Dave Hillis

How Do You View the City? 
If you were asked whether you see the cities of our nation and world as either playgrounds or battlegrounds, what would you say? 

In his recent book, Cities: Playgrounds or Battlegrounds? Leadership Foundations’ Fifty-Year Journey of Social and Spiritual Renewal, Young Life alumnus Dr. David C. Hillis answers this question with a very hopeful and compelling vision for the city. In his own words, Dave writes, "Seeing our cities as God’s playgrounds, where we can see God’s redemptive Spirit already at work in myriad ways, inviting us to join in and share our gifts, rather than as battlegrounds, where divisions create rivalry and there is dissipation and discord, is the perspective required to bring us and our cities closer to God’s peace. That is, a place in which we see God as our friend, neighbors as co-laborers, resources as abundant, and mercy and grace available to all." Cities: Playgrounds or Battlegrounds? is not simply a treatise on how we might approach cities; rather, it is a riveting overview and celebration of the 50-year journey of Leadership Foundations, the organization that Hillis leads, making an impact on more than 70 cities worldwide.

It has been said that Young Life, like a boat traveling through the water, has a long, wide “legacy wake.” This wake goes back more than seven decades and has influenced more people and organizations than can be named. Dave Hillis is one of these people; Leadership Foundations is one of these organizations.
In his book, as he shares about the beginnings of Leadership Foundations, Dave points out the fact that in 1962, Reid Carpenter, a 24-year-old Young Life area director in Pittsburgh, became the founder of Leadership Foundations following a life-changing experience atop Mount Washington with Episcopal priest Sam Shoemaker. Hillis also references Young Life founder, Jim Rayburn, as a person whose ideas and encouragement helped to shape Leadership Foundations’ approach in several different ways. Finally, Dave is quick to point out the myriad people who have served through both Young Life and Leadership Foundations; names like Howard Eddings, Larry Lloyd, Harold Spooner, Jack Fortin, Bud Ipema, Scott Lewis, Cornelius Williams and many more.

Dave Hillis came on Young Life staff in 1981 as an area director in the city of Tacoma, Washington. Initially, he was responsible for getting Young Life started at Lincoln High School, a “virtual United Nations of kids and languages,” in Hillis’s words. He continues, “To say the very least, I was overwhelmed through this initial baptism by fire; however, what also came was the understanding of what can only be described as the magic of Young Life: the power of relationships done in the name of Jesus. Since encountering this idea I have never been the same.” Over the next decade, Dave stayed in Tacoma, but his Young Life roles were varied. He served as a metro director; a training director; an urban regional associate for Portland, Tacoma and Seattle; and was blessed by opportunities to serve on the Urban Primus Council and experience summer assignments and the Young Life Institute. For the past 21 years, Dave has served through Leadership Foundations, first as the executive director of the Northwest Leadership Foundation, and seven years ago becoming the president of Leadership Foundations.

When asked if there were experiences and people in the context of his Young Life years who influenced him, Dave is quick to point out that there are too many to list, but is clear about “standing on the shoulders” of many. "Who I am is largely a result of the many people I had the privilege to imitate while on the Young Life staff. This concretizes itself in themes like the importance of theology in people like Jack Fortin and Terry McGonigal, the need to be about justice through people like Larry Lloyd and Verly Sangster, and the elegance of humor through Rudy Howard and Bob Mitchell. I have told many people that I would not have been able to do the work of Leadership Foundations over the past 21 years if it had not been for the theology, training and tactics that Young Life provided."

As president of Leadership Foundations, Dave leads the central office that exists to serve the network of local leadership foundations (members) who are empowered to make change happen more effectively, more collaboratively and with greater permanence and impact on their cities. The central office connects, develops and equips great leaders and organizations who understand that real change happens when you address the social and spiritual issues facing cities. Local leadership foundations work to transform their cities by convening people and organizations from all of its sectors, building the capacity of others and creating joint initiatives that address their community’s greatest needs.

When asked if Dave might have any words for the mission of Young Life — those currently involved and those considering involvement — his answer was two-fold. "First, for those who have been fortunate enough to be involved with Young Life in some form, be grateful for the experience. It is not a perfect organization, but its contribution to this world is undeniable. The second would be that like any gift God gives, it is our responsibility to give it away to others. My hope is that Young Life would look to give its gift away in ever increasing measures." Dave, thanks for your ongoing kingdom service. Know that we are proud to call you our own, and join you in celebrating 50 years of Leadership Foundations.

So, playground or battleground? What’s your view? If you would like to better understand the heart and history of one Young Life alumnus that believes that cities are God’s playgrounds, may I suggest that you read Dr. David Hillis’ Cities: Playgrounds or Battlegrounds? If you would like to find out more, go to http://leadershipfoundations.org/media/ where, among other things, you can purchase the book and sign up for their podcast, City As Playground, and their monthly newsletter, Street Lights