J. Roger Davis, President of YM360, has spent his last 30+ years leading and serving churches with excellent, gospel-centered youth ministry event experiences. Roger joined the team as President of YM360 in 2015 and has always been energized by creating moments that matter for you and your youth group through GENERATE Camp by YM360.
Learn all about Roger’s thoughts about GENERATE and role of YM360 below in an interview with YM360 co-founder and CEO, Les Bradford.
Why do you think camps and events are important in the growth and development of a young Christ-follower?
In every part of life, Jesus is always a great example for us. As you read the scriptures, you see Him often retreating from the crowds and “normal” flow of life. He goes away and spends intimate time with His followers or with His Father. I believe that model still has great value. When we remove ourselves from the distractions of our lives and I would think we would all agree there are plenty of them, we tend to hear the Lord more clearly. In the pause that is created we can spend more time in a healthy Biblical community. In these moments we can understand more clearly how we are to spend time serving and making the truth of the Gospel known. In the past, I have heard some say that events like camps are dead. Well, from my perspective and experience, they still have an amazing impact when done well and when the right things are prioritized.
So at GENERATE, do you have any goals that you feel like we are accomplishing or you want to see accomplished?
I simply want to say “yes” to as many churches as possible. Both Becca and I want to spend our time and energy helping churches in their mission to grow a generation of students that know Christ, know the Word, and share it boldly. From the start of my career leading camps I think the goal has always been to allow the Word to do the work. The teams I have served on work year round to create events where God’s Word is prioritized and held up. That is one of our core values at YM360, We Elevate Christ. One of the major ways that happens is by focusing on the Word of God. In it we have 66 books all pointing to Jesus as the promised one and the provided savior. In Him we can they Way, the Truth and the Life and ultimately eternity with Him and the Father. Our goal will continue to see a generation that knows knows Christ and makes Him known. When that is not the focus, we need to not be leading ministry events.
You mentioned your career, what is your past experience leading ministry events?
When I was 17 I surrendered to ministry, and at that time I believed it would be student ministry, most likely in a local church context. However, just before I started school at Samford University I was introduced to camp ministry. For the next five years, I spent my summers serving and growing as a leader and teacher at Christian summer camps. In the fall of 1996, I was serving as a High School Youth Pastor at a church in Birmingham when I left that role to join a new ministry called Student Life. After serving in some contract roles with them including the launch of the first Student Life Conference Tour, I joined the team full-time over 25 years ago. Our time serving there and leading was a joy, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have accomplished great Kingdom impact with some amazing people. In 2015, we felt like the Lord was bringing a season to a close and starting a new season. At the time we did not know where that was or what it looked like, but in looking back we can see how the Lord was moving in our lives and had already prepared a work for us with YM360. We joined the team at YM360 in 2015.
Can you share a bit more about your role at YM360?
I have spent my entire ministry career focused on creating meaningful experiences and resources for the next generation. As I said, when Becca and I felt like the Lord prompted us to step away from our last ministry assignment, we were unsure of what the next season would be. Throughout our journey to YM360, we’ve felt our calling has remained clear and consistent. Stepping into the role of President in 2015 allowed us to help bring new leadership capacity to the growing YM360 team along with you (Les Bradford) and at the time Andy Blanks (co-founder/Publisher) who had led this ministry well up to that point. In day-to-day tasks, I lead live experiences like camps, conferences, and training events and focus my time on growing our relationships with ministry leaders, the churches we serve, and various partnerships that YM360is connected to
The team here is doing amazing things for youth ministers and youth workers. I am a believer that God is honored in excellence, and excellence attracts people. That has obviously been true here since the beginning. It is important to not just partner with projects, but also people. And we knew you guys – the team at YM360 – very well. We trust you. Many don’t know that I was actually a Bible study teacher for you, Les when you were a fourth grader. There is actually a picture floating around somewhere. I’m not sure who looked more awkward. And then your wife, Jamie, was in Becca’s student ministry at Brook Hills. After Becca left her role at the church she joined the team at Student Life Bible Study and worked with Andy. So, there are a lot of connections. But I think the biggest reason is the mission. YM360 lined up with where our family is, and we believe we can leverage our talents, gifts, and abilities for it. That is what we have tried to do the entire time we have been here.
Has this relationship between you and YM360 been a long time coming?
I guess that may depend on who you ask. As I look back, I can see that God obviously had created connections and a common mission with us. But, it was not until the end of 2015 that we felt this was the next assignment for our family. Throughout our journey over the years, we have had great respect for YM360. When Servant Life needed new offices, you guys also needed more space, so it was logical to connect and share resources. Additionally, Servant Life has partnered with YM360 in other areas. And, of course, there have been plenty of personal connections along the way. But, it was just after we were wrapping up the summer of 2015 as we prayerfully considered the options in front of us for the next season that partnering with long-time friends became a reality. We are glad it worked out then and hope we have remained faithful to the mission over these years serving together.
You mentioned Servant Life. The global conversation has always been one that is
important to you. Many years ago when we previously worked together you took us to Kenya. Could you tell us more about your heart for global missions?
The Great Commission is pretty clear for all of us who are Christ-followers. In the late 90’s the Lord began to give me and other leaders a desire to use whatever platform and favor that we had to mobilize students to serve overseas. At that time we were just serving in Ukraine. When we started Servant Life as a separate 501(c)3 organization, it was like a church plant supported by a mother church, the focus being to advocate for our partners and mobilize students to serve with them. That has grown to now include 25+ global partners, and I have been giving leadership to that team as Executive Director since 2008. I still believe students can change the world and that is one of the reasons that Becca and I have continued to leverage our lives to encourage and equip this generation of students.
What other organizations you are involved in?
In addition to Servant Life, my family and I are big advocates, supporters, and fans of Compassion International. We officially began a relationship with them in 2003 and have been able to be a part of leading teams to see over 35,000 children sponsored in many of the countries that Compassion works in. My wife reminds me that there are also 35,000+ American students and adults who are experiencing what it is like to live as Christ-followers as we take care of those who have needs and as we speak up for those who have no voice, Proverbs 31:8-9 is pretty clear on that. We continue to partner with Compassion both personally and professionally. I also am a big fan of a former staff member of ours who started Fund The Nations. I first hired Bubba Crowder when he was an 18-year-old on my summer staff. It was a joy to watch him grow into a leader while serving full-time with me, joining a church staff, and then later starting FTN. Their mission is to serve people with funding for mission trips, adoption, non-profits, or churches, and it’s a joy to help them with relationships and marketing. We have used them at Servant Life, and I think they are one of the best resources out there. In addition to partnering with them personally, we also partner with them through our work at YM360.
Do you have any more thoughts on GENERATE?
As I mentioned, camp has always been special for me. It has been fun to interact with churches and hear the stories of life-change in their students. I am a believer that a one-week experience that impacts the other 51 weeks has great value. We want to help lead students to know Christ and to make Him known, that will always be the goal and is the driving mission behind GENERATE. As I shared, this is accomplished through a strong commitment to the Word on all platforms. The last few seasons have been a lot of fun working with many friends and my family. We have really enjoyed being out at camps and plan to continue that as much as possible.
Do you have a personal mission statement?
I do. Billy Graham would often say, “God gave you two hands, one to receive with and one to give with.” That is my focus for my time serving and leading people. I want to help people, primarily students, get the gospel and give it away. When we truly “get it” we receive the gospel and become a believer. This should lead all true Christ-followers to also want to “give it” away to others. It is all about making disciples that make disciples. So, these are the areas we have leveraged our gifts, talents, abilities, and time.
What about any philosophies of ministry that have been key to your time as a leader?
A few that I place high value on are: Ministry is 100% about relationships. The Word is what changes lives. It should always be the foundation of our sermons, studies, and lives. As I said earlier, I often articulate that with “Let the Word do the Work” or let’s work to “Put God’s Word on Centerstage.” Another that you often hear from me is, “God is honored in excellence and pleased with authenticity” or you might here that as “God is honored in excellence, excellence attracts people, so why would we strive for anything less?” I also have loved working with college staff and really believe “You win with great people.” I have many thoughts that I hold on to that have guided and molded me, and I am sure many who have served with me in the past or here at YM360 likely can repeat many of them.