COLUMBIA, Mo. — For the second year, Parkade Baptist Church in Columbia has been a host site for the Willow Creek Association’s annual Global Leadership Summit — and the congregation prizes its connection.
The previous eight years, members traveled to another host church, Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Liberty, Mo., to attend the seminars that are beamed by satellite from Willow Creek Church near Chicago for two days.
A few years ago, the association asked Woodcrest Church in Columbia that had been serving as a private site to see if the congregation would become an open site. When the church declined, Vernon Armitage, former pastor at Pleasant Valley, recommended Parkade, which jumped at the opportunity.
“This church loves to serve,” Pastor Chris Cook said. Being a leadership summit site “really fits who we are…. We’re a church of Marthas.”
Parkade’s involvement in the Global Leadership Summit has played out in Columbia since members began attending. “It has helped us to raise the value of leadership in our own church culture,” Cook said, adding that members still talk about a book introduced in a summit six years ago.
The church uses the information members glean from the summit throughout the year. “It will set the agenda for discussion as church leaders when we plan for the next year,” he explained.
Cook believes participation is a way to grow believers’ influence in the world. “What are you doing to grow and sharpen your influence?” he asks when questioned why Parkade has attended the summit for so many years and now serves as host.
“Leadership is about influence when the cause of Christ is strengthened,” he explained. “Leadership is influence…. The Christian community is losing its influence. A way to change the world is to raise one’s level of influence to penetrate society.”
LaVerne Black, a charter member of the church started in 1966, sees Parkade’s involvement as a result of Cook’s own leadership. He has emphasized the importance of leadership since he became pastor about 10 years ago. “He sees everybody as a leader,” she said.
“The church has grown so much in the last 10 years, especially in the last five. I like to think the summit has made a difference…. It feeds me. You have something to take away [from it].”
Scott Smith, Parkade’s financial manager, agrees. “I always feel that I come away with something I need to implement or attend to,” he said. “There is nothing like it to recharge your juices strategically.”
A member at Parkade for 12 years, he has been the financial manager for a year. He first attended a summit while a member at Woodcrest — the third year Willow Creek offered the event.
He believes the summit impacts Parkade because it gives leaders an opportunity to learn more to enhance their skills. “Followers are never going to outpace the leader. The better the leader gets, the better the whole church will become,” he said.
Smith added that Parkade is “equipping leaders in the skill of leadership, and even greater in servant leadership…and becoming more effective for God.”
From a personal perspective, he hopes the event has made him a better husband and father “because I’m reminded every year that you must serve where you are…. I hope that plays out that my kids understand me better and understand God and the church better,” he explained.
Smith believes that participating in the summit enhances the church’s relationship with the community through service. The summit “historically places fires under leaders to go out into the community…. How can we gain the respect of the community unless we are serving our community?”
The direct effect, he believes, is that it reminds believers of their relationships and that God uses them to bring others to faith.
“We as Christians are seen as good at staying on the sidelines and being condemning. The conference is good at pointing out that we must be about improving our positive influence and godly influence,” he said.
The event has affected Parkade’s members, Cook said.
This year, a member stepped up as the new director for Vacation Bible School. “She did so because she felt challenged by the summit and brought that mindset to challenge the church to reach more children,” he explained. The church saw the highest number of children in VBS this summer because of her influence.
Leaders can benefit from the summit every year, Smith believes. One good reason to come is “the inspiration this is for a veteran leader, a refueling…a reminding of why you got into the ministry in the first place…. That’s why I believe it is important to do it very year.”