Dr. Stephen Douglass – We Celebrate a Life Well Lived
We Celebrate Heaven’s Gain
Today, believers around the world will gather to celebrate the life of Dr. Stephen Douglass, president emeritus of Cru/Campus Crusade for Christ. Steve loved and faithfully served this ministry with his beloved wife, Judy, for over five decades.
While many will gather at the Sand Lake Campus of Discovery Church in Orlando, others may join via the YouTube live stream. You can also participate by reading the opportunities shared in his obituary.
Steve was a champion for advancing the gospel and all that God would do when Christian leaders gathered, ready to invest their God-given best in one another for greater Kingdom impact. Christian Leadership Alliance gives thanks to God for Steve’s faithfulness and commitment to the Alliance community. We have been richly blessed by all the ways he served and supported its mission and vision.
As a tribute to Steve, I am sharing an interview I did with him in the Fall of 2018 for Outcomes Magazine. As I reread this interview, I could hear his earnest voice and passion. He shared timeless wisdom as he explained what it meant to live a life relying on God, which aptly become the title of this interview.
I pray today, his words spur you on to complete the good work God has prepared and called you to do!
Based on your almost 50 years of service at Cru, what would you say are some hallmarks of the organization’s culture?
Four of the hallmarks of our culture at Cru are walk, love, focus,and faith.
The first and most basic is that we encourage our staff to walk closely with God. I worked with our founder, Bill Bright, for more than 30 years. Bill had a very close walk with God. If you asked him what you could pray for him, he would inevitably say, “Pray that I never lose my first love” (referring to Rev. 2:4). From the beginning of our ministry until now, we make it our first priority to show people how to appropriate and experience God’s forgiveness and supernatural power, as the foundation for an ongoing walk with God.
Secondly, we encourage people to minister to others as an outgrowth of their love for others. Because we talk a lot about fulfilling the “task” of the Great Commission, we tend to attract people who are excited about accomplishing that task. At the same time the key context for ministering to others is a sincere interest in them and a strong desire to see them enjoy a close, loving relationship with God and with others who love him. Loving relationships are core to our culture.
A third element is a willingness to focus our lives and activities on what God has called us to do. God gives different callings, passions and ministries to different people. Without apology, we ask people who join with us to do so out of a sense of a personal calling consistent with our ministry’s calling. We were called into existence by a vision God gave to our founder that portrayed the Great Commission being fulfilled. We are but a part of that very big endeavor, but engrained in our culture is a clear sense of focus.
Fourthly, we value stepping out in faith. My undergraduate education was in electrical engineering. I learned to evaluate and make decisions based on the facts. It has been a wonderful, lifelong growth process for me to appreciate that our decisions must involve faith in God, who possesses unlimited resources. Often, God asks us to rely on him to do what is humanly impossible.
What is the key to helping those on the frontlines to thrive in pursuing Cru’s calling?
Building on what I just shared, the first and most important key to helping frontline people to thrive is to help them walk with and rely on God. Ministering to people is, on one hand, exciting and, on the other hand, potentially exhausting. People have many needs. We teach our staff not to view themselves as the main way those needs will be met. Instead, we encourage them to help those they disciple to cast their cares on the Lord and to ask him for his provisions and solutions. To do that well, our staff must model relying on God. From formal training to more informal interactions, we pour into the lives of our staff the perspective that thriving occurs because God gives them that ability.
It is a very exciting time to be alive and involved in touching the lives of others through Jesus Christ.
Another key is to place our staff into teams and similarly encourage those we disciple to grow and minister together with other believers. We have Bible studies, movement groups and even teams of students who travel together to launch Cru works on other campuses.
A third key to helping people on the frontlines thrive is to encourage them to pass their experience and vision on. For example, we have found that sharing our personal testimonies of how God has worked in our lives connects better with non-Christians than just sharing content or principles. An additional benefit of sharing our testimonies is that it refreshes and reinforces our appreciation for what God has done for us. Likewise sharing with others how we caught the vision for being involved in fulfilling the Great Commission refreshes our own vision and commitment, while it inspires others as well.
As a leader, how have you prioritized caring for your own soul?
By far the most significant contributor to my own spiritual well-being is to walk with God as continually as possible. David wrote in Psalm 16:8, “I have set the Lord continually before me. Because He is at my right hand I will not be shaken.” (NASB) The key for my not “being shaken” by tough circumstances is being in constant touch with the Person who has the wisdom and power to enable me to cope with those tough circumstances. That constant communication and reliance on God puts me in the best position not just to survive but to succeed at what God wants me to do.
One habit that has helped me in this is to apply Phil. 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
The word “everything” is very comprehensive, isn’t it? What “thing” in the course of my day is excluded? Nothing. So, I seek to ask myself whenever I am thinking about or doing something, “Have I prayed about this?” Usually I have prayed about the “big” problems and opportunities. But often I find I have not yet prayed about the “smaller” ones. How easy it is to drift toward operating in my own strength and wisdom and forego God’s provision of peace for my heart and mind.
What are you most enthusiastic about as you consider the work of Cru today?
I am so grateful that Cru is involved in ministry at a time when God is moving in many places and in very powerful ways.
For example, the number of unreached people groups where no one has even tried to reach them is rapidly declining toward zero. In November of 2005 there were 639 of such groups with populations of 100,000 or more. In November of 2017 that number had declined to 5! The remaining, smaller-population groups are also declining rapidly. What encourages me is that we have had the privilege of contributing to that progress in part through the Jesus Film, now available in over 1,650 languages and rapidly being translated and dubbed into many more.
We are also very involved in church planting. We helped launch a partnership which is seeking to plant a church for every 1,000 people on earth.
Of course, we are still very involved in ministering to college students. That part of our ministry is growing rapidly. The number of campuses we are on worldwide has grown by 43% in the last two years. Also, during one week this fall we are involving our campus staff and students throughout the world in a “Launch Week” with the goal of adding ministries on 1,000 more local campuses.
Once a campus ministry is started, a very significant way it can grow and “spill over” to nearby campuses is through spiritual multiplication. Andres was a college student in Columbia who began such a multiplication process. He started a movement group on his campus, then another campus. Soon his friends were doing the same thing. Today, 10 years later, there are 160 movement groups on 80 campuses in 20 cities.
Space doesn’t allow me to share about the wonderful things God is doing through our ministries to families, athletes, inner-city people, executives and other leaders. We minister a great deal through websites, apps and various social media channels. We are also blessed to have the ministry of Josh McDowell as a part of Cru.
It is a very exciting time to be alive and involved in touching the lives of others through Jesus Christ.
What advice would you offer to other ministry leaders for thriving in their work?
My initial advice is to be encouraged by what God is doing today – not just through your ministry but through other ministries as well.
Another piece of advice is to continue to walk closely with God. It is the only way I have found to cope with the daunting challenges of leadership.
A final piece of advice is don’t try to do more activities than you can handle in light of your family and other crucial aspects of your life. At different points in my life as a leader, I have found myself significantly overextended. When my energy gets too drained, I find I don’t handle my responsibilities as the ministry needs me to handle them. But when I adjust and refocus some and rely on the Lord better, I find my full energy and creativity come back.
Leadership is a sobering but very rewarding calling. Like anything in the Christian life, it can only be done well as we walk with God, trusting him to do what he calls us to do.
In a few of my last conversations with Steve, he expressed urgency about collaboration and unity among all believers. He challenged and encouraged me to remain faithful to both as they are core to God’s plans for the Alliance community. Steve knew and witnessed that in God’s plan we are always stronger, together. I take comfort knowing he how watches the Master’s plan all play out and is cheering us on! Thank you Steve, our lives are richer because you touched them.
Tami Heim is the president and CEO of Christian Leadership Alliance.
What is Christian Leadership Alliance?
Christian Leadership Alliance equips and unites leaders to transform the world for Christ. We are the leaders of Christ-centered organizations who are dedicated to faithful stewardship for greater kingdom impact.