Participants at the Jan. 5-6 North American Baptist Fellowship executive retreat heard a lot about leadership. The event was hosted by the Duke University Divinity School, which has used large grants form the Lilly Foundation and the Duke Endowment to create a program called Leadership Education at Duke (LEAD), attracting Dave Odum from N.C. Baptist Hospital’s Center for Congregational Health.

In describing the event, Duke Divinity dean Gregory Jones (right) said the church faces significant leadership challenges that the LEAD program hopes to meet. “What we’re trying to do is develop educational offerings that cultivate thriving communities that are signs, foretastes and instruments to the reign of God,” he said, to be “cultivating congregations and communities that thrive in ways that allow Christian discipleship to flourish.”

Jones said the program’s philosophy has three main components: the development of traditioned innovation that helps to recapture the spiritual imagination and social entrepreneurship of the church, transformative leadership that cultivates leaders who can “draw people together into a new trajectory through storytelling in a compelling way,” and vibrant institutions “that are incubators of transformative leadership to lead thriving communities.”

He and Odum described ways the program hopes to promote effective leadership through special events and consultations, and through an interactive website and blog (due at the end of the month) designed to generate dialogue around church leadership issues.

In other leadership related sessions, George Bullard of The Columbia Partnership previewed a new book called Real Denominations Serve Congregations, in which he describes “seven practices of denominational excellence.” While denominations are organizations, churches are more like organisms, he said, a factor that denominational leaders should recognize. Many organizations are “over-managed and under-led,” he said, calling for a better denominational understanding of congregational needs.

Gary Nelson, director of Canadian Baptist Ministries, previewed his new book, Borderland Churches. He described “borderlands” as “The place where faith, other faiths, and unfaith intersect,” a place that is frightening to many pastors, and emphasized the need for “border crossings” if pastors are to be effective.

Steve Lewis, regional director of “Calling Congregations” with the Fund for Theological Education, talked about the importance of involving churches in leadership development, calling out and cultivating leaders. He called on churches to invest both money and time in inviting, apprenticing, and providing opportunities for youth and adults “to explore their gifts and try on mantles of ministry in its various forms.”

In a business session, current NABF general secretary Alan Stanford (left) announced that he is leaving the position he has held for the past eight years, much of it while serving as development director for the Baptist World Alliance. Participants expressed appreciation to Stanford and approved a process for seeking a new leader for the largely volunteer position. Nominations for the position may be sent to

Participants learned that several new Baptist bodies have affiliated with the NABF since the New Baptist Covenant meeting in January 2008, for which the NABF was a sponsoring partner.

To encourage cooperation and improved mission, member bodies were encouraged to report any ministry activities their bodies have going on in the Gulf Coast, along the U.S.-Mexican border, and in Toronto, for the purpose of coordinating and facilitating service opportunities for North American Baptists.

[Photos courtesy of Yutaka Takarada, president of Southern Baptist Japanese Baptist Churches of America]

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