Living boldly: Keynote speakers inspire at LCEF fall conference

Rich Robertson speaks during the 2016 Lutheran Church Extension Fund Fall Leadership Conference in Schaumburg, Ill. Robertson announced at the Nov. 18-20 conference that he plans to step down Oct. 1 as the organization’s president and CEO. (LCEF/Taylor Overstreet)

By Roger Drinnon

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. — Though always inspiring, Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) fall conferences typically don’t feature an astronaut, a brain surgeon and a prolific author — as this one did.

With its theme, “Live Boldly,” the 2016 LCEF Fall Leadership Conference, held Nov. 18-20, featured encouraging reflections from notable keynote speakers like NASA astronaut (U.S. Army Col. Ret.) Jeffrey Williams, famed neurosurgeon and former presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson and distinguished author and talk radio host Eric Metaxas.


John O’Leary of St. Louis, a returning keynote speaker, also spoke about how God’s grace saved him from what had been deemed fatal burns when he was 11 years old.

Williams spoke about boldly living in faith in one’s vocation and acknowledging God’s blessings in life.

“Everything we do is not about us. It’s about what is given to us, how we steward, and how we carry the Gospel on,” said Williams, a member of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Houston.

Having completed his fourth mission as Expedition 48 Commander in 2016, Williams has spent 534 days in space — more time in space than any other U.S. astronaut. NASA now lists him first on its all-time astronaut list.

Carson’s notable accomplishments include the first and only successful separation of Siamese twins joined at the back of the head, pioneering the first successful neurosurgical procedure on a fetus inside the womb and developing new methods to treat brain-stem tumors. He spoke about what it was like to go from poverty to being both a successful neurosurgeon and public figure.

Somewhat troubled in his youth, Carson said everything changed for him, once he realized his gifts were the work of God in his life, not his own.


“When the Lord fixes a problem, he doesn’t do a paint job. He fixes it from the inside,” he said.

Not long after the conference, Carson was appointed to become Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for President-Elect Donald Trump’s administration.

Metaxas, now the New York Times bestselling author of Bonhoeffer, a biography of Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, related how Bonhoeffer’s bold opposition to Nazi Germany provides an example for American Christians today, who might feel intimidated by secular pressures in a post-Christian society.

“We can’t always be polite,” he said, referring to the current culture of political correctness and increasing restrictions on religious liberty in America.

Robertson to retire

Also during the conference Rich Robertson shared with attendees he will step down as LCEF president and CEO effective Oct. 1.

“It will be eight years of service when I leave — eight incredibly rewarding years serving The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and being part of an agency of the Church that has been a beacon of light since its inception in 1978,” Robertson said.


In keeping with the conference theme, LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison spoke of the challenges early Lutherans faced during the Lutheran Reformation. He went on to relate the theme to his recent experience of seeing refugees being baptized by the Rev. Dr. Gottfried Martens at the Dreieinigkeits-Gemeinde in Berlin-Steglitz, Germany, part of the Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche, an LCMS partner church.    

“That night, there were 18 baptisms of formers Muslims. There are now over 800 at that church. Whoever and however God puts the people next to us, those people are our neighbors, and they deserve our love.” Harrison said as conference participants applauded. “Even bigger things are happening [with other partner churches around the globe]. My friends, it’s time to be bold.”

Joining worship and learning

The Rev. Allan Buss, senior pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Belvidere, Ill., and former Northern Illinois District first vice-president, attended the conference and offered his personal reflections on the organization which he has been connected with for 25 years.

“My first congregation built a whole new facility and our relationship was born,” Buss said. “As [my own] children came along, [my wife and I] were able to invest some of their monies with LCEF, knowing that there would be good returns, and we were supporting the Lord’s mission.  We also have had investments with LCEF knowing that God was going to use those gifts to us to bring the gift of Jesus to the world through ministries and people.”


Buss said he appreciates how the conference gathers around worship and learning as well as guest speakers who “expand our minds and grow our hearts for mission.”

“This year’s main speakers, including Ben Carson and Eric Metaxas, were some of the best I have heard, and they are men of faith who challenged us as we face an increasingly secular nation,” he said. “But with Christ as our Victor, we do not shrink, and these men encouraged us to be what the Lord has made us.”

With nearly 60,000 investors and total assets approaching $1.8 billion, LCEF continues to make a difference for thousands of ministries. The organization provides customized loans and support services to new and growing ministries as well as loans for rostered church workers who have dedicated their lives to sharing the Gospel. For more information, visit

For a Facebook album of 2016 LCEF Fall Leadership Conference award recipients, click here.

Roger Drinnon ( is director of Editorial Services and Media Relations for LCMS Communications.

Posted December 15, 2016

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