Brent and Kristin Morris (founders) are the executive director and managing director of set apart, a creative arts ministry with a discipling focus. Part 2 of their story will be posted Monday, Nov. 10.
Brent Morris was studying art and playing football at William Jewell when a friend pulled him aside, telling him that she had heard a sermon recently and thought it was for him. She said, “No one would ever doubt your work ethic in the art room or on the football field, but you have a spiritual potential, and you’re not living up to it.”
“I still get goose bumps remembering that, because no one would have ever doubted me not leaving it all in the art room or on the football field. Jesus Christ was not the coach I wanted to let down,” Brent said.
Hearing from God wasn’t a new thing for Brent. A strong faith had been instilled in him by his mother and her family, and he was just 4 years old when he first heard God say He had a plan and a purpose for him. But later in his childhood, Brent felt set apart in a negative way because of the dysfunction caused in his home by generational alcoholism on his father’s side. He knew he was supposed to be an artist, but he didn’t take art classes or prepare for an artist’s life. Instead, sports became an outlet for the pain he felt at home.
But in college, not long after his friend’s challenge regarding his spiritual potential, Brent badly injured his ankle playing a pick-up game of basketball, which kept him from playing football for 6 months. He then threw all of the passion he had been using for sports into the art room. His teachers noticed his new dedication and helped him find an apprenticeship with a well-known artist. This injury was the catalyst to his art career.
Brent’s wife, Kristin, journeyed toward faith and creativity in a far different way. She received much of her faith training from her dad, and her mother encouraged her creativity by teaching her how to sew and crochet. Even so, Kristin never saw herself as a particularly creative person.
In college, however, Kristin worked for a wedding photographer who had a daughter in college. He was continuously asked to take photographs for her sorority but didn’t have the time, so he encouraged Kristin to take the opportunity to make some money. He offered to teach her how to take photographs if she bought her own camera, and she accepted his offer.
“Funny enough, that’s how I met Brent,” Kristin said with a laugh.
A mutual friend – the same friend, in fact, who had called Brent out for not using his spiritual potential – told Kristin there was a need at William Jewell for a party pic photographer. Kristin sent an inquiry, and Brent hired her.
Eventually, Brent and Kristin married, and Brent took a job working for Hallmark.
“I was paid very well, had some amazing opportunities…the coolest thing about Hallmark is working with this menagerie of talent that is just incredible. There aren’t many places like that for creatives. I loved my job, and I had no reason to leave,” Brent said.
But then he entered a period of “holy discontent.” No matter how much he fasted, prayed, or shared with friends and family members, he couldn’t find the contentment he’d had before.
Kristin knew her husband was unhappy. “He kept saying, ‘Just three more months’ – but he said that for three years.”
Years before, Brent had felt a calling from God to “feed His sheep,” as it says in the Gospel of John, but he didn’t know what that meant. Finally, he heard some clarification.
“God said, ‘You need to stop focusing on product and start focusing on people. You need to help people do what I created them to do.’”
After hearing those words, Brent felt he was finally ready to resign from Hallmark, and an idea was birthed for a ministry involving creativity, discipleship, and helping people discover what they were made to do. But Kristin wasn’t yet sure of that calling.
“[Brent] always hears from God way before I do,” she said.
“That can cause problems,” Brent added. “But I’ve learned to wait [until she hears too].”
“Most of my fears were from a financial perspective,” she said. “I didn’t know how we were going to do this. Brent had been through financial struggles as a child and knew it was hard, but totally possible. This was new territory for me.”
Then they saw pieces fall into place, as Hallmark management arranged for Brent to take a 3-month sabbatical with the promise that his job would be waiting at the end, if he still wanted it. With that safety net in place, Kristin felt more comfortable with the idea, and her confidence grew as she noticed the difference in Brent’s mindset.
“I just saw in him this massive release of a burden—” she began.
“You used to say you got your husband back,” Brent interjected.
“That’s how I felt,” Kristin said, with a nod.
So, for the next three months, they prayed and sought advice. About a third of the people they talked to said, “You’re crazy.” Another third were afraid to say anything. And the final third merely said, “Well, if anyone could do it, you could.” Most counseled Brent and Kristin to do this new ministry only part-time, since that would be safer and more practical.
Brent and Kristin decided part-time might be the best idea. But when they met with two close friends to tell them of their decision, their friends looked at them and didn’t say anything.
“Tell us,” Brent and Kristin urged, realizing their silence indicated something was wrong.
“God didn’t call you to give 60%,” their friends told them. “He called you to give 100%. If you go part-time, you will cut the blessing of set apart. It will still exist, but it will not be what it was supposed to be.”
Their words struck both Brent and Kristin hard, as they realized God was speaking through their friends. Kristin still worried some about the future, thinking of their two kids, their car payments, their house – but she had also paid attention to the way everything had worked out so far.
“I saw things happen that didn’t seem possible, and I knew that God was behind it,” she said. “This is not something I would typically do – ever. But I knew God was saying ‘go.’”
And so, Brent and Kristin took the first step toward a ministry that would be just as set apart as they had discovered themselves to be.
Brent and Kristin’s story will continue next Monday. In the meantime, if you have a question, comment, or encouragement for Brent or Kristin, click here. To see the needs they have listed as prayer requests, click here. To give to set apart, click here.