“I have been called to throw a party.”
Drew Spanding (B.A. ’04) is forthright when asked about his time at Cornerstone University—it was never only about the academics. That’s not to say academics weren’t important to Drew, but when you hear the now president of Big Ticket Festival, one of the country’s largest Christian music festivals, talk about the things that matter, he is quick to call celebration a spiritual discipline. In Drew’s mind, our choice to party is a choice to recognize and connect with God’s deep love for all of us.
Drew might not have known all that lay ahead when he first started attending CU, but he always knew getting a college education was going to be about much more than sitting in lectures.
Drew took his time earning a degree, choosing to work full time with Youth for Christ and stretch his education out over six years. In Drew’s mind, the opportunity to learn while also growing as a professional in full-time ministry was invaluable:
“I loved that Cornerstone gave me the freedom to not only do school but also work full time in ministry. I was on the frontlines with kids in youth ministry and then I was in class working out what I was experiencing. Cornerstone wasn’t just about an education; it was a resource for my whole life. I could ask professors and friends for perspective on the work I was about—it shaped me in very significant ways. You don’t get to be immersed in your education like that just anywhere.”
However, Drew wouldn’t know the true value of his Cornerstone education until after he graduated. In the months after graduation, Drew and his brother, David, spent significant time traveling the world, investing two of those months in Israel. Drew’s favorite CU professor, Dr. Scott Carroll, had connected Drew with some exciting opportunities there, including the chance to meet with Israel’s antiquities authority and participate in private tours of national museums.
While Drew engaged these experiences in Israel, he also worked as a bus driver, carting the preschoolers of Messianic Jews to school each day. It was actually these Messianic families who first taught Drew how important celebration is to the Christian story.
“During my time in Israel, the greatest day of the week was always Friday, because it was Sabbath. And for these Jewish families who believed Jesus fulfilled all the Old Testament prophecies, Sabbath was a giant party. Each week, David and I were invited to a different home to celebrate Sabbath. I started to look forward to it every week, and it gave my spiritual life a rhythm that has always stayed with me.”
Drew went on to explain that the kind of celebration he experienced in Israel is a big part of the spirit behind the Big Ticket Festival, now hosted over four days with six different stages that draw over 40,000 people each year. “Lots of people look at outdoor concerts like ours and think they should be about evangelization, which is definitely a great thing. But I believe that when we celebrate God, we naturally orient our hearts towards worship. That’s when we own that life isn’t about what I can do; it’s about God and who He is.”
A lot has happened in Drew’s life since he graduated from Cornerstone nearly 15 years ago. He married his wife Jill (B.S. ’03), another CU graduate, and together they have built a family with three beautiful children. Their road has included some twists and turns, including the surprise of two of their children being born with special needs.
In this, Drew again points back to the foundation he received at Cornerstone as critical in shaping him into the man, husband and father that he is today: “It doesn’t matter what you do or how well you plan your life, there is going to be hardship. But life is also a privilege. Jill and I have the privilege of two kids with special needs. That’s a very difficult place to be at times.”
But, Drew says, these are the moments that have led him to recognize our very existence is a gift from God, and that’s why we have significance. Life isn’t about what we do or accomplish; it’s not our reputation or status. We are children who are deeply loved by the King, and that is enough.
Looking to the future, Drew hopes he continues to be known for his authenticity—the good inside him and the bad with which he struggles:
“I want people I do life with to know the real me. I hope I live constantly laying my life down for my friends and family. And when it comes to a close and people are reflecting on who I was, I hope they all say, ‘that guy could throw a great party.'”