Curating the Sound


With Sam Chand, Martijn van Tilborgh, & Virgil Sierra

What a wild ride the last two years have been—from a global pandemic to social unrest and a contentious election season. The first issue of AVAIL went to press just as the world was locking down, and today you’re holding in your hands the ninth issue of AVAIL Journal. However, as you probably know, AVAIL is much more than just a magazine and includes books, masterclasses, events and a leadership podcast. To celebrate the 100th episode of the AVAIL Podcast, co-founders Dr. Sam Chand and Martijn van Tilborgh sat down with host Virgil Sierra to discuss the journey of launching AVAIL and the what the future holds.

Sam Chand: Isn’t it interesting how God brings people together. I remember talking to Martijn years ago, and one of the questions he asked me was, “So what do you want to do with the rest of your life?” A big question. So, I said to him, I want to do two things in life: One is to influence influencers—that’s what AVAIL does—influence influencers. And the other is create content. And that’s what AVAIL does again. So, this is a great confluence of two great rivers flowing together."

Martijn van Tilborgh: I had started working with a lot of Christian media companies. I learned that times have changed. And with those changing times, there are new strategies, there are new ideas, there’s new technology, there are new mindsets and culture. It demanded a change in how we bring a message to market. I often got into place of frustration working with these media companies to the point where I realized that God was actually positioning me to create our own media platform. So, AVAIL was in a sense, part of that—parallel to that. I had a conversation with Sam, who was at the time on a plane 300 days of the year. He frequently told me, “I’m not getting any younger. Will this ever stop? How can I increase my digital footprint? How can I multiply myself—to be in multiple places at the same time using technology?” That kind of got my mind going as well. How can we take the Sam Chand brand that we had built for about seven years and take it to the next level, to create platforms that would facilitate a place for other voices in his relational network to benefit from the brand that we would build?

Virgil: Tell us about why you decided to make it more than just a quarterly leadership journal?

Martijn: For me, it’s not about a magazine. It’s not about a book. It’s not about a product. It’s all about message. I learned very early on that, with traditional classroom learning. you put 20 people in a room. Those 20 people are all on a different level already as they walk in, which can only go as fast as the, the slowest learner. That person raises his hand, asks the question that 80% of the class already know the answers to. So, all that to say, it became very clear to me in that season was not the most effective way of adding value to an audience. The other kind of myth that came out of that was classroom learning is interactive. While in reality, 80% of the time you’re sitting in classroom, listening to the guy talk front of a whiteboard, and 80% of the time it’s not interactive. So, we developed this new learning method that was based on, uh, consumption of information in different formats. It wasn’t just guy talking. It was a combination between practice, video, reading—there were all these different formats. I got into the mindset that people consume content, different ways. They listen, they read, they watch, they attend, they participate, they interact, they collaborate. We learn from those different formats. When I thought about AVAIL, I thought about message. But all these different expressions of that message that could be consumed different ways. It’s like a solar system. There’s a core “why” behind the brand, but then there’s all these planets gravitating around that central point. They all gravitate around that same core.

Virgil Sierra: Let’s talk impact. What are you envisioning happening through AVAIL as we keep moving forward in the years to come?

Sam: I think the challenge for us is going to be how do we steward this platform? If you’ll allow me three minutes to do a mini leadership lesson here. There are five “D”s that we ask ourselves. The first one is What defines you? The second is What’s your deliverable? The third “D” is What is your delivery system? The fourth “D” is Who are your drivers? And the fifth one is What about dollars? What defines us is our heart to reach the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ through leaders. That’s our heart. You cut us, we will bleed Christian leadership. What are our deliverables? To curate a sound. I believe what God is doing right now is creating a new sound in the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. How do you curate that sound? Our delivery systems are our podcasts, magazines, books, AVAIL+, gatherings of leaders such as the Porsche event that is coming up shortly in Atlanta. The kind of things we do in succession planning and transition planning for Christian leaders—especially pastors. The kind of things we do with growing leaders, especially emerging leaders. Who are our drivers? You are. The people who listen to our podcast or pass along the AVAIL Journal and tell others about it.

Virgil: Martijn, do you have any thoughts as far as this season—maybe something that's happened in the world, maybe even a leadership crisis that’s grabbed your attention, maybe caused you to reflect a little bit?

Martijn: There’s this little thing that happened recently called the coronavirus. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it.

Virgil: Yeah, yeah. I heard about it.

Martijn: Obviously, I would hope it has caused every leader to think about their leadership. It gets very complicated—especially if you’re in a media space. Everybody’s opinion is so polarizing, and it made me step back where before, as a leader, I would have my opinion. I’m Dutch, right? We have opinions, and we are not afraid to voice them. I really learned to step back and learn to be a confident leader, yet lead with wisdom, like what Jesus did when they brought him a woman that was caught in adultery. One polarizing party says, “Hey, look at this lady. Should we kill her?” And somehow Jesus was able to step back and not say “yes” or “no,” but he answered the question with a question, and that kind of shut everybody up. He never chose black or white or left or right. He answered with wisdom. He led with confidence, yet he didn’t partake in the polarizing conversation. For me, Sam is the most brilliant example of that. I learned from him because I see him answer questions that could go south really quickly. It has inspired me to think the same way—how can I respond to this in a way that Jesus would do as a leader and still be a confident leader and not necessarily compromise my belief system or? What about you, Sam?

Sam: So, I’ve been doing what I do working with world class leaders for 35-plus years, literally all over the world, every continent. And I have concluded the greatest need of a leader, and the greatest help to a leader, is perspective and exposure. How do we bring people perspective? That is not one sided, like Martijn just said. It is not either/or, but it is both. And a lot of times people have a difficult time holding two conflicting ideas in their mind at the same time and agreeing with both of them. So, people say things like, “Well, I see this, but I also see that,” and they end up going one way or the other. You don’t have to. There’s nobody forcing you to do that. So, I think AVAIL brings people perspective. If you were to go through one of those journals, you would see that we have people from all genres of the evangelical Christian Bible-believing spectrum: black, white, Latina, Indian—I mean, you name it, they’re all there. Different ways of thinking, sizes of ministries, sizes of influence.

Virgil: What’s something you learned about yourself in this last year—maybe a new experience for you in your leadership—that made you think in a new way?

Sam: How much I love leaders. I’ve always loved leaders, but how much I love leaders. I feel their pain. I feel the struggle they feel. The challenges. It’s like a revival, a reemergence of God's grace on my life. I, I realize how much I love leaders.

Virgil: Martijn?

Martijn: I've learned it’s better to empower your team with responsibility to take care of the business they're assigned over. We’ve grown our workforce by 100 percent over the last 18 months. So, we went from 20 to 40 people on staff. There was a lot, I did myself. But as the scale grows, you have to learn to trust people in positions of responsibility and just let go.  I’ve learned that I can’t control everything, and I’m allowing people to take responsibility over the task they are assigned to. And there was a big learning curve for me because I used to be in every little detail of every little thing.

Virgil: That’s huge. As you guys see young leaders who are gaining prominence in the Christian world today, what excites you about that? Sam?

Sam: I get depressed about that.

Virgil: Okay.

Sam: When leaders peak, rise to prominence too early, that’s a heavy cross to carry for a long time. So, most leaders secular, sacred, Christian, corporate environments—doesn’t matter—most leaders I work with don’t even start peaking until they’re about 55. But if somebody peaks when they’re in the mid 30s, they’ve got a long way to keep climbing higher, higher, higher, higher, higher, and not hit a plateau. They’ve got to communicate, create more content, lead better, preach better, stay cool. It is a heavy cross to carry. People are coming to mind I’m going to leave nameless—people coming to my mind, who are on social media, who are watched everywhere, who are setting the pace, who are doing incredible stuff. And I applaud them for that, but I also pray for God’s grace and his mercy, because they’re a bigger target for a longer period of time. I pray that they’ll stay married, that their home lives will be strong, that they’ll stay anointed, that they’ll keep growing spiritually, that their eyes will not be put on numbers in their churches, but rather on numbers in the kingdom. I would say so much more about that, but what excites me about it is the anointing in the life—or depresses me about it because if they don’t become good stewards of it, it is going to be a very hard and long life.

Martijn: Well, those are some good thoughts. I think there is an army of young people, even people that are kind of still operating under the surface, that are emerging in this time—people that produce a new sound, people that bring a fresh message. I’m excited about it. I think the big potential pitfall is to start duplicating what we’ve always done as we’re looking at our big examples in the Christian space and kind of subconsciously making them the model for success. So, I think there's, I see an army of young people, young leaders coming up in the ranks. Maybe they’re not yet all over social media, but they’re thinking different. And I’m excited about the potential that they bring. I often reference the scripture from the Old Testament and says the sons of the prophet came to the prophet saying, “The space where we dwell with you has become too small.” It talks about a new generation of young leaders growing up in one place with the father who raised them coming to the conclusion that the past does not facilitate the ingredients needed where they're going. What got them to where they are today cannot get them where they are going. And they needed to shift to a new place. And as that older generation released them to pursue the dream and vision that God’s given them in their heart, they turn around and they ask that older generation to come with them into their new endeavors. I think that’s what’s happening in the church today. There’s a new generation growing up, coming to realization that the church of yesterday has been great. We, we had a lot of things that we benefited from. We were blessed by and, and we had a great ride, but the past can’t take us to where we going into the future. And there’s this emerging sounds among young leaders that says, “Hey, there must be more, we’ve got to move away from what has always been to get into what will be.” And, um, the biggest threat to that is to simply model after the success of yesterday, which will keep us stuck in the past.

Virgil: Sam, is there any big goal that you’re willing to share with us for this year—for this season—that you want the world to know about?

Sam: My biggest goal at this season of my life is to get as many people engaged with AVAIL as a brand, because it will keep you growing. The other thing I will say is I would love for every pastor who’s listening to me right now to put AVAIL in the hands of every one of their leaders in their churches that they want to grow. If you don't want people to grow, that's not for them. But if you foresee potential in growth leadership, let them opt in so that they can start eating the same diet you're eating. It's about multiplication. I love what Martijn said: “curate the sound.”


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