Students involved with The Impact Movement™ teach Roger Hershey some new dance moves during the Cru® at Texas Tech Fall Retreat.

How to Use Your Wisdom for Eternal Influence

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Nathan Morrow, a sophomore at Texas Tech University, rises from his seat and shuffles into a line of students rapidly forming in the meeting room’s center aisle. He shivers from the intensity of the air conditioning and perhaps from the gravity of the moment. A solemn weightiness hangs amid the dim light and softly strummed chords of an acoustic guitar. Several students are crying. Others bear expressions of prayer and contemplation as they wait their turn to approach the front of the room.

Nathan Morrow (right) plays guitar during worship at the Cru® at Texas Tech Fall Retreat. Nathan is involved with Valor®, a Cru ministry for college and high school ROTC cadets and midshipmen, veterans on college campuses and cadets at foreign military service academies. Alongside him are students from The Impact Movement®, a partner ministry of Cru that equips black students to become disciples of Jesus Christ, and Destino®, a Cru ministry that reaches the world for Christ through Latino values. The retreat brought together students from these three movements along with Texas Tech’s traditional Cru movement.

Nathan is one of nearly 100 students who journeyed into the expansive west Texas plains for the Cru® at Texas Tech Fall Retreat. Over the last 24 hours, the group bonded over camp food and cheering on their Red Raiders via a spotty Wi-Fi stream and through a series of athletic endeavors under the searing sun.

Students gather in small groups to discuss a series of reflection questions following the first message of the weekend, delivered by speaker Roger Hershey.

Men and women compete against one another in a game of “flamingo football,” where men are required to tie their ankles together and hop around the field. The women won in a landslide victory.

Students also heard three powerful messages from one of the Cru staff members they now line up to approach, Roger Hershey.

Giving treasure away

“Hersh,” as Roger is affectionately known, has served as a missionary with Cru for 47 years. Most of these years were invested on campuses — his longest tenures were at Miami University in Ohio and Penn State, his alma mater — but Hersh also coached campus teams throughout the Midwest and led several teams of students overseas to tell others about Jesus. He currently serves as a national speaker and mobilization coordinator, a role he finds deeply fulfilling.

Roger, often called “Hersh,” implores students to yield their rights and live a life of surrender and humility. For the last 12 years, Hersh’s ministry has centered around speaking at events like the Cru® at Texas Tech Fall Retreat. Many of his talks can be found on his website.

“I come away from [events like this],” Hersh says, “and it’s like, ‘Lord, I just feel like I’m so much in my niche. This is my best contribution to the kingdom right now.’”

Even as he approaches his 70th birthday this year, Hersh continues to connect with college students. His passion for Christ and for mobilizing Christians to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), as well as the warmth and vulnerability in his exhortations, puts him in constant demand. He’ll speak at nearly two dozen events this year, from campus retreats like Texas Tech’s to conferences that attract thousands.

“God’s given me the grace that I don’t hate airports and motel rooms,” he laughs.

Hersh joins Cru® at Texas Tech staff members in a staff versus students sand volleyball game. Hersh enjoys being fully involved wherever he speaks, playing sports and being available to meet with students. “I don’t speak and hide away,” he says. “I like to be out there with students.”

Hersh collects logo shirts from each campus he visits, which means he now has a sizeable assortment.

Wherever Hersh speaks, he draws from a short list of messages that have influenced thousands, such as discerning God’s will and calling, living in light of eternity, yielding your rights, and more.

Hersh’s first message this weekend reminded students that God doesn’t just love them, He also likes them; He delights in His children as He delights in Jesus. In his second talk, Hersh urged them not to follow the pattern of entitlement all around them but to imitate Jesus by yielding their rights.

“Your view of eternity will determine the quality of your life in time.”

Roger Hershey

But his third talk, the one drawing such a poignant response from Nathan and many others, stirs Hersh’s passion most. He paints a compelling picture of Christ’s return, and then implores students to resolutely focus their attention on Jesus their King and the glory of His perfect kingdom. “Your view of eternity,” he declares, “will determine the quality of your life in time.”

Hersh poses a question to the students: Do they believe they are a “forgiven sinner who sometimes acts righteously” or a “righteous saint who sometimes sins”? About three-quarters of the room said they believed the former. At the end of his talk, he asked the same question; this time, students unanimously identified with the latter.

Allowing hardship to create unexpected treasure

Hersh didn’t arrive at his influential station without difficulty. He struggles with paralyzing indecisiveness, and hardship and defeat have caused him to consider walking away from ministry on several occasions. The most difficult challenge came in the spring of 2005, when his son Brett was killed by a land mine that exploded under his Army vehicle during a tour in Afghanistan.

Hersh plunged into deep depression and anger. He questioned whether continuing to follow Christ was worth it. But as he journeyed through several years of heartache, the messages he shared time and again with students, the same ones he delivered at the Texas Tech retreat, challenged him.

Before the start of a Hawaiian-themed dance party, Hersh shares more of his story with a small group of men. The heartache of losing his son Brett in Afghanistan deeply resonated with many of the ROTC students involved with Valor.

“As much as I teach students about yielding their rights, I still was angry and wrestling with the Lord and doubting His goodness, because I had a right to my son, to have my son here for 20 more years,” Hersh says. “I had to deal with my own entitlements. And I believed the lie that I shouldn’t have to suffer. So the greatest challenge for me is having to say, ‘you know, I’m not entitled, and life is hard. And there are no greener pastures.’ That’s the truth that helped me the numerous times I felt like quitting the ministry.”

Hersh talks with a student about dealing with loss and how to trust God’s goodness in the midst of suffering and pain. He prioritizes being available to students who want to speak with him.

Thirty years ago, another motivation cemented itself into Hersh’s heart, one that has taken on added power since Brett’s death. It came in the form of a dream. He described it to the Texas Tech students during his message about Jesus’ return and for Cru in this short video below.

Legacy, a project of Cru®, captures the fingerprints of God in the lives of Cru’s most seasoned staff members, like Hersh. Find more encouraging and inspiring stories at crulegacy.org.

The writer of Proverbs advises “turning your ear to wisdom,” which is given by God and often articulated by those who walk closely with Him (Proverbs 2:2, NIV). The investment of spiritual mentors throughout Hersh’s life, along with a habit of reading and listening to God’s Word, have equipped him to persevere. That perseverance created a compounding effect, providing Hersh with even more of God’s wisdom.

“These are messages that were shaped in me starting college. And [in] every one of them, I could trace the course of how the Lord developed that specific message in my life.”

Roger Hershey

As a result, each message Hersh shares is like a precious gem, crafted slowly by time and the powerful, refining forces of hardship, rendered beautiful and savored by those willing to receive it. He intentionally imparts to the next generation what he has tested and found to be true.

Inviting growing believers to eternal significance

Hersh closes his message on eternal perspective with a stirring symbol: passing a track baton. With this metaphor, he invites students to envision his generation entrusting to theirs the mission of making disciples of all nations. The baton serves as a reminder to students that they, and all Christians, stand in a line stretching back to Jesus, who assigned the missionary task to the first disciples.

Hersh hands a baton to Ricki Kuvach, a student involved with The Impact Movement®. Texas Tech’s chapter of Impact has grown exponentially in recent years. Three years ago, only a handful of students were involved; this year around 30 students attended the Fall Retreat.

Nathan’s turn to receive the baton arrives. He approaches and receives a maroon baton from Jeremy Bollens, team leader for Cru at Texas Tech. Hersh invited four Cru staff members from Texas Tech’s team to pass batons alongside him.

“Nathan, I am passing this baton to you, from my generation to your generation,” Jeremy says as both men grasp the object. Then they bow for a quick prayer.

As Nathan walks away, his tears begin to flow, the first he’s shed in several years. The significance of the charge overwhelms him. He proceeds to the back of the room and finds a younger Cru staff member holding a handful of Sharpies. Nathan takes one and sits down, inscribing a message on the baton in permanent ink:

“Dear Nate, I hope once you read this you become a true servant of God, that you stay faithful, and that you will lead others into discipleship.”

Texas Tech student Isaiah Mayfield holds up his baton, displaying what he’s written. Throughout the night, students share with each other and with Cru® staff members how the Lord met with them during the baton pass.

Cru® staff members pray with students after they’ve received their baton. Prayers for perseverance, surrender and increased faith fill the room with a quiet murmur, backed by the soft melody of an acoustic guitar.

Hersh chose the words used in each baton pass carefully. After describing Jesus’ return, Hersh highlights Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” The completion of Jesus’ missionary assignment will precede His return.

As Hersh extends a baton out to the audience, he shares one of the implications of Matthew 24:14, that there will be a generation that will take the baton for the last time and finish the mission and usher in the return of the king.

Hersh, along with many others, believes that the young people of today are poised to be the last leg of the mission, those who will run the baton across the finish line. Eight years ago he co-wrote a book, The Finishers, with this vision in mind.

The primary way Hersh exhorts people to live out this bold, globally focused vision is remarkably simple: Make a commitment to spiritual multiplication.

They Need You

A 2019 study by The Barna Group found that only one in three young adults (18–35-year-olds) feel like someone believes in them. And four in five think that “society is facing a crisis of leadership because there are not enough good leaders right now.”

The study explored characteristics of what Barna termed “resilient disciples”: 18- to 29-year-olds who grew up as Christians and who continue ascribing to a biblical worldview and active practice of their faith. Only 10% of young adults who grew up as Christians continue as resilient disciples (according to Faith for Exiles, written as a companion to the Connected Generation study). The researchers concluded that meaningful, intergenerational relationships are one of the keys in building this enduring faith.

“In some ways, students are looking for heroes,” Roger Hershey says. And while he’s quick to admit that he’s no hero, he recognizes the influential position God has given him. Walking with God through the trials and joys of life has produced wisdom that speaks directly to the questions and topics burdening young people’s minds.

Sharing wisdom happens beyond his conference platforms too. Roger regularly searches out and mentors men in his church, discussing Scripture and developing them in ministry skills.

You too can make a meaningful investment. All it might take is to trust that God can use you and an intentional pursuit of relationships with younger Christians.

The interactive element of this article, another sidenote found below and the resources listed at the end of the article are all designed to help you influence a generation that needs — and wants — your valuable influence in their lives.

In The Finishers, Hersh defines discipleship as “the intentional investment of my life into another to guide him or her toward maturity in Christ.” A discipler’s aim, whether they are invested in a person’s life for a short time or a long season, is to help a younger disciple learn to love and walk with Jesus and to prepare them to go and do the same in the lives of others. The following video breaks this down further.

“In the Scriptures, it says if you have gray hair, that’s the ideal… You actually should build toward old age, and then old age is like this afterglow season, when you can unleash the wisdom God has formed in you for the development of resilient disciples.”

Jefferson Bethke, from The Connected Generation

Showing where to find spiritual strength for the race

Nathan Morrow returned from Fall Retreat motivated to multiply his faith as well.

“I have a lot of guys on my mind now [to disciple],” he said. “Before, I was really self-centered in my pursuit. Now I’ve got to be others-focused.”

On Sunday morning, Hersh’s final message counseled Nathan and the other Texas Tech students not to pursue these newfound motivations in their own strength. Hersh explained that walking with Christ for a lifetime and persevering in spiritual multiplication aren’t dependent on their own abilities but on God’s grace.

“Second Timothy 2:1 doesn’t say, ‘be strengthened by your dynamic personality or vast Bible knowledge,’” Hersh said, “but ‘be strengthened by the grace [...] in Christ Jesus.’”

Hersh’s Discipleship Essentials

Discipleship is Jesus’ primary method to bring people of every nation into His kingdom. I understand discipleship to mean the intentional investment of my life into another to guide him or her toward maturity in Christ.

To do this well, several foundational principles are required: the right objectives, people, and components. Remember that these are principles, not methods. Methods vary based on age, location, maturity, lots of things; principles, however, are biblically rooted. Jesus’ life, naturally, models them.

Mark 3:14-15 reports that Jesus chose the Twelve “so that they might be with Him and He might send them…” And in Luke 6:40, He indicates the purpose of the relationship: for the disciple to “be like” the discipler. These purpose phrases point to the right objectives: to learn to be with Christ and become more like Him, and to learn to go and make more disciples.

The verses above also hint at the right people. When I start investing in someone, I make sure they understand and are willing to pursue the objective. They also need to have the time to make it a priority. In short, I look for people who are faithful, available and teachable.

A quick survey of Jesus’ life reveals what I consider the right components of discipleship:

  • Prayer: Jesus prayed with and for His disciples
  • Relationship: He opened His life fully to them and called them His friends
  • Scripture: He taught them and revealed God’s Word
  • Ministry: He modeled ministry to others and sent them to do it as well

Finally, a community that encourages application and growth accelerates effective discipleship. A church, small group or any group of growing Christians can act as a spiritual incubator.

Adapted from chapter 13 of The Finishers, by Roger Hershey and Jason Weimer.

Hersh offers this reminder, having experienced God’s strengthening grace in his own life, and with a firm hope that that same strengthening grace can propel a generation to complete Jesus’ supremely worthy mission.

“I get to run up to someone’s life, pass them the baton, and then we can finish the race together, finish the Great Commission together.”

Nathan Morrow

Nearly 100 students went home with a baton. “This is a very vivid message that I need to go and pass the baton to the next generation,” Nathan said. “To the freshmen, to the cadets and to the high schoolers who have not learned the love of Jesus Christ.”

Pathways for multiplying your faith

You don’t have to be in vocational ministry to be an effective spiritual multiplier. Whether you’re ready to disciple someone for the first time or you already have experience investing in others, the following resources can help you “entrust [your faith] to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2, NIV).

  • For education: Learn more about discipleship philosophy and strategy through the classic book The Master Plan of Evangelism. The Cru publication Design for Discipleship offers a shorter summary. It’s written for college ministry but distills practical principles that can apply anywhere.
  • For execution: The Downline Builder, produced by Downline Ministries, enables you to create a customized discipleship curriculum based on the needs and realities of those you disciple. This tool requires a paid subscription. For those discipling college students or high schoolers, learn more about Cru’s The Compass and Thrive Studies.

Additional reporting by Rachel Streich and Sarah Wontorcik. Videos by Matt Zabel and Jonathan Duggins.

Jason Weimer
Words by

Jason Weimer

Jason writes for The Communications Group of Cru®. He served as a team leader for Cru’s campus ministry in Pittsburgh for seven years. He has one wife, three kids, and an embarrassing number of brain cells reserved for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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Ted Wilcox
Photos by

Ted Wilcox

Ted loves zigzagging the globe, capturing photos and stories of what God is doing. Originally from California, he serves as a missionary photojournalist with Cru® in Orlando, Florida. Ted also ministers to international scholars who come to Orlando to study.

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Share your thoughts

What lasting impact might you have on the world?

As you reflect on this article, consider how you can more effectively influence those younger than you for Christ. If you’re a younger adult, you might not yet have a trove of wisdom stored away, but God is developing it through your experiences. And no matter your age, there are always younger people who’d find the advice and life experience of an older mentor valuable.

When you submit your answers, they will be sent to the Cru Storylines team, who will then respond to you. We will send you a summary of your answers with a personalized message of encouragement as you ponder the impact you can have on the next generation.

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