A Big Vision = A Big Impact

A Big Vision = A Big Impact

DJ Criner
2022 BA in Organizational Leadership
Current M.Div. student at the Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary
Senior Pastor at Saint Rest Baptist Church

DJ started his college education at a large state university but felt like a number, not a student. FPU’s degree completion program was very different. “Coming to Fresno Pacific helped me understand the difference between a larger lecture hall where you’re just a number, compared to being at Fresno Pacific where you’re actually a person and you have a name. You have a purpose for being there, that the teachers and professors see, instead of a person that just comes in and out,” he says.

That 18-month experience at the North Fresno Campus provided DJ exactly what he needed even before he knew he needed it. “Fresno Pacific was setting me up for what was to come,” DJ says.

In his second semester DJ was called to be senior pastor at St. Rest Baptist Church in Southwest Fresno. Prior to coming to FPU he felt well equipped to preach the gospel and teach God’s Word—because he had been doing that already as a pastor for a decade—but at FPU he learned about other aspects of ministry. “The church is a business Monday through Friday. It’s a worship center on Sundays. In order to have a church that thrives, you have to pay the bills,” he says. While a student at FPU DJ learned financial literacy, how to have effective and healthy disagreements and to develop an understanding of the focus of the church among the leadership staff. “Fresno Pacific taught me the importance of economic development,” he says.

For a time Southwest Fresno was called a food desert because of the lack of grocery stores and food banks available to people in need. DJ’s steady involvement in the community has helped change things. He’s been on various task forces, commissions and community boards that have brought positive improvement to southwest Fresno.

“We’ve seen our community no longer being called a ‘food desert’ because we were able to build a food distribution center and food hub. At this location we give quality food and teach people how to cook that food so they have a longer and healthier life,” DJ says. “We’ve seen economic growth and economic development. We have a partnership with our mayor to build a Starbucks in southwest Fresno as well as the first bank (a credit union) in the 93706 ZIP code. We’re hoping to build another grocery store in addition to the one we have in southwest Fresno.”

DJ has a big vision for the community in which he pastors. “Our goal is to make sure that Southwest Fresno resembles the better good of our nation. We want people not to have to leave Southwest Fresno to enjoy the luxuries of life.”

Why is this important? “It is our goal to make sure that the quality of life is changed in Southwest Fresno because we believe that’s why Jesus came to this earth, otherwise he would have made a beeline from the cradle to the cross, but he spent 33 years affecting the quality of life for people. Because that’s how you show them God. You don’t show them God when they get to heaven, you show them God when they know that heaven is here on earth as well,” DJ says.

In addition to economic improvement in Southwest Fresno, DJ has worked to impact ethnic relationships there as well. DJ has sought to bridge racial barriers by developing an interracial pastor’s gathering. He and pastor Brad Bell developed an unofficial pastor’s gathering emphasizing the importance of pastors fostering cross-cultural ministry and relationships.

But DJ makes it clear this “was not pulpit swaps, which is simply just getting a person of opposite race to come and stand and preach in the pulpit.” Instead, he says the goal was to establish “effective relationships with one another. To get to know one another,” he says. Events and get-togethers with churches of different ethnicities have had the most impact.

Encouraging these cross-cultural relationships has caused DJ to see himself as a semi-unofficial recruiter to the African American community for FPU. “I was effective in getting more people of color that were from Southwest Fresno from low-income communities to take a look at Fresno Pacific to see it was not as much about the expense as much as it was about the experience,” he says.

As you can imagine, DJ’s impact extends beyond St. Rest and Southwest Fresno. He’s also had an impact on the institution that has so greatly shaped his life: Fresno Pacific University’s North Fresno Campus.

A frequent motivational speaker for the in-person student orientations at the NFC, DJ would often tell his story of feeling like a number, not a student at his first university. In those orientations he shares “how God used specific people (advising, faculty, staff) to keep him motivated and engaged,” says Denise Baronian, former executive director of regional enrollment. Denise describes DJ as someone who “literally brings life into the room the second he walks in. His smile is contagious, and he has a dynamic personality, a deep love for people and a passion for God.”

Criner Family
The Criner Family

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Christopher L. Scott (BA '13)

Freelance writer