Alumni Leadership Day Chapel

Last month, ten of our graduates returned to Highlands College to invest in and inspire students through our first Alumni Leadership Day. Our students eagerly connected with and learned from them during Chapel, Ministry Leadership classes, and their major courses. As active ministry practitioners and our HC Family, they shared their stories and leadership lessons to inspire our students to lean into their God-given calling.

It was an honor to reconnect with leaders living our shared mission. Each alum who led sessions during this new Ministry Training experience has been serving the local church since graduating.

During Chapel, a panel of four alumni answered questions from Hamid Al-Dlaigan, Highlands College Alumni Director, about their time in ministry and how to prepare for life beyond Highlands College. Their introspective answers encouraged our students to focus on personal and spiritual development during their time here. We invite you to jump in and see what they had to say about sustaining longevity in ministry and preparing for life beyond Highlands College.

The following discussion was condensed for this article. You can view the entire 2024 Alumni Day Chapel here.

Hamid Al-Dlaigan, Alumni Director

I did the math, so you didn’t have to do it. Right here, we have 34 collective years of ministry represented. It’s really cool to see you guys back here. And you know, we talk a lot about the HC Family. Y’all are HC Family.

So, I’d love to start with you first, Abby. Tell us about a skill or lesson you learned while at Highlands College that’s been valuable over the course of your ministry so far.

Abby Lee (Class of 2016, Worship Ministry – Celebration Church, Austin, TX)

I think Highlands College shaped me in so many ways. So much happened in the classroom and chapels, but I think through relationships, God really built in me who God needed me to be in the future. I would say, whatever relationships you have, dive deep into those. Be watching not just how people conduct themselves in ministry but also how their marriages and families are. God will build something in you for the future.

The second thing is that God opened my eyes to what God could do through this generation. There are so many things that when we moved to Austin, God started birthing dreams in our hearts. Because we had been at Highlands, we didn’t know exactly what it would look like for us, but we had a picture of what it could be.

Hamid Al-Dlaigan

I love that and the incredible ministry happening at Celebration Church in Austin. Cody, I know we were in school together and are close friends. I would love for you to tell us more about the idea of being planted in ministry—what does that mean for you?

Cody Pierce (Class of 2017, Student Ministry – Heartland Church, Carrollton, TX)

When I was looking for a church, I was lucky enough to have a relationship with some of the team and the pastors at Heartland before even coming to Highlands College; they were the ones who told me to go to Highlands College. But I didn’t know a door would open back up when I came.

When it came time for placement, I wanted to go somewhere I could see myself—five years down the road, ten years down the road, 15 years down the road. I wanted a place where I knew I could raise my family. I went as a single person, and now I’m married with one child. I’m so thankful that I made the decision when I was placed that I could go somewhere my family could thrive. It was not just a decision for me, but it would affect my children and their children.

To me, being planted and thriving is the decision: “God, I’m going to go here if you’ve called me, and I have this conviction: I’m not leaving until you tell me that there’s somewhere else to go. I’m building relationships. I’m building teams. I’m building people until you tell me that you are calling me somewhere else. …I think the best way to do this is to not look back and say, “God, you’ve called me here. And until you move me again, I’m doing everything I can to grow, develop, and continue to serve.”

Hamid Al-Dlaigan

You graduated from the Student practicum, but can you tell everybody what you’ve been doing since you’ve been at Heartland?

Cody Pierce

I haven’t been over students once in my time at Heartland, so I’m sorry to burst any bubbles here. It really helped me because I know that I’m called there, and the position doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter the title. It allows me to still be involved with students in some way. I have the privilege of serving a student conference that we do in the spring, and I help lead in that way. I’m on the board of a summer camp where we partner with churches all across Texas to help with summer camps. So, I still get to be involved. But I just let go of the desire for a title. And just said, I’m just here to serve

Hamid Al-Dlaigan

Cody, you’ve been open to what God has for you. Jessica, I love your story. I’d love for you to talk about that same principle of being planted because you’ve been planted in Knoxville since you left Highlands College. Even talk a bit about your church, how many campuses there are, how God brought you to your role now, and where you started. Because I think it’s important not just how you start but how you finish, and you have persevered through that whole time.

Jessica Elston (Class of 2015, Worship Ministry – Faith Promise Church, Knoxville, TN)

I went as an intern initially. The internship was supposed to last a couple of months. Three months into the internship, our worship pastor at the time called me. She said, “Hey, we have a position for you to stay if you want to lead Development Now. So, I stepped into doing that. Then, in 2022, not that long ago, we found out our senior pastors would be transitioning leadership. Our worship pastor at the time called me one day and told me, “We’re about to transition. You’re the person.” I was like, “Me?” Honestly, if you looked at the makeup of our team at the time and the talent, it didn’t make sense— what the world sees is talent.

So, when you said planted and thriving, I got this revelation that the planted part is our job. In Matthew 25, when the guy entrusts those talents to the people, they must multiply them. Then, one that didn’t, he called “you wicked servant,” and to the other, “well done.” It’s my job to take the talents that He’s entrusted with me in the natural, and then God does the thriving part. He will bring the blessing; He will bring the increase.

Another story is about the kid who just brought his lunch. It wasn’t his lunch, but it was his fish and loaves Jesus multiplied. He brought his lunch; he did the natural part. Then God brings the thriving part. Our job is to do the planted part, to say, I’m coming, and no matter what the title, I’m here to serve.

Hamid Al-Dlaigan

So good. I hope you guys are taking notes and being inspired. Tanner, I know. You graduated in 2014. What a crazy decade since you graduated! If a student is sitting here thinking, “I want to make sure that ten years after I graduate, I’m still in ministry and doing what God’s called me to do.”What are some practical things you would impart to them?

Tanner Lee (Class of 2014, Student Ministry – Celebration Church, Austin, TX)

Great question… I think it’s a paradox of longevity. You have to have equal parts of soft heart, conviction, and humility before God and equal parts of passion, pioneering, driving, focus, and serving people. Those things were instilled into me.

I think longevity is just about your perspective and ability to keep soft in your heart. It’s a love for God; it’s a passion; it’s a conviction; it’s the confession of sin; it’s having the people in your life that are close enough to you that don’t think that you’re all that in a bag of chips. You have to stay soft. But then have equal parts of a growth mindset. I’m building my leadership capacity; I’m building my professionalism; I’m building my ability to handle responsibility. When it comes to longevity, you have to balance those two things and have people around you who are specifically helping you in these two areas. Then longevity is just the byproduct.

Hamid Al-Dlaigan

I asked our students, “What are some questions you want to ask alumni?” And one of the reoccurring themes was about transition. When you were transitioning from student to potential employee at a church, what are some ways the students can prepare for that transition? Whether they are in their final semester or even the freshmen, how would you encourage them in that?

Cody Pierce

When you do ministry, you are committing to be a lifelong learner. There is never a moment where you stop learning, growing, and developing. You are always expanding your capacity. Like Tanner said, that is a commitment you make for the rest of your life. The difference is that you lose the environment, the classes, and all these amazing things that Highlands College provides. And you have to do it for yourself. If you want to continue to handle the responsibility and what is being asked of you, then you’ve got to become an expert. The growing and the learning don’t stop when you leave; it just continues.

Jessica Elston

Holds up her Bible. Read this. Let this tell you more about who you are than anybody. I think of Pastor John and the encouragement he provided throughout my journey and all those people who were there through my experience; they’re not there every day anymore. So, let this tell you who you are more than somebody else.

Tanner Lee

I’ve actually gotten to hire five Highlands College students and seeing them transition was really interesting. They all come from different family backgrounds. I think the two things that I’ve realized about the ones that have stayed are that number one, they’re really good at making friends. One of the best things that I remember here at Highlands College is Pastor Chris saying you need to read every book on how to make friends and how to be someone who is likable. That’s a great advice. I highly encourage that.

The second thing is that they were growth — and solution-oriented. So, they recognize their weaknesses, and they put into place solutions. They ask people, identify their weaknesses, and ask people they know could coach them. Then, they received their feedback and changed. The worst feeling right as a leader is when you’re talking to someone, and you know that it’s hitting a brick wall. The best feeling is when you’re talking to someone, coaching them, and realizing that they understand the power of growth and solution-oriented leadership.

So, if you can love God first and build great friendships, then have a humble heart with solution-oriented leadership. Then transitioning, it’s not that it won’t be hard, but you’ll find that it’s a lot easier to plant yourself in the church that you go to.

Hamid Al-Dlaigan

That’s great. One last question: what’s a challenge or an encouragement you want to share with students? You all were in the seats. Well, you were in the seats of Greystone…

Tanner Lee

Grants Mill…

Cody Pierce

Not these seats…

Abby Lee

If you’re in Highlands College right now, and you are not holding any responsibility that really matters to you, it’s going to be really hard for you the next place you go. Because when you get placed and end up at a church, the responsibility is on you. So, I would say the greatest encouragement is if you feel like right now is a season to sit back and watch and observe, it’s not. Engage in this season. Ask your leader to give you something that, if it fails, it’s on you. Ask them to give that to you because God wants to use your life in an incredible way. If you go to your next place, feeling like a student still, it will be hard because you didn’t have responsibility in this season. And so, I would say, ask God and your leaders for responsibility.

Hamid Al-Dlaigan

Y’all can clap for that. That’s amazing!

We are grateful for the valuable lessons and convictions our alumni shared with our students. It is an honor to witness how they are making an eternal impact as they serve the local church. We cannot wait to see how God uses each of our students to make an eternal impact around the world. Together, the best is yet to come!