A time to stay, a time to leave. [June 2021]

jayson Misc 18 Comments

The Last 10 Years

Fia, 10 years ago.

Ten years ago this month, we welcomed Fia into the world, celebrated my first Father’s Day as a dad, we wrapped up our working-sabbatical in Orlando by moving back to PA for 9 months, and I joined the Jesus Film Project joining a newly formed digital department.

This year, we’re finally (hopefully!) emerging from a pandemic, with a complete handful of kids. I’ve lived in this zip code longer than any in my life. My job has transformed into a UX (User Experience) Design Lead in the Digital Solutions team within what is now a 10 team department with more than 60 members that is provide tools, films, and experiences that allow millions of people around the world to respond to the Gospel each year.

And this week, almost 10 years to the day that I joined this team officially, I announced that I’m stepping away from my role and the Solutions team. (Though, not Jesus Film Project.)

The Jesus Film Digital Team in 2015

The Last 21 Months

In October of 2019, I was asked to lead a 3-person UX Design team. I had never lead a team before, and I’d never really even been a part of a design team to see how to do the job. One of the contractors on my new team was assigned to train me up in the role for six months. Three months later, our department director left his position unexpectedly, and my then-boss was placed into his position and another coworker into my previous boss’ role. Less than two months later, COVID changed everything again. 

As we got into April, and I took the design team’s reigns with both hands, we were headed in a pretty good direction. Then that same contractor was rear-ended and experienced “light” traumatic brain injury, preventing him from looking at a screen for more than a few minutes without getting a migraine that would put him down for hours. This was just before the peak of a budget crunch due to decreased giving rooted in COVID’s economic impacts. Some deep cuts had to be made, and a couple of months later, it was decided that Cru would have to terminate the large percentage of its contractors to stay afloat until the end of the year – including this specific contractor. I didn’t know until after the decision was made. It pulled the rug out from under my design team.

Working on our real-world tour project from home during lockdown.

I have to admit, I have struggled a lot since then, trying to lead this small team and producing designs and experiences that tell people about Jesus. We’ve done some overhauls of the Jesus Film Project app, designed two interactive experiences for a renovated Jesus Film tour (when our headquarters opens up again), improved our self-guided web-based user journeys that move people from watching YouTube videos to engaging with the Gospel directly and connecting them to local bodies of believers. We’ve also participated in numerous projects that haven’t gone live yet or were just parts of bigger initiatives.

This whole time, I was struggling under the weight of leading a team while feeling like I had to set my direction on my own because I wasn’t getting any clarity from my direct leadership. I didn’t even have a specific job description to know if I was doing the right things.

Realistically, my boss got placed into his position without enough preparation – he’s admitted as much. The swiftness with which our department restructured and then COVID hit led to a lot of confusion and unclear direction. My boss was also dealing with one thing after another with family, health, housing, work, car accidents, etc. – none of which were his fault – and he has walked through these challenges in ways that prove out his faith and perseverance. Yet, it affected his ability to lead effectively – which has gutted my confidence in this position over the last ten months.

After a tough meeting one Tuesday two weeks ago, where I felt like my boss hadn’t been entirely honest and truthful with me, I hit what felt like a tipping point of “it’s time.” I spent the next few days and then an entire day that Friday asking the Lord what I could do, and it has seemed like the Lord has prepared me to move on from this team and this role. This past Friday, I told my boss and then the rest of the Solutions team my decision. Yesterday, he and I sat down with some people from HR, and I was able to lay out all of my reasons for doing so. I prayed at the beginning of the meeting and made sure to tell him that – despite the hard things I had to say about his leadership – I have been encouraged and inspired by seeing his walk with the Lord over the past year. It was important to me to say what I’ve experienced out loud to his face. The meeting was constructive, and I think it was encouraging to both of us – even if it was VERY difficult. 

The Next [Number] of [Time Period]

My most likely plan in the short-to-medium term is to stay in the same Digital Department within Jesus Film and work within another design team as a Project Coordinator. I would create a project process for them, a piece of my previous role that I needed desperately, but didn’t have the capacity in my schedule to create it. 

God calls us to faithfulness over fruitfulness

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll work to prepare all of the projects that I’ve worked on to hand off to whoever will fill my role – there’s already a process in motion to find that person. I’m making sure that the vacuum that my departure will create is as minimal as possible by trying to create a well-organized cache of my working files and plans. I’m also trying to finish my projects for the app, web journeys, and an updated website and blog. 

In the coming months, my soon-to-be-former team is launching into the next phase of Jesus Film Project’s digital product suite, and I honestly think that they’re headed in a fantastic direction. I know it seems odd that I would be leaving at this moment. Sometimes it seems like I’m stepping away just as the return on my work might be the most fruitful. I remember something that a friend once told me about the Christian life that can be hard for us, especially those in ministry to remember – God calls us to faithfulness over fruitfulness.

Some potential

I delivered a proposal a few weeks ago to create a team to specifically focus on coordinating the user experience design of our whole suite of tools and products. That is still being considered as a possibility; this decision does not directly affect that.

We’ll keep you updated on all of this, pray that the Lord would lead clearly, and that we’d see His purpose for all of this!

Lots of Love!

This was a long, kinda dense one, so as a reward, here are some family photos!

Comments 18

  1. Jay, you are in my prayers for our Father to guide you and hold you close. That’s a great closing, I always love seeing pictures of Carrie and all the little Whelpleys. Take care.
    Lots of hugs and love ~~Michele

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      Thank you very much Michele! The Lord’s been faithful in all of it for sure. I have no idea what the next year holds, and I’m sad to step away from work that I really care about, but I do think it was the healthiest choice for me, AND for Carrie. Work doesn’t just “follow” you home when your office is in your house. 🙂

  2. I’m sure this has been a most difficult newsletter to write and share but so glad you did. Please continue to keep us informed, and thanks for all you and your family are doing for the Kingdom!

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      It’s not been a fun few weeks, like I just commented on Michele’s note above, stuff follows you home when work life is stressful – especially when your office is at home. I’m not proud to admit that I blew up on Carrie and the kids on Sunday, and I *know* that the stress from this decision is a large part of the emotions that are swirling around me these days.

      Thank you for your prayers! I do appreciate them a lot.

  3. Thanks for sharing what had to be a tough update to write. And congratulations. Congrats on keeping your priorities straight, listening to the Lord, and being faithful in how you do your job and how you step away from it.

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      It was, and I already miss the specific work that I was putting a lot into emotionally. For a long time I was able to *do* something about the things that bothered me in a product that I used, and it’s a different kind of frustrating to not be able to help fix it.

      The Lord’s been good though, and I’m fully trusting in Him for these next steps.

  4. So sorry you had that experience over the last 10 months. It is so difficult to work in those conditions. We are proud of you for taking the necessary steps toward sanity.

    These things too are always part of God’s plan. I find them to be some of the most exciting, albeit scary, jumping points into the best life God has planned for us if only we are willing to take the steps. So excited to see where your new journey takes you.

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  5. I agree with everything Tamara is saying for two reasons.

    1 – God never promises us an easy path in life, and difficult decisions that pull you away from fruitfulness in one area. Change is scary and painful to walk toward. She eloquently captures that in her message.

    2 – I have to agree with her because she’s my wife and I love her deeply.

    We’re praying for you guys, let us know how we can help you in this new chapter.


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  6. Thank you for keeping us informed– your family is beautiful and growing- I have been and will continue to pray.

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  7. Kevin and I will be praying for your new adventure. You have a beautiful family! Thank you for sharing your pictures with us!

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