“If this is real, it will spread.”
This phrase kept going through my head as I prayed about the beginning days of Center City Church at the end of 2009. We had been meeting in our living room with a small group of friends that committed to come alongside us to start a new church community in Uptown Charlotte.
We decided to go completely word of mouth at the outset of this new church family. If what we were experiencing in our hearts was real, I genuinely believed it would spread. And it did.
I remember my mind racing and imagination going wild as 2009 was winding down. The start of a new decade was upon us, and Center City Church would move out of our living room and into a public venue (which eventually turned out to be the auditorium of Elizabeth Traditional Elementary School). I prayed for everyone I knew that was a part of our team and everyone I didn’t yet know that would be impacted by this church. We printed a huge banner and put hundreds of names on there of people we were meeting and prayed over it every week. So many names that were written on that banner were healed, set free, and found hope in the loving arms of Jesus.
The next ten years would teach me so much about God’s grace, faithfulness, and care. My life would be forever changed in the course of the decade that followed, and I’m sitting in my home reflecting on an amazing ten years.
Countless lives impacted by the gospel, all four of our babies getting ten years older (and awesome-er), ten more years of marriage to my best friend, a masters degree, doctoral degree, and our sweet church family finding her footing in our community and bringing the life and light of Christ to so many folks. It also included a seismic shift in our family as we responded to the Lord’s call to move into a season of preaching, teaching, and writing full-time and transitioning the leadership of Center City Church to our dear friends, Jon and Jess Hernandez.
Here’s some questions I’m asking myself today as we are closing out a decade. I think that we can be so focused on the present day and the days to come that we forget to genuinely reflect on where God has taken us and his faithfulness along the journey. I hope that these questions help you to see the beauty and faithfulness of God in your life in the same way that I have seen him in my life.
In the last ten years…
- How would you describe your relationship with God?
- What bible verses have most impacted you?
- How did God show himself faithful to you?
- What books most impacted you?
- Was there a specific teaching (from your pastor or a speaker you heard) that impacted you?
- How old were you in 2010?
- Who were your closest friends in 2010?
- What new friends came into your life?
- Where did you live in the last ten years?
- What jobs did you hold?
- What were your educational highlights (school/degree programs, personal learning)?
- What major decisions did you make that significantly impacted your life?
- How is your health (weight, diet, medical) different from 2010?
- Name three mountaintop moments.
- Name three valley moments.
- What trips did you take that were highlights of this decade?
- What events (sports/concerts/fine arts, etc.) did you attend that were highlights?
- What did you start and finish?
- What did you start and not finish?
- What did you want to start, but never got around to it?
- Choose one word to describe the last ten years.
I am thrilled to introduce you to Hannah Beavers. She is the Executive Director at Freedom Communities. I have the privilege of being on the board of this organization that works with neighbors in West Charlotte to achieve equitable access to education, housing, employment, and community wellness. This is accomplished by aligning partnerships, investments, and the community to create an environment where every family can thrive.
Hannah gives an inside look at what it’s like to lead a nonprofit organization that focuses on holistic strategies that take time to produce outcomes while living with the reality that major funders are looking for outcomes to support their desire to make an impact in the community.
This is a fascinating look at the tension between making a big impact as opposed to making a sustainable impact.
Thanks for this submission, Hannah. Keep up the great work!
In the world of non-profits – everyone talks about impact. We are constantly reporting to funders about our impact.
- How many people do you impact?
- How much does it cost for you to impact those people?
We are forced to treat people as numbers in the same way a corporation would view widgets produced and cost of goods sold. We hear of lofty corporate goals that from a marketing perspective sound compelling. “We’re going to impact 20 million people by 2020!” Everyone cheers and thinks that’s great – but when we do a bit more due diligence it gets a bit less impressive.
- What’s behind that impressive number of 20 million?
- Who are the humans behind the numbers and what did the impact actually look like on their lives?
- Did they attend a training?
- Did they receive a pencil, a book, a micro-loan, an education, a job – or all the above?
Despite the laser focus on impact in our industry, there is no impact measure for depth – no credit for re-impacting the same individual through continuous efforts to improve their lives. Accordingly, in the non-profit sector you cannot compare the impact of two organizations on an apple to apples basis.
Organization A vs. Organization B – An Impact Comparison
Organization “A” says they’re impacting 20 people by giving out flashlights.
Organization “B” says they’re impacting 20 people by providing training, a job, housing, and food.
Which group of 20 would you rather be in?
If given a choice between a flashlight or a job, training, housing, and food I would hands down pick the latter. This solution would help me become self-reliant, meaningfully contribute to society, and positively impact the economy. It is a solution that has the potential to create a ripple effect of opportunity. However, is the funding community willing to invest in holistic and complex solutions?
The unfortunate reality is that a solution giving out flashlights is much more scalable than a holistic solution. As a funder, I can get more bang for my buck by investing in Organization “A” vs Organization “B”. It’s simply cheaper and easier to impact 20 people by giving them flashlights. It’s a way easier story to tell.
And so the problem persists. Checks are written, thousands of people end up with flashlights and funders feel great about how many people they’ve impacted. Why wouldn’t they?
Deep or Wide Impact?
When non-profits or foundations orient their strategy to drive an increase in the number of people impacted they often do so at the expense of depth. At a surface level, larger numbers are simply more impressive. When we crack those numbers open and begin to ask about the humans behind the numbers – when we are willing to put ourselves in the shoes of those individuals – we might feel differently.
In some situations, you may argue that a simple solution may be the best one. People need flashlights and meals and organizations cannot be all things to all people. However, what happens when the batteries to my flashlight die and I cannot afford to buy new ones? What happens when tomorrow comes and I still need a meal? Are these solutions really solutions at all? Or are they perpetuating the problem that they sought to solve?
It is true that organizations shouldn’t have to be all things to all people. But in the world of social good, if we are serious about creating a lasting impact, we must build partnerships with organizations that fill a gap. We need to pursue partnerships that build depth and ensure that behind impressive numbers there is quality and sustainable work being accomplished.
Why Nonprofit Leaders are Forced to Hold Their Tongue
If we look at the root cause of any issue, it likely demands a holistic or systems approach. An approach that requires social service organizations, public, private, and faith communities to collaborate. Sadly, this is rare because of the broken system in which we have historically operated. We are competing for the same dollars from the same set of funders and operate from a scarcity mindset that prevents creativity and collaboration. We are afraid to take risks because if we decide to do things a bit differently and fail to hit a home-run, funders may not make another bet on us. The philanthropic community is incredibly risk averse.
This shift in the way things are funded will likely not be driven by the nonprofit community. Here’s why:
- Donor dollars are the lifeblood of nonprofit organizations.
- Funders require nonprofits to produce higher impact numbers to release future funding.
- Challenging funders is a huge risk to the livelihood of nonprofit organizations
As you can see, I would likely hold my tongue. Even if I believe that the current approach to drive impact could be a detriment to the quality of my work. Even if I believe that instead of funding programs, the greater need is funding staff to help expand programs and not the other way around.
Why hold my tongue? Because I know there’s another organization that will do what the funder is requesting. This puts me at risk of not being able to run my programs at all.
A New Path Forward
So how can we get funders to change their tune to promote collaboration, depth of impact, and solutions that attack issues at their root cause? I think we need to start with education about what true impact looks like, and extend a lot of grace. Funders, generally speaking, have their hearts in the right place. However, letting people off the hook at having their heart in the right place is what has gotten us where we are today. I started an organization that relied on traditional funding models. By the time I tried to overhaul our approach to create sustainability, the damage had already been done.
I see a huge opportunity to shift the way things are done in the philanthropic sector. This shift that could be a game changer for our future. However, we must be willing to start taking risks. Nonprofit leaders and funders have to be as serious about making an impact as we are about keeping on the lights for the organization.
Buddy the Elf and I have a lot in common, and I’m guessing it’s driving my literary agent nuts.
If you’ve never seen Will Ferrell’s Christmas movie, Elf, I need you to stop reading this and find your closest Blockbuster* and go rent it now. You won’t regret this decision.
One of my favorite scenes from Elf is when Buddy is talking to his dad and interrupting his work day. His father is obviously annoyed and Buddy isn’t picking up on the signals. The call is coming to a close and Buddy says, “I love you… I’ll call you in five minutes!”
In my defense, I am a first-time author that has had zero clue how the process works to write a book. I’ve been so grateful for the folks at the Fedd Agency and their brilliance along this process. However, I feel like I need to publicly show my gratitude to Esther (Literary Agent), Tori (my editor who I think is a savant), and Jill (Director of Author Relations) for their patience.
Here’s a quick peek at what it’s like to work with me:
- ME: “Hey Jill, I know we just submitted the book proposal today to a bunch of publishers. However, I’m not sure how this works. Should I expect to hear something by the end of today? A week from now? A few months from now?”
- JILL: “A few months.”
- ME: “Oh yeah totally cool… thanks.” *David emotionally tanks for a few moments*
- ME: “Hey Tori, what’d you think of the 27-page re-write I sent to you today?” *I imagine Tori receiving this text surrounded by one of the many manuscripts from legit New York Times Bestselling authors that the Fedd Agency represents*
- TORI: “Hey David, I got it and I am working through another project right now but I promise I’m on it!”
- ME: “Hey Esther, I was thinking about developing Neighborliness into a small group study and potentially a devotional. What do you think of adding this to the proposal?”
- ME: “Hey Esther, I just had an awesome meeting with some folks that are really excited about the release of the book. What do you think about adding this to our pitch?”
- ESTHER: *Two days later because she’s been traveling the world representing and negotiating contracts for aforementioned bestselling authors* “That sounds great!”
Buddy the Elf and I were probably a bit too excited to see the reality that there’s a lot going on in the world and it’s ok to take a deep breath and also let everyone else around us have enough space to breathe.
Esther submitted our proposal to publishers over two months ago. I’ve learned so much about myself during these two months. Namely, I’m still an unfinished product when it comes to patience. Maybe you are, as well. If we did a support group, I’m guessing we’d all get annoyed that it would take some time to pull everyone together.
This lifelong patience-lesson that God has been teaching me presented another learning moment yesterday. We had a pretty big meeting (of which none of us were involved) happen yesterday and I probably checked my phone no less than 150 times throughout the day. They had already told me not to expect to hear anything from them (the agency) or the publishing company, but in my little world of positive thinking I convinced myself that they are probably just like Apple.
Whenever I order something from Apple, they tell me it will be shipped within 3-5 business days and without fail it arrives within a day or two. I know they do this on purpose to make me happy, but it still works every time.
I am sure publishers are great and all, but turns out they weren’t like Apple. Yesterday came and went with no word, just like my agent told me to expect.
I did what any warm-blooded American would do and turned my attention to Google around 6pm.
Turns out there were 105,000,000 responses (literally), and a blog post from a guy that knows everything that happens when a proposal goes to a publisher. Probably should have Googled that four months ago and saved Esther, Jill, and Tori a lot of time.
I had a realization today as I was praying about my struggle with impatience and inexperience. You have to understand before I spill the beans on this lesson that this is a dream that has been in my heart for over twenty years. I’ve wanted to publish a book – lots of books – ever since I started in full-time ministry.
It hit me yesterday, though, that I am absolutely ok if the answer is no.
Dara and I have been praying that God would open doors that no man can close and close doors that no man can open (Revelation 3:7). Throughout my insecurities, wrestling, doubts, and fears in this process, I find that even if I hear a no after working so hard and so long on this, I am absolutely certain that all is well and that the message will get to the right people at the right time. Additionally, I am convinced that God has the right partners lined up that will get behind this project to spread the word that he has placed in my heart.
You, Buddy the Elf, and I are probably a lot a like. None of us like to wait on things that we are excited to see come to pass. However, waiting cultivates faith and teaches us to embrace God in the waiting. I have also learned that God is teaching me that the fulfillment of my dream is not based on what I can do or what a publisher can do for me. This is God’s message, and he will bring it to pass in a way that he sees best.
- I’m ok with hearing no because I believe God is saying yes.
- I’m ok with hearing no because I know that God has a plan for my biggest dreams and desires.
- I’m ok with hearing no because I have learned that God’s plans are even more awesome than my biggest dreams and desires.
God is with us. He is with me as I wait for this process to unfold. He is with you as you wait on your dreams to come to pass. And he is with us during this season of Advent, as we willingly choose to imagine what it was like to wait on the arrival of Jesus to this world to show us how to love and live.
Immanuel, God is with us. Amen.
P.S. Let’s be honest… I still hope they say yes.
*Blockbuster doesn’t exist. Find a teenager to introduce you to Netflix.
“I love the tradition, organization, and structure that comes along with the traditional church calendar.” Dara said this to me as she looked across the breakfast table at me, eyes beaming.
I’ve got a list on my phone that is titled Things Dara Likes. I add another line to the list whenever I see her eyes light up. The list includes things like hot air balloons, bridges, bubbles, a warm cup of coffee, etc. I have twenty-three things on her list that make her eyes light up. Actually, twenty-four as she looked across at me this morning and talked about how much she loves Advent.
“There’s just something about the ritual and the routine of going through this season every year,” she said. “It makes me smile.”
WHAT IS ADVENT?
I didn’t grow up in a church tradition that followed the church calendar, but Dara and I have been drawn to it over the last ten years. Her love for organization and structure balances out my, well, not-love for organization and structure.
The church calendar actually begins with a season called Advent – the four weeks that lead into Christmas.
I think of Advent like a sunrise breaking through the darkness. On the rare occasions that I am driving down 7th Street into Uptown Charlotte just before dawn I can get one of the most beautiful glimpses of the light breaking through the darkness. The first hint of light begins to create a silhouette of our city skyline. As the sun continues to climb over the horizon, details in each building begins to come into clear focus. I can see everything better as the sun illuminates our city.
Advent is a time that we choose to create anticipation toward the celebration and remembrance of the birth of Jesus. In the same way that Jesus illuminates my life, each week of Advent illuminates four things that brings light to the darkness of our lives: hope, joy, peace, and love.
WHY DO WE PARTICIPATE?
“Want to know what’s cool about Advent, Jack?” My twelve-year old looked back at me with a curious look. “We are joining millions of Christians across time in remembering and anticipating the birth of Christ.” He smiled and replied, “That’s awesome!” and then ran off to kick a ball (or his brother) in the other room.
I want my kids to know the rhythms of the Christian calendar because I want them to know that each season will come and go, but God’s faithfulness will remain with them through it all.
I want my kids to appreciate the season of Advent because it’s healthy for them to build up to Christmas with anticipation, appreciation, and understanding of how meaningful it is that Jesus came to us in flesh and blood. He showed us how to live, love, and serve others.
If you’re a parent of littles, know that we’ve been doing this since our kids were pre-schoolers. We just made it shorter and read with a lot of excitement in our voices when they were young and couldn’t quite grasp the gravity of God-becoming-man and all that. The simple practice and routine of this each year becomes something that they look forward to as they get older, and you can find your own ways to make it fun as a family.
HOW DO YOU DO IT?
Dara and I have been preparing for Advent (which begins Sunday, December 1st this year) this week. This is a great exercise for us as a couple because it takes thoughtfulness and time to get ourselves ready and organized to take our kids through this season.
The past few years, we used a book called Unrwapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp. We would gather each night – most nights, if I’m totally honest – in the living room and read the story aloud. We bought a little Christmas tree and Dara created tiny ornaments that represented each reading. At the end of our discussion, one of the kids would take the ornament and put it on our Advent tree. Something simple like that is a great way to start if you want to incorporate something like this in your family this year.
This year, however, we are creating our own expression of Advent for our family. We would love for you (as an individual) or your family to join us in this journey. You can choose whatever way you like to reflect on this season. I have included a list of Advent resources at the end of this post.
I’m going to share bits and pieces of the Docusen journey on this blog for anyone that wants to join us – and millions of others around the world – in this season of making room in our hearts to fill with Jesus as we lead into the celebration and remembrance of his birth.
Here’s how our family is structuring our time through this season:
Each Sunday, I am going to lead our family in a devotional about that week’s Advent theme.
- Week One – Hope
- Week Two – Joy
- Week Three – Peace
- Week Four – Love
After the devotional, we will discuss the passage and then take communion together as a family. We are making tiny ornaments that represent prayers for our family, friends, churches and nonprofits that mean a lot to us, etc. and we will place them on an Advent wreath each day. Finally, we will light the candle that represents the theme of that week (click here to read more).
Each day through the week, we will follow the same schedule each evening:
- Light the candle that is represented for the week (you know, because we blew it out the night before so that we don’t catch our house on fire).
- Each of us will have read scriptures on the weekly theme through the day, and we will discuss when we come together at night.
- We will take an ornament, talk about who or what we are praying about and then pray together as a family. One of the kids will place the prayer ornament on the wreath at the end of our prayer.
- The last seven days will include a really unique expression that my friend, Vinnie, told me about this week. We will recite (or if we’re feeling really fun, we can chant them) hymns that have been used for generations in the church. These are called antiphons (click here to read more).
There’s no perfect way to lead yourself and/or your family through a season of reflection, remembrance, and anticipation. I’m including a few great resources below for you to explore what seems like may fit for you to genuinely embrace this season.
Remember, whatever you choose will be accompanying millions of others – including the Docusens – around the world that choose to center this season around the story of Jesus.
Brueggemann Advent Devotional (Amazon Link)
Rohr Advent Devotional (Amazon Link)
FREE ONLINE RESOURCE
Pittsburgh Theological Seminary Advent Devotional
I think we need to reconsider using the word reconciliation when talking about finding friendship across the dividing lines of race.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the work that folks are doing that genuinely try to bring racial reconciliation to our culture. However, the more that I’ve explored these topics and found friendship across racial lines, the more I am thinking that we may not have a reference point to which we can return that was healthy, unified, and expressing the oneness that God has always intended for us.
At which point in American history would we return that was equitable and just toward people of color?
Our country was founded by initially acquiring land by manipulation and aggression toward Native Americans. We have a well-documented history of the atrocity of slavery that set the national bias toward black people in our nation. Families that immigrated from Central and South America have been viewed as different or less than the predominantly-white middle and upper class for generations. The list can go on and on regarding a white-dominated culture insisting that people of color assimilate to the dominant culture.
Reconciliation can be defined as the restoration of friendly relationships or the action of making one view or belief compatible with another.
Think of these definitions through lens of a person of color in our country. If we are a country built upon the principles of a predominantly white culture, how do you think it sounds to a person of color when we talk about reconciliation? Exactly what are we returning to that makes sense to return to that would bring healing?
I think we need to consider exploring conversations that bring racial conciliation.
Conciliation can be defined as overcoming distrust, gaining goodwill, or making compatible.
This can be accomplished by folks that have grown up in the dominant culture taking the time to humbly listen, learn, and grow in our understanding of what it’s like to be a person of color in our country. We need to ask better questions instead of giving quick answers to societal problems that – if we’re really honest – we probably don’t understand in the first place.
Here’s four questions that may get the conversation started from a better reference point:
- Why are our people of color imprisoned 4x more than white people in America?
- Why are prison sentences longer for similar crimes for people of color than white people?
- How did the “war on drugs” target predominantly black and high-poverty communities?
- Did you know there are 4x the amount of people of color in our prisons that were ever in slavery?
There are so many questions that we can ask like this that would heighten our awareness and bring understanding between friends. However, if we’re not willing to ask questions, we will never truly be ready to understand our neighbors.
If you’re interested in those four questions above, a good start is to log on to Netflix and search for the documentary called 13th (click to view). This brilliant documentary exposes the way the prison system has been skewed to be full of people of color and how the 13th amendment – which was supposed to abolish slavery – introduced a new system that became a more subtle version of slavery.
If you remain curious, I pray that you’ll also embrace a courageous spirit to continue exploring. A great way to do that is to explore Michelle Alexander’s incredible book called The New Jim Crow (click to order). I could only read subtitle-to-subtitle before having to stop and repent of simply not knowing. Honestly, I had to repent of not caring, as well. I always just assumed that people who ended up in jail somehow deserved to end up there.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Additionally, I did not understand how we arrived at a point in our culture where white folks are moving along as if nothing is wrong while people of color have to think about these imbalances regularly.
If we are going to return to something, let’s go all the way back to the story of Jesus. He showed us how to open up our arms, invite everyone to the table, and enjoy a diverse community of friendship and oneness.
To my white friends: I want to humbly listen, learn, and grow. I invite you to do the same. Let’s start by doing some of the work of learning on our own and stop moving along as if nothing is wrong. Let’s care about our neighbors enough to look past our own perspective.
When we learn the true stories of our history, we can engage in conciliatory conversations that bring healing that has never been realized in American culture.
I saw the future on Tuesday.
I was teaching eleven future pastors in my Pastoral Theology class at SEU Concord. They were totally engaged as we talked about the challenges of doing ministry in a culture that is rapidly changing. I said to them, “Ministry has to change. Engaging our culture with the gospel has to find new expressions. You are the ones that are going to lead us into that new reality.” I think they actually believed me, and I could see the curiosity and excitement in their eyes.
I saw the future on Wednesday.
I was sitting at the on-campus restaurant at Southeastern University with Kaylee, Elissa, and Kevin. Three students with a passion to see a multi-cultural expression of oneness on the campus of our university and in our culture. I asked them to describe to me their experiences and what they were sensing for the future. The conversation started slowly with reserved answers and unsure statements. However, the more we talked I could see their confidence grow. They simply needed someone to listen to them and remind them that they have a voice and a perspective that is valid and needed. We talked about speaking truth in love and delivering important messages of equity to people in positions of power. The uncertainty and reservations became full-voice statements of what our world could be if we love each other well and see each other as one in the body of Christ.
I saw the future on Thursday.
The chapel at Southeastern University was absolutely bursting with energy. 500 students filled began to spontaneously sing the chorus to a song that had just finished. “Holy Spirit, we need a fresh outpouring.” Over and over again… the students passionately sang this out until the band joined in and the entire community sang with full voice. I looked around the room and saw asian, black, latino, white, and Caribbean students singing the same song. I saw a brief glimpse of the Revelation 7 chorus that describes every nation and every tongue joining together to give glory to God. Tori Hammer, the campus pastor posted a story on Instagram that summed up the moment so well. She said, “This is revival.”
I saw the future in 1997.
I was a freshman at Southeastern University singing a similar song in the same chapel. I had no idea what God would do in and through my life, but I learned how to sing a song with others that pointed me to God. I distinctly remember moments in Bush Chapel where I would envision a future in which I was doing ministry full-time with my future wife and children. I couldn’t see what the future would hold, but I remember the hope that filled my heart every time I closed my eyes and envisioned what was ahead. Twenty-two years sure goes by fast. God has been so faithful and he’s done so much more than I could have ever asked or imagined in and through my life. I genuinely believe that there’s plenty more to come in my ministry and I love closing my eyes and imagining what that future may look like. I know Dara, Max, Mary, Jack, and Ben are with me in that future and I am overjoyed to have them by my side.
One of my students, Harrison, shot me a text message after class last Tuesday. He said, “I appreciate your voice and influence in my life. God is using you as a huge blessing to the next generation.” This text hit me differently than he intended… not in a bad way. It was good. I was encouraged, but for almost two decades in full-time ministry, I’ve been looked at as the young buck in most ministry settings. It hit me that the students that I’m now teaching have now and next as we envision a future of sharing the beauty of the gospel. That text meant a lot to me. First, it hit me that I need to make sure that I’m investing everything I possibly can into the generations that will follow me in ministry. God has been so faithful to me and my family. Second, the gratitude in that message gave me so much hope for our future. There is a remnant of young men and women that are being raised up to lead all of us into the new realities that will be present in our future.
Harrison, Elissa, Kaylee, Kevin, Elaina, Matt, Reuben, Michael, Hannah, Quincy, Easton, Caitlyn, Wesley, Uchenna, Joey, Mikayla, and Eric… you have now and next as we envision the future and all that God will do in and through us. Stay close to Jesus and always remember that when you remain close to Him he promises to be with you. When you stray away from Him, it’s like a fruit-bearing tree that’s been uprooted. Always remain rooted in Him and he will faithfully produce enough fruit for you, your future family, and those that fill your world. God is faithful and he has called and empowered you to be the ones that re-imagine new methods in ministry that will continue to advance the peaceable and beautiful Kingdom of God.
Now and next. I can see the future in your eyes.