Sunday, August 13, 2006

Struggling over the Valuable

I attended the Willow Creek Leadership Summit at a satellite location this weekend. What an amazing time! We had the privilege of learning from men and women who evidenced a genuine desire to serve God with excellence. They were eager and felt honored to be able to share their wisdom with us. We heard from pastors, authors, professors, and even a bona fide rock star! Almost every session was a combination of being invigorating, challenging, inspiring, or eye-opening. It was exciting to be in a room with hundreds of leaders of the church, watching with 70,000 leaders of God's church from across the world. I was encouraged by the examples of the men before me. I was learning from ordinary men who done nothing more than place their absolute faith in God and worked hard to be honorable stewards of His giftings. I may not feel like I can be the next Bill Hybels or Andy Stanley, but I can trust God and be a good steward.

I attended the Willow Creek Leadership Summit at a satellite location this weekend. It was one of the more disturbing weekends that I have had in a long time. Was I the only one in the room who wondered why we don't use our Bibles at a pastor's conference? Was I the only one who wondered how men who are spiritually dead could instruct us how to nurture those who are alive in Christ? I looked over pamphlets for upcoming events and was struck by the use of words such as "innovative breakthroughs", "Harvard Business School" "methods," "strategies", "intelligent thinking," "key sucess factors", and "transferable principles." Where were words like "dependence", "Holy Spirit", or "prayer." I learned that we must be confident and in control as leaders. We must never let them see us in doubt, and that some of our sins do not come from being evil, but simply from an overzealous desire to see the church grow. I heard words like "numbers", "growth," "expansion" and "goals" attatched to the term New Testament Church. I rarely heard words like discipliship, spiritual maturity, or being comformed to the image of Christ. Was I the only one bothered that the rock star based more of his message on the Bible than the pastors?

I've wrestled over these two viewpoints to the point of mental sweat-dripping, bone-numbing exhaustion. I have no answers. The point of this conference was not to preach an exegetical sermon or have a large Sunday School meeting. I believe the point was simply to encourage, edify, and equip pastors in their job. I felt all three of those goals were accomplished. One of the speakers addressed this very issue by commenting that it does the church no good when people with good hearts and motives fail because of mismanagement. I come from a psychology background; I have seen the damage caused by those who fear to use anything outside the Bible to minister to the children of God. We wouldn't advise those we love to pray away a broken bone or cut finger; nor should we command them to pray up their seratonin levels or pray to have their years of asbuse deleted from their minds and spirits. In the same vein, Paul never instructed us how to manage a staff, plan a budget, or schedule or calendar. I truly believe that the men who put this event together are humble servants of God who would agree that it is God that runs the church, not programs. In fact, some of them said as much.

But I cannot escape from the fact that aside from Hybel's amazing final session(his message on substitutionary atonement paired with that beautiful, tangible demonstration of the power of the gospel almost kept me from writing this blog) little of the conference was distinctively Christian. Most of what was said could have been transferred to any business conference across the country. All you would have had to do was tweak a paragraph here, delete a few expressions or words there, change that intro or conclusion, and fish out the couple of random bits of scripture that were dropped sporadically into each talk. I know, I know, I know that we must concentrate on the practicalities of church--it's not enough to encourage each other to "Preach the Word"; we have to get into the nitty gritty of what that will look like.

But how can we believe that we are offering something of ultimate value if it fails to lead us to the spiritual? Have we been called as managers of a movement, or shepherds of a living Body? Did God command us to pack as many as possible into a building once a week, or did He command us to make disciples in His name?

Yet there are those who stand on street corners and shout nothing other than scripture who likely lead none to our Lord. Part of me thinks that the danger does not necessarily come from the speakers we heard from this weekend--I believe their foundation rests solely on the Lord. But I wonder if it is reckless for them to present their thoughts without making their foundation more clear--I fear it is those who follow them that will pervert their message, leading their own churches to be driven by strategy and transferable principles rather that the Holy Spirit.

What is the best thing to offer when we have the ears of 70,000 leaders of God's church? I don't know. But I feel in my soul that there is that which is more valuable than that which was offered this weekend. Am I being too much of a seminary student? Am I right in my concerns? Do my questions have any merit, or will I find simple answers once I leave the theory of the classroom behind? Am I trying to jam every gathering of Christians into a Sunday School class-shaped cubby? Or do I simply long for God's Word to illuminate our lives?

What is the one most valuable thing for a group of 70,000 pastors to hear?

I don't know.


Blogger emergent alphaville said...

Tim, I resonate with every question you asked and love to see another emerging leader wrestle wtih this tension! I was at the LS as well and found it so dang refreshing when Hybels finally got back to the foundational reason why CHRISTIAN leadership is so distinctive and distinguished--the Cross and our redemptive mission in Christ.

I do think it's good to study leadership in all forms as "all truth is God's truth" as it says in Mark 17:22. But it's critical that we keep coming back to Scripture to find the underlying reasons why some secular leadership principles are so effective (cuz they're living out what the Church has stopped doing!--ie, empowering followers, servant-leading, casting vision, building dreams on mutual values, strategizing toward God's brightest future)! Guys like Nehemiah, Moses, Joshua, Paul and others beautifully exemplify true wisdom from heaven in such leadership behaviors!

To Willow's credit (kind of, not really sure where I stand on this), the Summit is becoming more and more of an outreach. This is my 5th year in a row and it's becoming progressively more secularized. I think they're trying to draw in more and more of an unbelieving crowd to give them the fragrance of Christ as they consider best (and often biblical) leadership practices.

What I thought was glaringly missing this year was adequate emphasis on a leader's character. Who gives a flying rip if a leader is extraordinarily competent if he doesn't have character?! You can't have one without the other (see Psalm 78:72), but it starts with character. I think the Church has often erred on the side of emphasizing only character but neglected the fact that true biblical leadership is a Christ-centered blend of character AND competence. Having one without the other is like being given the option of flying with only 1 wing of an airplane!

Just some thoughts... Keep questioning!

12:42 PM  

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