Finding Your Ministry Sweet Spot

Last month I took an 8 day trip to visit some of our ministry partners throughout various parts of California. Though these trips are long and tiring, I love being able to connect with friends, many of whom I haven’t seen in years, to give ministry updates and share life stories with one another.

Dave with old San Jose room-mate Dave Reeves (and wife Heather) during my 8 day ministry trip to various parts of California.

Because I was traveling solo, the question people most asked me was how Jen is doing. The short answer is that she’s doing well.

It’s been 4 years now since her Vasculitis condition has been stabilized with medication. Recently, at her last visit with her Rheumatologist and her Pulmonologist, they suggested that they were considering taking her completely off her medication since she’s been in remission for more than 3 years. We really are grateful to the Lord for His provision and His care for us, His children.

Since Jen’s condition is stable, she is able to do all the things she had been doing with respect to our family life and work. There are no limitations or restrictions.

Jen (bottom row, 3rd from left) with other members of the SLI Design team. This is the team that is responsible for coordinating and executing Cru’s Senior Leadership Initiative, a 2 year coaching and development program for emerging and Executive leaders.

In fact, in many ways Jen is busier than I am. This is partly because in addition to co-leading our ministry to Young Professionals, Jen also has another role with Cru that takes about 25% of her time. She’s part of a team that coordinates a leadership development program for Cru staff called Senior Leadership Initiative (SLI). Jen was a participant in this program several years ago and after finishing, she was asked to join the leadership team that coordinates and implements the program for participants.

The SLI program is really an amazing opportunity for seasoned leaders to experience further development over the course of a 2 year commitment. Every 2 years a new round of SLI brings in about 25-30 participants, who are given personalized coaching and development in a cohort learning environment.

Jen (2nd from right) with a group of leaders who are currently going through Cru’s SLI program.

Being a part of this program really has allowed Jen to function within her ministry sweet spot.

I first heard the phrase “sweet spot” as a kid who was an avid baseball fan. The “sweet spot” referred to the spot on the bat that allowed the hitter to drive the ball with the greatest force. By making contact in just the right spot, the batter could maximize his swing and drive the ball the furthest, often hitting it out of the park.

In ministry, the sweet spot could be considered the situation in which you are able to leverage your talents and skills for maximum impact and effectiveness. Jen has been able to leverage and utilize her strengths of development and coaching to help Cru develop leaders who are able to serve in higher roles of ministry responsibility.

Jen speaking to a group of Cru leaders during a week-long SLI module.

As we interact and coach Young Professionals, our hope is to help them discover their unique talents and strengths so that they too may discover their ministry “sweet spot”. It’s a journey that takes time and reflection but the rewards are worth it.

We are continually grateful for you, our friends and ministry partners, for helping us to minister to Young Professionals and help them find their ministry “sweet spot”!

Frequently Asked Questions – Part 1

A few days ago, Jen and I drove to UCLA, but this time, it was not for Jen to see one of her many health specialists. Instead, we had scheduled to connect with the Cru leaders at UCLA to share our vision for Millennials and suggest ways we could help them prepare their seniors for life after college.

You might be surprised that even among some of our colleagues with Cru, one of the most frequently asked questions we get is “What do you do?”

Perhaps you’ve asked that question as well. The short answer is that we provide resources and services to help Young Professionals thrive spiritually and live missionally (live with purpose).

The longer answer deserves a bit of context.

Conditions in a greenhouse are optimized for growth. The greenhouse is often a picture of a student’s college spiritual experience
Photo by João Jesus from Pexels

Picture a greenhouse. Plants thrive in a greenhouse because growth conditions are optimized. They receive just the right amount of sun, water and nutrients, all meticulously measured and delivered at just the right time. Negative growth conditions are minimized because the environment is controlled.

A campus ministry experience is often much like a greenhouse, where all the necessary ingredients for growth are integrated into the fabric and culture of the group. Spiritual growth is optimized and the student often doesn’t even think about it. Indeed, many Young Professionals have communicated to us that their most significant spiritual growth and development occurred while they were involved in a campus ministry or a college group.

Now picture a wild field. In the wild field, conditions are harsher and not optimized. The ingredients necessary for growth aren’t delivered in measured, timely intervals. The wild field has weeds, which choke out water and nutrients, bugs that eat your leaves and animals who eat your fruit or chew on your root system.

The wild field is a harsher environment, with weeds, bugs & animals that can impede the growth process. (Photo on pexels.com)

The wild field is a picture of life after college. Growth can happen but one must be exponentially more intentional about seeking out and providing their own growth resources than they were in the greenhouse.

After college, many Young Professionals are feverishly searching for a new greenhouse but are continually disappointed at the futility of their efforts. For many, finding the post-college greenhouse is like seeing a leprechaun riding a unicorn while being chased by Sasquatch. It’s so rare that it can almost be categorized as a myth or urban legend.

When we share these two word pictures with Young Professionals and even other Cru staff, a light bulb often goes off. It just makes sense.

So what is it that we do?

One dandelion can produce hundreds of other dandelions often even miles away. Millennials who are unleashed to fulfill their potential have the same capacity to impact their communities and the world!

We come alongside Young Professionals who are navigating through the wild field of life and help to provide some of those growth ingredients that will make it easier for them to thrive spiritually and live missionally. We don’t create another greenhouse community. Instead, our hope is to help them navigate through the weeds (distractions) and predators that make it harder to experience fruitfulness.

Essentially, our desire is to help them learn how to live out their faith and their purpose as adults in the real world, just like everyone else.

Thanks for joining with us in helping Young Professionals connect to opportunities for leadership development, coaching and vocational discipleship, so that they can be unleashed to fulfill their unique potential and make a significant impact on their communities and the world!

Feeling Disconnected in an Interconnected World

(10:00 p.m. on a School Night)

“Is the internet down? I can’t get online!”

“I’m not sure. Try refreshing  your browser.”

“I did that. I still can’t get online.”

“Have you tried rebooting your computer? Let me know if that fixes the problem.”

The internet has put endless amounts of information at our fingertips, but for most people, has complicated the process of developing deep, meaningful relationships.

(Minutes later)

“I rebooted my computer and I still can’t get online. I think there’s something wrong with the network.”

“Alright (sigh), let me check. Why do you need to get online anyway? It’s late!”

“I’m working on a class assignment and need to access my document in the cloud.”

“Is it urgent? Is it due tomorrow? Does it have to be done tonight?”

“No. But I have 3 tests and another major assignment due this week and if I don’t work ahead now, I’m going to get slammed later in the week. That’s why I need to get online.”

(Yelling from another room): “I just rebooted the modem. Did that work?”

“No. I still can’t connect to the network.”

“Arrrggghhhhhh!!!!!” (shaking fist in the air)

Perhaps you can relate to this scenario (which happened in our home a few weeks ago). We’ve become so integrated with the internet via our computers, tablets and phones that when the network goes down, we’re not sure how to function. Panic can set in when we try easy troubleshooting tactics and still can’t fix the issue.

AT&T had a whole ad campaign a few years ago connected to this theme. Their ads showed humorous responses a family had after being disconnected from the internet at home for 4 minutes, 6 minutes, 9 minutes and so forth. The ads always concluded by saying, “Keep Calm, your internet is on.” AT&T then touted their 99% reliability rating in providing consistent and uninterrupted internet service to their customers. (See YouTube video at: https://youtu.be/zYys_Jg9xz4 )

The internet is an amazing tool that has allowed people to be instantly connected to information. Whatever you want or need, it’s all there at the click of a button.

As helpful as this information may be, it can make meaningful relational connection more difficult.

The internet has enabled us to have access to seemingly endless information about our friends. We see what they’re doing on Facebook. We see their photos on Instagram. We know what they’re thinking by the tweets they post. And yet ironically, we feel even more disconnected!

Almost universally, as we meet with Millennials, they tell us of their desire to have deeper relational connections and the challenges they face in experiencing those kinds of relationships in today’s digital culture. Sadly, for many Young Professionals, the struggle to find meaningful community extends to their church.

I sat across a table recently with a Young Professional who told me very directly of his frustration to find real community within his church. He’d been in several Bible Studies that didn’t last and after attending church regularly for several years, he found that his closest friends were all outside of the church. He’s been struggling lately to understand the purpose and relevance of church in his life, which has given birth to a seed of disillusionment.

Unfortunately, we’ve found that this is not an isolated occurrence with this generation of Young Professionals.

Our challenge is to help Young Professionals connect with Jesus, who is the only legitimate source of life, and to learn to form deep, meaningful relationships with others in our current cultural environment. We’re trying a number of things to help foster meaningful connections.

Jen’s lunch-time book club has created meaningful conversations related to the topic of faith and work.

Jen has incorporated a work-lunch book study to bring Young Professional women together around a certain topic that helps create meaningful conversations and deepen relationships.

We’ve also created Leadership Development groups to bring Young Professionals together in a cohort-like environment to process life with other Young Adults and talk about core faith issues that are relevant in today’s cultural and professional environment.

We’re seeing signs of success but we’ve learned that building effective community always takes work and it always takes time. That’s a challenge because in today’s internet environment, it’s often easier to entertain ourselves with digital alternatives than to invest the time and work necessary to create the kind of real connections that our souls really crave and need.

Please pray with us as we seek to find effective ways of helping Young Professionals connect with others. And please pray for us as well, as we need those same kinds of life-giving relationships in our own lives.

Thanks for journeying with us!

Time is on Our Side

I’ve been reflecting on the idea of time a lot lately. Several things have all conspired and converged to cause me to reflect on the idea of time.

Third Day’s third album was aptly named “Time”.

Earlier this week, I received an e-mail from one of my favorite bands, Third Day, announcing their Farewell Tour. This band has been together for 25 years (as long as we’ve been married) and they’ve decided their time is coming to an end.

On the one hand, it’s hard to believe this band has been around for 25 years! On the other hand, it’s sad to think that their time is coming to an end. I have fond memories of attending several of their concerts and I’ve been reminiscing lately by listening to all the Third Day music I own, including their 3rd CD, aptly named “Time.”

Last week, Jen and I traveled to UCLA for her 3 month appointment to see her Rheumatologist. She also saw her Pulmonologist, got her annual CT scan and her 6 month pulmonary function test. It was a very full day and I was reminded that it was 3 years ago almost exactly that we first visited UCLA. Three years seems like a long time but a lot can happen in just a couple of years.

January 2015 – just a few weeks before we finally began seeing experts at UCLA

A staff colleague e-mailed me yesterday, asking for contact information of a friend. I did a quick e-mail search for my friend to see what his current e-mail was and it pulled up an e-mail from 3 years ago that we had sent out when we were heading to UCLA for the first time. We were nervous about this initial visit and asking for prayer and my friend had responded to that e-mail telling us that he and his wife were praying for us.

In the body of that e-mail I had posted a picture of Jen with our twins just a few weeks earlier when she was in the hospital. She was smiling and upbeat but the effects of her condition were obvious. Seeing that picture was a stark reminder to me of just how much has changed in just 3 years.

Mother’s Day 2017 – a lot can change in just a few short years!

I’m not really much of a Rolling Stones fan but there is a popular song of theirs that says, “Time is on my side…yes it is.”

I don’t often think about time as being on my side. Like many people, I tend to be impatient and I want things to be the way I want them and I want it NOW! We live in a culture where everything is URGENT. But what we’ve learned about ministry and about people is that there are no shortcuts to maturity. You can’t microwave a person’s growth and development.

As we think about ministering to Young Professionals, our hope and desire is to develop leaders of depth who are unleashed to make an impact for Christ in their communities.

Jen meets with a group of Young Professional women in her Leadership Development Group.

We know that building anything of significance often takes time, and as my friend and mentor Jim Sylvester often likes to say, “Time is your friend.” It appears that time is on our side…yes it is!

Four and a half years ago, I started a neighborhood community through Nextdoor, a social media website that seeks to create community by connecting neighbors who live in established neighborhoods.

Young Professionals unwinding at a beach meet-up

When we first launched our Nextdoor community, it seemed like a struggle just to get 10 verified members to join within the allotted time frame. And now, almost 5 years later, there are nearly 600 members in our community, with over 40% of our neighborhood participating. At some point, this neighborhood network took on a life of its own and growth exploded.

Our hope and prayer is that our ministry to Young Professionals will take a similar path. Growth may seem slow at times but we know that time is on our side…yes it is!

Thanks for journeying with us!

A “Healthy” Look at Thanksgiving

Last Thursday, Jen battled the Southern California traffic to make the day-long trip to see her Rheumatologist at UCLA. In the nearly three years she’s been seeing specialists in Westwood, this was the first time that I didn’t make the trip with her.

My absence was primarily because of a volunteer commitment that could not be changed.

Jen poses with Jacob and Joshua after the OC Champs Cross Country Race in mid October

Earlier in the fall, Jen and I committed to be volunteer coaches for a group of high school students in Santa Ana. Our group meets every Thursday and it just so happened that Jen’s Rheumatology appointment was scheduled for the same day as our coaching group. Changing the appointment to a different day without delay would almost take an act of Congress so it seemed prudent for Jen to keep the appointment and make the trip without me.

To be honest, when we first started making the trips to West Los Angeles, there was a sense of urgency and unknown because of Jen’s health condition at the time. I went to be a moral support and to gather as much information as possible about the condition we were dealing with.

A side benefit of the trip was being able to use the carpool lane, which could cut our travel time down by as much as an hour each way!

So how is Jen’s health? I get this question frequently and I realized that it’s been a while since we’ve updated you through our newsletters. As we reflected on Thanksgiving this year, one of the things we are extremely grateful for is our health. The boys are both healthy and not in the midst of any runner’s injuries and my health has been pretty good for the most part.

Jen shares with a group of Cru Leaders during a Leadership Development Conference in October 2017

For Jen, the good news is that her health is stable. For about two and half years now, she’s been taking an immunosuppressant  that has kept her immune system at bay, eliminating the flares that put her in the hospital 5 times in a 9 month period. As a result, she was able to get off Prednisone along with all the nasty side effects that it brings.

Jen has returned to a somewhat normal routine, including being a mom to our twins and working full-time with me in reaching and ministering to Young Professionals in Orange County. In addition, Jen has been able to resume her part-time role with Cru in helping to develop and shape leaders through the Senior Leadership Initiative Program, which is influencing and preparing some of the best emerging leaders within our organization.

Life isn’t perfect, however, and though the health outlook for Jen is much better than 3 years ago, there are still challenges. For one, the medicine Jen takes has some undesirable side effects, including a continued loss of appetite and general upset stomach.

Jen (2nd from right) poses with her Process Group – a group of leaders who meet regularly to process and discuss the things they’re learning and implementing

Additionally, Jen has been dealing with an issue of Frozen shoulder that requires multiple visits to physical therapy a week at times. And of course there’s the ongoing diabetes management that requires constant attention.

Maintaining good health requires attention and discipline for anyone but for a diabetic with a long-term auto-immune disorder, it adds to the complexity of life. All things considered though, we are extremely grateful for the Lord’s goodness and provision. We have much for which to be grateful!

We’re especially thankful for you, our friends and partners who have encouraged us and shared with us in our burdens and struggles! Thank you for continuing to journey with us as we navigate the challenges of ministry, parenthood and life. We would greatly appreciate your continued prayers for us and our family!

Growing our Leadership Capacity

Dave addressing 400+ students at the 2017 West Coast Epic Conference.

In January, I had the opportunity to share with students at our Epic Student Winter Conference about our ministry to Young Professionals in Orange County. While I was there, I connected with several of our former UC Davis students who are serving Christ in various capacities, some as full-time vocational missionaries and some as lay leaders. It was so fun to see how they are all still engaged in ministry in some way and how God is using them.

One of the things we’re passionate about is developing leaders who can significantly impact others for Christ.

When we were serving as campus leaders, our hope was to help each student become a life-long follower of Jesus. We wanted to develop leaders who were equipped with the tools and training necessary to make an impact for Christ wherever life might take them.

Former UC Davis Epic students connecting together at the Epic Winter Conference

We’ve been privileged to follow the journey of many of our former students who continue to walk with Christ and serve Him while making an impact for Him all over the world.

Some of our former students are serving as missionaries overseas in the Middle East, Europe and various parts of Asia while many are serving as missionaries with Cru on various campuses all over the country.

Some of our former students are serving as pastors in churches around the United States, while others are serving as lay leaders in their church and other non-profit ministries.

Still others are using their unique technical and administrative skills to serve the body of Christ on a global scale.

Cru’s Senior Leadership Initiative was started to fill the need to develop high level leaders to meet the global needs of the organization. Click the image to read the article from Outcomes Magazine.

What has drawn us to work with Millennials is the opportunity to have direct influence in the lives of Young Professionals, helping them to become unleashed to make the greatest impact they can make for Christ in their community and the world.

We’ve realized though that the job of developing leaders first starts with developing ourselves. Bill Hybels has said that “when a leader gets better, everyone wins.” When we grow as leaders, we grow in our ability to affect and impact others.

Jen and I are committed to developing as leaders so that we might develop other leaders who in turn impact others.

Jen poses for a picture with some of the women who help give leadership to the SLI leadership program

A few years ago, Jen was invited to participate in a two year Leadership Development program with Cru that we refer to as Senior Leadership Initiative (SLI). The program had a profound impact on Jen’s development as a person and as a leader and for the past four years Jen has been a part of the Leadership team that is implementing and executing this program for other participants (Click here to see our August 2013 Lowedown newsletter to read more about Jen’s experience as a participant of SLI).

Jim Williamson (left) is a former Cru staff member with the Impact ministry, Cru’s student ministry to students of African descent. Jim now works in the corporate world in Nashville and will be coaching me for the next 2 years.
Jim and Dave’s initial meeting over lunch at Cru’s Orlando Headquarters.

In February, I was invited to be a part of a leadership program Cru has just established called the Executive Coaching Cohort.

For the next 2 years, I’ll have access to a personal coach who is committed to helping me take the steps necessary to grow as a person and a leader.

In March, Jen spent a week in Dallas getting trained in Core Clarity, a program that utilizes the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment tool to help leaders understand how to maximize their talents and develop them into strengths for the greatest possible personal impact.

Jen attended the week-long Core Clarity Training which helps leaders unpack the Strengths Finder Assessment tool to learn more about their talents and understand their unique giftings.

We recognize there is more growth and development that is needed if we’re going to be truly effective in helping Young Professionals experience their full potential.

We hope to get more training in Coaching and other assessment tools that will enable us to minister to Young Professionals at a high level.

Thanks so much for the investment you’re making in our lives. The impact you’ve made is enabling us to impact the next generation of spiritual leaders!

What Pop Culture Tells Us About Millennials

Every fall we’re inundated with a slew of new TV offerings trying to gain our viewership in an attempt to become the next hit show.

Every fall, there are a slew of new TV shows to sort through.
Every fall, there are a slew of new TV shows to sort through.

This year’s fall and midseason lineup of new shows features the regular assortment of legal dramas (Conviction, Bull, Notorious and Doubt), along with a number of spinoffs of other hit shows (24: Legacy and The Blacklist: Redemption), not to mention a few reboots (MacGyver and Prison Break) and a surprising number of shows based on popular movies (The Exorcist, Frequency, Emerald City, Lethal Weapon, Taken and Training Day). And of course, you can always count on Fox to throw in an animated show that targets an adult audience (Son of Zorn).

One of the new sitcoms that I’ve been watching is called The Great Indoors, and stars Joel McHale (from the hit sitcom Community) as Jack, a renowned outdoor adventure reporter who takes a desk job with an outdoor magazine. He struggles not only to adapt to life indoors behind a desk, but also to understand his staff of millennials who write about outdoor adventures that they never actually experience.

The show is fascinating on many levels as it portrays many of the stereotypes of millennials that we’ve heard through the media and research.

The Great Indoors is a new sitcom airing on CBS that takes a peek into the lives of Millennials in the workforce.
The Great Indoors is a new sitcom airing on CBS that takes a peek into the lives of Millennials in the workforce.

Of course the humor and the settings are not always family friendly and the caricatures of millennials are often exaggerated, but there is often some truth to the portrait of millennials that the show creates.

For example, in a recent episode, when a feature story idea goes completely off the rails, Jack tells Clark (the Millennial who is responsible) that “to call this situation a dumpster fire would be an insult to flaming piles of trash.”

A dejected Clark responds by saying, “I knew it. I just wanted to be a great journalist but I stink.”

Sensing an attitude of defeat, Jack tells Clark, “You don’t stink at journalism. You just stink at knowing what your actual talents are because you’ve been over-praised and under criticized.”

Clark suddenly has this realization that it’s actually good to live in reality because only then can he fulfill his true potential.

Millennials need and want to know what they’re good at. They want to know what their talents are and how they can make a difference in their community. They want to live with purpose and meaning.

All of our research on Millennials, along with our own personal interactions, confirm that Millennials want input. They want mentors who can influence them and help them manage life and grow personally, spiritually and vocationally.

But after college, there often is no intentional plan or program to help Millennials with their personal and spiritual development.

Millennials want input. They want mentors who can influence them and help them manage life and grow personally, spiritually and vocationally.
Millennials want input. They want mentors who can influence them and help them manage life and grow personally, spiritually and vocationally.

We hope to change that here in Orange County. After the first of the year, we’ll be launching our Leader Development groups, which are aimed at providing some key ingredients to help Millennials thrive spiritually and live missionally in today’s current cultural and professional environment.

We hope to help Young Professionals understand themselves better. We want them to know what they’re good at and how God has uniquely wired them. And we want to challenge them to use those unique gifts and talents to help advance God’s kingdom purposes in our community and around the world.

Please pray with us and for us as we continue to move forward with some of these new initiatives. We covet your prayers and are grateful for your partnership with us.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention that the NBC show This is Us is by far our favorite TV show of the new season. With it’s positive portrayals of family, fatherhood and adoption, it’s a show that draws you in and tugs at your emotions. Check it out and let us know what you think!