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Sustaining Momentum By Tom Lin

Sustaining momentum depends on your infrastructure.

By Tom Lin ~

Momentum begins with something that ignites your passion and fuels your dreams. It propels you and your ministry forward insistently, relentlessly and consistently.

That momentum started for me as a college student at Harvard University, where my faith came alive through the ministry of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I learned to study Scripture, engage in mission and commit to community in ways that still define who I am today.

But none of the campus ministries were reaching the growing number of Asian-American students on campus. So I planted one. I wanted an otherwise unreached people group to meet Jesus. That longing has shaped the trajectory of my life.

It launched my wife and me to Mongolia to plant student ministry during years when there were just a few hundred Mongolian Christians. I remember many nights where we would cry because it was so spiritually hard, physically cold and geographically isolated. What kept us there? Simple: We wanted Mongolian students to meet Jesus.

It led me to direct Urbana, InterVarsity’s triennial student missions conference, which calls every student generation to engage in God’s global mission. And now, it has led me to InterVarsity’s presidency. An unchanged longing to see unreached people meet Jesus has propelled each of these role changes. That momentum carries me.

I became president in our 75th year of ministry. By almost every standard, we have momentum. We have seen consecutive years of record-breaking growth in students and faculty served, campuses reached, converts celebrated and money raised. The question now is: How do I sustain and amplify this momentum?

Momentum begins with a spark of passion, but it’s sustained through intentional disciplines. In this season, sustaining momentum means investing in different forms of infrastructure:

Personal Infrastructure

Last winter, I started annual retreats with a peer mentoring group of seven like-minded leaders from other organizations. My goals: enjoy the California sun and learn from the wisdom of leaders with different perspectives and work contexts. I also recommitted to monthly meetings with a spiritual director. To sustain organizational momentum, my spiritual health needs to be a priority and intentionally scheduled.

Intellectual Infrastructure

More than 54 percent of our students are people of color or international students — and that number is growing. Therefore, I’m investing in my intellectual capacity, reading books like Prophetic Lament by Soong-Chan Rah (IVP Books, 2015), Roadmap to Reconciliation by Brenda Salter-McNeil (IVP Books, 2016), and Confident Pluralism by John D. Inazu (University of Chicago Press, 2016).

Imaginative Infrastructure

Storytelling is a powerful tool that reminds us of what God is doing and captures our yearning of what we hope God will do. I’m intentionally telling stories of planting ministries at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic Serving Institutions, supporting The Daniel Project (our leadership accelerator program that prepares Asian, Black, and Latino staff for senior leadership roles). I’m telling stories of how we’re reaching people of every ethnicity and culture, and how our organization’s leadership increasingly reflects that diversity.

Innovative Infrastructure

In Made to Flourish (IVP Books, 2015), author Shelley Trebesch suggests that an innovation culture (and valuing your innovators) helps sustain growth and creates future momentum multipliers. I am leading InterVarsity through the largest reorganization in decades. My goal: reduce silos and help innovators thrive. First-time decisions to follow Christ have more than doubled in our ministry in the past eight years.

Information infrastructure

Too often, momentum stalls when underlying systems cannot support growth. This year, we began a complete overhaul of our Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, and we are increasing our hiring of people in finance and HR. I believe these investments will give us capacity for another season of explosive growth.

Why invest in infrastructure in this way?

Because of the momentum that started as a student and the longing I still have: to see every unreached person meet Jesus.


Tom Lin is president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA ). He is author of Pursuing God’s Call (2012) and Losing Face, Finding Grace (1996), both published by InterVarsity Press. Lin has a B.A. in economics from Harvard University and holds an M.A. in global leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary. Today’s post is an excerpt from his article in the 2017 Spring edition of Outcomes magazine.

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