The Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce’s quarterly luncheon at the Clarence Brown Conference Center Tuesday afternoon was highlighted by a presentation from Dr. Dwight Reighard, the president and CEO of Marietta-based MUST Ministries.
He was introduced by Advocates For Children CEO Rachel Castillo, who previously worked for Reighard as MUST Ministries’ vice president of program services.
“It is my time with Ike that equipped me with the skills and competence to step into my leadership role at Advocates for Children, and I will be eternally grateful,” she said.
Reighard noted he was in a “roomful of influencers” at the luncheon, with an audience consisting of some of the biggest movers and shakers in Bartow's business community.
“When I have a chance to be able to interact with those people in a Chamber, I know these are the people that genuinely care about the community,” he said. “You’re taking your time, a non-recyclable commodity, and you’re investing it not just in your life and something that maybe is just personal to you, but you care about your community.”
Which, naturally, segued to Reighard asking the question: what do people who know they have influence on the community actually do with it?
Hence, his encouragement for attendees to become “stairwell people,” a term he explained by means of a lengthy anecdote about his hassles getting into Mercer University.
Describing himself as an unmotivated C and D student — the son of parents with fifth grade educations, who spent his early years in a small North Carolina town where the locals believed pro wrestling was real and the moon landing was faked — Reighard thought he was destined to work in a rock quarry after graduating from high school.
At the behest of a guidance counselor, however, he enrolled at what was then Kennesaw Junior College. After flunking out his freshman year, he took on a series of odd jobs, with an eye issue keeping him out of military service. “They took Forrest Gump, for goodness’ sake,” he said, “but they would not take me.”
After becoming a Christian, Reighard said he felt compelled to join the ministry — which meant, at the age of 23, he would have to try his hand at higher education once more.
A registrar at Mercer University took one look at his underwhelming Kennesaw Junior College transcripts and told Reighard he just wasn’t cut out for the school. Heading down the stairwell afterwards, Reighard recounted bumping into a woman, who asked him if he was feeling OK.
And then, she asked to hear his life story.
“She looked at me and she listened and she smiled and she nodded,” he recollected. “Of all the people I could have met in a hallway, in a stairwell … it was the dean of Mercer University in Atlanta.”
Ultimately Reighard would be admitted to the college, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor’s in religion. From there, he went on to obtain a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degree from Luther Rice Seminary.
Among other churches, Reighard has served as a senior pastor at Fayetteville’s New Hope Baptist Church, a lead pastor at the north campus of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta and was the founding pastor of Kennesaw’s NorthStar church. Outside the pulpit, he served as the Chief People Officer of Homebanc Mortgage and authored several books, including the devotional "Daily Insights" alongside one of his greatest personal inspirations, the legendary salesman Zig Ziglar.
In addition to his work at MUST Ministries, Reighard also serves as the senior pastor for Piedmont Church in Marietta.
Despite his decades of experiences in miscellaneous leadership positions, Reighard told attendees of the Cartersville event that the greatest lesson he ever learned about influence stems from his time as a safety patrol captain at his elementary school in Atlanta.
The mantra “stop, look and listen,” he said, remains the backbone of his own leadership ethos to this very day.
“You think about how difficult it is for people, in our hyper-connected world, to just simply stop what they’re doing, stop looking at their cell phone,” he said. “We’re in this super-connected world, but the interesting thing about this super-connected world is that it makes us very unconnected when it comes to our relationships.”
Indeed, Reighard said modern life has devolved into a series of transactions, in a world “that is starved to death for relationships.”
Which is precisely why he encourages others to implement the old school safety patrol mantra as the guiding principle of their daily interactions.
“When you begin to plug into people that way, I’m telling you, you’re going to become a more brilliant conversationalist, you’re going to become a best friend to so many people,” he said. “Because it is so hard to just get people to simply do those things, to stop, look and listen.”