Two decades ago my former theology professor, Jonathan Smith, and I launched what would become Dare 2 Share Ministries. Although I was a church planter at the time I had the youth ministry itch. Having graduated from Colorado Christian University with a degree in youth ministry I wanted to do something to deeply impact teenagers across the nation. My dream was to do conferences across the nation that would train teenagers to share their faith. I thought I could do this while preaching and co-pastoring a church that was vibrant and growing.
I was wrong.
It took ten years for me to finally get the message from heavenly headquarters, but I finally got it. Soon after I resigned my post at Grace Church and focused exclusively on building and leading Dare 2 Share. The last ten years have been a time of explosive growth and tremendous trial for Dare 2 Share. Yes, we went from averaging a thousand attendees per event to well over four thousand but, no, it was not without a large helping of pain and suffering.
To be completely blunt, the last three years of economic stress almost took us down. As a ministry that is extremely dependent on God to provide through mostly large financial gifts our development efforts took massive hits starting in October of 2008. Over the next two years we had to do reduce our staff count (a horrifically painful process) to half the size. We were forced to cut every ministry program that was not absolutely necessary to accomplish the goal of energizing a generation to evangelize their world.
I honestly didn't know if we were going to make it through this difficult stretch. Out of desperation prayer skyrocketed to the top of my priority list and I, along with our leaders at Dare 2 Share, began begging God for provision and wisdom. Again and again he provided...just in the nick of time.
Over the last 12 months or so we've seen a stabilization of our ministry (praise God!) and have experienced some much needed ministry momentum on several levels. As the dust of the financial crisis has settled I can now look back more clearly and begin to see what God was, not only doing through us, but in us. During this time he taught me some very valuable leadership lessons.
To add to this perspective last week the staff surprised me with a celebration of my twentieth year at the helm of Dare 2 Share. Today, I look back and ponder the most important leadership lessons God has taught me over the last two decades. I am honored to share them with you.
Leadership Lesson #1 Prayer must not be our last resort, but our first priority.
Embarrassingly I must admit that for the first seventeen years of Dare 2 Share I used prayer as a kind of holy water to sprinkle on my white board strategies. Sure I would pray, but not as if my life and ministry depended on it. Instead of utter desperation there was simply an uttered supplication at the beginning and/or end of our strategy meetings. It was my perfunctory petition that was delivered to the throneroom of God but it was not the passionate, persistent plea of a beggar who would not stop knocking on the door of heaven until it was opened. My knuckles did not start to bleed until late 2008. It was then I became a desperate man.
Oh how I wished I would have learned the lesson of passionate prayer twenty years ago! Oh how much time has been wasted on strategies that were good but not great because I had failed to lay hold of the mind of God through prayer!
I'm forty six years old as I type these words. I feel like for forty three years I've been throwing dirt clods at Satan. Only in the last three years have I discovered the bazooka in the closet called Prayer.
Say hello to my little friend.
Leadership Lesson #2: Whittle your mission down to one thing and obsessively focus on getting it done.
How easy it is to get a fat mission statement while running a lean budget, especially in the world of non profit ministries! Why? Because there's so much good that needs to be done! But when we settle for the good we forfeit the great. Unknowingly, with no ill intent or malice, we had succumbed to that very trap at Dare 2 Share. Our mission had morphed from evangelism training to evangelism and discipleship training. Just four years ago our mission statement was, "training teenagers to know, live, share and own their faith."
It was just three and a half years ago that the chairman of the Dare 2 Share board was skimming our one page strategic plan when he suddenly blurted, "We have four bull's eyes and we only have one arrow!" I asked what he meant and he explained that a ministry our size could never tackle the huge goal of helping teenagers to know AND live AND share AND own their faith. He, with the complete backing of the board, told our leadership team to go back and reconstruct our mission statement around one of those four priorities.
The process took six full months and many painful discussions but, with God's guidance, we were able to develop a mission statement that was our one thing, "mobilizing teenagers to relationally and relentlessly reach their generation for Christ." This singular statement contains both our mission and our philosophy. It embodies what we want to do (mobilize teenagers for evangelism), how we want to do it (relationally and relentlessly) and why we exist.
The great evangelist, DL Moody said, "Give me a man who says 'this one thing I do' and not 'those fifty things I dabble in.'" What's true of men and women is also true of ministries and churches. We need to find the one thing God has called us to and obsessively do it for his glory and in his power.
3. Never underestimate the value of building the right team.
If it wasn't for Debbie Bresina, our Executive VP of Ministry Advancement, and the teams she leads, I would be preaching to church crowds not arena crowds (not that there's anything wrong with that.) If it wasn't for Dave Teraberry, our VP of Operations and Administration, and the teams he leads, Dare 2 Share would be an organizational mess and not a finely tuned ministry. From our passionate Ministry Advocates to our highly skilled Data Integrity specialists to all of our excellent teams, God has blessed Dare 2 Share with people who love God, embrace our mission and have the skills to get their jobs done with excellence.
In our early years Dare 2 Share's hiring process had to do with whether or not you had a pulse and were willing to work for pennies. We've finally graduated to nickels and dimes on a pay scale and our hiring process has intensified dramatically as well. We do background checks as if we were hiring for the CIA, competency checks as if we were hiring for NASA, theology checks as if were hiring for a seminary, integrity checks as if we were hiring for a church and work ethic checks as if we were hiring for a construction crew. The pay is not great but the benefits are out of this world (literally!)
And once you are a part of the Dare 2 Share team you join an exciting and demanding fraternity of fanatics. There are daily prayer times with your team and weekly chapel times with the entire staff. We have quarterly celebrations based on what God has done over the previous three months and take time to thank God along the way for all that he has done. But there is another kind of fuel that keeps everyone moving and motivated as well...the stories.
At Dare 2 share we are blessed with an almost constant stream of stories from teenagers who have witnessed God do something amazing in them and/or through them as a result of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Youth leaders from across the nation keep us going with powerful anecdotes of teens heroically sharing the good news with friends, family, classmates and teammates. In spite of the hardships that inevitably come as a result of working in a high stress, results-driven ministry like Dare 2 Share, the stories of changed lives become our "tackling fuel" to keep us charging hard toward the finish line.
The value of building the right team has been a hard fought one for me personally. I don't think I realized early on how important "getting the right people on the bus" (in the words of Jim Collins) was to the vitality of a ministry like ours. I am still discovering the importance of keeping the right people on the bus by providing the most stimulating and rewarding work atmosphere possible. As God enables us to do this more and more I believe we will be more and more effective in the accomplishment of the mission he has given us.
These are three of the lessons God has taught me over the last twenty years of ministry. My prayer is that they may encourage you in whatever ministry you are involved with as we labor together for his greater glory.