From August 8-9, 2023, during the EDTalks segment of the North American Division’s (NAD) 2023 Educators’ Convention, 13 leaders gave their unique take on this prompt: “Leadership. It all comes down to …”
The answers, including courage, trust, action, service, integrity, humility, curiosity, wellness, modeling, focus, empowering, and redeemed, were as wide-ranging as the speakers.
In this spin on the popular TEDtalks, music leaders Laura Story and Nicole C. Mullen; education leaders Mario Acosta, Doug Reeves, Tina Boogren, and Toakase Vunileva; Adventist leaders G. Alexander Bryant, Meshach Soli, Carlton P. Byrd, Adam Wamack, David Daniels, and James Standish; and entertainer Taylor Hughes used storytelling to share their leadership lessons.
With EDTalks, sponsors Advancing Christian Education (ACE) Academy aimed to create a one-of-a-kind experience for educators. And so it was, with powerful talks, the musical group “The Sierra Collective” from La Sierra University, snacks, and energetic host Ofa Langi, senior pastor of the Auburn City Seventh-day Adventist Church, leading several interactive segments including “teacher stretches” and “name that tune” with kazoos, and fun giveaways.
“We believe education is supposed to be fun, so we wanted to bring that to the NAD Educators’ Convention,” explained Vunileva, director of ACE Academy.
Leadership. It all comes down to …
While presenters shared diverse definitions of leadership, a few distinct themes emerged. One was leaning on God through trials. Singer-songwriter Laura Story shared her husband’s recovery from a brain tumor, which inspired the award-winning “Blessings.” She urged attendees to see challenges “not as an obstacle but as an opportunity … for humility and a deeper dependence on a greater God.” Her word — humility.
Vunileva later recounted a parallel experience of surrender to God as her husband lay comatose in a hospital bed following kidney failure and cardiac arrest. As she sang, “He Knows My Name,” her husband said in Tongan, eyes still closed, “Lord God, help me.” He revived two days later, and while not fully recovered today, they are navigating his challenges with trust and courage. Her word — courage. She stressed that courage in life and leadership “doesn’t just show up. We must practice courage every day.”
Another key theme was nurturing the next generation of leaders. Bryant, NAD president, shared how others’ belief in him molded him into a leader. His predecessor, Daniel R. Jackson, began letting Bryant chair significant meetings, such as the division-wide year-end meeting, during his “bathroom breaks.” As these intervals extended from five or 10 minutes to one or two hours, Bryant realized Jackson was preparing him for a bigger stage. He concluded, “Leadership without empowering is no leadership.” His word — empowering.
Soli, associate youth director of the Southeastern California Conference, praised his Samoan grandmother as a servant leader, respected by all in her village because she was uncommonly generous and “invested her life into the lives of others.” He also recognized as servant leaders the educators who inspired his journey from a Grade 10 dropout with a criminal and substance abuse history to a pastor with a master’s degree.
Soli then pointed to the ultimate servant leader, Jesus, citing Matthew 20:25-28 (NRSV): “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” He reassured attendees, “God has a purpose for [your work]. You’re called to this space not just to be teachers, educators. You’re called to be servants.” His word — service.
Award-winning singer-songwriter Nicole C. Mullen closed EDTalks with her inspiring life story. Born into a family of deacons and pastors, she gave her life to Christ at age eight. Four years later, someone prophesied that Mullen would globally sing songs God had given her in the night. As she later faced two traumatic divorces before eventually meeting her loving husband of three years, she understood this prophecy wasn’t referring to evening hours. “[God] was going to give me songs in the p.m. of life, when life was dark and hard, and I couldn’t see my way. He was going to sing over me and through me."
She shared snippets of these songs in a pure, unaccompanied soprano, interspersed with words of encouragement. “You all are so good at pouring into everyone else. But I want you to be reminded that the God you speak about and serve is also the God who sees you. He’s here not just to redeem our souls in salvation [but also to] redeem our situations.”
Her presentation ended with a portion of the song “Redeemer.” As she concluded, “Let all creation testify, let this life within me cry, I know my Redeemer lives,” a pianist joined in softly, amplifying her melody. Her word — redeemer.
Mullen’s authenticity touched many attendees, including Judith Hall, principal at Crawford Adventist Academy East, outside of Toronto, Canada. Hall acknowledged that the EDTalks, with their insightful leadership lessons, would be her most outstanding memory from the convention. “[They] offered just the spiritual nuggets and encouragement I needed to go into the school year,” she said.
ACE Academy is a legacy program of the Bainum Family Foundation dedicated to providing leadership development in a collaborative process with the NAD and its entities to strengthen Adventist education.
The North American Division is grateful to ACE Academy’s Vunileva, Melanie Litchfield, senior manager, Steve Baughman, manager, and Zach McDonald, their creative production consultant, for bringing EDTalks to life.