Steve Douglass is one of the most influential Christian leaders you may never have heard of. God used his life and ministry to affect millions.
Steve entered his eternal reward on Saturday, October 29. After graduating from MIT and Harvard Business, he served on staff with Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) for more than 50 years. Most notably he served as the organization’s second president, taking over from founder Bill Bright in 2001. He continued in that role until 2020, when he stepped aside for health reasons.
In the coming days, others will no doubt write about Steve’s prolific life and ministry. I’d like to simply recount the influence he had on me as a young 20-something. I served as Steve’s assistant from 2009 to 2011—which gave me a unique vantage point to see aspects of his character that came out when no one was looking.
Here are two I will never forget.
He Didn’t Lead for Personal Gain
There are far too many accounts of Christian leaders who have used their positions for personal gain. Steve exemplified the exact opposite.
He traveled a lot. During my three years with him, we traveled to more than 10 countries and numerous states (and I only accompanied him on a portion of his travels). On these trips he always flew economy. Keep in mind, Steve was 6′4″ and a former college basketball player. Frequent flyers often receive free upgrades to first class. One of my jobs as Steve’s assistant was to call the airline and request he be downgraded back to economy. This was usually an amusing conversation with the airline employee, who couldn’t imagine why someone would make such a request. On a few occasions there were no economy seats left by the time I called. In these cases, Steve would trade tickets with me. Yes, the president of a massive international corporation would sit in economy while his 23-year-old assistant lived it up in first class.
Yes, the president of a massive international corporation would sit in economy while his 23-year-old assistant lived it up in first class.
This is how committed Steve was to avoiding even the appearance of inappropriate financial gain from his position. He also typically turned down honorariums when he spoke. In circumstances when declining the gift might cause offense for cultural reasons, he would hand me the money with instructions to donate it to the ministry.
He Always Redeemed the Time
Steve may have had the highest capacity for work of anyone I’ve ever met. He was always looking for ways to, as he called it, “redeem the time” (Eph. 5:16).
If we were waiting in line to board a plane, for instance, he’d try to find a place next to a lidded trash can—so he could use it as a standing desk to get a few things done. But Steve didn’t just seek to fill his time with work. He always carried his well-worn Bible and a notebook so he never had to miss his devotional time, regardless of what time zone we were in.
I’m convinced that Steve attempted to share Christ with every person he sat beside on an airplane. Every encounter was a divine appointment for him. One of my jobs was to carry a supply of Christian books (many of which he wrote) to give as a follow-up to persons with whom he’d shared the gospel. On one flight to Tel Aviv, I overheard him speaking to a Jewish woman about his faith. He eventually paused the conversation and said, “I am very sorry, but I have a busy day coming up and I need to close my eyes for a while.” She responded, “Alright, but when you wake up, you have to tell me what drew you to work for a Christian organization after graduating from Harvard!” As you can imagine, Steve elected to continue the conversation.
Every encounter was a divine appointment for him.
On one particular drive back to Orlando from South Florida, Steve realized the setting sun was going to put an end to his productivity for the day. Rather than closing his eyes for some much-deserved rest, he asked how I was doing personally and chatted with me for hours about the struggles of young, single life. At one point, I interjected that he should probably use the time to rest; he had an early morning the next day. “No,” he replied, “maybe God put me in this car right now to encourage you.” This is how Steve saw the world. I was the young assistant; he led one of the largest Christian organizations in the world. And yet, on that drive, he believed his job was to serve me.
Steve was a shining example of Paul’s encouragement for us to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility (to) count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). He strove to imitate Christ, who didn’t count equality with God a thing to be grasped but instead made himself a servant for our sake (Phil. 2:6–7).
Steve completed his race and ran it well. I praise God for his influence on me—and on millions of others around the world.