J. Roger Davis, President of YM360, has spent his last 25 years leading and serving churches with excellent, gospel-centered youth ministry event experiences. Roger joined the team as President of YM360 in 2015 and is energized by creating moments that matter for you and your youth group through GENERATE Camp by YM360.
Learn all about Roger’s road to YM360 below in an interview with YM360 co-founder and CEO, Les Bradford.
So what is your role?
Becca and I were thrilled to join the YM360 family a few years ago. I have spent the last 25 years of ministry focused on creating meaningful experiences and resources for the next-generation. When we 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 allowed us to help bring new leadership capacity to the growing YM360 team along with you (Les Bradford) and Andy Blanks (co-founder/Publisher) who have led this ministry well over the last seven years. 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 and the churches we serve.
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, we tend to hear the Lord more clearly. We tend to spend more time in a healthy Biblical community. We often understand more clearly how we are to spend time serving and making the truth of the Gospel known. 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.
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 twenty 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.
What roles did you have during your time at Student Life?
Student Life’s staff was a small team when I started (we had about five full-time staff) so everyone did a bit of everything. My primary focus was camps and later conferences. I served year-round creating our summer events and also giving hands-on leadership to them for five years. I then moved into a role as Director of Camps as the ministry expanded its reach, and then Senior Vice President leading all events. For the last five years of my time there I served as the President of Student Life. Because of these roles, I may know where every college in the country is. It’s great for school mascot trivia.
Why did you decide it was time to leave your role leading Student Life?
Many people have asked me that question over the past few years. We loved our time serving there and loved the work we did and the people we served with. Student Life is a huge part of my heritage. My wife, Becca, and I were talking recently, and she too had been involved with Student Life for 20 years either as a student minister or serving alongside me. But, we just felt like the Lord was moving us to step away. We made the decision early to give plenty of time for a healthy transition in leadership, and it gave us a lot of time to pray and consider our next assignment while also ending our time well at Student Life. We were not sure where it would lead, but we love the fact that it led us to serve on the team here at YM360.
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 know 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 lines up with where our family is, and we believe we can leverage our talents, gifts, and abilities for it. It has already been a great two years.
Has this relationship 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 common mission with us. But, it was not until just the past few years that we felt this was the next assignment for our family. Throughout our journey over the years, we have had great respect for YM360. A few years ago 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 your magazine, emails and other media. 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 this new season that the reality to partner with long-time friends became reality.
You mentioned Servant Life. The global conversation has always been one that is important to you. A few 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 that 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 18 global partners, and I have been giving leadership to that team as Executive Director since 2008. I still believe students can change the world.
Are there 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 27,000 children sponsored in all 26 countries that Compassion works in. My wife reminds me that that is also 27,000 American students that are experiencing what it is like to live as Christ-followers as we take care of those that have needs and as we speak up for those that have no voice. 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, join a church staff, and then later start 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.
What do you hope to accomplish at YM360?
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.
Do you have any thoughts on the first few years of 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 a 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. 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 for the next few seasons.
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. God is honored in excellence and pleased with authenticity. You win with great people. I have many that have guided and molded me, and I am sure you guys will get to hear plenty of them.