3 Things I’m Wondering About What Church Leaders Believe

Yesterday, Kristen and I went to the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit. It’s an event I’ve always loved… I’ve gone 3-4 times in the past decade and the years that I couldn’t make it I always wanted to. Looking back, it’s an event where I always learn a lot.

I’m probably a lot like you. I’m tired of talking about why humpty dumpty sat on a wall, why he had a great fall, or why all the kings horses and all the kings men couldn’t put humpty dumpty back together again. Deconstruction is so… 2005. My time is spent coming up with ways to reconstruct the church in new ways, in ways that people currently disconnected from Christ want to connect with Him. It comes from a deep respect for the Scriptures, leaning into the truths of the Gospel, and a relentless hope that our best days must be ahead.

All that to say– I walked away with 3 things I’m wondering about based on what I heard yesterday. These were the working, meta-narrative, definitions of how the speakers/hosts seemed to view the world around them. And it left me wondering… is this what they really believe?

  1. The church is the hope of the world – I walked away wondering… Is that really a true statement? I know I just have an undergrad Bible college degree. And I picked Spanish in college because Greek and Hebrew didn’t seem all that practical for youth ministry. But I think Jesus is the hope of the world. I think the church is the bride of Christ. The church is Hope’s wife, they are wed, they are one… but the church is not the Hope of the world. Jesus is. (I can accept the phrase as a metaphor but the phrase was not said as a metaphor– it was said as an axiom/truism/fact.)
  2. Neighbors are people you invite to church – I walked away wondering about the application of one of the stories… Bill Hybels told a story about a man who came to their property looking for his cat. The man asked Bill, “What is this place?” (Assuming it was a college) Bill used that story to illustrate that they, for the first time in 30 years, needed to do some marketing to retell the Willow story to people in their community. His story left me screaming inside! Dude, you blew it. Jesus didn’t say, “Love your neighbor and invite them to church.” He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The guy didn’t come and ask Bill for a flyer or an invitation to church. He wanted help looking for his cat. It was an invitation for Bill to go to the man’s house! It was an invitation to get to know his neighbor— not fill his mailbox inviting neighbors to hear him preach. Oh, I really wanted that to be a turning point for Bill to see that a church dispersed in its community, as Hope’s representative and wife, is far more potent than a church coming to his “college.” [If you know me, you know my prayer is that the church becomes Good News in the Neighborhood.]
  3. Leadership is the most important spiritual gift – Oh, there was so much insider language and playing to a senior pastor audience about “leadership!” Bill Hybels repeatedly pumped up leadership as the only important spiritual gift. He “thanked God” that he didn’t have the other gifts. (There was a lot of woman bashing from the stage, too. I hope someone mentions that to him. That’s beneath leaders of his caliber.) It made me wonder about the definition of Christian leadership. Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 12, no one is more important in the body of Christ than anyone else. And Jesus corrected his disciples again and again… to be great, you must be a servant. (Mark 10:42-45) Those weren’t popular concepts at Willow’s Summit. In fact, in an interview with an organization that has two equal leaders the question came up again and again… “Is it possible to have 2 leaders?

So that’s what I left wondering with after day 1. Just wondering. Not criticizing or tearing down. Just wondering. 

If you went to WCAGLS— what were your highlights? What did you leave wondering about? 

QUICK UPDATE: Day 2 of WCAGLS was very good, I didn’t stick around for Bill’s closing talk, but really enjoyed all of the speakers today. Pranitha Timothy was absolutely stunning today. Very thankful for that talk.


24 responses to “3 Things I’m Wondering About What Church Leaders Believe”

  1. Jared Dilley Avatar
    Jared Dilley


  2. Joy Cobb Avatar
    Joy Cobb

    I read your tweets yesterday from an EST satellite site and wondered where you were coming from…this is a welcome entry! I totally agree w/you on points 1 & 2. Point 3 I consider pandering to a large portion of the audience to generate a laugh – as a woman I think I’m just callused to a lot of that and just rolled my eyes and let it go. Doesn’t make it right but you get to a certain point (especially working in the good old boys network of a 175 year old community of faith that has it’s own culture). Since this is posting under my real name, I probably can’t say more…and in saying that brings up a whole ‘nother issue with the state of the church. We may celebrate legit wins but I still think He is oft times looking down and just shaking His head…oh, you distracted children….

    1. Adam McLane Avatar

      @joycobb:disqus I just don’t think it’s OK to bash women. We need to call it out, the good old boys are killing the church.

      1. Joy Cobb Avatar
        Joy Cobb

        agree…i think i’m just sadly used to it… 🙁

    2. Melanie Crutchfield Avatar

      Please don’t get used to it. When women lose their value we all lose. For some that means getting passed up for jobs, for others that means ignoring talents and gifts, for others it means abuse and exploitation. I know that sometimes you need a tough skin just to survive, but if we don’t fight now, the next generation of women will have to fight even harder.

      1. Adam McLane Avatar

        Agreed, Melanie. We must keep fighting, we must not let demeaning messages go unchecked, and we must not be complacent.

  3. paul turner Avatar
    paul turner

    Good thoughts for reflection about the language we use when we talk with our students.

  4. Hannah Adams Ingram Avatar

    Thank God Jesus is the hope of the world… a church bashing 50% of the world’s population is no hope…

  5. soulmanlv Avatar

    Great stuff. Hybels should know better than to identify leadership as the primary spiritual gift. The transition from 1 Cor. 12 to 13 identifies love as the primary spiritual gift, without which all the rest are meaningless, and can even become demonic.

  6. Melanie Crutchfield Avatar

    Woman bashing from the stage? Yeah…awesome leadership. High five for propagating gender stereotypes that hold us all back.

  7. Todd Porter Avatar

    Didn’t Jesus charge the disciples (i.e. the church) to carry out His mission after He left? So the church spreading the message of Jesus makes them the hope of the world, because if we don’t spread that message then it won’t be spread.

    I agree that Bill should have taken the time to invite the man and perhaps he did, but the point he was making was that Willow had been there so long and in many ways had lost their purpose in being there. Yeah, just sending out flyers is lame, but did you miss the part where he talked about starting up many Alpha groups and how people were getting saved as a result? Or the part where he mentioned that they started using the curriculum “Just Walk Across the Room” to begin to get the people in their church to start sharing the Gospel?

    I must have missed some of the slams on women. Who said things like that? 1/3 of their speakers were women, so I don’t think that they don’t believe in women. Not too mention that Nancy Beach is a key leader at Willow. My pastor who was on staff at Willow said that they have a culture of empowering women. Whatever comments were made were obviously done in humor (albeit poor taste).

    Bill’s comment about leadership being the best gift was a joke. He was speaking to leaders, so he knew it would play off as a joke.

    It is interesting that you started off saying “Deconstruction is so… 2005.” and then proceed to deconstruct the summit. Just an observation.

    1. Adam McLane Avatar

      Go back and listen again. How many jokes were there at the secretaries expense? Did Groschel not make fun of mother-in-laws? It went on and on.

      Like I said, it all felt very insider ish and harmless fun. But when were men used as the bad example?

      Yes, Willow has done some great things in elevating the roles of women. And yes, there were very strong female speakers.

      As far as deconstruction vs reconstruction, the entire point of this post is that we can do better. As a leader, we need to stand on Jesus’ shoulders and stand up for women, men, and children.

      1. Todd Porter Avatar

        I missed Groeschel’s talk, so I can’t say anything about that. However, I hope to be able to watch it later.

        Can’t men be secretaries? Isn’t that sexist of you to assume that they are all women? 😛

        You are right we can do better. Of course, he also offended Brits and cat lovers. Let’s not forget them. 🙂

        1. Adam McLane Avatar

          Actually, I loved Groschell’s talk as a whole. (Like he said in one of those post-game interview things, he wished he had time to talk more directly to young leaders.)

          Call it a beef, but I just don’t like the idea that when you need an easy laugh for an audience of pastors you go to a woman. I’m all about jokes, just make them equal opportunity… and a man in a position of influence should be extra careful that he’s not giving another man permission that it’s OK. There is rampant inequality in women in leadership in the American church, we have to lift women up whenever we have the opportunity.

          I think the most annoying thing to me is that a parenthesis in this post has hijacked a discussion of the substance of the post. (Just like I don’t remember what Bill said in the opener, just that he bashed people for laughs.)

          1. Todd Porter Avatar

            Then let’s discuss my reply about point 2. I think Bill did ultimately respond by encouraging his people to be the good news rather then just pointing to marketing.

  8. accc Avatar

    Instead of judging and jumping to conclusions, listen to the entire series of messages and make your own observations. I heard and saw all of it and asked other women who were there. They didn’t hear or feel that anything was woman bashing. In fact many of the speakers and topics had Avery positive message about the worth and value of women. Negativity is not helpful.

    1. Adam McLane Avatar

      “Negativity is not helpful.” Actually, most of the examples given today of people who affected change were initially dismissed as “negative.” I was listening, too.

      Today was much, much better IMO. I just don’t think it is helpful to make women as the butt of the joke to the exclusion of men. The church, in particularly the conservative evangelical church, is very very far from where it can be in embracing and respecting women in leadership.

      – Women are rarely paid the same.
      – Women are rarely given equal authority/roles even with equal experience, education, giftedness.

      As others commented, I think we’re just used to it so we don’t even notice it. But it is a bias and one that deserves correction.

      It’s totally fine if you don’t agree. But raising the question and wondering about what I’ve heard is not inherently negative. It is asking us, as a tribe, to be better.

      1. Michael Avatar

        matthew 7:1-6

  9. Jimmy Spencer Jr Avatar

    Good stuff. The greatest sin of American Christians is our lack of imagination that Jesus would show up and not look like us and ‘do’ church like us. We need to strongly consider that our ‘methods’ destroy much of the natural, organic work that the Holy Spirit is already doing across much of the world.

    If we aren’t prepared to at least consider that our church methods and models are as much a part fo the problem (as opposed to the ‘solution’) then we have fallen prey to the same lack of imagination that plagued the Pharisees who met Jesus when he showed up in Jerusalem.

  10. Michael Avatar

    how can you honestly say “no criticizing or tearing down”…thats all that was man. I watched the same conference with my staff. God uses all of us differently, and our ministries differently. And i saw no bashing of women from the stage…1/3 of the speakers were women

    1. Michael Avatar

      Read Matthew 7:1-6

      1. Adam McLane Avatar

        What’s the title of this post, again?

  11. Brandon Avatar

    Unfortunatley, these things all sound way too familiar for the local church and denominational leadership…..not always, but most of the time. What the western church needs, is retraining. Now how about a blog post on that!

  12. Bob Cheney Avatar

    Adam, I went to WCAGLS with our church staff for the fourth consecutive year. I have always enjoyed the summit, and each year walk away with valuable insights. However, I too was scratching my head this year about a couple of things.

    The most significant thing I just could not agree with was the over-importance that was placed on the gift of leadership. I mean, what could we expect at a conference called the “Global LEADERSHIP Summit” (emphasis added)? But even still, the idea that the spiritual gift of leadership somehow carried more weight than other gifts of the Spirit (though not emphatically stated as far as I can remember), bothered me throughout the two days.

    The height of that nagging in my spirit came in the moment you mentioned in your thoughts above; when Bill Hybels basically thanked God that he didn’t have the other spiritual gifts. It was as if the majority of the conference spoke to lead pastors with the gift of leadership and the rest of the people of God were insignificant peons that desperately needed the lead pastors leadership gift applied to their life or everything would fall apart at the seams!

    Okay, not that I have that off my chest. I just found myself walking away thinking, “What about all the other gifts listed in scripture? Is leadership all about being the decision maker, making hard decisions or having hard conversations? Did Bill really thank God for not having the other gifts?” Anyway, I did find this year to be hard to swallow for the first time in the last four years. I’m not sure if WCAGLS has changed or if I have, or maybe a little of both. But I find myself not looking forward to it near as much for next year.

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