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Front Page - Friday, August 14, 2020

Is there a doctor in the house?

Realtor Shipley Wows children in second career as youth pastor

Travis Shipley is a real estate agent with ERA Blue Key Properties in Hixson, where he’s worked with his family for 11 years. - Photograph provided

During the week, Travis Shipley is a mild-mannered real estate agent who helps homebuyers and sellers throughout the Chattanooga area as a member of The Shipley Team at ERA Blue Key Properties.

But come Sunday morning, Shipley, 49, becomes Dr. Wow, a mad scientist who lives with his puppet friends and teaches children and teens lessons from the Bible.

Both personas sport a silvery mane, although Shipley’s hair is really more salt-and-pepper gray, while Dr. Wow’s is shiny and untamed.

Shipley the real estate agent and Dr. Wow the children’s pastor also have something else in common: They both believe their work is a ministry.

“Being a real estate agent is no different from being a pastor. You help people make their dreams come true and make sure no one pulls a fast one on them,” Shipley explains. “I look over my clients like I do my kids – and I get riled up when I see someone taking advantage of them. I step in front of them and protect them.”

Maybe Shipley isn’t mild-mannered during the week, either. But unlike Dr. Wow, he doesn’t stage a light and sound show to capture the attention of his audience.

In fact, as Shipley describes it, he barely has to lift a finger to drum up business. Rather, his clients flock to him.

“I sell a lot of real estate, but that’s not to my credit; it’s God’s blessings,” says Shipley, who always seems a breath away from launching into a sermon. “I don’t advertise; people just call me out of the woodwork.

“I once had five preachers as clients. I told God, ‘It’s obvious this is not me.’ I’ll never take credit for anything I’ve done.”

Shipley even waves off recognition for closing a house earlier in the day, and chalks up additional upcoming transactions to more divine favor. In fact, he refuses to take credit for any of the 500 or so homes he’s closed since he became an agent in 2009.

Shipley can’t even claim his real estate training has guided him over the years because he’s never taken a post-licensure course on how to sell homes. Instead, Shipley says, he’s followed his instincts.

“I didn’t take any sales classes because I didn’t need them. My first year, I sold 50 houses without knowing what I was doing,” he claims. “I didn’t want to learn how everyone else sold homes; I just wanted to be who I was and do things my way.”

It turned out Shipley was, well, a Shipley.

The Shipley name has been synonymous with real estate in Chattanooga since 1979, when the family’s matriarch, Sheila, became a licensed agent. She later launched RE/MAX Properties North (now ERA) with her youngest son, Aaron, who went on to build a leading local real estate team.

Other Shipleys hitched their wagons to the team’s star and found success, including Sheila’s late husband. Today, the family’s headquarters in a former Hixson movie theater is packed with three generations of Shipleys, including Shipley’s sons, Taylor and Skylar.

This environment – rather than a classroom – served as Shipley’s training grounds. As he grew up listening to his parents discuss real estate and then spent time with his family as an adult, he soaked up information like a sponge dropped into a bucket of water.

But instead of becoming a real estate agent, Shipley studied medicine and became a nurse. Although he had a strong desire to do work that helped people, he soon became discouraged with his inability to control the outcome for many of his patients.

“I could do everything right and a patient would die,” he says. “The twists and turns of medicine are a strange thing.”

After one patient death that’s still emotional for Shipley, he decided to change his bearing and become a full-time pastor.

“It broke my heart to watch patients die and be unable to do anything for them,” he says. “So, I believed I could do more to give people hope and peace by teaching them about Jesus.”

Shipley says he believed God intended for him to teach children, so he was open to the idea when Dr. Ken Duggan invited him to lead the children’s services at Dallas Bay Baptist Church in 1994.

Shipley has been in ministry ever since. He followed a handful of years at Dallas Bay with tenures at several local churches, building programs for children and youth from the ground up at each stop.

Shipley says love was his guiding principle. He remembered how his faith had comforted him as a young man, and how his beliefs had guided him and gave him purpose as he grew older, and he wanted to pass that on to the children he taught.

“I joined the Army when I was 18, and although I felt alone, I knew Jesus loved me,” he recalls. “If we can teach our kids He loves them, too, no matter where they are or what they’re going through, then maybe they will reflect that in the decisions they make down the road.”

Without doubt, Shipley wanted to give the children he taught something to remember. After South Seminole gave him carte blanche to go big, he built a massive stage complete with dozens of cubby holes for puppets, which he used as a way of involving teenagers in his ministry.

Some of these youth went on to become doctors, lawyers or police officers, Shipley asserts. “I know some people think certain species eat their young because they turn into teenagers,” he jokes. “But I think teenagers are awesome. They can be a pain in the butt, but I see them as what they can become.”

When Shipley joined the family business, he saw real estate primarily as a way to help fund his work with youth. However, beginning in 2011, he took a detour from children’s ministry to start his own church, Crosswalk Worship.

Housed in the only theater left standing in the building the Shipley Team calls home, it was a church for people who believed they had no business being in one.

“We targeted people who felt like they looked different or were imperfect, or whose church had ostracized them,” he notes. “Church can be a vicious place, which is why I loved being in real estate. I felt safer working in the secular world than I did a church.”

After Shipley shuttered Crosswalk, he served as the youth pastor and children’s worship leader at Hixson First Baptist Church. This is where he gave birth to Dr. Wow and his cast of zany puppets and other characters.

Shipley’s ambitions had only grown. Conceived as a way to encourage children to have fun while learning lessons from the Bible, The Wow Factory was a multimedia wonderland with wacky stage design, bright lights, loud music and puppets like Gooey, who Shipley says is smarter than Dr. Wow and always wins their debates.

Shipley even devised a digital puppet someone offstage could bring to life with a video game controller and a headset.

He didn’t stop there, either. Outside of his work for Hixson Baptist, Shipley started a youth basketball league, fostered children with his wife, Tara, and continued to sell over 50 homes a year.

His brother, Aaron, was impressed. “Travis has an incredible work ethic and even more impressive desire and passion to help people,” he says. “The most amazing thing is how he gives 100% of himself to his ministry and then gives 100% of himself to his clients. I don’t know how he does it.”

Shipley says he simply has deep reserves of fast-burning fuel. “I’ve always been hyperactive,” he says with a laugh. “In college, I took a full load of classes during the day and worked full time as a chemist at night.”

When Shipley left Hixson Baptist early this year, he was going to retire from ministry and divert all of his energy to real estate. Then he saw a help wanted ad on Facebook Marketplace that drew him back into working with youth.

Pastor Jeff Myers of Union Fork Baptist Church in Soddy-Daisy had posted the advert. After the two connected, Shipley wanted to make sure he and the house of worship would be a good fit, so he tossed a few questions at Myers.

“I asked, ‘Are you willing to knock down walls? Because as soon as I get there, that’s what’s going to happen,’” Shipley remembers. “’Are you willing to help the kids? Are you willing to love them?’”

Myers promised to fully back his efforts, Shipley says.

Shipley was rolling up his sleeves and picking walls to knock down while Myers’ palm was still warm from their handshake.

While Shipley says he’s excited about building a new version of the Wow Factory, he wants people to understand his ministry is not about lights and music and madcap characters, but about instilling biblical principles.

It’s also about expressing God’s love, he adds.

“I’ve dealt with a lot of kids whose parents were on drugs or in jail,” he says. “Whenever someone did something stupid, like get drunk, they could call me and I’d pick them up. I wouldn’t say a thing; I’d just get them to safety. They just needed to know someone loved them.”