NICL: The School of Practicality

Dr. Mark Rutland offers his own special brand of practical ministry-leadership training in the growing National Institute of Christian Leadership (Daniel Prince)

As a senior pastor, it's one of the more challenging and gut-wrenching situations with which you have ever been faced. Attendance at your church is declining and, subsequently, it has affected your church's income through decreased tithes and offerings.

For budgetary reasons, someone on your staff must be dismissed. Over the years, you have developed great relationships--even friendships--with your subordinate pastors, and each has performed their duties with efficiency, diligence and enthusiasm. The decision is agonizing.

As a leader, however, you're well aware that this type of dilemma comes with the territory and it must be handled with compassion and professionalism. The knowledge that God has put you in a leadership position and entrusted you to make these choices doesn't make them any easier.

"That is a situation no leader wants to ever be in," said Dr. Mark Rutland, founder  and director of the National Institute for Christian Leadership. "But that's only one of many difficult practical situations that pastors and business leaders deal with on a daily basis.

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"I have spent 46 years in leadership in one capacity or another. What I've tried to do is ask myself, 'What have I really learned here? Was it just for experience or for the stripes on my back, or was it to formulate the knowledge into transferable concepts that will help others become the leaders that God wants them to be? It's one thing to understand those concepts, but it's another to take the time to formulate them into a deliverable package."

Enter NICL, a program Rutland established in 2011 to train not only ministry leaders but also leaders from all walks of life in the practicalities of areas like management, organization, structure, staff, debt management, fundraising and board relations. It is an intense, one-year course that meets four times a year in three different venues and offers credits toward a bachelor's degree at Southeastern University and a master's degree at five different schools of higher learning.

If you're looking for formal theological training, the National Institute of Christian Leadership is not for you. However, if you need some help in making decisions concerning every-day issues facing your church, organization or company, NICL, presented by Rutland's Global Servants Ministries and Ministry Today magazine, is a solid investment.

"Whether you're in ministry or in business, NICL is basically the nuts and bolts of leadership," Rutland said. "It's practical, and it's highly intense. NICL is not a theology course. It's hour after hour of godly, impactful teaching based on life experiences and reality."

Graduates of the NICL course include Larry Stockstill, director of the Surge Project in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Jonathan Stockstill, senior pastor at Bethany World Prayer Center in Baton Rouge; Jackie White, senior pastor of Church on the Rock in Lubbock, Texas; Oklahoma state senator Dan Newberry; Rachel Lamb, Rebecca and Jonathan Lamb, children of Daystar Network founders Marcus and Joni Lamb; and Charisma founder and publisher Steve Strang.

Larry Stockstill, 60, who has more than 35 years experience in the ministry and spent 30 years as the lead pastor at Bethany until retiring two years ago, felt led to take the course in 2013. He didn't regret the decision, and challenges veteran pastors as well as younger leaders to enroll.  

"If you are seeking to sharpen your leadership or management skills, spend the money and take the time for the NICL," Stockstill said. "Your life, your ministry, your business and your career will take a new direction to help you affect your world."

When touting the National Institute of Christian Leadership, Rutland makes it clear that it is not an online or video course. It's one that he teaches live every quarter on the campus of The King's University in Dallas, Texas; at Jenetzen Franklin's Free Chapel church in Gainesville, Georgia; and at the offices of Charisma Media in Lake Mary, Florida.

Course Curriculum

Each quarter, NICL students assemble for 2 ½ days of intense training. Session 1 tackles leadership vs. management, in which Rutland shares how leadership is about doing the right thing and management is all about doing things right.

Session 2 focuses on staff and volunteers--how to build, direct and lead for quality. Students learn how to recruit, manage and keep volunteers to help their organization grow.

Session 3 deals with 'turning the ship,' a subject Rutland is most familiar with as a result of his work at Calvary Assembly, Southeastern University and Oral Roberts University. Students learn how to effectively lead those around them, communicate ideas and expectations accurately and manage organizational finances. Debt management is a key in this session, and Rutland's philosophy of debt--with which he has no issues as long as it is handled properly--has drawn criticism from some. His excellent track record in this area, however, speaks for itself.

In the final session, students will learn how preaching and worship can work together to effectively communicate the message of Christ. The session will address your skills as a public speaker or worship leader and help you focus and obtain the objective of your worship experiences each week.

Common Church Issues

Questions concerning church growth, Rutland says, are the most common among those asked by students. Many church leaders are simply stumped when searching for solutions to the problem and have found solid answers through NICL.   

"Church growth has flattened for so long, and maybe it's even subsided," Rutland says. "Pastors will tell me, 'I don't know how to start it up again. How do we get some momentum going?' Their attendance may not be in decline, but the air is out of the balloon. It's not growing in numbers, and their church's finances are not growing. They have kind of settled into a routine ministry. We have a lot of great suggestions to help jump start it again."

Randy Ayres, lead pastor at Cross Mountain Church in San Antonio, Texas, has experienced some personal dry spells in his more than 20 years of full-time vocational ministry. While he has survived past situations such as those, dealing with them has become much easier since he attended NICL and is applying the concepts Rutland teaches.

"I've been around for a while, and there are definitely seasons when personal growth is limited," Ayres said. "NICL will pull you out of that and will give you the necessary essentials to lead yourself, your staff and your church to new heights. What I learned at NICL has given me the motivation to continue learning. I will be pursuing the remaining part of my master's degree this fall."    

A member of the Association of Related Churches (ARC), Cross Mountain met in a tent underneath sprawling oak trees in 2002 with a membership of around two dozen. The Cross Mountain campus now has four buildings, including a new 20,000 square-foot worship center that opened in early October.

In his 12 years at Cross Mountain, Ayres has seen his congregation grow to 800 and say he now, after taking the NICL course, has the right tools to help it expand further and has encouraged him to complete his graduate work.

The Right Man for the Job

Rutland's credentials for teaching the Christian leadership course are impeccable. He is a nationally recognized leader in organizational turnaround.

As a pastor, he helped turn the fortunes of Calvary Assembly Church in Winter Park, Florida, taking the reins in  1990. When he left in 1995, the church had whittled more than $4 million in debt and its congregation had swelled by 200 percent from 1,800 to 3,600.

In 1999, he was tasked as the president of Southeastern University, a small, dying Bible college in Lakeland, Florida. The university had experienced financial difficulties and a declining enrollment prior to Rutland's arrival. The school is now thriving in both areas.

In 2009, he was chosen as the third president of Oral Roberts University. He helped the university to eliminate $55 million in long-term debt and oversaw the completion of $40 million in campus renovations. The school, now under the guise of Dr. Billy Wilson after Rutland's resignation in 2013, has experienced six consecutive years of enrollment growth.

Rachel Lamb, daughter of Daytstar Network founders Marcus and Joni Lamb, studied business and earned a business degree from ORU during Rutland's tenure there. She also took the NICL course in 2013.

"To sit in such an intimate setting with someone that has been so successful and has done what he has done is such a privilege," Lamb said on a recent edition of the program Marcus and Joni. "Dr. Rutland has such a wealth of knowledge to share. He has so much wisdom and experience and can impart so many practical applications to people in the ministry and business that can have a major impact."

Rutland's teaching prowess also impressed Newberry.

"It's one thing to talk theories, but their application is yet another," Newberry said. "In the leadership realm, Dr. Rutland knows what works and why it works. That's why he's able to connect with such various audiences."

Influencing Politics

Newberry is perhaps the most intriguing student to take the course. After receiving a bachelor's degree in theology from ORU, Newberry spent seven years as a youth pastor in Tulsa, Oklahoma, before beginning his career as a legislator in 2008.

Upon the recommendation of a friend, he took the NICL course and graduated in 2013, gathering information he has been able to practically apply to his position as a state senator.

"Legislators attend a lot of conferences where you learn things like how to motivate volunteers; how to form a committee, how to speak in public and how to craft legislation," Newberry said. "But, there isn't a lot of solid baseline teaching at those events. With NICL, there's a level of teaching that digs into the issue of one-on-one communication and how to find out what the best interests of the hearts of your constituents are.

"The things that really stuck out for me during the class was the instruction on developing relationships and identifying the areas of commonality you have with people; what motivates the individuals, what's their vision in life. The course was extremely helpful in our fundraising because we've been able to expand our base beyond lobbyists of special interest groups to talk with the business community. It helps you to identifying issues that are important to them."

Newberry has also been a business professional in the mortgage banking industry for 14 years and serves as the vice president of TTCU the Credit Union in Tulsa. Since 2012, Newberry said TTCU has grown from a $30 million producer annually to $120 million.

Success Story

Pastor Jackie White started Church on the Rock in Lubbock, Texas, in 1985. Attendance has never reached epic proportions, but in 2013, after White and a member of his staff attended NICL and applied the principles they learned, Church on the Rock found itself at No. 63 on the list of the 100 fastest-growing churches in America. "The National Institute of Christian Leadership was instrumental in making that happen," White said. "I can testify that was the turning point for our church."

Spreading the Word

Allan Kelsey, an associate senior pastor at Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, took the NICL course in 2013 along with nine other staff members from Gateway. The church, with a congregation of nearly 24,000 spread out over four campus, sent a few more staffers in 2014 upon Kelsey's recommendation.

"Gateway sees NICL as a very helpful general leadership tool," Kelsey said. "Probably 50 percent of the folks we hire don't come a theological background or from any type of leadership program. We're a large church and we can afford to specialize, but we don't have church leadership or management tools. It's a wonderful introduction to church leadership for them. We're sending all of our campus pastors and leaders for this training."

Measuring the Impact

Rutland is so certain that the course will bless leaders and potential leaders that it comes with a money-back guarantee.  

"If you finish the year and feel like you did not benefit from the course, we'll happily refund your money," Rutland said. "We've always stood behind that statement."

No one has asked for a refund since the course began three years ago. And, no one has ever failed to finish the course. Many have referred to it as a "life-changing experience."

"If you are in a leadership position in ministry, NICL will really hit home," said Jonathan Lamb, the director of corporate relations for the Daystar Network, who took the course with his wife, Suzy. "If you are a veteran leader or aspire to be a leader in the church, the principles that Dr. Rutland teaches will impact not only you but also the people that you are leading. Your whole church or organization can benefit from it." 

Shawn A. Akers is the online managing editor for Charisma Media.

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National Institute of Christian Leadership (NICL)

The NICL is one of the top leadership training programs in the U.S. taught by Dr. Mark Rutland. If you're the type of leader that likes to have total control over every aspect of your ministry and your future success, the NICL is right for you!

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