The Willow Creek Leadership Summit Post 1 – After 20 Years, Willow Is Growing On Me

Grace Chapel was a host site for the Willow Creek Leadership Summit that took place August 9-10. They’ve been part of this for a number of years and it’s a great development opportunity for our staff, our attenders and many pastors and lay people in the Greater Boston area. I kept hearing how people were really looking forward to the Summit and by the time it rolled around, I found myself getting excited about it too. But as I was sitting in our sanctuary, I couldn’t help but reflect on my evolving impressions of Willow Creek.

I remember one night back in high school my dad and I were watching tv and a feature on Willow Creek came on one of those Nightline or 20/20 shows. I remembered thinking a church that looked more like a theater was a great idea, incorporating drama was cool and Hybels came off looking much better than most evangelicals/televangelists tend to do – I was interested. Willow was huge by then but in the early 90’s, it was just coming on the national scene (or at least on my personal radar). They became the thing but like all big things, there was a flip side.  It was half-way through being an undergrad that I could no longer handle the term “seeker-sensitive” and about where I got off the WC/Hybels boat. Between the celebritism of Hybels/Ortberg, the hype created by the countless other churches that were now Willow-like, the Association and a couple of friends I knew from college who had various experiences there, I got “Willowed-Out.”

Then I got John-Maxwelled-out and read Hybel’s Courageous Leadership, went to a couple a simulcasts of the Leadership Summits and while I enjoyed parts/aspects of them, I couldn’t really do any more. During my first few years of ministry, I was leery of just about everything. There was the Purpose-Driven Life books, resources, calendar, mugs, coasters ,and … ;) There was also the Prayer of Jabez merch line, the Left Behind series was the fundamentalist Hunger Games. I avoided the CBD Catalog the way I avoid mall on weekends.

Now some of this was where I was personally, some of it was the sub-culture, some of it was bad marketing but I identified Willow as a part of all that. I’m not sure I knew enough to take issue with Willow and while it would take some time to learn this language, I would now say “they” represented the attractional model that so many churches wanted to imitate and my feeling was, “That’s great for them, you/we are not them …”

That started to shift for me a few years ago when I attended a Summit in Wyckoff (thanks for hosting Cornerstone). Then even more so, I started paying attention to WC when they put out their Reveal series as I found myself appreciating their humility and was very interested in their findings. The Post-Christian culture caught up with them and their insights are helpful to the North American Church as a whole. It’s been since the Reveal series that I’ve been most interested in the Summit and again, I found myself excited for this year.

Bill led off with a long, semi-self-depracacting story of him grilling the Thanksgiving turkey and accidentally leaving the grill on for 7 weeks. This opening illustration served as a fairly accurate microcosm for the rest of his presentation. He incorporates great story-telling features (context, the problem, the proposed solution, complication, suspense, etc.) reveals his strengths (all leaders have some), his weaknesses (all leaders have some), he’s both relatable and unrelateable but he’s being himself so that’s good, and then finally offers a conclusion that is both satisfying, humorous, and for the most part, insightful. I think it’s fair to say that’s how the remainder of his hour went and I was happy to listen.

I found myself warming up to Bill, talents, faults, humor, wisdom and all. Scattered between his main points were context fillers like when he admitted that Willow Creek is finally using Alpha and that the tongue-and-cheek reason they hadn’t before was because they hadn’t created it – so they didn’t use it. I don’t know how Alpha people felt about that, I thought it was funny, a bit sad, but revealing.

I also loved the story of the guy who lived so close to Willow Creek that he lost his cat on the church property and told Bill that he mistakingly thought it was a community college campus. I’m not exactly sure why Bill decided to include these points in his message, I don’t believe they were birthed out of any false sense of humility. Instead, I think this is very consistent with the background context of the Reveal study (and I speculate that this story actually happened quite some time ago). It’s the perfect illustration for the short-comings of a strictly attractional model and the need for the church to be missional – the community simply doesn’t care to know who you are – you might as well be a local community college.

Hybels spoke for at least an hour (no countdown clock like Q Ideas ;), shared Willow’s plan of succession with candor and openness (not specifics but the process), gave a couple of his classic leadership insights and themes (like his 6X6 plan) and got the Summit off to a solid start.

I’ll mention more later but I did love the diversity of the presenters, ethnically and the different organizational sectors they represented. While Willow is not the most natural environment for me, I did appreciate so much of what they’ve been doing and couldn’t help but think how much this ministry has grown on me these last few years. Grateful that our church could be a part of this, hoping to post more soon.

If you are interested in attending the Summit next year and live near Lexington, MA – join us – the date is August 8-9, 2013.  In the meantime, you can learn more at

Reflecting on NOLA – P2 – Desperation Conference

Prior to arriving to New Olreans, we took our students to the Desperation Conference in Birmingham, Alabama.  I was surprised how normal Birmingham was since it was in … Alabama.  It was an experience filled with souther drawl and terrible driving skills.  There were good things too like Krispy Kreme.  I was disappointed though that I didn’t meet anyone named Bubba.  

Anyway, the Desperation Conference was put on by New Life Church’s  student ministry in Colorado and the host church, Church of the Highlands in Birmingham.  Evan and I felt that the conference was needed for a several reasons (and I think more became apparent while we were there).  One, was to help be prepared spiritually for the mission trip.  No matter how much you stress throughout the year, it always seems that more could have been done.  Second reason was that decent conferences generally don’t come to the Northeast.  (No offense to Battle Cry-Acquire the Fire but I think you need to tone it down and until you do, we won’t be participating).  Thirdly, to see something different.  There’s a lot to say about that but not saying it works too.

One of the themes that the speakers and worship leaders had repeated was the difficulty they’ve experienced this year.  The references to Ted Haggard and the tragic shootings at New Life have got me thinking about a couple things.

It seems that one of the points they made as a leadership was not to slow down the ministry.  This would have been a good year to say, given our situation maybe we should suspend some of our ministries or go into a “safe mode”. This has personal significance to me personally.

This also has significance to me as one of the pastors at our church.  Being without a sr. pastor for the past year (but our new sr. pastor is coming at the end of Aug. Praise God for sending us a great man.  I’m excited, grateful and eager).  In the absence of a sr. pastor, I know sometimes we as a leadership felt that we should wait until the new sr. pastor arrives.  Mostly it was to not intrude on the coming sr. pastor’s vision and possible ideas.  There were other times, when we could have just said, “let’s wait” but didn’t because leadership was needed at that moment.

My point –  rare is the time right to do something difficult, enormous, and controversial.  Certainly all that a church seeks to do must be grounded in where we feel the Spirit leading us after prayer, Scripture, communal discussion, and many other factors.  But the timing is hardly ever ideal and I find myself thinking about that today.

Q Conference Post 2 – Jon Tyson session

The first speaker of the Q Conference was church planter, Jon Tyson.  Born and raised in Australia, he was the young adult pastor in a mega-church in Orlando and a couple of years ago started Origins Church in Manhattan. 

I’ve met Jon a couple of times (even brought my youth group to see him, and yeah, I know, our kids are so lucky, I mean blessed, to have a guy like me taking them to a guy like Jon.)  and really appreciate his humility.  He speaks with a lot of wisdom and brings great ideas and insights to his audience whether it be on Sunday mornings or to a group of fellow leaders at a gathering like this.

Here are a couple things he said that got me thinking:

“We have incredible fruit in our churches on an individual level but there is little cultural fruit”

       So true.  The success of our churches have been on that individual level.  We all know people who have radically changed their lives through the power of the Gospel and through the discipleship and encouragement of their local church.  What we haven’t heard nearly as much are the stories of churches that have had similar impacts on their communities.

       Thus the long-term causality has been the minimal effect the church has had on the culture.  We’ve retreated from it, been told it was evil or worldly.  For a long time, the church was only a refuge and not an agent of transformation and now many of them are becoming monuments.

“There needs to be a return of the city

                        Return where cultures are created.

                        We have a mandate – we’ve been commissioned … (gospel)

                        Accept our responsibility – Christ did this like spiritual acupuncture, he took those moments                         and points …           

                       Engage the world …“

       Jon and later fellow NYC pastor Tim Keller, called for a return to the “city”.  This was more then an anti-suburban cheer but was more of a vision-casting of the hope and need of a city.  I’ve always loved many parts the city, (and I enjoy certain parts of the burbs too.  Who knows what is in store for us? But back to Tyson and Keller.) but the idea was to be a part of the city.  To see it for it’s potential, to see it’s not only worth saving, but worth loving.  They didn’t say this, but all the emphasis that we put on the burbs, maybe we can be as faithful in the city (or attempt to be). 

       We read things like this and we react because the cities do not have the best public schools, have more crime, polluted, crowded and expensive.  But we all know that at the end of the day, generally speaking, we live where we want to live.  We don’t want to live in the city.  I found myself convicted on this yet again.

       Cultures are created in the city.  That line alone is a lot to think about.



He called for the need to create “a holistic theology relevant to our time”.

– Not sure I can put these thoughts into words yet.  I find myself nodding ‘amen’ but that’s all I got so far.  Yes, things need to change.

Erwin McManus – Imagination in Ministry

To all who appreciate Erwin McManus, it’s not often that he makes it to this coast (or if it is, I never know).  On April 9, 2008, Bethel Seminary of the East is bringing in what’s called,  “Imagination in Ministry” to the Grace Point Church, in Newtown, PA.   Costs $28.Here’s the link

Can Hitler be considered a leader?

In seminary we are answering an assigned question via blackboard on whether or not Hitler could be considered a leader.

Guilty of some shock-value here is some my first post:


My spidey-sense suspects an ambush from Dave (the professor), but going with the conventional definition) of a leader, Hitler would qualify.   I grew up on comic books so I feel I have an advantage here.  When a character attained some kind of super-power he/she had a choice to become either a hero or villain.  (Watch the first Spiderman and memorize his hero creed, “With great power comes great responsibility.”)

But I see our conventional definition of ‘leader’ as an amoral one.  And we need to rely on adjectives to describe the leadership. 

In fact, I would like to take it a step further and suggest that Hitler was an exceptional leader.  Not in terms of morality, of course, but in terms of influence.  Consider this:  he takes such an evil idea, promotes it by propaganda justified by a booming economy, has soldiers (and citizens) perform and justify terrible acts against their natural human conscience, all because he ordered them too and it takes the most powerful armies on the planet to stop him from taking over Europe.  This is exceptional leadership.

Yes, he preyed on the greed, selfishness, and fears of his followers.  Indeed he was a liar, manipulator and monster but he was leading many for his cause. 

We as pastors get frustrated that we can barely move people in the right direction for the best of reasons they not already agree with but claim is the most important cause of all!  I find myself a embarrassed after thinking about this. 




Lonely & Low Risk

The last thing we need is any more sugarcoating but I am looking forward to the day when Barna gives us some good news.

Leadership Journal, Fall 2006

Lonely and Low-Risk?
by Abram Book, with survey info from

Pastors appear to brim with self-confidence, display good communication skills, and have rigorous, demanding schedules, but many also struggle to make and keep friends. And eventually, a large percentage pull back from life’s challenges.

A new study by The Barna Group shows 61 percent report difficulty creating and maintaining personal relationships. Dr. Louis McBurney, founder of the pastoral counseling center Marble Retreat in Marble, Colorado, says a majority of pastors in his care cited “lack of emotional intimacy with others” as the main factor in their decision to seek counseling.

“The expectations people have of pastors to always have answers and be competent to do almost anything just tends to shut pastors out from being open about who they are with somebody else,” says McBurney. “This may not be as true as it used to be, but many pastors were taught in Bible college and seminary not to get close to their people because it can create problems of jealousy and tension in the church.”

Over a long period, this makes pastors guarded. Barna’s study found that pastors’ potential for risk-taking drops off after 20 years in ministry. Pastors who spent 20 years or more at the same church were found to be particularly risk-averse.

“Most people in most careers tend to train during the years when they’re 20 to 30 years old, try to grab the entire world by the horns when they’re 30 to 40, and then ‘settle in’ from 40 to 50, or after about 20 years. It’s no different for pastors,” says Dr. Neil Wiseman, a former professor of pastoral development at Nazarene Bible College in Colorado Springs. “Since a pastor will have bumped up against all sorts of resistance during the years between 30 and 40, and since he’s had to deal with every new idea imaginable during that time, it’s probably not a surprise that after 20 years, he’s tired of taking risks.”

Wiseman also cites as factors the sense of career boredom and lack of motivation that some pastors feel after 20 years, and the notion they often feel that taking risks will get them fired. “After a pastor has been in ministry that long, it’s hard for him to start over again if he’s terminated. With that in mind, most pastors who’ve been around that long just figure it’s better not to take chances.”

In other words, without carefully cultivated friendship and fresh challenges, pastors can begin to resemble the Maytag Repairman.
Copyright © 2006 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.
Click here for reprint information onLeadership Journal.
Fall 2006, Vol. XXVII, No. 1, Page 10

Interview with Rick Warren

An interview with Rick Warren by Religion and Ethics Newsweekly

“Dr. WARREN (at Toronto conference): So, I wasn’t wasting my life, but God just said, “Rick, you don’t care about the people I care about the most. I care about the poor and the sick, and the needy, and the oppressed.” And I said, “God I’m sorry, and I will use whatever affluence or influence you give me to speak up for those who have neither.”

Click Here for article

"You are a Freak…"

“Accept that your life is abnormal. Nothing about life as a ministry leader—from its emotional toll to relational demands and constant interruptions—is normal. Accepting that you are a freak with a freakish life will help you not to freak out.”

Mark Driscoll cracks me up.
This was taken from a page of advice from ministry leaders. Click title for more.

Click here for article:
Three Kinds of Leadership