Pastor Bill Mitchell is a third-generation Boca man, and he’s not planning on living anywhere else anytime soon. Now 62, he says he loved it back in the 1960s and ‘70s, and he loves it now, admitting that he’s a “cheerleader” for Boca more than he waxes nostalgic about the past.
Having reared five children here with his wife Elizabeth, he remembers the other times when he was a boy—when there was no air conditioning, and people went to Miami for a nice dinner, Fort Lauderdale for a suit. Today, he says he loves Boca’s “incredible downtown,” the refreshing tolerance of its different religious groups and its sense of community.
And he should know about community; his grandfather, J.C. Mitchell, came to Boca at its outset—in 1920—later becoming its mayor and one of its leading citizens—and started a real estate company on the corner of Dixie and Palmetto after World War I.
His father followed suit, and Mitchell himself joined the family business, J.C. Mitchell & Sons, after college in 1979, eventually going on to Arvida Realty and Coldwell Banker as regional director for commercial real estate. But that changed when he turned 45, and he looked at the rest of his life. “Going into the second half of my life, I knew at one point or another I would be doing something in Christian ministry, nonprofit, pastoring. Or out somewhere in the third world. So I decided to do this.”
“This” is his position as senior pastor of Boca Raton Community Church and Boca Raton Christian School, and charismatic founder of the popular BocaLead business lunches. Mitchell knew from the time he was 14 that he was a committed Christian; he even recalls the date, which was Oct. 4, 1972.
With theology degrees from Moody Bible Institute, business courses from FAU and a seminary degree later on, he was well positioned to do ministerial work, and he sees it as his calling. Mitchell’s theology is conservative and Christian, but he is committed to the notion of peaceful and respectful coexistence with others, despite their religious or political beliefs, their nationalities, their income brackets or skin colors.
“There is a verse, Jeremiah 29, Verse 7, that says: ‘Seek the welfare of the city, for in its welfare you shall find your welfare.’ There’s a sense of common good that all of us—believer, nonbeliever, Jew, Muslim, atheist, agnostic, all of us—have the same issues at hand: Are we going to be kind and generous? These are universal principles that Jesus spoke of. Treat others as you would like yourself to be treated. That is the 80 percent.” Mitchell thinks the other 20 percent, which he calls the greater good, is your particular set of beliefs, and fighting about those is what gets people into trouble—when they should be seeking common ground.
“My calling is to help people, first with their relationship to God and second, their relationship to each other—in a spirit of generosity,” he says, noting that is how BocaLead was launched.
BocaLead, a monthly luncheon Mitchell leads around a business issue or theme such as team building, started six years ago as a way to get the business community more engaged. Today, the events are a sell-out, with attendance at more than 400, chapters in Fort Lauderdale and Miami, 20 around the country and a WorldLead program underway in 40 countries.
Mitchell says the future looks bright. “The growth of Boca Raton and where we are located in downtown Boca Raton—that it’s our 70th anniversary—makes us uniquely placed to really work in the city of Boca and help people in their lives,” he says.
“If I stripped everything else away, and if I had helped people pursue God, build community and engage the world, I would have done what I think God has called me to do.”
This story is part of the Gold Standards feature from the July/August 2020 issue of Boca magazine. To see more of the Gold Standards feature, click here. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.