By Tom Holmes
Living Word Christian Center hosted over 1,000 participants in their Missions and Marketplace Conference at their church complex in the Forest Park Mall on Roosevelt Road March 26-28.
One of the two featured speakers at the opening session on Wednesday evening was the multi-billionaire from Nigeria, Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija, who gave an hour long testimony about making a covenant with God. A born again Christian who was raised in a Muslim family, Alakija told God that if He made her prosper, she would use her wealth to give him glory. Forbes Magazine called Alakija the richest black woman in the world, unseating Oprah Winfrey last year. Her fortune is estimated at $7.3 billion.
She told the nearly full auditorium how God helped her rise from a secretary to a fashion designer to an oil tycoon. The crowd erupted with "amens" and "praise the Lords" after she declared, "I'm a product of prayer." She said that she is keeping her part of the covenant she made with God by establishing a foundation called Rose of Sharon which gives assistance to widows and orphans.
Alikija's talk summarized the whole agenda of the conference: combining best business practices with God's way is the guaranteed path to prosperity. She and Dr. Bill Winston, the pastor of Living Word, point to themselves as examples and models of that way of leaning into life they preach.
"In today's challenging times," declares promotional material for the conference, "we must think differently, believe differently, and most importantly act differently to excel to the next level of success and leadership.
"Making life better by producing new jobs, higher income and profits, and a prosperous economy is really what the divine partnership of marketplace ministry and the five-fold ministry is all about," the pamphlet continues.
"To establish the Kingdom of God in every sphere of society to make life better for others," it says.
Pastor Winston talked a lot at the conference about getting a new mindset as the way to prosperity. Indeed, if you attend a Bill Winston conference or a Living Word service, the mindset of the people you encounter may make the biggest impression on you.
Everything at Living Word is done professionally and with high standards. An eight piece band and a choir of more than thirty create pulsating music that gets everyone on their feet. Two stationary TV cameras, one on a moveable boom and a hand held mobile camera project images of both the speakers and worshipers on two huge screens flanking the podium on the large stage. There is a palpable and infectious confidence and energy in the 200 plus employees of the church and the hundreds of volunteers.
Twenty-five years after Pastor Winston moved his small congregation of less than twenty people from Chicago to a store front on Madison Street, Living Word Christian Center boasts a congregation of 20,000 members, a business school, TV ministries and members from thirty-six different countries.
Members and staff members seem to vicariously share in their pastor's success and at the same time believe that what he is preaching will lead them on their own path to prosperity. The thousand or so people in the room jumped to their feet when Winston proclaimed, "I'm fully expecting the supernatural to happen here tonight. Not the next level, the next dimension. I lay the mantle of success without struggle on you."
A promotional video shown on the two big screens Wednesday evening with the theme Have Faith and Grow Rich, promised that one of Living Word teaching ministries would "teach you how to do business God's way."
Some MBA programs have ethics classes, but speakers at the conference described a way of doing business that went beyond ethics to praying about business decisions and trusting in God's providing to dare to make bold moves. For example, Alakija explained her success in the oil business by articulating the principles which guide her: pray, believe, give, obey and expect fulfilling.
The speaker at the morning breakfast meeting at the conference was Jarrod Davidoff, a man who grew up in a Jewish family, accepted Christ and is now a Christian evangelist. He echoed Pastor Winston's themes when he said, "Where the Lord is involved there's going to be growth" and God will give you a divine strategy" and "we're looking for measureable results."
Workshop leaders and speakers during the rest of the conference included CEO of Fair Oaks Farms Michael Thompson, business coach Ken Brown, Hollywood Producer Phil Cooke and inventor and nuclear engineer Dr. Lonnie Johnson.
The theme of the conference was 'Leading Through Innovation.' A promotional piece stated, "Innovative leadership is a necessity to remain competitive in today's changing and global economy. Hear how innovative thinking changed the lives for a multi-billionaire oil baroness, a multi-millionaire inventor and divine insights from our world's most sought after spiritual leaders."
The conference was preceded by a free career fair on Tuesday and a business opportunity expo on Wednesday morning.