Pastors turning to corporate America for help.

One of the hottest new annual conferences, “The Church in the 21st Century,” began quietly two years ago, and news of it has spread almost entirely by word of mouth. Designed to focus on rapid and complex changes in American Christianity, the meetings are sponsored by Leadership Network, a Tyler, Texas-based organization that has grown to prominence in short order.

What makes Church in the 21st Century unique is its emphasis on entrepreneurial leadership and management skills successful in large businesses. Management maven Peter Drucker, a speaker at the first conference in 1991, is as apt to be quoted as Saint Paul. And corporation CEOs lead more workshops than pastors or denominational officials.

Last month’s conference in Orlando, Florida, drew a capacity crowd of 325 to hear Leith Anderson, author and pastor of the pacesetting Wooddale Church in Minnesota; Fortune 500 business executive Max De Pree; human-development consultant William Bridges; researcher-trend analyst George Barna; psychologist Larry Crabb; and United Theological Seminary president Leonard Sweet. They and others spoke on handling transitions in culture, in organizational structures, and in the personal and professional lives of leaders.

“Leadership Network began with no agenda,” said Bob Buford, Leadership Network’s chairman who is also CEO of Buford Television in Tyler. “There’s no denominational tie-in … nor do we get into doctrine or theology.”

Responding to opportunity

About a dozen years ago, Buford, now 53, met with Christianity Today, Inc., executives Harold Myra and Paul Robbins to determine how to help pastors. Deciding that “no one was paying much attention to the large churches,” Buford asked 25 megachurch ...

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