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How to help students ask—and answer—big questions about the future

Jeff Reep works to help students make the right decisions for their futures, even if the process takes a while.

“It’s always better to get it right than to get it fast,” the director of career services tells students at Cedarville University, a Christian school in Ohio. Indeed, many collegians report not getting it right on their first attempt. Reep points to a statistic from leadership expert Tim Elmore that found 40% of college graduates wish they had chosen a different major.

It’s easy to see how it happens to so many people, Reep said. Well-meaning people at church or in the community start asking a student in high school where they’re planning to go to college and what they’ve chosen as a major. The response—business, education, etc.—often isn’t based on how God is leading, or how the student is wired. Instead, it becomes something that’s easy to repeat. All of a sudden, Reep said, the student is a junior in college who’s never really struggled with what they’ll do with their degree once they’ve earned it.

Am I really surrendered to God? Is my treasure, satisfaction, and identity in him?

That trajectory puts students on the fast track to joining the majority of Americans who aren’t happy in their work, Reep said. The number of satisfied workers inproved slightly over the last decade, according to the Conference Board’s annual job satisfaction survey. Still, just over half of the population say they don’t like their job.

“So many times, people look at a lifestyle and don’t consider a life work,” Reep said. A young person might aspire to live in a certain neighborhood or achieve a certain level of prestige, for example, but they don’t consider what kind of work is actually required of a particular vocation.

At Cedarville, Reep’s team helps students in three basic areas: exploration, which includes counseling about careers, internships, and majors; navigational skills, or developing resumés, cover letters, and other tools needed in a job search; and networking opportunities with faculty and employers who can help them as they investigate their options. Everything Reep’s team does is designed to help students answer big questions: Who am I? And where does God want me to be?

When he talks with students, Reep tells them he knows what God wants them to do, which is a pretty major assertion that he doesn’t take lightly. But there are three things he says he feels sure the Lord is calling them to do as they think about the future. The three steps can be helpful to pastors and church leaders as they help students in their congregations navigate the same issues:

1. Pray about it. And pray specifically, Reep advises. Ask God to put people on your mind who you should talk to about a potential career direction. Who can help you as you’re thinking through these things, or who can refer you to someone else who can help?

2. Ask for advice. Proverbs 11:14 says there is safety in a multitude of counselors. Reep urges students to heed Scripture’s encouragement to seek out wise advisors. And not just for job or internship opportunities. People are honored when you ask for career advice based on their experience, he said. And they may be able to point students to opportunities they haven’t yet considered.

3. Delight yourself in the Lord. The counsel of Psalm 37:4 is especially comforting for students seeking God’s will for their future. If a student can say they’re delighting in the Lord, that he’s their treasure, their satisfaction, and their identity, Reep said, then the next question is: What do you desire to do?

“If there is something that you desire to do, put it out there,” he advises. “And then start moving toward it.” And stay open to how God might continue to shape that desire.

The differences between “vocation” and “career” and “calling” can be confusing for students trying to make sense of their options. But Reep says every Christian is in full-time ministry. “Whether it is [as] a pharmacist or at a state university or on the mission field. And God is the one that provides for each of those people.” Calling goes back to “am I really, totally surrendered to him, am I a living sacrifice for him, is my treasure, satisfaction, and identity in him,” Reep said. “Then, out of that, what I do is my service, my calling.”

-Meredith Flynn

Leverage others’ strengths

ib2newseditor —  February 23, 2017
carmen-halsey

Carmen Halsey

Because she was only 13 months younger than her brother in their small high school, there were many classes Carmen Halsey attended with him.

“I took the book home to study and he never did, yet he’s the one that always pulled the A,” said Halsey during a breakout session at the Illinois Leadership Summit. “ That mentality is setting people up to fail. Sometimes we are just not a natural, and all the practice just depletes our energy level and leaves us feeling incompetent.”

Halsey, who serves as IBSA’s director of women’s ministry and missions, as well as Illinois WMU executive director, spoke on how to leverage the strengths of leaders.

First, Halsey said, leaders should have a general knowledge of how God created the brain and understand how their emotions impact them.

“All people experience things emotionally before their reason kicks in, but not all people do this at the same level,” she said. “Understanding the differences of how this works within a team will increase performance and decrease time wasted and drama.”

Halsey said the next step is identifying a person’s natural talents and strengths. “Take inventory. Ask them to take a strengths survey, to describe their dream job, and the sweet spot of their current ministry,” she said. “Watch them. People will naturally nurture their strengths without much thought behind it.”

Once strengths are identified, the leader must be intentional to invest in further developing those strengths.

“We must find ways to cultivate the natural talents in people to make them even stronger,” Halsey said. “We do this in practical ways with our encouragement, and by providing training opportunities. As we come alongside our team, we are confirming their strengths.”

Finally, Halsey said, a church or organization should always position people according to their strengths. “Sometimes out of need we ask someone to sit in a seat that might not be their best position,” she said. “If that’s the case, communicate that it’s temporary. And move them to a better fit as soon as you can. That’s how a person can get from good to great.”

– Kayla Rinker

Cultivate spiritual health

ib2newseditor —  February 9, 2017

tibbettsTimes of ministry burnout are coming, Heath Tibbetts told leaders gathered in Springfield for the Illinois Leadership Summit. So are areas of weakness. But there is a way to prepare for those inevitable difficulties, said the pastor of First Baptist Church in Machesney Park.

“Spiritual build-up prepares us for burnout and blind spots that we know are on the horizon,” Tibbetts said during his breakout session on the spiritual health of a leader.

One warning sign that spiritual build-up may be lacking, Tibbetts said, is reacting poorly to challenges. There was a time, he said, when his church didn’t plan for occasional obstacles, like losing a Sunday school teacher or facing a bill they couldn’t afford to pay. Leaders can fail to prepare in the same way, if they allow their current plans and level of knowledge to be enough.

“Visionless ministry punches the clock.”

So, how can a leader make sure his or her spiritual health is strong? Tibbetts suggested several ideas, including coaching from other leaders. He recently starting a mentoring relationship with a pastor in another part of the country, which started when Tibbetts read a magazine article about how the other church was utilizing facility space and e-mailed the pastor a question.

There’s also a need for trusted friends who can ask questions like, “How’s your relationship with your wife?” Tibbetts added.

Building oneself up spiritually also comes from time with God himself, he reminded his audience. “Personal devotion is one of the easiest things to let slip in your life.” As a pastor, if sermon preparation is the only study he does, Tibbetts said, and if he isn’t spending devotion time in other parts of Scripture, not only will the sermon be lacking, but he’ll also be missing a valuable build-up opportunity.

When ministry burnout does come, Tibbetts said, there are ways to confront it. Unplug, and “say no a lot.” Leaders need to remember their vision for ministry, even apart from what they are currently doing. “Visionless ministry punches the clock,” Tibbetts said, asking leaders to identify, What defines you separately from your ministry?

And keep building up. Tibbetts said a man in his church recently waited two months to call him for a counseling appointment, because he knew his pastor would ask about his spiritual life, and he wanted to make sure he was reading his Bible. If you’re confronting burnout, Tibbetts said, schedule more times of prayer.

– MDF

Growing leaders

ib2newseditor —  February 7, 2017

The church’s ministry potential depends on it

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While serving as associate pastor of Pawleys Island Baptist Church in South Carolina, Mac Lake said he could feel the church’s ministry efforts crumbling down around him.

“At one point I had 88 people reporting to me,” said Lake, who is now senior director of church planting development for the North American Mission Board’s SEND network. He was this year’s keynote speaker at the Illinois Leadership Summit.

“Of course I was exhausted so I went on vacation and worked on a plan to start developing leaders. The best way to make ministry successful is to make your team successful. Shifting my mindset saved my life, saved my ministry, and probably saved my marriage.”

More than 230 pastors, staff, and leaders from churches across Illinois heard practical strategies as Lake spoke on the importance of leading self, leading others, leading leaders, and leading an organization during the two-day event held January 24-25.

“This opened my eyes to the difference being intentional in your leadership strategy will make,” said Garry Hostetler, pastor of First Baptist Church Bogota in Newton. “I enjoyed getting together with other pastors and leaders and getting real help that I can put into practice right away.”

“In my ministry, I discovered if we were going to grow a congregation, I had to grow as a leader. It is important for leaders to realize their leadership lid and to grow past it.”

“When we’re spiritually disciplined we’re often more vocationally effective,” Sarah Bond urged those attending one of 28 breakout sessions. The professor at SIU-Carbondale challenged church leaders to “become the change-maker God intends you to be.”

She—and the other trainers and equippers—found a ready audience.

“When I was pastoring it was alarming to discover that my leadership was one of the obstacles to the growth of the church,” said Mark Emerson, IBSA’s associate executive director of the Church Resources Team. Emerson’s pastoral experience helped him in planning the Summit. “In my ministry, I discovered if we were going to grow a congregation, I had to grow as a leader. It is important for leaders to realize their leadership lid and to grow past it.”

For attenders at the Summit, much of the experience was about discoveries about themselves.

“When we do this kind of leadership development, pastors begin to get excited about their own growth and the growth of leaders in their church,” Emerson said. “I believe every pastor believes leadership development is important, yet it tends to get lost amid the plethora of other ministry tasks.”

Doers vs. developers

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Mac Lake

Lake opened the conference with a story about the small town where he grew up, and the small church where he grew as a leader. Handley, West Virginia, peaked at 633 residents in 1980.

“I don’t think we ever broke 70 (attenders) at Handley Baptist Church,” he said, calling his home church not small, but “normative.” It was the same size as most Southern Baptist churches. Yet, it was in this environment that Lake discovered he could be a leader. “That church taught me how to love like Jesus and how to live like Jesus…. The opportunity the normative-size church gave me to serve like Jesus and develop my leadership skills started there as a kid.”

Lake said leadership development is vital for all disciples of Christ no matter where they are in their Christian walk. He shared the story of his three “conversions” in his personal growth. Lake said:

(1) He went from “lost to found” when he was saved at 9 years old at that small church in West Virginia, then
(2) he went from “being a ministry doer to a ministry leader” when he was in seminary at 27, and finally
(3) a few years later as an associate pastor, he went from “leader to developer of leaders.”

“One of the biggest challenges for leaders who move to this level of leadership is continuing to act like a leader rather than a leader of leaders,” Lake said, offering a comparison between disciples and disciple-leaders. At first glance, discipleship training and leadership development might seem similar. While they go hand in hand, there are important distinctions. For example:

• Discipleship focuses on intimacy with God while leadership development focuses on influence with others.
• Discipleship is learning to live like Jesus while leadership development is learning to lead like Jesus.
• In discipleship, a person is learning to lead himself, while leadership development teaches how to lead others.
• Finally, discipleship works on the character of the person while leadership development works on his or her competency.

“While some people make the jump from disciple to leader in our churches, many aren’t prepared to do it,” Lake said. “Nobody taught them before they got thrown in. So you have all these people in the swimming pool of leadership and they are splashing and hollering—nearly drowning—because they don’t know how to swim. Their leadership, the church’s ministries, and even their personal relationship with God will grow to a whole new level once they are developing as leaders.”

“It’s like asking a lost person to reach someone for the Lord. They’ve never had that conversion so they don’t have the knowledge and realization they need.”

Without a consistent and intentional leadership development plan, many of the great “doers” of the church or ministry will struggle in leadership positions. “It’s like asking a lost person to reach someone for the Lord,” Lake said. “They’ve never had that conversion so they don’t have the knowledge and realization they need.”

Leaders often find themselves focusing more on the work than on the workers, and that has a limiting effect on the growth of ministry. “One of your primary responsibilities as a leader is stewarding the gifts and strengths of those in your charge,” Lake advised. Most churches structure for ministry function, rather than for leader development, he warned.

2-6-17-ils-attenders

A glimpse of the future
Developing the next generation of leaders presents many challenges in this culture of never-ending distractions and instant gratification, but Lake is optimistic about the future of the church.

“Millennials in general place an extremely high value on relationships and authentic faith-sharing,” he said. “A pastor willing to mentor this group must be vulnerable. They need to see we’re all co-learners because, in reality, we are. A 50-year-old pastor is no longer in the world he knew. He’s living in their world.”

He said all leaders must understand the dangers of social media and the challenge to stay focused and turn off distractions. At the same time, leaders must see how social networking can be beneficial for the work of God and utilize its potential for kingdom growth. “With technology and all that it entails, mentors have to embrace this world and ask for help navigating this new culture to stay relevant,” Lake said.

“With technology and all that it entails, mentors have to embrace this world and ask for help navigating this new culture to stay relevant.”

Though Lake has taught leadership to pastors and church planters across the country, this was one of the few statewide conferences he’s been invited to where the main purpose was to teach leaders how to lead with excellence.

“Illinois Baptists see the need to build a culture of leadership development,” Lake said. “Too many visions die because the leader never trained others to do what he did. The Great Commission is a vision big enough for others to give their lives to. We have to think in terms of ‘generations.’”

We used to tell leaders to “replace themselves” by training others to come after you. “Don’t replace yourself, reproduce yourself” with leaders to work alongside you, he concluded.

Lake said he prays that together leaders will create the culture in their churches that will produce the best harvest. “I applaud the Illinois Baptists for feeding their pastors and helping with the challenge of leadership issues,” he said. “This is important and these are things you don’t necessarily learn in seminary.”

– Reported by Kayla Rinker, Lisa Sergent, Meredith Flynn, and Eric Reed

Who’s at the table?

ib2newseditor —  August 18, 2016

Office chairLooking around the table at a leadership meeting, I noted who was there. More important, I realized who wasn’t.

This was the first meeting under the church’s new leadership structure. Most of the people had served in leadership capacities and most of them had served together at one time or another. But they had not all served together at the same time.

So we brought them together.

The need in this congregation was enhanced communication among ministry planners. The church’s various ministries had a history of bumping heads. There was confusion over use of rooms and recruiting workers. There was often a sense that no one really knew what was going on. And it was evident that the ministry teams held differing views on their own purposes, and different interpretations of the vision of the church.

Surely a regular meeting of the leaders would help to fix this. But it didn’t.

Not all the leaders were there. One man who said he hated meetings chose not to attend, so his cause had no voice in the allocation of dates and resources. Another team had three people in attendance, so the discussion felt tilted to their interests.

Sitting there, I made a few notes:

• Everyone here is a longtime member. Are there new people with fresh ideas we should bring to the table?

• Everyone is from the same generation. How can we bring other age groups to the discussion?

• Everyone is from an elected position, but not all ministries are represented. And a couple don’t need this level of input. Which are the right ministries to include so the vision is accomplished?

• Our discussion seems dominated by a few not-well-prepared people. How can we improve their preparation or dismiss them from the group?

• After this meeting, we still need buy-in from “unelected” leaders. How can we bring opinion leaders to the table?

Next time you’re at a leadership meeting, give some thought to who’s at the table.

 This article first appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of the Resource Magazine. Read it online at Resource.IBSA.org.

 – Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist

Princesses and Hot Dogs

A lesson in leadership from a bold five-year-old.

A few days ago I saw a brief news story about a dance class for five- and six-year-olds, where the instructor had invited the little girls to wear costumes at their next rehearsal. She dubbed it “Princess Day,” knowing how many of her tiny dancers would enjoy dancing as princesses, and also how many of them already had princess costumes.

What helped the story go viral and hit the headlines, however, was the photo of seven little girls in princess costumes standing with one very unique little girl, dressed in a hot dog costume. Five-year-old Ainsley chose to come to Princess Day not with a tiara on her head, but with a stripe of mustard down her front. One of the many captions and tweets that circulated with the photo simply read, “In a world of princesses, dare to be a hot dog.”

“In a world of princesses, dare to be a hot dog.”

There are so many things that encourage me about this story. First, there is the individuality, confidence, and boldness of the little girl. Many times I have found myself wanting, even needing, to be the hot dog in a group of princesses. I had a minority opinion, or a different point of view, or simply knew that the direction of the group was not right. It’s just easier to conform than to stand alone.

Then there was the dad who encouraged little Ainsley. He later tweeted, “No parent is ready to learn that their daughter is trending…Best part is it was all her idea!” The courage and confidence to be different, and the empowerment to act on that difference, often comes from those closest to us.

But for me, the most encouraging character in this little real-life drama was dance teacher Sarah, who was suddenly placed in the position of leading a group with a non-conformist. Sarah could have taken offense at the little girl who didn’t follow instructions or apparently respect her position as teacher. She could have sent her home, or embarrassed her in front of the class, or not included her in the dance or the picture.

Instead, this good-natured teacher embraced the little hot dog’s uniqueness, accepted both her and her costume into the group, and proudly took the picture that ended up making her class famous.

In doing so, Sarah challenged me as a leader. And I think she should challenge all of us who lead as pastors, Sunday school teachers, and ministry leaders. As hard as it is to be the hot dog in a group of princesses, it may be even harder to effectively lead a group of presumed princesses when a hot dog shows up.

That hot dog may be the deacon with an outreach idea that would take a church outside its comfort zone. It may be the sincere new believer in a Sunday school class who asks questions that don’t have tidy or pat answers. It may be the church member who presses an uncomfortable budget issue in a business meeting, when it would be easier to just vote yes and go home.

A confident, secure leader embraces multiple points of view and even minority opinions as ways to potentially make the final decision or outcome even better. An insecure leader wants only quick, compliant agreement.

After the picture became famous, teacher Sarah revealed that Ainsley was actually wearing a princess costume underneath her hot dog costume. Ainsley explained that she was still a princess on the inside. I found that to be an extra encouragement. When we’re patient and accepting of hot dogs, even on Princess Days, we often find that deep down they want to dance too. And God may even use them, or you or me, to make the dance more famous.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

Grappling with leadership

Lisa Sergent —  February 15, 2016

A better grip

It may be hardest part of ministry, but the local church’s future depends on leaders who understand who—and how—they lead.

Michael Kanai came to the Illinois Leadership Summit excited about recent happenings at his church. “We had a retreat and we made many plans and casted our vision,” the pastor of Orchard Valley Baptist Church in Aurora said. “Now,” he continued, “we need to implement and execute the plans.”

For many pastors and church leaders, that’s the hard part: turning plans into action and leading the congregation to achieve the goals. A stumble or two at this stage can stall the work and cause the people to wonder about the abilities of the leader.

But, don’t be mistaken, this article is not about goals and action plans. It’s about what happens in the heart of the leader who realizes he can’t do the ministry alone. He needs a team, and more important, he needs a team of leaders.

“We are at a point where we are needing to lead leaders,” Kanai said. “It’s really helpful learning the difference between leading followers and leading leaders. The ‘collective’ we just attended just told us there is a steep step between those two types of leadership—it’s a pivotal shift in the way you lead.”

Halfway through the Summit, Kanai was clearly “getting it.”

Setting the (grappling) hook

For two days in January, pastors, staff, and church leaders convened at the Springfield facilities of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Last year at the same time, almost 1,300 leaders from 10 Baptist state conventions across 13 states gathered for the Midwest Leadership Summit at the nearby Crowne Plaza.

Previously called the North Central States Rally, the triennial event schooled ministry leaders in programming and skills to help grow their churches and fulfill their callings in their Upper Midwest mission fields. But this meeting was different: First, it was an Illinois-only event. With the two-year break between conferences, IBSA sought to build on the momentum from the 2015 event by bringing Illinoisans together to address the leadership issues we face here. And second, this event was not so much about skills, but about the heart and character of the leader.

“When most pastors think about leadership in ministry, they view it as administrative duties, supervisory oversight, or managing some new project,” said associate executive director Pat Pajak. “Until a pastor discovers the necessity of leading himself, especially in the areas of spiritual disciplines and character development, he will never be able to lead followers, lead leaders, or lead an organization in the way God intended.”

That’s why this Summit was different.

“IBSA frequently offers ministry skill training, but we made it clear from the outset that the Summit would focus on one’s personal growth as a leader,” said executive director Nate Adams. “That shift appears to have both met a felt need, and also created an itch among leaders that IBSA hopes to help scratch in the days ahead.”

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Bob Bumgarner

The centerpiece for the event was the new leadership development process that the IBSA team has been crafting for more than a year. The main speaker for the event was Bob Bumgarner, a leadership expert who has contributed to the creative process. He was joined by four Illinois pastors in the main sessions (called “collectives”), and by 28 other pastors and ministry leaders in breakout sessions (called “intensives”).

“I think we would all agree that leadership development is forefront and needed in Southern Baptist life,” Bumgarner said. “And I also think we all would agree that it’s not as easy as it sounds.” Bumgarner (pictured above) headed leadership development for the Florida Baptist Convention and currently serves as executive pastor of Chets Creek Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, a large, multi-campus congregation.

Bumgarner sought to dispel the myth that all leadership is alike no matter the group or setting; and that leadership is innate and there’s nothing that can be done to improve it.

Not true.

IBSA’s four-part plan

Leading self is about growing your capacity to be on Jesus’ mission as a person of influence.

“The hardest person I ever lead is me,” Bumgarner said, as he began to unpack the four phases in IBSA’s leadership process. “We have to understand that before we can lead others well, we have to learn to lead ourselves.”

Bumgarner pointed to the iceberg as a good illustration of the issues in self-leadership. Most of it is under the surface. That’s why character is so important. “You can get so successful that your character can’t support (your ministry)….If you want to be a better self-leader, figure out how you can hunger for God’s wisdom.”

He recommended spending five hours per week developing character and 50-60 hours developing ministry.

“Ministry is a place where you can be completely busy or completely lazy, and people won’t know,” said Heath Tibbetts, pastor of First Baptist Church of Machesney Park. He brought some personal applications for pastors. “I’ve realized strong self-leading means that even if no one else is looking, the Holy Spirit is keeping me accountable.”

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Eric Trout, Ashby Tillery, and Mark Mohler, all from Marion, were among Summit attenders who watched the large-group collective session in the room adjacent to IBSA’s auditorium.


Leading followers
is about leading individual contributors, people who are not leading others, often serving as a ministry head or teacher in small groups or classes.

There are official followers, such as deacons or committee members, but there are also unofficial followers, the people who like or respect the leader, who have bought into the vision and want to be part of making it happen.

Bumgarner said at this stage, the objective is to identify your followers, inspire them by giving them a leader worth following, initiate followers by casting vision, and invest in their personal development. Make a goal, he advised: “By the end of next year, I want to have invested this amount of time into this number of people.”

“Our church grew when I stopped trying to lead big and started trying to lead through small groups,” said Mark Mohler, pastor of Second Baptist Church of Marion. He described bringing his congregation into a new vision for the church that found its most vital point of connection at the level of Sunday school classes.

Leading leaders is directed toward those who lead others. It requires a different skill set to keep those people who have leadership abilities of their own on your team.

Here is the pivotal point in the four phases of leadership. Adams described an image of stairs. In this case, not all the stairs are of equal height. Some have a short rise, others have a tall rise. The step between leading followers and leading leaders is the biggest jump for most people. And as Kanai described his own discovery at the Summit, it’s the most critical.

A leader who can only lead followers is limited by his own capacity; but a leader who can lead those who lead multiplies his capacity. But leading leaders is challenging and it’s risky. Other leaders have their own ideas, and they may set their own agendas.

“It can be one of the scariest moments of our life,” Bumgarner said, “nurturing your baby and then handing the baby to another person to raise….Regardless of the pain sharing a ministry can cause, something bigger and better can happen as a result.”

At this stage, empowerment of additional leaders must be balanced with clear, ongoing vision-casting: “85% of your success in leading leaders is wrapped up in common purpose and clear communication,” Bumgarner advised. “Do enough (communication) so that downstream from that work, we can see the fruit we’re looking for.”

Leading organizations is about leading leaders who lead other leaders. It’s about having a vision for the whole ministry and communicating that effectively to the whole organization.

In church life, this leader is usually the senior pastor, but not every pastor is actually leading at this level. He may be leading followers, or even leaders, but not effectively guiding the work of the whole ministry.

“Leading organizations requires working on the ministry versus in the ministry,” Bumgarner said. Many listeners in the room seemed to connect with this comment. He described a season when his ministry was consumed by the work of ministry rather than giving adequate attention to the purpose of the ministry, its vision and goals.

Leadership at this level requires strategic planning about how to do the ministry. “Your church needs you to facilitate the things that need to be done in order to share the gospel. If you find time to get the top 20% done, the other 80% will be done right.”

Bumgarner concluded, “The point of organizational functionality is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

– Coverage of the Illinois Leadership Summit by Meredith Flynn, Kris Kell, Kayla Rinker, Lisa Sergent, and Eric Reed