Our Vision

We see God's Kingdom growing.

The kingdom of God is the complete and total authority of God over all creation, most importantly humanity. This kingdom exists wherever men and women allow God to rule over their individual lives and become obedient to God’s ways as revealed through the person of Jesus Christ, who is God in flesh. These people who work to see the kingdom of God grow are called kingdom workers, who are the people we seek to develop.

Why Cultivate?

Cultivate is a special word. It is the word used to describe the work of ripping up hard earth in order to soften it and make it able to accept seeds and grow crops that feed people. It is the word that illustrates what a gardener does with each plant in a garden, giving each particular variety it’s own special mix of light, water, and fertilizer to produce the right kind of growth. It’s a word often used to describe building relationships, establishing beneficial habits, and seeing an idea yield results. It’s a word that eventually leads to fruit.With that in mind, my favorite definition is to promote the growth of something by labor and attention. I believe people, plans, and prayer all should be carefully developed in order to have the qualities necessary to grow God’s kingdom in an effective, or fruitful, way.This isn’t to say that God isn’t able to grow his kingdom without human beings; I believe he will establish his kingdom and reign in the end, no matter what anyone does or says. However, I am saying that if I want to become someone who can serve to advance the kingdom of God, then I must pay careful attention to my personal character and conduct, the specific plans I am carrying out every day, and the way I listen to and receive from God in prayer. In my estimation, growing God’s kingdom is the most important undertaking human beings have in life. The work requires love, faith, humility, forgiveness, perseverance, and joy in the face of persecution, all of which are uncommon to the human experience. Because we as humans are not predisposed to such things, these qualities need to be cultivated within us and the work that we are given to do. Sometimes that involves ripping up hardness in our hearts, so that something new can grow. Other times, it can mean bringing ourselves into the light, so that our insufficiencies can be exposed. In the end, the hard work of successful cultivation is seen in the fruit that comes. Is the fruit of my life able to grow God’s kingdom? Is my life, inspired and yielded to Jesus, able to produce justice for the oppressed, a home for those who can’t find one, and love for the unlovable? If so, then the fruit that comes from the cultivated, rich soil of my life has now begun to blossom in the life of someone else, and God’s kingdom has grown. This then, is why I am so driven to cultivate the lives and plans and prayers of others - to see God be able to produce lovely fruit in the lives of people, fruit that will feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, produce clothes for the naked, nourish the stranger, heal the sick, and give new life to all those imprisoned.

Our Team

Kyle Vens

Kyle Vens is the director of Cultivate. After arriving at Oakland University as a junior transfer student in 2016, Kyle became actively involved in Cultivate as a student. His passion for learning, evangelism, and mentoring quickly led him to become a student leader, intern, and eventually the full-time director of Cultivate at Oakland since 2019.

Alexa Lawlor

Alexa joined the Cultivate team in 2016, acting as a spiritual mentor to young women as well as coach to students who are interested in connecting with and serving international students. As the director of Connect The Nations, Alexa helps students learn how to serve others in meaningful ways.

Cam Underdown

Cam is the co-founder of Cultivate, a ministry designed to grow God’s kingdom by developing kingdom workers. He is employed full time with Abide Ministries, helping to start and sustain to new ministries and movements that grow God’s Kingdom. He is also the co-planter of LifeChurch Auburn Hills.

Dale Partin

Dale brings his passion for teaching and theology to Cultivate as the advisor for spiritual formation and education. Whether it’s planning and teaching classes for current Cultivate students or answering difficult questions about faith and practice for students, Dale continues to shape the future of new kingdom workers.

Cathy Smith

Cathy has spent most of her career in professional development, advising, and human resources. She combines her love for Christ with professional experience to help students uncover their gifts, talents, and path to be a kingdom worker in the workplace. She has been a leadership development coach with Cultivate since 2015.

Our History

Told by Cam Underdown, Cultivate Founder

In 2012, I felt the call to come back to Oakland University to pastor the people of the campus. God gave me three specific directives in leaving the ministry I had at Kensington, and beginning the new one at Oakland:

  1. Find, gather, and strengthen believers
  2. Serve existing campus ministries and organizations
  3. Don’t recruit a team, but let God send the initial workers

These three directions were difficult for me. I had always spent the majority of my time pursuing people who thought God was irrelevant, so the idea of strengthening believers was new and uncomfortable. I thrive on starting new things, so the idea of simply learning from and serving existing organizations instead of starting my own was a challenging notion. Finally, recruiting is one of my greatest personal strengths, and to be without it as I went forward was almost unnerving. Each direction required more and more trust in God’s work through me, instead of my work for God.

The first person God sent to join me in this endeavor was a young woman named Alaina Bur. I didn’t have any conversations with her; it started with a dream where she experienced God communicating with her to come help me administratively. At this time, I was still working in youth ministry at Kensington Church and had the administrative help I needed already. Alaina found this dream even stranger because she had felt the urge of the Holy Spirit to serve in some way at the university she was going to that coming fall. With all this in mind, Alaina approached me one day and said:

“I had a strange dream where God was asking me to help you administratively, but I feel really compelled to serve in some way at a college campus where I’ll be going next fall. Can you provide any insight?”

I was stunned. Here was God at work, bringing me one of the sharpest, strongest young Christian leaders I had known to come help, and I hadn’t said a word. At this question, I told her what was coming, and she was stunned as well - it all made sense to her. She jumped on board, and soon, more and more people began meeting us in strange, God-appointed ways.

During that first year, we often prayed together in the library, just listening to whatever God wanted to reveal. One day, Alaina brought a vision she had in her personal prayer time - an upside down tree. She told us the story of how in her vision, God had taken a tree out and planted it in the middle of a circle of dying fruit plants and flowering bushes. The soil was dry, hard, and dusty, lacking the nutrients to sustain the fruit plants and bushes. The climate was arid, with a hot son often shining and little rain. The tree’s purpose was to put its roots down very deep into the soil, past the hardened rock all the way to where groundwater was. In this way, the tree would bring groundwater back up to the soil via the taproot, helping establish the soil so that flowers, fruit, and a new garden could thrive. She explained that the tree started to grow in her vision, beautiful, tall, and strong. Everything else was revived as a result of this tree doing its part.

Then, God came into the vision. It was the end of time, and God came to the tree and pulled it out of the ground. But instead of inspecting how the beauty of the leaves, branches, and trunk, he instead began to inspect the root system - which was even more well developed than the upper part of the tree. She explained that God was going to judge the quality of this ministry on the roots that were established - or in our context, the Christlike character of the those working to grow God’s Kingdom.

This is why we have the upside down tree as our logo. We want to remember always that Cultivate is God’s idea, and he has specific plans for it. He is looking at the quality of the roots as he looks at us - are we bringing nutrients to the soil where we have been planted? Are we helping other ministries or individuals grow and blossom? Are the roots of our character strong and developed to weather a harsh climate? This is our part in God’s Kingdom growing, and we always want to remember.

Our Oversight

Cultivate is overseen by a multi-generational team from three different organizations. When it comes to developing kingdom workers, we take our work seriously, welcoming several layers of accountability and wisdom.

Directional Oversight

Directional Oversight

Cultivate is a collaborative effort, directed and overseen by a team that spans three generations. Founded in 2013, the Cultivate Core Team has grown and developed together, meeting regularly to seek God for direction, pray for students, and check on the spiritual and emotional well-being of each other. The Cultivate Core Team is comprised of Cam Underdown, Alexa Lawlor, Dale Partin, Cathy Smith, and Kyle Vens. The Core Team oversees the regular operations of Cultivate, determines who can volunteer, raises funds, and decides how to best lead and guide students in their spiritual journey.

Spiritual Oversight

Spiritual Oversight

Loren Siffring, Ron Daggett, and the Master’s Christian Minsitries board provide spiritual and moral oversight to Kyle Vens and the Cultivate team. As a local ministry group (Rochester Hills, MI) with 35+ years of experience, they are available for counsel, accountability, and to settle disputes should they arise. Cultivate brings performance reports before the Master’s Christian Ministries board annually, and Loren and Ron meet with the leadership of Cultivate weekly to develop character. For more information on The Master’s Christian Ministries, please visit their website at www.mcmin.org.

Financial Oversight

Financial Oversight

Mike Carnill and Abide Ministries provide financial and operational oversight for Cultivate. Abide (Clawson, MI) is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization with 20 years of experience being available to serve independent missionaries who desire to grow God’s Kingdom. All financial gifts made to Cultivate go to Abide Ministries for processing and accountability, and Abide provides oversight on all money spent for Cultivate initiatives and operations. For more information on Abide Ministries and who they support, please visit their website or email [email protected].