Summit breakouts highlight challenges, opportunities for leaders

Lisa Misner —  March 13, 2019

By the IBSA Media Team

5 changes that change leaders

From 2015 to 2018, God led Scott Nichols, senior pastor at Crossroads Community Church in Carol Stream, through a season of change. First, his wife, Vicki, was diagnosed with cancer. The year was filled with surgery and chemotherapy appointments, as well as a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences that had them looking forward to 2016.

But the next year brought more change, this time in ministry. Eventually, more than a quarter of the congregation left the church (some were sent out to do other ministries; some were not).

Though none of the changes during this season were easy, God was still at work both in the pastor’s personal walk and ministry. At the Illinois Leadership Summit, Nichols shared what the Lord taught him in a breakout session titled “Transformed: 5 ways God grows church leaders.”

Nichols shared five truths about change: It reminds the leader of their insufficiency, keeps the leader fresh, reinforces the value of teamwork, transforms the leader personally, and provides an opportunity to learn through challenges and setbacks.

“God taught me that Crossroads would not have been positioned for our upcoming season of ministry growth if we had not endured those two years of change and transition,” Nichols said. “Discomfort can also be called opportunity.”

Mind the knowledge gap

While in London on a mission trip, Carmen Halsey noticed signs cautioning riders on the city’s underground rail system to “mind the gap.” The warning to step carefully from the platform to the subway has implications for leaders too, said IBSA’s director of women’s ministry and church missions.

In leadership, the gap is the space between knowing what you know, and what you don’t.
“You’re not acting smart by saying there’s not a gap there,” said Halsey during her ILS breakout, “Fact: You can lead in the present if you mind the gap.”

“We’re living in a constantly changing world. There’s always going to be a gap for a leader.”

Halsey suggested four ways leaders can manage the gap:

1. Seek God and be confident in your calling.
2. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” and “I’m going to find us an answer.”
3. Admit mistakes and take responsibility for them.
4. Learn what level of honesty is required.

“Be a leader with integrity,” Halsey said, “but not everything gets shared on every stage. Know your audience; think beyond the moment; tell them what they need to know. Understand what you need to say when you need to say it.”

Dysfunction: Call it what it is

Whether he verbally assaults the pastor at a church business meeting or she arranges secret meetings with members around her kitchen table, dysfunctional church leaders lurk inside every unhealthy church.

“We went to their house to let them know their reputation was on the line and we needed to get together as a group and walk through where the misunderstanding occurred,” said Bob Bickford, a St. Louis pastor and church replanting specialist for the North American Mission Board.

“They refused to do that. And as we were walking away the wife said to me, ‘We were a lot better off before you got here.’ It was at that point I knew God was working to heal the church from the incredible dysfunction that had been going on.”

In his ILS breakout session, “Dealing with dysfunctional leaders in your church,” Bickford said the early church confronted problems directly and sought solutions. They didn’t shy away from calling dysfunction what it was.

“The challenge for our churches, particularly the 900 or so who are closing each year, is that we don’t have many pastors or deacon chairs or associational missionaries who are willing to do what I’ve described,” Bickford said. “Tolerating misbehavior keeps us from the mission. It’s worth risking your salary to protect God’s church.”

Planning vision from the inside out

Frank Lloyd Wright designed one of his most famous buildings—Fallingwater—to blend seamlessly with its environment. The Pennsylvania home, built from materials found onsite, is suspended over a waterfall that existed long before the architect ever tackled the project.

Churches would do well to follow the Fallingwater method, said Cliff Woodman (right) in his session, “Beyond Sunday: Creating a better vision for your church.” The pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Carlinville said that many churches use a “copy and paste” method, borrowing from other churches what’s working well in their context.

Instead, he advised, consider what’s going on in your church’s community and culture, and implement a vision that fits that context. And keep your eye on the ultimate prize: transformation.

“Your church congregation should be more than just attenders. They should be different than when they first started coming to church,” Woodman said.

“Just as a school grows their students, the church should also grow its attenders. You shouldn’t be satisfied with a 10-year Christian who is still, spiritually, two years old. Ask yourself: What steps need to be taken to grow the disciples?”

2019 Illinois Leadership Summit videos are available at

Lisa Misner


Lisa is IBSA Social Media/Public Policy Manager. A Missouri native, she earned a Master of Arts in Communications from the University of Illinois. Her writing has received awards from the Baptist Communicators Association and the Evangelical Press Association.