This week, Tom De Vries assumed the role of president of Willow Creek Association (WCA) and The Global Leadership Summit (GLS).
We are excited to welcome Tom as the leader of our movement.
The Follow the GLS Blog got a chance to sit down with him recently to get to know more about his story—and to get a sneak peek into the vision he brings to WCA.
WCA: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Tom De Vries: I grew up in Southern California—in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. I’m a second generation pastor, attended Wheaton College and got my Master of Divinity at Fuller Seminary. Upon graduation, I took a call 60 miles east of Los Angeles to start a church. I was pastor at that church for 12 years, and we ended up birthing three congregations. At the same time, I was a regional director for our denomination, the Reformed Church of America (RCA). From there, I became the pastor of a larger church with 2,000 in attendance and five multi-site churches. Most recently, I served as the General Secretary for the RCA denomination.
On the personal side, I’ve been married to my wife, Laura, for thirty-one years and we have three adult children.
WCA: How would your co-workers at the RCA describe your leadership?
De Vries: They would probably use three words: collaborative, coalescent and synergistic. I am very team-oriented and believe that we achieve great things when we come together and bring our best to the table. Beyond that, I believe together we become a part of something greater—and the things we can do together have more power than what we can do individually.
WCA: How would you describe your tenure as General Secretary to the RCA?
De Vries: My role was to give direction to where we sensed God was leading us for the next 15-year run in the denomination. We went through a two-year discernment process of praying and seeking God’s leading for us. By the end, we landed on three priorities that resulted in new staff, metrics and resources to execute the vision.
WCA: WCA is a global ministry. What your thoughts on the state of Christianity and the Global Church?
De Vries: At the RCA, we worked in 40 countries. We were less involved in planting RCA churches and more involved in long-term partnerships and deep friendships with indigenous Christians in places like the Persian Gulf, China and India. I’ve also been a member of the World Council of Churches, which allowed me to get to know people from different traditions and tribes.
If you look at the work that Todd Johnson, Director of Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon Conwell, and others are doing on the World Christian Database, the impact of Christianity is growing globally at a significant rate. The global expansion of The Global Leadership Summit is, in many ways, reflective of the expanding influence of Christianity. Although there are places of challenge and persecution, Christianity is flourishing both in proclamation and action.
WCA: Talk about your past connections to WCA and the GLS.
De Vries: In 1996, as a young church planter from California, several of our church staff got on a plane to Chicago to attend the second-ever GLS in South Barrington. It was a tremendous experience to be in an environment where leadership was celebrated and it led us to the vision to plant churches. We were one of the earliest churches to join WCA.
WCA: What made you interested in taking on the role of president at WCA?
De Vries: Over the years, I saw the focus of WCA becoming more centered on leadership, which is very much how I am wired and what I am passionate about. Robert Clinton, leadership professor at Fuller Seminary, would say that at some point in a leader’s life, there is a place of convergence where your calling, gifting and the place of opportunity for leadership come together. I felt that convergence in my conversations with people at WCA. Our visions were coming together.
WCA: What role do you see GLS playing in the kingdom right now.
De Vries: All around the world, when you look at the various expressions of Christian mission—church planting, evangelism, compassion and justice work—all are multiplied and enhanced by great leadership. Leadership is the common denominator. Whether a leader is involved in empowering women in Uganda, drilling wells in Kenya or the church-growth movement in China, the GLS can come alongside and provide the leadership foundation that makes mission and ministry better.
If we believe that the local church is the hope of the world, and that its’ future rests in the hands of its’ leaders, we need to do the best we can to support leaders—in the marketplace, in government, in education, in healthcare, in media, etc. The GLS trains leaders to live out their faith and increase their influence in every sector of society.
WCA: What words of encouragement do you have for faith-centered leaders who read this blog?
De Vries: We all can lead, wherever God has placed us. I believe there is a theme of redemption and restoration in the gospel—that there will be a restoration of all things and we need faith-centered leaders in all spheres of society. I believe God gifts us and places us exactly where we can have the biggest impact. And it takes a step of faith to move forward when we sense God is giving us opportunities.
As people of faith, we can depend on God to work in us, through us and even ahead of us to accomplish those Grander Visions that will happen as we are obedient to the whispers of the Spirit.
Tom De Vries has been a church planter, multi-site pastor, and global movement leader. He is a 20-year attender of the Global Leadership Summit, and believes in the mission of the local church as expressed in the great commandment and the great commission, as well as an ever-increasing need for greater leadership skills for all who influence others.