator. When he picks up the Word, it just flows out of him,” Bunker says. She and her campus ministries team asked Bush to speak in Chapel twice while he was a student, and the response from his peers was amazing. “We all knew immediately that he would become a pastor.”

As Bush began to define his plans post-college—including marrying his college sweetheart, Cassie (McCullum) Bush ’10—Bunker and the Bethel community watched him come alive and embrace his calling wholeheartedly.

“He was a young man at a crossroads of faith and life—he wanted so badly to make honorable decisions,” Bunker says. “When I think about the best of Bethel, I think of Zac Bush.”

Zac and Cassie got married after graduation and moved back to Texas so Zac could attend seminary. There they became very close to their couples’ small group, walking with them through some tough losses, and learning that ministry isn’t always fun or easy.

“Christian community is not just about discipleship—becoming like Jesus. It’s not some kind of program—there’s this intense, familial dynamic of the Christian body. In the muck and the mire, you cry out to God—but you’re crying out together,” Bush says.

He recalls that in Eugene Peterson’s The Message, John 1 reads, “God became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood,” and that in the New Testament, there are over 60 references to “one another.” It hints at the real, daily, unrelenting type of biblical community—the kind instilled in him at Bethel and developed through his small group in Texas—that Bush hopes to live out in his life and ministry.

“The Church isn’t called to be a battleship or a cruise liner, but a rescue vessel,” says Bush. “I really believe that’s how we’re supposed to live.”

Zac and Cassie moved back to Minnesota, and Zac is finishing his degree at Dallas Theological Seminary while working as pastor of community life at Westwood Community Church. There he gets to walk alongside small groups and individuals in the good and the bad things in life. He and Cassie recently welcomed their first child, Craig David, to their home in Chaska, Minnesota.