Interviews

Brian Moll of Defy Ventures on finding grace, justice, and transformation behind bars

This week we’d like to introduce you to Brian Moll. Brian is a former pastor and church planter and now the Executive Director, Bay Area of Defy Ventures, an entrepreneurship, employment, and leadership training program that serves people with criminal histories in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York.

The following interview is from a series I did as part of another project, GTHR.


From time to time we like to highlight community builders. These individuals captivate us. They draw us out. They invite us into a fuller way of being. They are relentless seekers of a simpler, more integrated, transparent, participatory version of ekklesia. One that reminds us of our beginnings and reunites us with our divine calling to be vessels of redemption for a world desperately out of order.

Their lives tell stories that beg to be shared. And we’re excited to introduce them to you, in their own words.

This week we’d like to introduce you to Brian Moll. Brian is a former pastor and church planter and now the Executive Director, Bay Area of Defy Ventures, an entrepreneurship, employment, and leadership training program that serves people with criminal histories in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York.


In one sentence, what is your purpose, or reason to be?

I want to leverage what I have been given for the sake of those others often ignore, despise, or reject.

How did you come to be where you are right now?

I landed in SF through a connection I made while pastoring a church I started in New York City (Forefront). Catherine Hoke, Defy’s Founder & CEO, is a member of our church. We invested deeply in Defy as a church, and with my heartbeat aligning with the mission of Defy, Catherine asked if I’d be willing to head to the West Coast to start up Defy in the Bay Area.

What big decisions along the way have brought you to the here and now? The ones where courage conquered fear.

One of my favorite authors writes, “Decisions determine direction and direction determines destination.” So I just try to start with where I want to wind up (as a husband, father, leader, follower of Christ, etc.) and then make the best decisions I can to lead me to the desired destination.

It’s what we DO, not what we SAY we WANT to DO that makes all the difference. I learned to start doing the things I fear the most, because that’s typically where life begins.

It’s what we DO, not what we SAY we WANT to DO that makes all the difference. I learned to start doing the things I fear the most, because that’s typically where life begins.

When did you realize you wanted to be in ministry? Any interesting moments as a child?

I was in the car with my dad one night. I was about 12. We were headed to a local motel in our town to pay the bill for someone in need. I asked him why he was doing this and he said, “Brian, I just really like helping people. It’s what I’ve been put on earth to do, and I hope our church (he was a Pastor) will be known as the place anyone in need can call when they’re in trouble.” That was inspiring to me at 12, and still is at 40.

What’s your process these days for fostering community, relationships, and generosity (both within the community and abroad)?

On my best days, I listen to people and ask questions about what makes them tick, then try to align something positive with what gets them excited.

On my not so great days, I talk a lot and try to get people to do what I want them to do. 🙂

And when you’re not doing any of the above, where can we find you?

Outside, taking it to the hoop on my twin 15 year-old boys. I’ve only got a few years of domination left in me.

Down time and work/life balance: How does this vibe with you? How do you make it all work?

In a brand new adventure, starting up a nonprofit in the Bay, down time is hard to come by, and work/life balance isn’t achieved much at all, but I do my best to not bother people after 6 or 7pm, and do my best not to be bothered after then, as well.

We currently live in a world where most people work hard, and then want to rest well, too. Not everyone does it well, including me.

I recently came across something in weekend getaways, how it doesn’t just cause a change of scenery, but a change of habits, as well.

It makes more sense to everyone to NOT respond to email if you’re in Tahoe or Santa Cruz for the weekend (if one can afford to get away), so we’re trying to do that more often.

I recently came across something in weekend getaways, how it doesn’t just cause a change of scenery, but a change of habits, as well.

Most difficult situation to date?

We’ve been in SF for about 2.5 months and the most difficult situation, thus far, has been navigating anything without GPS.

Manhattan, where we lived, was laid out on a grid and easy to learn.

Also, fundraising is a challenge but we are gaining momentum each day.

Biggest triumph / accomplishment?

In life, my wife and four kids. They make me a better person each day and bring great joy to my life.

In SF with Defy, seeing lives transformed is HUGE and the biggest reason we do what we do.

It makes all the hard work worth it when I see someone “transform their hustle.” 🙂

What would you tell your five year-ago self?

3.5 years ago my wife and I got pregnant after already having 3 teenagers, so my 5 year-ago self would have told me to use better protection (we love you Ellis!).

Who do you look to for inspiration? Or, who madly lights you up and makes you want to chase down your dreams?

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Frederick Douglass
Catherine Hoke
My sister, Lori, who has adopted 5 children (all were previously adopted and given up again)
Bree Newsome
My father

Future plans? What dreams are in the pipeline?

We are going to transform the lives of business leaders and people with criminal histories through collaboration on the entrepreneurial journey, not only in the Bay Area, but all of California and in each of the 50 states.

We are going to help the nation see the most overlooked talent pool in the country comes out of the state and federal prisons.

We are going to help parents transform their legacy by starting a business, employing others, and setting a positive example for their children.

I’d also love to learn to surf, but paddle boarding may have to suffice. 🙂

We are going to help the nation see the most overlooked talent pool in the country comes out of the state and federal prisons.

What three pieces of practical advice would you share with someone who wants to create, shape, and inspire a community of their own?

  1. What one does is what counts, not what one had the intention of doing. (Picasso)
  2. Everybody wants to change the world, but nobody wants to do the dishes (basically, 99% of the job is done behind-the-scenes without credit. Put in the hard work to bring about change)
  3. We overestimate what can be done in a year, and underestimate what can be done in 10 years. Work hard. Be diligent. Stay the course.

We overestimate what can be done in a year, and underestimate what can be done in 10 years. Work hard. Be diligent. Stay the course.

Any favorite methods, tools, or technology you’ve found to be essential?

This works for me: I wake up early. Read, study, pray, and get as much email done as possible before anyone else wakes up. This frees up my day to meet with people, process, and think.

I don’t check email past 7pm and I don’t check it in the morning until I’m done eating, praying, and reading. I used to be on my phone 24/7. It was bad for me, worse for my co-workers, and terrible for my family.

A personal mantra?

My father used to write “Ephesians 3:20” at the bottom of every letter he’d write me in college. He wrote it enough times I began believing it. It’s where I go every time I’m afraid.

“He is able to do immeasurably more than you could ever ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within you.”

Where can we find you and your community online?

Brian:
Twitter: @brianmoll

Defy Ventures:
Web: www.defyventures.org
Twitter: @defyventures

🤝 Stay in touch

I send an email several times a year with a handful of the most interesting things I’ve written or uncovered at home, abroad, and on the web.

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