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Dan Herron is the former pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church, a gospel-centered church community for Bloomington, Indiana, and Indiana University.
Dan Herron was turned to Jesus in 1997 while an undergrad at Illinois State University. In 2000, he graduated and married his wife, Erica, who he had been dating since high school. They moved to St. Louis where Dan taught high school history to at-risk youth, while Erica completed her Master’s degree in Physical Therapy.
After a move in 2011, Dan Herron helped to start Hope Presbyterian Church.
He says, “My identity has these themes of personal character threaded throughout: grit, steadfast endurance in the face of great obstacles, awareness of my weaknesses and mistakes, and movement forward to an expansive and successful leadership vision.”
Currently, Dan Herron is focused on his work at VisionQuest Labs in Indianapolis, Indiana, a state-of-the-art health, fitness, and performance testing lab and indoor cycling training center.
We had the opportunity to learn how Dan Herron has overcome specific challenges in his life and the strategies that keep him growing professionally.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow as a professional? Please explain how.
In 1959, the Volkswagen motor company launched a revolutionary ad campaign. In a culture that had a growing financial sector and desired everything to be big, Volkswagen’s ad simply stated, “Think small.” It pictured a Volkswagen Beetle set back in the distance on a simple white background.
Our culture still tends to think “big.” My tendency, as a person with a highly intuitive personality and gifts that lean toward strategic thinking, is also to think “big” and stay in that space. There is a time and a place for “big” thinking and there is an importance to being able to picture the final destination one is working towards. Seeing “big” is vital. But, if one’s vision remains fixed on the bigger picture, the small picture that involves doing the next thing can get neglected.
If you’re thinking “small,” you’ll have the ability to focus on the thing right in front of you and remain focused on that task until it is complete. You won’t be concerned with the thing that’ll come next or what might be on the horizon.
Thinking “small” is also vital. But, if your vision remains fixed on the small picture, the big picture can get neglected.
So, the strategy I’ve learned that has helped me grow is to “see big” and “think small.”
I always begin with the big picture, primarily because this is the way I’m wired. I like to see the grand map before I get technical with the immediate pieces involved in bringing that big picture to life.
This sort of “big” and “small” dynamic has also helped me to grow personally. I have learned how important it is to tend to the daily disciplines, interactions, relationships, and practices. These end up being the concrete stuff of life that goes into shaping one’s entire worldview and character in the moment-by-moment scenes of a “big” life story.
Because these “small” moments are what make up a “big” life in the aggregate, these are what is so important to invest in as we rehearse and build toward a productive and beautiful life.
What is one failure you had, and how did you overcome it?
When I started grad school at Covenant Seminary in 2007, I planned to prepare to serve as a “church planter.” This is someone whose specialized ministry focus was on starting churches. I served with a church planting network and focused my thoughts on that trajectory. Over the next two years, I experienced a negative culture that particular organization was known for at that time, and my desire for church planting soured as a result. I resigned from that job, and after much consideration, I decided to move toward a path of academic leadership and scholarship for my future career.
I focused the Fall of 2009 and Spring-Fall of 2010 on preparing for the rigors of a Ph.D. program. I sought out more challenging research-based classes, did extra course work, was more detailed and thorough in my research papers, and assisted three different professors. I studied hard for the GRE test and applied to six different Ph.D. programs in theology—all of the top programs in the U.S. I invested money and time in visiting my top program choices and interacting with my favorite professors at Yale, Duke, and Notre Dame. Plus, I had phone interactions with other professors at Marquette and Princeton. My seminary professors were assuring and encouraging, my grade point average was near the top of my class, my GRE scores were great, and everything looked lined up for me to get into one of these top programs. In December I began receiving response letters to my applications. One by one, the letters came. I would open them with anticipation, glimpse the shiny and elaborate school seal at the top of the page, as each letter (essentially) read, “We think you’re great, a top student, and very promising, but we don’t have the space in our program at this time. Good luck with your future…”
By the time March 2011 rolled around, I had heard “no thank you’s” from all six of the schools I had applied to. I was heartbroken. My professors were dismayed, yet remained encouraging, and my wife, Erica, remained supportive and encouraging as well. By this time, I had three months left until graduation, no job to move to, and no plans to begin. We had two kids at the time, and my hopes felt like they had been crushed. I didn’t know what to do, and I saw this grand attempt toward something great as a grand failure. I had a desire, I shaped that into a goal and then into a plan. I worked diligently to make that plan happen and I couldn’t do it.
I felt sad, ashamed, confused, fearful, and lonely. I prayed night after night and communicated all of these emotions and thoughts to God. I grieved and continued moving toward graduation.
A friend of mine at the time had recently written a song called “Emmanuel.” We were near the Easter holiday when Christians celebrate the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. So, I played that song again and again, and meditated on the chorus, “Emman—ue—el, God is with us…” I read through the gospel writers’ accounts of Jesus being with them, even after the resurrection, and promising the Holy Spirit of God to be with them after his ascension. Even as the grief of my failure and loss of my dream persisted, the assurance and joy of not only knowing, but experiencing the presence of God in my life in those moments persisted more greatly. I was assured that God was with me in my grief, shame, confusion, fear, and loneliness. He would take all of this and bring something better and more beautiful out of it. This is what God does, and he’s proven this through taking the crucifixion and humiliation of Jesus and bringing the most beautiful thing out of that—the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and spiritual renewal for people through this same power.
My hope began to return. I sought out people to talk to and share my grief with. I had the honor to preach a sermon in Chapel on Luke 24 where the resurrected Jesus renews the dashed hopes of his disciples after they thought all had been lost in the crucifixion. And, then I began to see how I had been so fearful several years ago when I departed from the church planting track, and how my Ph.D. hopes had become a convenient and attractive place to run to in order to avoid my calling. I was fearful to lead in that area because I doubted that God would be with me as I entered into the many challenges, temptations, and conflicts that church planting inevitably entails.
Here is when the opportunity to begin a new church in Bloomington, IN came into confluence with my story. God had truly shown himself to be with me, and had walked with me through that entire journey. In the process, he shaped my joys, desires, gifts, and character not only to fulfill a calling to Bloomington but to fulfill a calling into a deeper relationship with himself.