I am not a huge fan of Willow Creek’s concept of church leadership, which must be a shock to many of the folk who regularly read me. Please note that this post is not an attack on Bill Hybels. I bet he’s truly a swell guy. I just think what he models and promotes as ecclesiastical leadership has been profoundly detrimental to the church.
A Chicago suburb-living friend emailed me the link to (CUE brass band and announcer with big voice) “THE LEADERSHIP SUMMIT 2009!” He knows me too well; knowing full well it would provoke a response from me. It has.
Willow says this on their Events page,
Anchored in a commitment to excellence and innovation, WCA events offer training, inspiration, and networking opportunities to church leaders from around the world.
Truthfully, Willow Creek is anchored in modern business leadership methods and modern marketing techniques. Though apparently the poster is now down from outside his office, this statement from it accurately describes the WC ethos,
“What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?” [From the book, Shopping for God.]
One might have thought that the results from Willow’s own REVEAL study would have chastened them – moving them away from promoting events with rather awkward taglines like, “…where business, leadership and ministry meet,” and “...forums for results-oriented leaders.“
(As an aside, please note: Chicagoans, Scot McKnight and Dave Fitch get into an interesting discussion in late 2007 on the REVEAL study, which you may find interesting – It’s an audio download. I have great respect for Scot, but find his support for Willow incongruent with his very good books. Perhaps that’s just me. )
In spite of obvious issues with the “results” of what WC has been selling all these years, they are still promoting the business leader/marketing strategy for church leaders. One, I daresay, that leads to the kind of legitimate questions Jared Wilson asks in this post.
My friend, Jonathan Brink, commented on Out of Ur’s REVEAL mea culpa last year (scroll down to the 5th comment),
(Hybels) says, “That survey rocked my world.” He calls it “The wake up call of my adult life.”
Hawkins even said in his own video, He says, “Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he’s asking us to transform this planet.”
It’s kind of hard to believe that it’s business as usual, when they’ve provided a lot of information to suggest the alternate.
Willow isn’t just a church. They teach people how to do what they do. And when the teacher says, “We got it wrong.” It has a little bit bigger affect (than) Bill seemed to be willing to admit. [YouTube link added]
Church leaders still rush to sit at the feet of Hybels et al. They want to be like Bill – leading a Giga-church that can put on the kind of spectacles that Willow is noted for – spectacles that will bring in the crowds. (This approach infects the Western Church World.)
They listen to business leaders like Patrick Lencioni and Marcus Buckingham (both gifted writers in a business context) coming to believe that their role as “Sr. Pastor” is that of a CEO. They commit to “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” (wanting to move from Good to Great – or even mediocre to good) and get busy getting the “right people on the bus and the wrong people off”. And this is what we end up with, as I quote in my post, Just How Damned is the Church, a focus on edifaces,
…borrowing by churches became more common in the 1990s, reaching $28 billion* nationwide in 2006, including mortgages, construction loans and church bonds…[NYT – a story on Church Foreclosures]
Crippled by an “Edifice Complex”, Church leaders are sucked into believing that Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams was a word from God, “if you build it, they will come.” If these “CEO-Pasters” can just learn the right business and marketing techniques, they can grow their church – for God, of course. But these systems chew people up and spit them out. I speak from experience.
Let me end this post with a quote from the man who taught Hybels and was part of Willow Creeks founding team, Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian,
“The bane of the church is that it becomes worldly. Instead of imparting the Word and becoming an agent of change, it adopts the values of the world and integrates them into its structures and life.
“The biggest problem is the definition of its leadership structures. There are very clear directives in the New Testament for how the church is to be constituted, on the basis of community, which implies congregational participation, consensual decision-making, accountability of leaders to the congregation. Leadership should not be directive but developmental.”