To say that Mark Upton is a family man is an understatement.
Granted, Mark is the father of three. And granted, he is the grandfather of 12. But on top of that, the Pinnacle Forum Partner is executing on his passion for families and children as president and chief executive officer of Christian Family Care.
With a vision of “a future in which every child is loved and nurtured in a Christ-centered family,” the non-profit strives to “wrap children and families with the love of Jesus Christ” through a broad range of services that include adoption, foster care, and pregnancy, child and family counseling.
“I have always been a family man,” Mark says in explaining his life-long passion. “I was raised in a strong family ethic. And, naturally I just love children.”
But it wasn’t until 2007 that God led the now-64-year-old to the Arizona-based Christian Family Care.
Mark, who gave his heart to Jesus Christ as a nine-year-old, recalls as a college freshman wrestling with whether to go into the marketplace or ministry – and then following his pastor’s advice to pursue business first and then pastoral ministry.
“Throughout my life I have discovered that spiritual growth occurs when you take the risk of stepping out into arenas when trusting fully in Christ is the only answer,” he says. “These experiences have deepened my joy and love for Christ and placed me in situations in which I don’t think I would have ever achieved such success on my own.”
Those experiences – and successes – included serving as executive vice president and provost of Phoenix Seminary before joining Christian Family Care.
“My entry into the foster care/adoption arena was not driven for a passion for foster care and adoption,” Mark explains, “but by encouragement from others to use my leadership and business skills to advance an organization that was in need of a new level of leadership – and an opportunity to place myself in a position where I would need to move out of a comfortable place and trust God.”
And, with his own heart for children and the fact that he and spouse Lorraine already had two adopted grandchildren – and now four – “the focus of the ministry was something my family could identify with.”
Today, Mark oversees an organization with nearly 250 paid and volunteer staffers in offices in northern, central and southern Arizona, all driven by the belief that a nurturing family – especially a Christian one – is vital to a child’s success. And over the past 30 years, thousands of children who came to Christian Family Care in crisis have found healing and hope in loving, caring and stable Christ-centered homes.
“When God brings us a child or family to help,” Mark says, “that’s our touch point into the community. They don’t have to be Christians to receive help, but we only license Christians to work with us because of our Christ-centered ministry model. It’s right there in our name, Christian Family Care.”
What makes the faith-based social services model work, Mark explains, is CFC’s ability to refer non-Christians to other agencies. “We have worked well with local and state officials and this gives us credibility,” he says. “Such freedom isn’t the norm elsewhere in our country and it could change here in the future.”
Mark’s execution on his passion for families and children also attracted him to Pinnacle Forum, with its Four “E” Strategy and emphasis on personal and cultural transformation.
“I wasn’t looking for another bible study or church group,” he recalls. “I was looking for business and ministry leaders who were serious about impacting the culture of our community for Christ.”
And that’s exactly what he found when he joined a Forum three years ago. “Pinnacle Forum is great at pulling together people who can make a difference,” he says, and then encouraging and equipping them to engage and execute in ways that impact the culture for Christ.
“Christian Family Care is on the front lines of cultural conflict,” Mark continues. “For example, we’re dealing with the implications of same-sex marriage and gay couples wanting to adopt or become foster parents. We need groups like Pinnacle Forum to stand with us in affirming our Christian heritage and biblical worldview in the face of a rapidly shifting social climate. I believe if the community stands together on these issues, it will be harder for government to marginalize or ignore us.”
Today, in addition to his leadership role at CFC, Mark serves on a number of boards and committees, including those of Pinnacle Forum Arizona, the Arizona Life Coalition, No Child Waiting, the Governor’s Arizona Serves Task Force, and Phoenix Seminary’s Education Legacy Fund. He and Lorraine have lived in Arizona’s Valley of the Sun for nearly 40 years, and are active in Scottsdale Bible Church, where Mark serves on the elder board.
What’s next for Mark? Or, as he asks himself, “What does God want me to do ‘til I’m 80?”
“I believe it includes training the next generation of leaders to move CFC forward and to expand our influence in our communities and beyond,” he says. “I also want to spend time with men who are willing to trust God and take risks; the kind of leaders I find in Pinnacle Forum.”
Mark has some words of wisdom for any and all who are part of Pinnacle Forum:
“Together we need to get out of our comfort zones and put ourselves in places where we have to trust God more,” he says. “We really need to recognize that God is in control of everything – good and evil; and therefore our response needs to be to put our faith and trust fully in Him. There are so many areas of life we hold onto that we need to let go of.
“I am discovering much greater success and opposition (because followers of Jesus will be opposed just as Christ was) the more I trust God with everything I do at CFC and personally. It leads me to the place where I am most alive and in my sweet spot, because my dependence is no longer on me, but the all-powerful God.”
He also stresses the critical importance of those Four “E’s” – encourage, equip, engage and execute:
“You need to engage all four strategies,” he says. “Read the Scriptures and what words do you hear over and over again? ‘Do it!’ If we at Pinnacle Forum are going to truly live and impact culture, we have to be willing to engage and execute. If we don’t, we will have wasted our lives.”