By Bob Andelman
Religious Conference Manager Magazine
Aug 1, 2007 12:00 PM
Profile of Jonathan Laabs
Jonathan Laabs can’t understand why Religious Conference Manager would want to profile him.
“I’m not a typical planner,” he says in that gentle, unassuming Laabs manner.
While that may be true, Laabs — as anyone who has met and spent time with him at the annual RCMA convention or other events over the past decade will attest — is not a typical anything. He is the quiet voice in the room, unintentionally commanding respect with a calm, friendly demeanor and well-considered comments and opinions.
He may not be a “typical” religious meeting planner — but who is?
Laabs — pronounced “Lobbs” — just finished his 10th year as executive director of the Lutheran Education Association, which is headquartered in River Forest, Ill. He spent 20 years as a teacher, administrator, principal, and college professor before taking over LEA, the professional organization for educators in Lutheran ministries.
If the job seems tailor-made for him, that’s because it barely existed before him; he is only the second person to have the job, and the first professional to have the post lasted less than a year.
Before that, the now 65-year-old organization was run by a series of volunteer leaders.
“It was just a real neat opportunity for me,” Laabs says. “I felt the call was well-suited. It helped me to move to another level to support the people with whom I had already been working. It meant looking at the organization and its future through new eyes.”
Laabs tailored LEA to his strengths, reorganizing its structure and how it was funded, and rewriting its mission statement — all by the end of his second year. The new mission statement supports linking, equipping, and affirming LEA educators in Lutheran ministries.
“The span of people whom we serve starts with professionals working with children at the youngest ages and continues all the way through higher education,” he says.