3 Great Takeaways from BDI’s Empower Summit 2022

Lightning in a Bottle: BDI’s Partner Conference Goes to the Next Level

From Michael J. Tomlinson (MT), CEO and President, BDI

Read Time: 7 Minutes

Over the span of my career, I’ve participated in more professional conferences than I can count.  It’s tempting to feel like if you’ve been to one – you’ve done them all.

That’s why when we set about crafting the first-ever BDI Empower Summit for our colleagues and partners we were passionate about creating a different kind of experience.

We carefully curated sessions that spoke to the hot issues on the hearts of the movers, shakers, and leaders in missions and ministry that we’re privileged to come alongside and serve.  We sought to ignite curious minds with cutting-edge insights on what’s working in philanthropy and to feature speakers that encourage and inspire.  

At the best conferences I’ve learned as much from other participants as from speakers, so we were committed to leveraging the wisdom, expertise, and courage of our partners by creating a platform for an exchange of ideas to help one another tell our stories better, to raise more support, and to extend the breadth and depth of our outreach.  And critically, we strove to provide the space to renew the spirits of those who serve the most vulnerable and hurting people in our society. 

I’m thrilled to report that BDI’s Empower Summit captured lightning-in-a-bottle – largely because those who joined us came with generous hearts and an “open playbook” to share about what’s worked – as well as areas of struggle. I was moved to laughter, even to tears, and was humbled by our unique extended family that is committed to advancing the Lord’s Kingdom, together.  Thank you for blessing me and one another with the investment of your participation.

There were many practical takeaways from gathering in San Diego, but I’d like to share just 3 with you today in hopes that they serve as a touchstone back to a few key moments and observations.  

#1 – Innovation happens when you “toss the box” 

Maybe you’ve heard of the “catch box” – it’s a microphone housed in a soft, unbreakable cube. The idea is that in a group setting you can loft it from person-to-person around a room, rather than having to cautiously pass around a traditional microphone. In that sense, it keeps the conversation moving – quite literally!  Plus, it’s good fun.

The first few hours at Empower Summit were spent in an Innovation Exchange, tossing the catch box between our 100+ guests as they had a chance to share key innovations they’ve developed and successfully employed at their organizations. Facilitated by BDI Account Strategist Micah Mann, the ideas and innovations shared ranged from the practical (a folding machine) to the sublime (a plea for the recognition of Gen Z’s contributions and talents in ministry).

In all cases, the depth and imagination of what was shared blew me away. I know I wasn’t the only one taking notes – from what I saw, there were a lot of pens furiously scribbling detailed ideas on pads of paper. Afterward, I was told by many how valuable it was to hear from organizations across the country who offered novel ideas that can be put into practice to benefit the people they serve. 

Key Takeaway: Innovation happens when you “toss the box.”  It’s a great reminder to guard against the isolation that comes so easily when we are head’s down addressing the tyranny of the urgent in our daily work.  There’s no shortage of new ideas to model or build on, but we’ll miss them if we don’t exchange with others regularly.

#2 – There’s no one “right” way to serve those in need 

Throughout our Empower Summit, we heard from Rescue Missions taking on the issues impacting homelessness, poverty and addiction head on – but in significantly different ways that are responsive to the unique environments of their communities. 

We had the honor of speaking with Andy Bales from Union Rescue Mission in downtown Los Angeles and with Ken Craft and Rowan Vansleve from Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. It was fascinating to learn of their creative approaches to addressing the homeless crisis in Southern California.  

Many were deeply moved by hearing Andy describe the plight of a families who had run out of resources, lost all support and hope, but were delivered to the safety of the rescue mission’s women and children’s center, Hope Gardens, often by Andy himself. His personal commitment and sacrifices have made him a spokesperson for the homelessness in Los Angeles. 

Others found themselves rapt when watching Ken and Rowan’s documentary video, “C-Suite to the Streets: 100 Hours Unsheltered on the Streets of Los Angeles,” where they documented their 4-day experience of living on the streets, facing the dangers, the extreme weather (yes, even in Los Angeles), the humiliation, and the exhaustion of being homeless. Their willingness to share their gritty journey on social media garnered national media attention while thousands of followers kept tabs on each step.

All 3 men are courageous and relentlessly committed to leveraging opportunities to advance the work and scope of their missions.

Key Takeaway: When it comes to ministry, there’s no “right” way to serve those in need.  

We should embrace the diversity of opportunities to serve as well as new ways to fund expanded work.  Through its teams and leadership vision, each nonprofit will have different strengths, gifts, connections and passions that they can leverage in pursuit of a shared goal: ending homelessness, one life at a time.  

#3 – It’s not work when it’s family 

Part of the nature of unrelenting dedication to serving on mission is the fatigue of just plain getting worn out.  When we’re exhausted, even our passionate endeavors become… work.

No question, it was an enormous amount of work to host the Summit, much more so for my BDI colleagues than I.  However, throughout the Empower Summit experience, there wasn’t a moment where it felt like work.  From the preparation and planning, the excitement of lining up speakers and facilities, to the actual gatherings and meetings, the shared meals and activities, and the side conversations and quiet moments of prayer – all felt the very opposite of work. 

I was asked what the real purpose of BDI’s Empower Summit was.  My greatest prayer was that our time together would support, enhance, and extend relationships – both between our partners and your support teams at BDI, but importantly among the leaders and heroes who shepherd all your vital and thriving ministries.  After being invited with humility in our opening prayer, the Lord really showed up.

The kindness and consideration I personally experienced throughout Empower removed any semblance of “work” from what followed.  Afterwards we received so many affirmations about the powerful relationships formed and strengthened at the Empower Summit.  I know that I speak for my colleagues when I express my gratitude for filling our tanks and inspiring us through your kindness, your humanity, your courage, your wisdom and your commitment to never ever quit.

Key Takeaway: It’s not “work” when we’re laboring for the Kingdom together.  Let’s look for more opportunities at our organizations where we can develop the conversations and relationships that move away from simply accomplishing tasks and toward personal and spiritual connections that go deep and bind us even more closely together.   

A Different Kind of Conference 

I haven’t even scratched the surface of what made this such a powerful and inspiring week with our partners. It all contributed to a different kind of conference, the likes of which I’ve never experienced… setting a new bar for excellence as we think forward to Empower Summit 2024. 

I invite you to watch our Empower Summit highlights video, which will put some people and faces to what I’ve recounted here. It’s a quick watch and well worth your time. And I hope that you can apply these 3 takeaways as you think about your ministry, wherever and whatever it may be focused on today.  

Quoting from the Apostle Paul, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts (Colossians 3:16). 

As always – Onward and forward! 

A HUGE thanks to our Empower Summit speakers and generous sponsors! 

Guest Speakers:  


  • Michael Tomlinson, BDI CEO and President

    Michael J. Tomlinson, CEO and President

    Michael J. Tomlinson, better known as “MT,” is an accomplished marketing and media executive who has developed highly successful fundraising programs for faith-first charities and organizations across the U.S. and abroad. He brings more than 30 years of executive leadership in business and holds a master’s degree in Organizational Management and Marketing.

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