On the Launchpad

If you were asked to name the person(s) responsible for the invention of the airplane, you probably would answer, “the Wright Brothers.” And you would be wrong, mostly. Long before Orville and Wilbur dreamed up their airplane, people were attempting to build and fly experimental aircraft. The Wright Bros turned these attempts into reality by pioneering flight controls, which made sustained, powered flight possible.

The church today needs to do for college graduates what the Wright Brothers did for flying: deliver the tools that actually make flight possible.

In his book Protégé, Steve Saccone notes how both lawyers and med students are practicing their disciplines in residencies and fellowships while they are still in their 20s. So why, he asks, “can’t we train young leaders at that same level within the church to take on the daunting task of helping people navigate through the complex spiritual, psychological, relational and emotional issues of their lives? Perhaps our vision and our faith are too small?”

Christian young adults graduate college and are thrust into a rapidly evolving societal landscape where values and markers are blurry or nonexistent. The Church is in desperate need of a mechanism—aircraft controls, as it were— to successfully equip young adults to launch into life and career following Jesus.

I have spent the last three years installing such a mechanism into the life of Hope EFC in Cincinnati, Ohio. We call it Hope Fellows. This leadership-development program is part of a national Fellows Initiative, which is equipping recent college graduates to think biblically and intentionally about all facets of life.

“The focus is on intentional, intensive discipleship,” says John Hutchinson, who helps oversee the Capital Fellows in Washington, D.C. “This ministry is equipping young men and women to be salt and light in the marketplace and to be effective in their respective callings.”

In May 2013, we graduated the inaugural Hope Fellows class—three thoughtful, eager and passionate young adults who had immersed themselves into the life and mission of our church. At the same time, they took seminary classes in conjunction with Reformed Theological Seminary, worked in meaningful part-time jobs that pertained to their desired careers, lived with host families from our church body, and engaged in hands-on ministry and mentoring.

“The Fellows program has drawn a target I can spend the rest of my life aiming at,” says Wesley Mills, one of our graduates. “Even better, the program has provided me with the tools I need to be able to shoot well.”

The Hope Fellows program included valuable mentoring by leaders of Hope EFC. One mentor even gave personal flying lessons to these Fellows. Photo by Bryan Zambello. (Top photo) As director of the Hope Fellows program, Brian Mease (at left) provides a team-building experience in the Red River Gorge. Photo by Jess Mease

Stephen Kirk, senior pastor of Hope Church, was eager to implement the program. “Over the past few years,” he says, “our church has experienced a renewed energy in regard to discipleship. The Fellows program provided our people with a living model.”

Indeed, Hope Fellows has become a catalyst for a more concerted, church-wide strategy of disciple-making.

Launching the Fellows program was a monumental task. Similar to starting a small business or planting a church, the program requires a ton of energy, particularly in the first stages. At times, I felt as if the program might never actually materialize. I still wonder if it will be sustainable. Yet I feel compelled to press on, because I’ve never experienced anything as meaningful as the intentional discipleship we gave to these college graduates. Michael Knowles, another recent Fellow, says, “I’ll never forget the time an entire church marshaled its resources just to pour into me. I will carry that weight.”

As of today, more than 20 Fellows programs exist in local churches across the United States. Hope Fellows is the first within the walls of an Evangelical Free Church.

Consider a Fellows program if you, too, are looking for an opportunity to give flight to young leaders who will lead and influence tomorrow’s world.

Visit Hope Church’s website to learn more about how Hope Fellows works and what it could look like at your church.

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