Willow Creek Summit Takeaways

The recent Global Leadership Summit sponsored by Willow Creek Church was one of the best conferences I have attended. And I have gotten to a point that the only thing better than going to a mediocre gathering is not going in the first place. This was certainly not the case this time, and I was able to leave the simulcast with some “takeaways” that encouraged me in my particular situation.

I’ve had difficulty connecting to pastors and leaders from large congregations, mainly because I can’t relate to their stories of supervising large staffs which would numerically speaking comprise many churches in our country. But, I have found Bill Hybels to be sincere, relevant, and genuinely concerned about providing quality training for pastors. He mentioned in his remarks that most if not all pastors he knows have “good hearts” but not all pastors with good hearts are good leaders. It is imperative to have both. This was a takeaway.

Another takeaway came with Henry Cloud’s evaluation of personality types. He gave a very interesting dry erase talk about “the wise, the foolish, and the evil” which depicted the three broad categories of people that leaders must deal with in their work. I won’t go into the entirety of the remarks, but one of the key things he said was that most pastors/leaders are kind and compassionate, and welcome honest critique and thank people for it. THis makes someone a better leader, and in short the leader conforms to the light or reality that is given them. The mistake that these pastors make is that they assume others are like them in this way. This is why many pastors feel hopeless and frustrated dealing with those in the foolish category.  The foolish person is not grateful for this critique and instead opts to change the light (reality) rather than be introspective and change themselves. Cloud commented that “you can’t talk to these people” and the best way to deal with them is to not deal with the problem but instead try to get them to tell you how to talk to them in the first place. Often, foolish people “shoot the messenger” and their kneejerk reaction is external rather than internal and want to find someone to blame rather than accept responsibility for their faults. Cloud quoted from the Proverbs about how a wise person welcomes criticism and counsel, but a foolish person will attack you for it.

Another takeaway dealt with “tough callings” and in particular Hybel’s message on the life and message of Jeremiah. He compared the prophet’s calling and discouragement to pastors who are torn between “the call and the ache of success.” Jeremiah had a call from God but could hardly be described as successful, as he was persecuted and mocked by the people for his message.  I appreciated Hybels’ candor about his own calling and how it could hardly be described as a tough one when compared to Jeremiah and others on Leadership faculty. Still,  we were challenged to be open to tough callings and to go (or stay) where the Lord wants you to go.

I believe this session, especially with “Mama” who works with most oppressed and underprivileged children in Egypt, definitely came across as the most powerful and emotionally moving. There is no way I can complain about whatever difficulties I have when there are so many in destitute situations. The challenge is to be open to wherever the Lord may lead, even if the initial reaction might be one of resistance and questioning. Jeremiah probably thought being called of God was equivalent to success and some degree of notoriety. He was notable, but not in the ways he was anticipating when he accepted the call and accused God of “sweet-talking” him into the position. This was paramount to the “bait and switch” technique in our retail stores. As Hybels talked about Jeremiah’s trials and disappointments, I found myself relating to disappointments in my own life and leaning more upon my own sense of calling in what I am doing now. It’s all about “the call” and this spiritual landmark is an anchor when times get tough.

There are so many other things I could mention, but I think I’ll mention one more takeaway as it relates to the Starbucks president asking to get out of his appearance contract because a small group of less than a thousand threatened to boycott his stores if he appeared at Willow Creek. They were making this threat with the view that Willow Creek was “anti-gay” and if he participated in the Summit then he too would be targeted for boycotts. Hybels made the announcement with characteristic grace and offered to meet with those responsible for the petition against Starbucks. It was encouraging to hear that Willow is not “anti-anybody” but does affirm the biblical standards of marriage as between a man and a woman, and celibacy for those outside marriage. The irony of this cancellation was that the person who replaced the Starbucks president (I cannot recall names of Summit faculty as I write this), was that his replacement did a GREAT job and actually talked about how failure and rejection are not the worst things in the world. It is important to stand on principle even when it may be unpopular, so I have to say that I was disapppointed to see someone bow to this kind of pressure but was even more glad to hear the speaker who filled that slot.

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