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Barna Group President Takes Bereavement Leave after Wife Passes Away from Brain Cancer

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Barna Group President Takes Bereavement Leave after Wife Passes Away from Brain Cancer


David Kinnaman, president of the Christian research organization Barna Group, announced that he will be taking a leave of absence after his wife Jill passed away from brain cancer last month. She was 46.

“On October 28, my wife, Jill, passed away from brain cancer,” Kinnaman wrote in a blog post on Monday. “As you may know, it’s been more than a three-year journey for her—and for all of us who were consistently buoyed by her kindness, love and resilience.”

He noted that her cancer was “terminal” and that “we’ve had 41 months to prepare ourselves, but the loss is extremely difficult.”

While Kinnaman and his children have received comfort from family and friends, he explained that the “depth of the grief we’re experiencing is hard to put into words.”

“We are holding tightly to the ultimate hope that Jill is with Jesus,” he asserted.

Kinnaman explained that he and Jill agreed to continue to “fight the good fight” as he served churches and Christian leaders as Barna’s president during her bout with the disease.

“In many ways, my own suffering and loneliness have fostered more patience, empathy and trust in God as I’ve served leaders who are attempting to move forward faithfully amidst the cascading crises of 2020,” he wrote.

Kinnaman, who has led Barna for 11 years, though he has worked for the company for 25, will be taking “a number of months of bereavement leave: to grieve, to serve and love my children (Emily, 21, Annika, 19, and Zack, 16), to read and rest, to paint and work with wood and to allow God to fill me up in the many places I feel hollow and empty.”

“That means I’ll be off the rest of 2020 and into the first month or so of 2021,” he added.

Barna Group, however, will continue its operations under the leadership of interim president Todd While, who also serves as Barna’s CFO, as they continue to serve Christian leaders.

Additionally, Barna will continue to be supported by key partners including Carey Nieuwhof of the ChurchPulse Weekly Podcast and Scott Beck, co-founder of the technology company Gloo.

“To be honest, it feels weird stepping back, slowing down and resting when there’s so much at stake for the Church,” Kinnaman wrote. “Yet I’ve come to realize with startling clarity that it’s exactly for this reason that rest and renewal are critical to me as a leader and for the long-term health of the company.”

During Jill’s memorial service a few weeks ago, Kinnaman explained that he met his wife in trigonometry class in 1990 and later married her on Dec. 29, 1995.

He noted that her contribution to God’s kingdom “has always been about nurturing the people and places, including the plants and pets, closest to her. Truly, homemaking was her gift.”

Even as Jill struggled with brain cancer, which was first discovered in 2017, the couple sought to be transparent to others in glorifying Christ in the midst of their suffering.

“We wanted our faith, strong at times and rickety at others, to be visible for others to see,” Kinnaman contended. “I am humbled that she and I have been able to offer glimpses into the road of sorrow and suffering, so that Jesus would be glorified.”

Despite being heartbroken over his wife, Kinnaman asserted “I have deep confidence in the Lord” who is making a way for His future Church and that He “desires to take each of us even deeper toward Himself.”

In closing, he cited Isaiah 61:3 as God’s way of comforting him amid his wife’s passing and hopes that it would also comfort those “who have suffered much this year”. It reads,

To all who mourn in Israel,

he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,

a joyous blessing instead of mourning,

festive praise instead of despair.

In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks

that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

“The Lord has been comforting me with this scripture since Jill’s passing, and it’s my prayer for you as well,” he concluded.

Photo courtesy: David Kinnaman Facebook


Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.