Saturday, August 11, 2007

Leadership Summit

I spent the last three days attending the Leadership Summit of the Willow Creek Association at one of the several hundred satellite sites to which it is broadcast. This is my fourth time to attend--once at the South Barrington, Illinois, campus. I am sure that there will be some who will wonder why I attend this conference and ask "What can you learn from a flashy, seeker-oriented, mega-church?"

Honestly, I believe that this is one of the best leadership conferences offered. The program planners bring in a diverse group of speakers from the church, management, and business. This year's roster included Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard; Marcus Buckingham, author and management consultant; Colin Powell, former Secretary of State; John Ortberg, pastor of Menlo Park (CA) Presbyterian Church; Richard Curtis, writer, film maker, and poverty activist; and Jimmy Carter, former President of the US. They are not afraid to bring folks to the platform who might present views that diverge from those of their primarily evangelical, conservative audience (Bill Clinton has even been on the program). In fact, the mix reminds me of the old SBC Christian Life Commission seminars that featured people like John Claypool, Jerry Clower, Brooks Hays, Jimmy Carter, and Robert Schuller (among others). You might not agree with everything they said, but at least you were able to hear them present their views in their own words. As pastor Bill Hybels asked,"Who can a leader learn from?" The answer, of course, is "Anyone you are willing to listen to and whose views you will to thoughtfully consider."

Willow Creek Church itself has been proactive in many areas that other churches have been reluctant to address. They openly engage the culture through music, dance, drama, and other media. They are strong proponents for women in leadership roles (including ministry). They not only talk about racial reconciliation but the church is actively seeking to become more racially diverse. They are dealing aggressively with issues like poverty and HIV/AIDS.

Willow is an easy target. One does not have to go far to find something to criticize, but isn't that true of any church? Whether they are doing things the right way may be open to discussion, but at least they are trying!

Whom can we learn from? You would be surprised.

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