When you think of leadership, you need not look further than South Florida’s Pastor Bill Mitchell, who has firmly established BocaLead, LauderdaleLead and now MiamiLead, bringing Christian values into the workplace. We had the chance to spend some quality time with Pastor Mitchell at Boca Raton Community Church recently for a sit down question and answer session that reveals how the leadership heart can be presented in a dynamic and encouraging manner.
Lessons in Leadership
Good News (GN) – I know you are part of a third generation Boca Raton family. That’s kind of astounding.
Bill Mitchell (BM) – My mom’s family came to South Florida in 1842, to Key West. Her father came to the Boca Hotel to work in 1931. I’m third generation on both sides, which is pretty amazing. Both sets of grandparents and parents all grew up and lived within a mile of where we are sitting today.
GN – Are there any other places you’ve lived?
BM – I lived in Chicago during my college years, while I attended Moody Bible Institute. That’s it. I’ve traveled to almost 100 different countries, but I always seem to come back to Boca Raton. I’m like the loggerhead turtles. They go all over the world and come back and lay their eggs 100 yards from where they were born.
GN – How many children do you and your wife Elizabeth have?
BM – We had five. We lost one to a heart attack when he was 13. We have four children living here and three grandchildren.
GN – You were a businessman for 25 years in real estate. Was it always in real estate?
BM – Correct. My grandfather on my dad’s side came to Boca in 1919 and bought about 600 acres of land with his father, who was living in Miami at the time. They started a real estate company called J.C. Mitchell. Then, my father and uncle joined it right after the war, and it became known as J.C. Mitchell and Sons. I joined the business right out of college in 1979 and stayed with it for 16 years. Then I went to Arvida, which was bought by Coldwell Banker. I was in the commercial division and managed Coldwell Banker Commercial for the last few years of that 25-year segment.
GN – That leads me to the next question. What was the turning point from being a businessman for 25 years to pastoring this church?
BM – Boca Raton Community Church is the church where I grew up. It’s the only church where I’ve been a member. When my wife moved here from Jamaica, she started attending this church as well. We were both seniors in high school when we met and later were married in this church. I was an elder and Sunday School teacher for many years. Because we love to travel, we were very involved in international missions as well. Our children were involved too. We always knew that one day we would transition into full-time ministry. Most people think you can transition at any time once you decide. There really are bridges in your life where transitions happen, and either you take the transition or you don’t. You can’t live on that bridge.
We had a new pastor here at our church 15 years ago. I was the chairman of the elder board, and he said, “You know you’ve been talking about becoming a pastor. Why don’t you?” So, I said yes and became an assistant pastor working with small groups and the college ministry. Then, five years into it he left, and the church decided to ask me to be the senior pastor. The transition to full–time ministry from business was almost seamless because we already had a ministry mindset.
GN – Were you part-time in real estate while you were assistant pastor?
BM – Yes. Maybe it’s better to say I had two full-time jobs. When you’re working for a church, it’s always full time! I still worked in real estate, but no longer as a division head. For about five years, I continued with one foot in each of those worlds.
GN – So, BocaLead and LauderdaleLead: Why did you start them?
BM – BocaLead was first. LauderdaleLead came four or five years later. Several years into becoming a pastor I realized I was not using any of the gifts I had in business. I was running a church, so I was doing some business in the church in terms of running finances and HR, but I wasn’t impacting the business community that I knew so well. Business is my first language. Theology is my second language, and I just kind of gave up my first language for several years. Then one of our elders, a great businessman who was working for us part-time, said, “Bill you’re not speaking your first language.” And we actually used those words. So I asked, “What can we do?” We got 25 business people together in a room and asked, “What if we did a little lunch and you brought one person?” Twenty-five people all bringing one person was 50 business people. And that was the beginning of what we call BocaLead. Then some of them said, “How about if we buy a table? Instead of one person, what if I brought eight people?” It just kind of mushroomed.
GN – In looking over your description it says, “Learn how biblical principles apply in the workplace.” Which people along the way have influenced you with that thought process?
BM – If you go into my library, you’ll see about 400 books on leadership. However, only a few of them would be classified as “Christian” leadership books. I’ve discovered that most leadership principles are based in Jesus’ teachings. A lot of them are in on the Sermon on the Mount. You really have three types of leadership books. You have the “I’m the best, it’s all about me” leadership books. I’m not talking about those. Then you have some new age leadership books with a spiritual twist, but I’m not talking about those. The rest is a huge group of books and speakers that come out of the Jewish background, secular background, and Christian background. I believe all truth is God’s truth, by the way. That’s just a core value. If a non-Christian says a true thing, the truth is greater than the speaker of the truth. Truth is truth. So, I thought I’m going to speak truth and focus on that. When I speak the truth, do I always have to say that Solomon said it, that Paul said it, that Jesus said it? Let’s speak the truth and not be ashamed of its source. The BocaLead participants know we’re Christians and we’re leading from a Christian perspective.
GN – One of the businessmen of BocaLead that you interviewed said he comes to BocaLead because he hears a message about ethical behavior, integrity, honesty and trustworthiness. Does that grab the essence of BocaLead?
BM – Yes. Over the years the City of Boca in particular and South Florida in general have been known for unethical behavior in business. The Penny Stocks, the dot-com issues of 20 years ago, MCI, Tyco, CenTrust – we were ground zero for all of those. We’re known for unethical practices. Then you hear everybody say, “My contractor’s unethical, the guy that’s fixing my pool is unethical.” I thought, “Let’s attack it head on. Let’s not just talk around the issue. Let’s say, okay, as business people our culture is unethical. Let’s raise the bar of ethics. Let’s raise the bar of character. Let’s raise the bar of integrity”. Now, there’s a group of 450 business professionals at BocaLead, and with LauderdaleLead another 300 – over 700 people who are trying to work with integrity and want to incorporate a higher level of ethics in the workplace throughout South Florida. We use that as our platform to speak to business people, and it’s working.
There are two other parts there. One is after they hear a talk on something that is Biblically based, although it may not have a chapter and verse from the Scripture, the Christian who is there can talk to their coworkers about it, and faith can become a part of the conversation within a business setting. It’s the idea that they can hear this concept at BocaLead one day, and all of a sudden it can move into a conversation about faith. The other is, I want the community at large and the business community in particular to know that the church can speak into their world. Often, the church is only speaking into what occurs after 6 o’clock at night till 7:00 a.m. Be a good father. Be a good mother. Be a good parent. Have a good quiet time. Give to the church. Go on Saturday and volunteer at the local ministry. Go to church on Sunday. We’ve skipped 7:30 in the morning until 6:00 in the evening. That’s 100,000 hours if a person works the full extent of their life, and the church is silent on that. I want to remind both the non-Christian and the Christian that the church, the Scriptures, the Bible, has something to say about 7:30 in the morning till 6:00 in the evening. And I want to help other pastors catch the vision to do that.
Pastors are afraid to speak to business people. I remind them, “You’re running a business. You have 20 employees, a $2 million budget, you have to hire and fire, you’ve got to make a budget. You have a board of directors called an elder or deacon board. You have customers called visitors. All the elements of the for-profit world”. Pastors have the right to talk to people in business about the integrity of business.
This is the genius of BocaLead! It’s not the great speaking. It’s certainly not the lunch. It’s a $12 church lunch. We know how to do sound, video, and audio incredibly well. We know how to do the front door. We know how to do hospitality, too. At other business events, they get a good lunch for 35 bucks and they may get a good speaker, but a terrible emcee with terrible audio. BocaLead is now known as the highest quality monthly business event in the City of Boca Raton. There are 70 people every month that make this thing called BocaLead happen. With BocaLead, LauderdaleLead, and MiamiLead, we will have a thousand business people in South Florida all talking about the same thing every month. You work in Boca or Fort Lauderdale and have a client in Miami and all of a sudden you’re talking about similar crucial conversations. Each month the topic varies. We talk about toxic relationships in business and how they destroy the work environment and beyond. We talk about how to deal with your competitors in an honest and forthright way. The great thing is, now, you can be talking to one of your competitors in Miami and they heard the same talk, and business can happen and it’s happening in a Christian fashion.
Locations, Dates and Time for BocaLead, LauderdaleLead and MiamiLead
While the dates sometimes fluctuate, BocaLead is typically the first Thursday of the month. The next date is September 6 at Boca Raton Community Church, 470 NW 4th Ave, Boca Raton, from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 .p.m.
LauderdaleLead is usually the third Thursday of the month. The next date is September 20 at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, 5555 N Federal Hwy, Fort Lauderdale.
MiamiLead is slated for the fourth Thursday of the month. The next date is September 27 at Christ Journey Church, 624 Anastasia Ave, Coral Gables.
For upcoming dates and to reserve your seat, visit bocalead.org, lauderdalelead.org or miamilead.org.