Ethan Bunce understands that the most effective ministry relies on the Gospel as its source of power. This has led him to share Christ in the most unexpected of places, from a night market held in the church to his local Waffle House at 2:30 a.m. A Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary graduate, he holds a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies and a master’s degree in divinity – both of which he has used to live an unpredictably holy life.
This year, Bunce is recognized as Grace Seminary’s Alumni of the Year. This award is given to a seminary alumnus under 40 years old who has made significant contributions in ministry. Once you hear his zeal for sharing the Gospel, you’ll understand why.
Bunce grew up in Brownsburg, Indiana. As a child, he knew Grace Seminary as the school in Winona Lake where his father taught as a professor.
Though he initially attended Grace College as a nursing student, an encounter with a passionate chapel speaker sparked in him a desire to pursue vocational ministry. Halfway through his sophomore year, he switched his major to biblical studies and began his master’s degree in divinity through the seminary’s accelerated master’s program.
His classes changed drastically after the switch, exposing him to professors who inspired his spiritual and theological growth. Bunce especially remembers enjoying Exploring the Bible, which he took under Pastor Kip Cone, lead pastor of Winona Lake Grace Church.
While earning his degrees, Bunce grew concerned with how he’d pay for his education. He and Jael, his wife, prayed for provision so Bunce could finish out his master’s degree in divinity. Not too long after, he received a phone call from Marysville Grace Chuch in Ohio.
“I had never heard of Marysville, Ohio, in my entire life,” said Bunce. “But they told me that they were looking for a pastor, and someone had recommended me for their residency. If I took the position, they’d pay for my M. Div degree.”
Bunce couldn’t fathom who had recommended him to a church in a town he had never heard of, much less visited. He and Jael soon learned exactly who recommended him, and why.
About six months prior, Bunce heard of a student who had memorized the entire book of James. Inspired by her devotion to Scripture, he and Jael asked her to record a video for Grace’s Day of Worship. The night of the recording, they welcomed her into their home for dinner and a meaningful conversation.
That student turned out to be the daughter of Marysville Grace’s children’s director. While visiting her parents one weekend, she saw a board in the church containing the names of possible residency candidates. Recalling Bunce’s kindness and preaching ability as student body chaplain, she asked to write his name on the list. Her thoughtfulness secured Bunce the job.
“It just goes to show that the Lord works in amazing ways,” said Bunce. “And that you should always be kind – you never know when your name will end up on a whiteboard.”
Bunce accepted the residency while completing his master’s degree in divinity. At Marysville, he joined a church planting team for what would become Bellefontaine Grace Church, about thirty minutes northwest of Marysville. He led worship for Bellefontaine’s monthly services while it was in its initial stages. When the church officially began its weekly services, Bunce completed his residency at Bellefontaine Grace.
The team was concerned that such a young church would not be able to support Bunce permanently after his residency. But by the time he finished the program, the church had grown to 200 people -– enough to provide Bunce with a full-time job.
In 2019, Bunce assumed his current position as an on-staff pastor and pastoral elder. He oversees the church’s Sunday Morning Experience, helping with the worship and tech teams. He also leads the church’s small group ministry and residency program, many of the residents working on the same master’s degree in divinity he completed at Grace.
Now, the church welcomes around 650 people through its doors every Sunday. Bunce marvels at how the Lord has brought about so many dedicated, passionate Christians to Bellefontaine.
“Here’s what I’m convinced of,” said Bunce. “If you take feeble, weak, humbled people before God, and you train them in the Word of God, two things happen. First, the passion for the mission never fails. Second, the world flips upside down.”
For Bunce, the question is not whether to share the good news of Jesus Christ, but how. Over the years, God has challenged him to present His unchanging truth in unexpected ways.
“We try to be conservative in our theology, but progressive in our methods,” said Bunce. “If God gives us an opportunity to push the Gospel forward, we’re going to take it! And we’ll do it with good theology.”
One such opportunity arose in 2020. Bunce attended a conference where he met representatives of Water for Good (WFG), a Christian organization that strives to bring clean, accessible water to the Central African Republic. The workers described to him the country’s urgent need for water.
“I knew that we had seminaries over there, pumping out missionaries to spread the Gospel,” said Bunce. “But locals weren’t even living long enough to hear the message! One in six people were not reaching the age of five just because they didn’t have water.”
Bunce felt pressed to support the organization. With the team in Bellefontaine, he brainstormed the idea of a night market. He solicited volunteers to sell pottery, woodworking, candles, and other homemade goods for the cause.
“I thought that if we worked together, we could use the market to raise money to support WFG, evangelize the church community, bring people into the building, and grow as a team,” said Bunce.
By all accounts, the night market was a huge success, raising a total of 90,000 dollars over two nights. WFG used the earnings to provide a village of 3,000 people access to clean, safe water.
Since then, the night market has amassed a total of more than 200,000 dollars, and Bellefontaine has expanded the list of causes that the proceedings support.
As a leader in the church, Bunce not only enjoys the triumphs of events like the night market, but he grapples with the disappointments in the church’s everyday life. Not too long ago, he grew disillusioned with the number of people shirking church attendance and breaking away from small groups. He felt powerless watching people grow indifferent.
“So I talked to the Lord, and I talked to my wife,” said Bunce. “That’s always a good combo. When I told Jael that I felt these problems were becoming predictable, she asked me if I had done anything unpredictable lately. Unpredictably holy.”
Jael’s question struck a chord in Bunce. He realized that the answer to predictable apathy was unpredictable holiness. And since then, God has given Bunce several opportunities to live out the phrase. For instance, one night, driving his friend home after small group, Bunce felt the Lord call him to an act equally unpredictable and holy. Instead of dropping him off at his address, Bunce asked his friend to accompany him to Waffle House. The two talked about faith and difficulties until 2:30 in the morning.
Bunce also leads what the church calls “One Night, One Book,” in which members read through an entire book of the Bible in one night. On the first night, the group read through Matthew in two-and-a-half hours.
It was Jael’s advice that sparked the phrase “unpredictable holiness.” According to Bunce, her support has made all the difference in his ministry work and her own. Recently, Jael became director of women’s ministry at Bellefontaine.
Side by side, the Bunces have witnessed first-hand the glory God brings to Himself through one person armed with the Gospel.
“You have to love on people where they’re at and give them the Word of God,” said Bunce. “If you do that, and you say, ‘Hey, this is it! We’ve found Him! We’ve found the true, living God!’, it is unbelievable the amount of cool things you get to do.”
Learn more about Grace Seminary’s master’s degree in divinity.