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On Developing Leaders: An Interview with John Kyle

Updated: Mar 14, 2019

by Elizabeth Moyer


The foundation, of course, is Jesus Christ, who is redeeming all things, including our work, our thoughts, and our relationships.” -- John Kyle, executive director of The Fellows Initiative

John Kyle has a passion for mentoring and developing leaders in the millennial generation. He is the executive director of The Fellows Initiative and has led the Capital Fellows program in Washington, DC for six years. Each year, fellows programs in the TFI network lead cohorts of recent college graduates into a deep-dive of faith, work, leadership, service, and community.


Recently, I had the pleasure of chatting with John about The Fellows Initiative and the many fellows programs in the TFI network across the country.


Describe "fellows program" in a sentence.

JK: (Laughing) Unfortunately, I can’t! A sentence doesn’t do justice to the detail and impact of a fellows program.


In summary, fellows programs are nine-month programs for recent college graduates. Fellows get hands-on work experience in paid internships in local nonprofits, companies, and government agencies. They serve and lead in service ministries in the city and the church. In some programs, they take biblically-rich classes through local seminaries.


Each fellow has a personal mentor. They live and learn in meaningful and supportive community. And, at the core of the program, we wrestle with the question, “What does God want me to do in this life – at work, in family, in the church and in the community?”


How do you see the program impacting a fellow’s life in the short-term and then five or ten years after the program?

JK: Many fellows come into the program unsure of  the kind of work God is calling them to do. For many of them, it’s a great year of discovery – of themselves, of the gifts and abilities God has given them.


John Kyle, executive director of The Fellows Initiative, meeting with recent fellows

Fellows also come with questions that have nothing to do with work: Where is God in my doubts? Where is God in my anxiety? Using Scripture as our guide, we wrestle through all of these things together.


Answering the 5- and 10-year question, we like to say that fellows programs are mid-life crisis prevention programs. In mid-life, when we have settled into various patterns and routines, it’s easy to lose track of who we are and what we are supposed to be doing. Fellows programs are designed to give a solid foundation for those future questions. The foundation, of course, is Jesus Christ who is redeeming all things including our work, our thoughts, and our relationships.


Why should a recent college graduate consider a fellows program rather than a full-time job?

JK: I get this question a lot from parents as well as prospective fellows.


First, I am not at all opposed to going out and getting a job. Getting a job – even one you’re unsure about – is a lot better than doing nothing while living in Mom and Dad’s basement.


The reality, however, is that more new college graduates are unsure about their career direction than at any time in our history. In addition, many of us – young and old alike – cannot make a clear connection between our work and our faith in Christ. So, work often seems disjointed and disconnected from our spiritual lives. It is this very disconnect that leads to discontent and a sense of wandering that is so hard for us to manage, and so prevalent in the post-college years.


I strongly encourage parents and prospective fellows not to think about this program as a gap year or an alternative to getting a job. It is a job – and a whole lot more. Fellows programs are rigorous and, in many ways, will probably be one of the hardest (but also one of the best!) years of a fellow’s life.


You are currently recruiting the 2019-20 class of fellows. What do you look for in an applicant?

JK: Thanks for reminding our readers that we are recruiting for the next class. If you are a college senior or know one, please check out our (soon to be updated) website and the TFI Common Application – click here for the website. There are still openings available across the TFI network.


With 27 fellows programs, the TFI network is growing fast!

We don’t have a cookie-cutter ideal fellow in mind. Fellows come from a broad mix of universities, majors, and denominational backgrounds. We do like to see a high level of personal and spiritual maturity, a tendency toward leadership, and an eagerness to live and learn in authentic Christian community.


How would your life be different if you had been a fellow in your 20’s?

JK: When people in their 40s and 50s learn about the program, they often say, “I wish we had a program like that when I was young!” I have that same feeling.


I see the impact these programs have on the fellows. I see the growth they experience individually and as a community. I can’t help but wonder which choices I would have made if I had been better equipped to seek the Lord’s counsel, more inclined to live in Christian community, and more willing to serve others in the places I was planted.


The good news is that the program directors and I get to go through the fellows experience each year. And, every year, it profoundly impacts my life. So, even if you are old like me, it’s not too late. You might want to consider starting a fellows program in your church.


What benefits does a fellow’s program bring to the church and the community? Why should a church invest in a fellows program?

JK: All across the TFI network, we have seen that fellows programs are incredible blessings to the local church. Even in the nine months of the program, the fellows become integral to the life of the church. Families deeply invest in the lives of fellows; and the fellows invest deeply in the lives of those families. As fellows stay and continue to invest in the local church, those churches grow together around the key themes of the fellows concept - vocation, leadership, service and community - built upon the centrality of Christ in all of life. This is probably the most incredible picture of adoption, hospitality, and discipleship I have ever seen.


If you’re interested in starting a new fellows program in your church, please visit our website – www.thefellowsinitiative.org – and leave us a message. We would be honored to help you get started.


This article is republished with permission from the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (www.tifwe.org). The original article appears here. IFWE is a Christian research organization committed to advancing biblical and economic principles that help individuals find fulfillment in their work and contribute to a free and flourishing society. Visit https://tifwe.org/subscribe to subscribe to the IFWE Blog.



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