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Leighton Ford Ministries

LFM Receives Nearly $1 Million from Lilly Endowment, Inc.

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CHARLOTTE – Leighton Ford Ministries has received a grant of $999,748 from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help establish the Mentoring Communities for Thriving Pastors program.

Lilly Endowment’s Thriving in Ministry initiative helps organizations create or strengthen programs that support local pastors by helping them build relationships with other clergy who can serve as mentors and guide them through key leadership challenges in church ministry.

The grant will support Leighton Ford Ministries in training approximately fifty experienced pastors to serve as mentors and launching approximately 40 new mentoring communities supporting 320-400 pastors of smaller churches, congregations of color, and new churches (church plants).  Leighton Ford Ministries will also gather and engage senior advisors to provide additional coaching, resources, and counsel.

“Pastoral ministry is currently marked by change,” said Kevin Ford, Chief Catalyst for Leighton Ford Ministries.  “Pastors in the United States are dealing with immediate change forced by COVID-19 and systemic change in a deeply divided society.  The stress, even for the healthiest pastor, is enormous.  Our ministry is focused on providing pastors with an experienced ‘friend on the journey’ to help navigate common challenges, triumphs, and transitions.”

Thriving in Ministry is part of Lilly Endowment’s grantmaking to strengthen pastoral leadership in Christian congregations in the United States.  This has been a grantmaking priority at Lilly Endowment for nearly 25 years.

“Leading a congregation today is multi-faceted and exceptionally demanding,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion.  “When pastors have opportunities to build meaningful relationships with experienced colleagues, they are able to negotiate the challenges of ministry and their leadership thrives.  These promising programs, including the Mentoring Communities for Thriving Pastors program from Leighton Ford Ministries, will help pastors develop these kinds of relationships, especially when they are in the midst of significant professional transitions.”

Lilly Endowment will provide seed money to launch the new mentoring program.  Leighton Ford Ministries will work with other community partners and interested individuals to raise additional funds to continue the program beyond the grant window.

“More than thirty years ago, God called me from the bright lights of the Billy Graham association to a behind-the-scenes ministry of mentoring young ministry leaders, said Leighton Ford, Founding President of Leighton Ford Ministries.  “Thanks to the generosity of Lilly Endowment and the fresh leadership of my son, Kevin, I am grateful to see this unique vision of safe times, safe places, and safe friends for ministry leaders grow to strengthen and impact so many more pastors … and through these pastors, their churches and communities.  To God be the glory!”


Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family – J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons Eli and J.K. Jr. – through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company.  While those gifts remain the financial bedrock of the Endowment, the Endowment is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff, and location.  In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community development, education, and religion.  The Endowment maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis, and its home state of Indiana.  Its grantmaking in religion focuses on supporting efforts to strengthen the leadership and vitality of Christian congregations throughout the country and to increase the public’s understanding of the role of religion in public life.


Leighton Ford Ministries is a Charlotte-based, international ministry focused on mentoring healthy leaders who support thriving ministries for the sake of the Gospel.  Founded by Leighton Ford, brother-in-law of Billy Graham and former Chair of the Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization, LFM supports more than 30 mentoring communities worldwide impacting nearly 500 ministry leaders, including local church pastors, women ministering in the inner city, leaders of internationally-known ministries, and former inmates now involved in prison ministry.  LFM also provides visioning, strategic planning, governance, and transition consulting services for churches throughout the United States.  Leighton’s son, Kevin Ford, author of Transforming Church and The Leadership Triangle, joined LFM as Chief Catalyst in 2019.


A Request for Prayer

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PRAYER REQUEST: Dr. Wei-Han Kuan is Executive Director of Church Missionary Society – Victoria and a member of LFM’s “Resilience” mentoring community in Melbourne, Australia. His team is currently leading their annual “Summer Under the Son” cross-cultural missions conference, which obviously is a huge challenge in the age of COVID! Wei-Han specifically asks us to pray “that the Lord will work through our weaknesses to draw people to deeper commitment to Christ and his kingdom’s work.”

Would you join us in prayer right now?

If You Wanted to Read on Evangelism in 2021

By | Evangelism | No Comments

Dr. Jim Singleton
Executive Director of Missional Leadership

If you wanted to read on evangelism in 2021 . . . yes, I know that is a very large “if.” Most Christians are not wanting to read or take courses on evangelism. We like having people come into relationship with Jesus, but we wish God would use someone else to get them there!

One of the pillars of what we call the “missional church” is that it is going to take all of us investing in our social networks for evangelism to happen in today’s world. Thirty years ago, we could simply point friends to a great church and assume that the church itself and the preacher would draw them to Christ. That is not happening the way it once did.

Like it or not, younger generations are not apt to visit a church. Finding a church is just not on their to-do list. In the missional church emphasis there is the reality that most people will only consider Christ if someone they trust in their social network (work, neighborhood, school) is willing to cross the barrier and actually speak about Jesus.

Through classes or reading or modeling, we will all need to acquire a new (actually, ancient) skill. The early church did this kind of work within their social circles. In the early church, there were no buildings, worship was mostly hidden, and pastors were mostly bi-vocational. Evangelism happened relationally.

So, if you want to read on Evangelism in 2021, where would I send you?

Let’s start with our friend, Dr. Leighton Ford. Today, most of us know him for his books on listening and attentiveness, but Leighton started his ministry (and his writing) as an evangelist. His first book on evangelism is The Christian Persuader: The Urgency of Evangelism in Today’s World (first published in 1966, new edition available on Amazon). It is one of my favorite books on evangelism, and as timely today as when first written.

In 1977, Leighton wrote Good News is for Sharing: A Guide to Making Friends for God (new edition available on Amazon), which offers practical ways to get involved in the relational side of evangelism.

Leighton’s third book on evangelism is The Power of Story: Rediscovering the Oldest, Most Natural Way to Reach People for Christ (first published in 1994, new edition available on Amazon). In this book, Leighton helps us understand the vitality of learning to tell real faith stories as a way of doing evangelism. It is a gentle and wooing book … avoiding what we might call “pressured evangelism,” and highlighting the art of telling faith stories as a means of witness.

If I have now interested you in reading, let me tell you about two other more recent books which fit so well with what Leighton has written.

The Reluctant Witness: Discovering the Delight of Spiritual Conversations was written in 2019 by Don Everts, a Presbyterian pastor who also writes for The Lutheran Hour Ministries. As part of a major research project with Barna on spiritual conversations, Don discovered that most Christians are not talking much about their faith to anyone, much less unbelievers. Seventy-four percent of Christians are having fewer than ten spiritual conversations with anyone in a year.

Their data was not from the Zoom world of 2020 – but from 2018 where there was still coffee hour at church. The news is that coffee hour conversations were not of a spiritual nature.

In ways that will remind you of Leighton’s The Power of Story, Everts helps us learn to tell the stories of our faith. Everts followed up The Reluctant Witness with two others:

  • The Spiritually Vibrant Home: The Power of Messy Prayers, Loud Tables, and Open Doors (2020), which talks about faith in families.
  • The Hopeful Neighborhood: What Happens When Christians Pursue the Common Good (2020), which talks about sharing our faith stories in the neighborhood.

The final book to add to your list is Evangelism in a Skeptical World: How to Make the Unbelievable News about Jesus More Believable, by Sam Chan, an Australian who
writes for a world that thinks they have sniffed Christianity and found it wanting. This is a textbook-like resource that is amazing in its comprehension and accessibility. I use it
in my Evangelism classes at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Try not to get overwhelmed at all that is here … but please do pick one for 2021 and read it! To get the mission of Christ done in today’s world will require all of us to be ready.

Dr. Jim Singleton is Executive Director of Missional Leadership for Leighton Ford Ministries and Associate Professor of Pastor Leadership and Evangelism at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Declaration of Independence?

By | Food for thought | No Comments

Declaration of Independence? Nope, older. This is the original charter of a 300-year-old church I had the privilege of working with this weekend. The charter was signed by John Morton, who later signed the Declaration of Independence.

Even though they’ve been active in ministry since 1720, this church is now boldly looking to the future. This weekend, I worked with leadership on a clear vision (what do we want to accomplish), education (how to secure buy-in from the congregation), and opportunity (some way or place each person can participate in being missional in a very tangible way).

The average lifespan of an American church is approximately 56 years. What does it take for a church to survive 300 years? What does it take for a 300-year-old church to keep thriving? I’m excited to be part of the team to figure that out.

-Kevin Graham Ford, Chief Catalyst, Leighton Ford Ministries

A Giggle of Pure Joy

By | Poetry | No Comments

This poem came to me several years ago on a retreat at The Society of St. John the Evangelist, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Their garden brought back a memory from many years before in Poland.


The fragrance of roses rising
made Mary Oliver spin with joy.
This morning I was spun
by a chorus line of tulips
dancing in the morning sun
and breezes off the Charles River.

Their saucy white heads
tossed in rhythms that
brought to mind a company
of white-wimpled
Lutheran sisters
in a Polish country convent
playing frisbee for the first time
on their summer lawn.

One young and pretty sister,
reaching overhead to make a catch
tumbled backwards
into a huge bush,
feet and legs and skirts flying up,
with a giggle as joyful as a bell.

It was holy laughter.
That is how I saw it then.
Today the tulips tossed
their own heads back
and smiled Amen.


-Leighton Ford, in the garden of The Society of St. John the Evangelist, Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 2007

Looking Back at the Queen City Leader Summit

By | Leadership | No Comments

When I was 14, a businessman named Evan Hedley took a chance on me as Director of Youth for Christ in my hometown. He mentored me, prayed for me, encouraged me, and corrected me.

Last month, I was invited to address the Queen City Leader Summit hosted by CBMC – Charlotte. I asked those Christian business leaders . . . and I’m asking you today . . . is there someone 10 years younger than you that you’re mentoring? Encouraging them? Listening to them? Learning about them? Letting them know that you care? I would encourage you to do that!

The Leadership Triangle

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Most leaders have only one tool in their toolbox. If it’s a hammer, everything looks like a nail. They pound and pound, but nothing changes. In the end, their solution becomes the problem.

This week, I’m introducing The Leadership Triangle to a group of senior pastors, executive pastors, non-profit leaders, and academic leaders at the PLI Senior Leaders Forum (formerly, Pastor Leadership Institute).

In The Leadership Triangle, I introduce the idea that there are three different types of challenges – tactical, strategic, and transformational. Before deciding what tool to use, we first have to know what kind of challenge we are facing.

If you’d like me to discuss The Leadership Triangle with your organization, please send us an e-mail. You can also find my book, “The Leadership Triangle,” on Amazon.

-Kevin Graham Ford, Chief Catalyst, Leighton Ford Ministries

Embrace Messiness

By | Food for thought | No Comments

Right now I’m in the middle of a busy season working with several churches on visioning and strategic planning. Typical organizations express vision in dry, bureaucratic language that gets stuffed in a file cabinet and forgotten. But that’s not our goal! We want to help churches develop an authentic and accessible set of core values . . . a “True North” the congregation can truly embody and embrace.

“Embrace Messiness” is a core value of University Place Presbyterian Church, which I worked with in a visioning process in 2013 and 2017. This applies to how the church handles the messiness of life – young families with messy kids, single parent homes devastated by divorce, or neighbors struggling with homelessness and addiction.

By embracing this core value, the church now has the largest preschool in Washington State, serves 3,000 meals per month to families in need, and has established a Safe Haven house for immigrants! As a result of aligning to their True North, Pastor Aaron Stewart reports worship attendance has increased dramatically for the first time in over a decade, with over 5,000 in attendance over a 7 day period (pre-pandemic).

When a church truly aligns . . . or re-aligns . . . to their True North, amazing things begin to happen.

-Kevin Graham Ford, Chief Catalyst, Leighton Ford Ministries

Happy Birthday, Dr. Leighton Ford!

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You know him as Leighton, I know him as Dad.  And today is his birthday!  We are so thankful for his ongoing ministry of mentoring and encouragement.  In the midst of a global pandemic, he’s pivoted to Zoom and continues to invest in the next generation of missional leadership.

This morning, I started remembering all the happy times as a kid, playing basketball in our driveway or going on after dinner strolls with my mom and dad down Coltsgate Road.  At the time, he was still a globe-trotting evangelist with a phenomenally busy schedule, but he made time to listen and journey with his younger son.  Now, as Chief Catalyst of the ministry that he founded, I’m even more proud as I see over and over again his exponential impact through mentoring young ministry leaders.

Do you have a Leighton Ford story?  In honor of his birthday, join me in sharing!

-Kevin Ford


A New Justice League!

By | Food for thought, News | No Comments

There’s a new “Justice League” and it’s part of Leighton Ford Ministries! Last month we were privileged to partner with a dear friend to launch a new mentoring community for women who minister and serve in the area of justice. Each participant drew her Spiritual Life Map and then shared with the group. This was followed by a time of silence when the group listened to God, then shared what they heard and prayed for the individual.

One woman shared, “I am going home renewed and inspired in a way I haven’t been recently.”

We thank Jesus for this “Justice League” of Christian women who choose to serve in very challenging contexts. Please join us in praying for their ministries, their safety, and their continued spiritual renewal.