Nathan Wheeler: Youth Minister to Army Chaplain

Author: David Davolt
Published on: May 27, 2021

Nathan “Nate” Wheeler has seen the fingerprints of Boise Bible College in all the major events of his life.

Since Nate was young, there was no option in his mind for college but BBC. He grew up in the home of Bruce (BA’78) and Darlene Wheeler. Bruce was a student at BBC when Nate was a toddler. Bruce was chairman of the BBC Board and was in ministry in nearby Emmett. “Dad” would often go into Boise for hospital calls, taking Nate along, and they would usually stop by BBC. Nate got to know most of the faculty and staff on these trips – the Ewings, Andersons, Chamberlains, Cornetts, Fabers, Folkins, Byerlys, McGees, and others.

Emmett Christian Church provided Nate’s earliest church memories. Mark Post led junior church in the basement. Bob Wood (BA’82) taught him voice lessons, which he soon quit because “I wasn’t that good.” Tom Kopp (BA’86) was his youth minister. Tollie Rogers (BS’14) was his best friend.

Bruce applied for and was hired as Senior Minister at Southwest Christian Church in Boise, and the family moved in 1986. Many of the BBC staff attended SWCC, including Charles and Steve Crane, the Ewings, and others. Nate made many friends at SWCC over the years who attended BBC – Tim Benton, the Murphy family, the Macauleys, Kempers, Parkers, Casses, Mark Harris, the Croziers, and Tim Harris. Nate remembers many church league softball games and says SWCC probably had the youngest team in the league.

At Preview in the spring of 1992, Nate preached in the first preaching scholarship competition and was chosen over Dave Christensen (BA’96). Little did he know they would go on to develop a friendship that remains nearly 30 years later. Dave would go on to marry Hester Crow (BS’97),  whom Nate knew from church camps. Dave asked Nate, “Have you thought about Tami Martin? She has that gentle, quiet spirit that God likes.” Not long after, Nate walked out of his dorm, and there was Tami in front of the gym, wearing a purple sweater. She flashed him a smile and turned to walk into the café. Nate and Tami were married in August 1996 in her home church of Vale Christian Church, Vale, OR.

Mark Perry (BS’95) had been Tami’s youth minister in Vale. His Bible knowledge and relatability made him a favorite with the teens and their parents. If not for Mark’s commitment to the youth in Vale, Tami would not have attended BBC.

In 1995, when Steve Crane returned from Lincoln Christian Seminary, Nate shook his hand and said, “Welcome back.” Steve replied, “How’s my new youth minister doing?” This led to Nate being hired part-time at a new church plant called Eagle Christian Church. At first, he had to raise some of his own funds.

Life After Boise Bible College

Nate graduated in 1997 with a BA and Tami in 1996 with an AS degree.  They left in 1997 for grad school at Cincinnati Bible Seminary. At Kenny Beckman’s encouragement, he pursued a degree in Old Testament, wanting to help fill a gap he saw in the church in the areas of archaeology, Hebrew, and Old Testament. He was the grad assistant to Mark Ziese (CBS OT prof) for 1.5 years. He also followed Traber Cass (BA’94) as Associate Minister at the Church of Christ at Delhi, working under Senior Minister (and Old Testament scholar) Jim Lloyd.

In December 1999, Nate completed all his classes for an MDiv in Old Testament. Steve Crane gave him a call, and he and Tami moved back to Idaho. It had been Steve’s and the elders’ plan that they would return to ECC. On January 1, 2000, he started as Associate Minister over youth and small groups. Nate and Tami’s first son, Samuel, was born three months later. Nate found that he gravitated toward small groups. Over the next two years, the student ministry grew from 12 to 60 with student-led groups, and a part-time youth minister, Ben Smith (BA’03), was hired. Ben and Nate led international trips, hosted multi-state youth events, and led local outreaches. Meanwhile, the church’s small groups increased from 6 to 24.

Nate resigned after two years. A year later, he moved to Folsom, CA, working as an intern with Stadia in a church plant called New Song Christian Church, where Dale Borgen was Senior Minister. A month later, Nate and Tami’s second son, Shawn, was born. Nate oversaw the Sunday morning setup crew, which grew from 12 to 30, and the church grew from 200 to 300.

At the end of the year internship, Bob Wood asked Nate to go to Shasta Way Christian in Klamath Falls. Dave Nolte planned to retire, and the elders wanted to transition to a new Senior Minister. In 2004 the move was made. A year later, daughter Bethany was born. The youth ministry grew from 12 students and one volunteer (Scott Carter) to 120 with student-led groups and 5 volunteers, and an emerging youth band. The transition plan at Shasta Way changed, and the Wheelers found themselves back in Boise.

This was a difficult time in their lives. There had been some hurt, and Nate recognizes that many people aren’t sure how to support a person in those circumstances. Once again, BBC was there to help. Mark Harris (BA’93) became a good friend, spending many evenings with Nate and his family, loving the kids, and having many conversations around the fire pit. These times really helped Nate process his pain.

The value of community was exemplified at BBC. The student body was one big family. The professors were approachable and caring. It was this culture that Nate saw both at BBC and with alumni throughout his ministries.

Several friends who were in the military began to encourage Nate to pursue chaplaincy. In 2010, he asked Terry Stine for a letter of recommendation. The next year he received his Ecclesiastical Endorsement from the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. Eight years later, he finally became a chaplain in the Army Reserves. He recently returned from a three-month training at Ft. Jackson.

Today he serves one weekend a month in the Army Reserves and works as a Business Development Manager for a commercial construction company. He was recently appointed as a Planning and Zoning Commissioner for the City of Meridian. Tami works as an Office Manager for a financial planning firm. They will celebrate 25 years of marriage in August 2021. Sam is 21, Shawn will graduate high school this spring, and Bethany will be a junior this fall. Nate spoke at Chapel this past year and still speaks occasionally at area churches. He leads a weekly Bible study for people without a church home and serves on the board of Manna! An educational non-profit founded by Rick Chromey.

Reflecting back, Nate says, “My life hasn’t turned out the way I wanted it, but it’s the way God allowed. My trust in God is so strong now because of the way I’ve seen Him provide for me through the discomfort. One of the more significant ways was through BBC faculty, staff, and alumni. At every important junction in my life, someone from BBC was there. I thank God for BBC.”