By Aaron Babyar
Exago started as a concern, concept, and finally a calling. God provided myself and my wife Marque the eyes to notice a simple, yet profound, problem:
The personal needs of Christian ministry leaders are often not met. A result of that reality is that though a leader may believe they had once had a clear calling from the Lord, far too often, they will quit, burnout, or leave ministry while carrying a deep sense of loss and confusion.
Marque and I both sensed a leading to Christian ministry early in life, and we were married in 1994. For over a decade, we served the Lord in a variety of vocational ministry settings. Along the way, over and over again, we noticed a pattern of gifted men and women running away from ministry, often hurt, and often due to reasons that seemed no fault of their own. At one point, we also experienced some hardship that had us strongly considering a different vocation. Yet God called us to continue serving Him despite our many reservations.
This led to a quest for understanding. Why did Great Commission focused workers, such as missionaries, youth pastors, and church planters - gifted people doing great work for the Kingdom - so often run away from the mission God had put in front of them?
There are many answers which contribute towards turnover, and those answers led to a deeper question: While ministry leaders focus on ministering to others, who is focused on ministering to them? Far too often, the truth was a blunt: No one.
Many great Biblical leaders were ministered to. In Exodus 17, Moses was ministered to as he was serving the Lord. Jesus was ministered to by angels in the desert and by people, such as what we see in Luke 8. Evidently, this wasn’t just common practice, this was vital for spiritual growth. Yet time and time again, Marque and I noticed modern ministry leaders who seemed isolated. We wanted to restore this Biblical idea of ministering to the ministers.
Thumbing through a Greek-English Bible lexicon, Marque unearthed the word Exago - “to lead forward, while bringing others.” As God started leading Marque and I into the idea of starting Exago Ministries, we were both enthused and anxious. How could we build and serve ministry workers so that they could survive and thrive for a lifetime of ministry service?
A couple of significant challenges in my personal life were making themselves known, separately from the esoteric questions about Christian leaders “surviving and thriving.” God blessed my family with four children in six years, but I was unprepared for the financial burden of having a large family.
While God was forming in our hearts a focus for building Exago, I was in the midst of a short term commitment I had made to help launch a new church. The situation had required me to raise ½ of his support. And though the church plant went great in many ways, his support raising largely failed. Marque and I trusted God's provision but didn’t know how to invite and build a team of partners that would pray for and financially support their ministry vision.
Eventually, Marque emptied the bank account while buying food. There wasn’t much money to start with, but one particular day, she came home from the grocery store with the most bare of necessities - but there wasn’t enough. This was a pivotal moment that deeply humbled me. While it was obvious to many that God was blessing our ministry work, I sensed from the Lord that there had to be a better way of serving Him vocationally, without my family unnecessarily struggling for basic sustenance. Freshly, God birthed in me a passion of responsibility to fulfill my ministry calling and care for my family simultaneously - without it being a choice between one or the other.
Meanwhile, Marque was showing signs of personal medical decline (which eventually led to multiple surgeries). This brought about more questions. If this was God’s plan for our life, then why had we experienced so many financial and medical challenges? Could we raise a team that would really partner with us in ministering to ministry leaders? How would I build a support team when I had never been taught how or what to do? In the eyes of man, it felt like a foolish endeavor. Yet we were clearly called by the Lord to take steps of faith. A handful of faithful friends confirmed the Lord’s guidance on the situation, and Exago technically soft-launched in September of 2005.
Building a support team for a new ministry wasn’t going to be an easy task. In 2006, I began to focus more on building Exago as I left the church plant with their blessing. I searched the web for "support raising help." Of all the results that could have flashed across my screen, “Support Raising Bootcamp” stood out. At the time, I had never heard of it, so I had little understanding about what I was signing up for.
Steve Shadrach led the event, and the wealth of information was a blessing, if not somewhat overwhelming. There was more to learn than I could immediately commit to memory. Yet, I began to apply some of the things I had gleaned, and slowly God began to build a wonderful team of people that supported my transition from church planting to building Exago.
I will be the first to tell you that I made several mistakes along the way, but through primarily trusting in the Lord and applying biblical principles with intensive hard work - Exago Ministries became fully funded. Freedom at last! The ability to fully focus on the calling of God in ministering to ministry leaders was like sweet oxygen. Running full speed ahead, I would not take it for granted.
God blessed Exago’s vision and allowed it to minister to ministry workers in many capacities - from local coffee shops to large conferences to local and national networks, etc. - He has been good to lead us every step of the way! For many years, ministry leaders have regularly sent a note or somehow reached out to say variations of, “Thanks for seeing me. Thanks for ministering to me. No one else does that. I think I’m probably still in ministry because of how Exago served me.”
Furthermore, a great blessing erupted as Exago began to offer holistic coaching, and it continues to this day. Yet... that’s not the end.
Over time, a unique thing began to happen with increasing regularity. Ministry leaders started noticing something different about Exago. In various ways, leaders would ask for help with their finances, such as pulling me into a stairwell to quietly ask questions where no one else could hear their embarrassment about struggling with money. They knew I wasn’t independently wealthy, and that I wasn’t driven by finances. How was I able to fully focus on my ministry job and feed my family without going into debt or having to work a side hustle?
I knew exactly how they felt, as I clearly remembered the sense of crisis that came with not having the proper finances to fund our family and ministry. I began to resource them and often direct them towards Support Raising Solutions. But this just led to an influx of even more questions from all types of Great Commission-focused leaders who weren't just wanting a book or a training event, but also wanting to be personally coached - while in their support raising process as they built their own prayer and financial support team. At this point, Exago began to additionally offer support-raising coaching. I reconnected with Steve Shadrach for advice. Steve wisely pointed out that ministry leaders might have many needs which can contribute to turnover... but finances are often their MOST FELT need.
In 2014, Steve and Support Raising Solutions invited myself and Exago to formally partner with them. Though both organizations maintain autonomy, God has used the partnership to bless ministry leaders globally. Together, we have led numerous SRS Bootcamps, trained organizations to offer their own in-house training, and affected hundreds if not thousands of global ministries and their leaders in a multitude of ways. I also helped birthe and host the very popular “SRS Podcast.” At the time of writing, the podcast averages around 5,000 monthly downloads from ministry leaders across the globe.
Meanwhile, Exago continues to grow in its ability to serve ministry leaders, even beyond the partnership with SRS:
In a unique way, Exagos ability to equip ministry leaders to “survive and thrive,” allows the ministry to be indirectly active in everything from orphan care, fighting human trafficking, Bible translation, etc., because God allows us to equip the leaders championing those great works for the sake of the gospel!
Though God saw fit to use Marque and I as the ministry originators, it has never been - and will never be - about us. Exago has an incredible and growing team of partners and gifted staff, and we are excited to see what God is going to do in Act IV!