Confident and Cautious: Steven M. Whitaker Prepares to Assume CEO Role

Steven M. Whitaker was 12 years old when John 3:16 Mission hired his dad to start a family and youth ministry. The elder Whitaker moved his family from rural Oklahoma to north Tulsa, a bit of a culture shock for his son. “I see God’s hand in that time, to be able to be in both the poor country setting and then a very urban, north Tulsa setting,” the younger Whitaker says now. This exposure shaped him from his youngest days, planting seeds of preparation for his role as the new CEO of John 3:16 Mission when his father, Steve P. Whitaker, retires on July 31.

Whitaker’s story is deeply intertwined with the last 30 years of John 3:16 Mission. He was one of the first members of The Streetlight Gang youth group started by his dad in 1989. “It is clear God’s hand was guiding my exposure so that I could grow a heart,” Whitaker recalls. “I think we have to, as humans, grow a heart for all people, all economic groups, all racial groups.  Looking back, that’s what He was doing.”

In 1997, Whitaker was a student at the University of Tulsa when the youth pastor role at the Family and Youth Center opened up, and he told his dad he’d like to be considered for the role. His dad Steve recalls that it was an obvious choice: “Steven had been a part of the youth ministry here all this time. He knew how to do it. He brought a whole new energy to it, and that was the beginning.”

Steven Whitaker’s first order of business as youth pastor was to build on the existing program to make something consistent and cohesive. “We couldn’t just be doing outreaches and evangelism,” he says. “We had to create a platform for kids to be discipled and to grow into leaders.” It’s an approach that’s still in place at the FYC today.

Whitaker held the role of FYC youth pastor until 2001, when he became the director of the FYC. Whitaker’s natural giftedness in administration equipped him to become COO in 2011. In 2022, in preparation for his dad’s retirement, the John 3:16 Mission board appointed him deputy CEO, giving him on-the-job training for the role he’s about to take on.  

Between his decades of experience at the Mission and the board’s well-planned strategy to place him in this new role, Whitaker feels prepared and optimistic for what is to come. He recognizes that transitions like this are an important time to look ahead with innovation while still holding fast to the core principles of the organization. “We have a solid core of staff, volunteers, and community friendships. My heart is to take time in this transition and thereafter to hear from all our constituents and learn of their passion for this place,” Whitaker says. “I am excited to affirm our friendships and our mission to take the gospel to men, women, and children in the Tulsa community, endeavoring to meet their physical, mental, and spiritual needs.”

Whitaker is energized to see some of the work the Mission is currently doing expand in creative ways. “In terms of future growth, I’d like to see us continue to make our own way on the social enterprise initiatives, growing businesses that are employing persons that have come through our programs,” he says, referring to existing programs such as BeeLoved Trading. “But we want to go beyond that, which is why we’re building our vocational training center to be a place that effectively informs our youth and our students there is a path forward for them. This is how to move the poverty needle and ultimately affect homelessness.”

With a mindset he describes as “confident and cautious,” Whitaker is eager for the new challenge. “The programs of the Mission are vast and remain one of the best-kept secrets in town. I am excited to build alliances and advocate for the cause of homelessness and homeless prevention. I covet prayer for all of us in the John 3:16 Mission family as we embark on this next chapter. The Mission has a rich history with God’s fingerprints all over it. We won’t forget where we came from, and we’ll keep our eyes focused on where God will guide us in the years ahead.”

 

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