[I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time.]

# 4 Ted W. Engstrom. Executive Leadership 1916-2006

The strength and breadth of today’s evangelical movement—the evangelical part of the Christian church—is due in large part to the foundations started in the 1950s and built over the last generation. Among these foundations are the organizations, associations, and businesses that many call the para-church. These groups, focused on a specific part of the church’s overall work, complemented the ministry of the churches, but they also clearly transcended the churches in public perception and effectiveness on many tasks. This may be because of their focus, the attractiveness of these endeavors to entrepreneurs and their ability to attract expertise, absence of geographic boundaries, and the ability to raise funds in new ways.

This growing wing of the church was led by a new crop of individuals who at first came from the churches—pastors who had a calling to pursue a specific area of ministry, such as international relief, child evangelism, or radio programming—and over time included more and more management professionals who moved from their secular jobs to lead these Christian organizations.

[As the new para-church flank developed over the last generation, many church insiders—pastors, church staff, denominational executives—naturally began to resent the higher profile of these groups, and especially their ability to raise large budgets, even as individual churches struggled to build a new children’s wing or put in a new furnace.]

One of the early giants was Ted W. Engstrom, a large kindly man with round edges and a hitch in his step who led through spiritual infusion, seasoned wisdom, and a steady hand.

For more than half a century, Engstrom’s colleagues became accustomed to his frequent correspondence (signed with his initials, TWE), which graced the management logs of three of the early giants of the para-church. Engstrom, who graduated from Taylor University, was editorial director and general manager of Zondervan Publishing House, and became president of Youth for Christ International (where some of the crusades featured a young evangelist named Graham) before joining World Vision International in 1963. It was his leadership at these organizations, and then his role as a mentor for scores of up-and-coming executives in the Christian world, that provided a steady hand to the rudder of the growing evangelical movement.

Engstrom’s management advice could apply to many situations we face today: He said:

“We terribly overestimate what we can do in one year and underestimate what we can do in five. Start by realizing that you can’t get out of this mess in one year. But you can lay a foundation that can get you out of this mess in three or five years. By planning now, you can get some control over your time.”

I worked at World Vision during Engstrom’s years as Executive Vice President, and I was his ghost writer for many internal and some external communications. During this years, Engstrom emphasized three things above all:

Evangelism: While many of the projects of groups such as World Vision concentrated on practical problems, Engstrom continued to drive for an evangelistic element in every program.

Time Management: he led Managing Your Time seminars for many years with World Vision colleague Ed Dayton.

Generosity: His motto—“We are in business to give ourselves away.” He recognized that groups such as World Vision were becoming centers of not only funds but also expertise, and he demonstrated his commitment to sharing this with others in the church.

The Christian Leadership Alliance established the Engstrom Institute as a home for their executive leadership training and resources. CLA says that Engstrom “is recognized for making one key contribution to 20th century American evangelical culture: introducing standard business practices and management principles to churches and other faith-based institutions. These often went awry because they paid too little attention to the bottom line.”

The evangelical firmament has relied not only by the brightest stars, but also the gravity that held the constellations together. Ted Engstrom had that gravity—the para-church was his platform and an emerging force in the focused activity of the American church.

Filed under: ChristianityJim

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