How One District Plans to Develop Their Leaders

November 16, 2017 | Posted by Demian Farnworth

Editor’s Note:

To celebrate the announcement of the 2017 Kaleidoscope Fund grant recipients, we are sharing the 2016 recipient’s stories over the next two months. See all 2016 stories here as they are published.

-LCEF Editorial Team

Not long after he was elected president of the Florida-Georgia (FL-GA) District in 2009, Rev. Greg Walton started to see an opportunity among his congregations.

“What I found was a lot of untapped potential.”

He explained that lay leaders often serve in an office out of necessity. “For instance, someone in the church who was a treasurer would volunteer his or her time in that office,” Walton said. They may not have a financing background, “but that person should still be developed into a leader.”

Walton wanted to find and identify those who had the right gifts and then help develop those abilities into leadership skills.

Fortunately, he had an idea on how to make that happen.

The birth of Emergent Leadership Training

Walton reached out to Kurt Bickel from Cornerstone Consulting Group. Bickel, a resident of the FL-GA District and former director of Christian education (DCE) in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), understood the Church. With 23 years of consulting experience, he understood leadership as well.

Walton pitched the idea of a leadership program that was designed not just for pastors, but church workers and the laity. This is where the dream for Emergent Leadership Training (ELT) was born.

By emergent, Walton means the capacity to tap into someone’s potential to lead and rise above the rest. Walton wanted to encourage these candidates to step forward and develop their potential through the program.

However, “I wanted to draw together from congregation teachers, DCE, lay and teach them to lead,” Walton said. Bickel pointed out how important it was for church workers to adopt a strong view of leadership. “If they don’t know how an organization works and what makes it grow—it can drain the leader and the ministry.”

ELT would train and energize healthy leaders who would then lead healthy ministries. There were some hurdles to overcome—like cost.

The nuts and bolts

Emergent Leadership Training isn’t your basic 12-step quick fix type of training.

“It’s a little more cognitive than that,” Walton said. “We look at leadership theory. We look at the self, who you are and what is your personal style of leading.”

The program is broken up into one four-day retreat and two three-day retreats, for a total of 10 days. There is a 3 to 6-week gap between each retreat. Bickel will not accept anyone into the program who cannot commit to the full ten days.

Over the 65 hours spread out over three different multi-day sessions a participant will:

  • Discover and discuss 10 core leadership models;
  • Participate in peer reviews and evaluations;
  • Belong to a cohort accountability group;
  • Develop specific skills through focused courses;
  • Receive reading and growth assignments between events;
  • Improve their listening skills; and
  • Understand the power of body, mind and spirit.

The program would also include small groups, a large-group discussion, prayer and devotions. At recent ELT sessions, it wasn’t unusual to have a pastor, church worker and lay leader in the same group, which was wonderful because they got an opportunity to see and understand each other on a new level.

“This sort of interaction,” Walton said, “provided opportunities to lead and grow together.”

The training is held at the Canterbury Retreat Center in Oviedo, Fla. Nestled in 48 beautifully wooded acres with Lake Gem as its centerpiece, Canterbury’s charm helps make every moment memorable.

Cornerstone Consulting is running the retreats with four main trainers, each with extensive expertise.

  • Sue Easton, a professor at Rollins College in Organizational Communication, has worked with Fortune 500 clients, governments, nonprofits, colleges and universities.
  • Les Stroh, one of the founders of Cornerstone, is a human resource specialist with 40 years of experience as an educator, trainer, executive, manager, consultant and entrepreneur.
  • Daryl Pichan brings the emotional edge to the discussion with 20 years of experience coaching business owners and senior leaders.
  • Bickel, a certified executive level coach with the Gestalt Institute, is all about human resource development.

While low compared to similar programs, Walton understood that the cost—$1,900—was probably beyond the reach of most church workers and lay leaders. So, he applied for the Kaleidoscope Fund grant. In early November of 2016, Walton learned LCEF a grant was awarded to his district.

It’s allowed Walton and his team to run the program four times since 2016. There are two more events scheduled in 2018.

Specifically, he says, “The grant allows us to subsidize about $1,000 of the training. Participants have to pay at least $300 [per session] so that they have skin in the game and treat it seriously.”

What about results?

Since 2016, 84 people have completed the training. The results have been positive.

“We hear from pastors all the time,” Walton said, “about their returning laity, that they had such a great experience.” One district treasurer said that she “finds ways to use this stuff all the time.”

Another lay leader, a person who was high up in the General Motors Company, said the 10-day Emergent Leadership Training was some of the best training he’d ever been through. And he had attended many sessions of leadership and management training.

Bickel said, “People leave with practical skills. They are transformed. They are better at facilitating church meetings, working in teams and organizing people and resources.”

Rev. Andrew T. Okai, the senior pastor at Holy Nativity Lutheran Church, Baltimore, said he was going back to the city “better equipped and confident about the approaches that I need to take to address many of those unaddressed issues in my ministry.”

One longitudinal study evaluated ELT participants 18 months after they completed the training. The results, Bickel said, were very positive. “Participants said they were still using it and found it very effective and still refer to the material.” The material he is referring to is the more than 100-page collection of handouts they receive over the course of the training.

Word of the program’s success has spread. This past April the LCMS Minnesota South District applied for and received a Kaleidoscope Fund grant to bring the training to its district.

Lifting up new leaders, the discouraged

“One of the most significant things that happen,” Walton said, “is during the big group discussion. People get to talk about their experiences and its great engagement and there are also so many coaching and counseling opportunities.”

So far, the training has been by invitation only through the district. Participants identified have inherent leadership skills, but those who may need encouragement or reinforcement in their current positions are also invited.

“Ministry can be discouraging,” Walton explained, “so this is a good opportunity to encourage those who are also feeling burned out or discouraged. The idea is to use this training in the ministries they are serving.”

Walton said they’ve seen tremendous changes in people coming back from these events. “We are raising up healthy, new leaders, encouraging the downcast. And they come back refreshed and renewed with zeal. And that’s the best part.”

“We are grateful for all of LCEF’s support,” he said, “but especially for this grant and what it allows us to do extra.”

Identifying and lifting up new leaders, as well as encouraging and reviving drained ones, strengthens the LCMS. ELT is exactly the kind of ministry the Kaleidoscope Fund was intended to support.

Congratulations President Walton and the Florida-Georgia District for leading and loving well!

Demian Farnworth
Senior Content Writer for the Lutheran Church Extension Fund.