NASHVILLE (BP) – Ben Mandrell, Lifeway Christian Resources president and CEO, shared how the organization is laser-focused on helping pastors and local churches fuel their ministries at a breakfast hosted by Lifeway at the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting Tuesday (June 15).
“We have to become highly relational and relevant to pastors and church leaders as we move into the future,” Mandrell said.
In his first opportunity to speak publicly as Lifeway president to messengers of an SBC annual meeting, Mandrell shared his journey of being called to lead Lifeway, having previously pastored for 12 years at an established church in Jackson, Tenn., and then, for an additional five years in the more unchurched area of Denver.
“When I was contacted about this position, [the search committee] told me they were looking for a president with a heart for the local church – a person who would lead Lifeway to a closer relationship with local churches – a person who understood the challenges of being on the frontlines,” Mandrell said. “I bring to Lifeway a passion for church leaders and a passion for serving a variety of churches.”
Mandrell showed messengers a map of the leading religious bodies in America and explained how it creates a mission for Lifeway – a desire to help equip churches in areas of the country that need Christian resources customized for their particular needs and challenges. He shared how he and his wife Lynley have developed a heart for helping churches in the West and other unchurched areas.
“A big part of our calling to Lifeway was the hope that we could effectively serve churches in the South while also serving the churches in frontier lands that need contextual resources,” Mandrell said. “This has become a passion of ours, though my first two years at Lifeway have been devoted to responding to the immediate needs.”
Mandrell spoke of the challenges that greeted him upon being named president of Lifeway including an underfunded pension, leases that needed to be settled in the wake of closing brick-and-mortar stores, an underused headquarters, expensive renovations needed at Ridgecrest Conference Center, and a complicated website that drove away potential customers.
Adding to these challenges was the COVID-19 pandemic that disrupted churches’ ministry routines and buying habits and required the canceling of 2020 in-person events and summer camps. Despite these challenges, Mandrell said the pandemic served as a catalyst to “push the gas pedal for change” and created a season of pruning at Lifeway.
“If you follow the news, you have certainly seen the rapid series of trade-off decisions happening in our organization,” he said. “While it has been very painful, we knew we had to make bold decisions to reset the organization and to focus our attention the local church.”
Mandrell reported that the decisions included reducing Lifeway’s workforce by 10%, identifying the next steward of Ridgecrest Conference Center, launching a feasibility study that led to the sale of the headquarters, and settling brick-and-mortar store leases.
Mandrell expressed gratitude that the Lord saw Lifeway through a difficult season, bringing the organization into one of the strongest cash positions it has seen in decades and enabling Lifeway to reinvest funds in strategic tools and technologies to best serve local churches.
Mandrell also announced two initiatives aimed at serving pastors: a new podcast called “The Glass House” and a major research study exploring the greatest needs of pastors. “The Glass House” podcast, launching this fall, will consist of conversations between Ben and Lynley Mandrell and other couples serving in vocational ministry.
“Pastors and their families live inside a ‘glass house,’” Mandrell said. “Sadness, hurt, fear – all the emotions of being human are keenly felt, yet the pastor’s family senses the need to self-protect and conceal the pain. On ‘The Glass House’ podcast, those who dwell inside the ministry walls will confess their struggles and point the way forward to healthy emotions and relationships.”
Meanwhile, Lifeway Research has been taking the pulse of pastors throughout the pandemic and just completed a major study on the greatest needs of pastors, Mandrell announced. “We’re digging into the numbers and the personal interviews,” he said. “This study will help Lifeway determine what will come out of our publishing house and what books and tools we will focus on developing to hit at the heart of what pastors are telling us they need.”
The study found, for example, that 3 out of 4 pastors say one of the biggest challenges in ministry is people’s apathy or lack of commitment and that nearly half of pastors say they experience discouragement. He also noted that 2 in 5 pastors say they struggle to establish a compelling vision for their church. Perhaps most staggering, said Mandrell, is that more than 9 in 10 pastors say they need to invest in their own spiritual health.
Breakfast attendees then participated in a Lifeway lab designed to create round-table conversations about the challenges church leaders are facing. Mandrell invited SBC messengers to dream up tools Lifeway could create to come beside pastors and help them solve these challenges.
Before the breakfast ended in prayer, Mandrell expressed excitement about the future and promised messengers Lifeway would continue to press into resources that make a positive difference in responding to the revealed needs of pastors and the local church.
“We want to come alongside you and create resources that fuel your ministries.”