The 2016 GLS teaching would leave a discerning saint hungry and thirsty for more healthy, spiritually uncorrupted fare, our physical pangs were well sated.
Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit
Streamed at Highland Community Church
Sun Prairie, WI
11 and 12 August 2016
Bill Hybels can get the Gospel right...when he's so inclined.
Early on in the time he gave himself as host/speaker/organizer of the 22nd annual Global Leadership Summit (GLS), the pastor of Chicagoland's Willow Creek Community Church (WC) explained the difference between Christianity and every other faith one can possess as the difference between "done" and "do"; where Christ's atonement (and Hybels used that word) did the work for one to access God's forgiveness, any other religion requires its adherents to work, or do, for acceptance by the Almighty.
The use of another word, sin, would have strengthened Hybels' pithy presentation. But, as said a lady seated at the table where my friends, whose church afforded me the gratis trip to one of GLS' hundreds of satellite-feed locations worldwide, and I were, that's a divisive word in a crowd that may be rife with non-Christian professionals She seemed a bit gobsmacked at my reply about how that's rather the point of the Gospel.
That exchange points to what an odd event GLS is. Hybels claims God gave him the vision for it, but most of its speakers don't talk much about Him, especially from a biblically orthodox understanding. Hybels', to use the Christianese, "heart" for the conference seems to be for non-sectarian leadership development, with an added emphasis on the transformational value of active local church congregations. Yet, not only does the plurality of GLS attendees appear to be church workers, or already professing believers, but Hybels sounded as if he wanted to distance himself and his prerogative for GLS' from the talk given by the two-day summit's final guest speaker, the most Christocentric among the lot of 13 keynote talkers. More later on the reasons behind the reasons for speaking of churches as societal transformation agents-as opposed to the Lord transforming individual lives-and the GLS speaker who may have upset the carefully stacked rhetorical and ideological applecart Hybels assembled.
After his reasonably decent done/do analogy, however, it didn't take long for Hybels to stumble from what first appeared to be soft-sold, but biblical footing. Possibly a bit less troubling, in his introduction citing celebrities known by their signature eyewear for his opening address about four eyeglass analogies for leadership, he referenced U2's lead caterwauler Bono, as "our friend." Yes, the Irish rocker has spoken at a previous GLS; he has also been known to wear a Coexist headband and chant "Jesus, Jew, Muhammad, it's true!" during his band's concerts. If Hybels is praying for and communicating with the erstwhile Paul Hewson in so far as comprehending the salvific exclusivity of the first entity in that ridiculous rhyme, wonderful. But nether am I holding my breath on that.
More concerning from the angle of exegeting Scripture, however, was his questionable use of Luke 23:42 in the portion of his address about rear view glasses, meant to represent leaving a legacy. To hear Hybels tell it, the thief forgiven by Jesus on the cross changed his legacy by his last-minute pardon. Were it not for Holy Writ, no one but the parties involved would have known of that great exchange, and most of the crowd watching history's most famous triple-crucifixion still knew the thief for his thieving earthly legacy.
Amid his assured oratory in his introductory session, presenting speakers, pitching for donations to spread the GLS further about the planet than it already is, another session with psychologist Henry Cloud and Hybels' authoress daughter, Shauna Niequist about "leadership illusions," and other duties, Mr. Willow Creek's dubious affiliations and proclivities became apparent:
In speaking of how effective leaders should regularly fill their "passion bucket," he gave an illustration of how he got his to overflow one time during a trip to Jordan by funding an operation to fix a boy's droopy eye.
Doubtless that was generous act, though Hybels didn't reveal whether it was his congregation's, its affiliated Willow Creek Association (technically GLS'; sponsoring organization) and/or his personal income that got the doctors busy. Yet, being in a position to share the life-changing, eternal truth of the sovereign Lord every weekend to a congregation of 25,000+ should be enough to leave the proverbial ground around that metaphorical bucket soaked for a lifetime or three. Merely being saved by the Holy Spirit's application of that truth should do likewise. What's that about streams of living water in John 7:38, anyway? Ah, but one of the catagorical errors in equating the secular business world with the business of a faithful body of the remnant, that bucket bunkum.
When shilling for donations Hybels spoke of those in his audience who may be "afflicted by affluence." This is the kind of class-divisive rhetoric to be expected from his contemporaries on the so-called "red letter" evangelical left such as Ron Sider and Tony Campolo, neither of whom are likely currently living a mendicant's life.
Also, after you've already told us that you've made at least one trip to the Mideast and go on further to tell of your times on an island and in a cruise ship stateroom to decompress and have aviation and sailing among your hobbies, you may want keep your yap trapped about this particular affliction. Even the biblically semi-literate among us know of the 1 Timothy 6:10 admonition regarding the love of money, and being made to feel guilty about having some is a most antagonistic motivational technique. And if having copious dosh to spare can be likened to a disease, infect me a bit already! Some of us have never been on a cruise, y'know.
In discussing why comedian Danny Junior wasn't present at this year's GLS as at the past few, Hybels mentioned how the comic joshed that pastor-in-chief had written The Purpose Driven Life. Hybels said that he would have liked to have been responsible for that mega-bestseller.
Would that be because of all the afflicting money it made Rick Warren? Or because Hybels sees nothing wrong with the book, problematic in manifold ways, likely one the greatest producers of false converts in the last half-century? Since boats, aircraft and trips to sharia-compliant heckholes don't pay for themselves...and because both Hybels and Warren share the mentoring of late Austrian business management specialist/spiritual syncretist Peter Drucker (he gravitated to a numerous beliefs, but was adamant that he wasn't Christian), either could be the case. Drucker's influence on evangelicalism has been so deleterious pervasive that it deserves a dedicated article, or book, but one frame of reference for that influence was often articulated by Hybels and WC's executive pastrix and GLS co-MC, Heather Larson: the transformational power of the local church. That idea infers Drucker's interest in harnessing non-profit entities, especially (mega-)churches, in conjunction with private industry and government as change agents to bring about global-hey!-communitarian socialism. Warren and Bill Buford of parachurch organization Leadership Network are better known as Drucker apologists, but Hybels has fallen under his sway as well.
GLS' epicenter may be Hybels, but he is not meant to be its sole attraction. Twelve other main speakers filled out two days of teaching. The one best known out of eccelesiastical and business circles would have to be Melinda Gates, wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
She wasn't, however, a speaker as such, but an interview subject for Hybels' live questioning. She came off eloquently poised on NPR's news-based comedy quiz show, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me! a couple years ago, so I knew her to be an engaging interlocutor. And how much more engaging she must have be since the man questioning her lobbed a basket full of softballs about her charitable work, administering the giveaway of fellow rich leftist Warren Buffet's fortune, her relationship with her computer nerd multibillionaire husband and keeping her children grounded amidst massive wealth. Conveniently left out of the conversation were any mention the couple's abortion advocacy and their influence on and funding of the Obama administration's controversial Common Core public education policy, by which Microsoft stands to reap hefty profit via sales of software to school districts. Hybels did ask her to elaborate on her spirituality, though. Gates is inclined toward the Roman Catholicism of her youth, supplemented by the "contemplative" discipline of silence and daily reading of "spiritual" literature (in the same way the Common Core reading list is "educational"?) by candlelight. It appears Gates would find herself at home during Willow Creek's papist/new age ecumenical nights of spiritual experimentation called The Practice. Sigh...
Likely the oddest fit for many GLS attendees whose ministerial and business concerns are strictly domestic was Erin Meyer. Yet her presentation about interacting with people of many different nationalities, based on her Culture Map book, was among the most engrossing. We in the U.S. communicate with little in the way of context surrounding our words. Interactions with colleagues in other countries, however, may necessitate sensitivity to facial expressions, social customs, even the "air" in a room. Meyer appears to have studied the subject well to specialize in a kind of applied ethnology and sociology hybrid. There's little in the way of information to be found online regarding her religious background, but her willingness to number the United Nations among of her clients could speak to her being sympathetic to some of Hybels' ideological direction.
If Meyer may fits into a narrow niche for the median GLS ticket buyer, Travis Bradberry's talk could have the broadest application. His background in dual branches of psychology paved the path for him to become an expert on emotional intelligence. And who doesn't have emotions?! The inclusion of Paul Rudd and Will Smith movie clips illustrating examples of different degrees of emotional intelligence made his spiel more memorable, but he was still a slick, easy communicator. Where is he with the Lord? No easy telling, but psychology and Christianity are the most compatible bodies of knowledge. Among his tips to increase one's EQ (like IQ, but for emotions), his sub-point about not exposing oneself to blue light-which includes that from computer monitors-after dark to help clean up sleep hygiene, will be a toughie for me.
The marquee draw actual business achiever this year was probably Alan Mulally. If you've any experience with Boeing jets and Ford automobiles during during certain periods over the past 45 years, Mulally has had something to do with the quality of their products and corporate cultures. Good humored, plain spoken and either genuinely humble or putting on a good show of feigning it, Mullally offered fairly common sense principles, all or most of which would comport with scripture. His encouragement for leaders to have fun with those following then but not to resort to humor that at anyone's individual expense seems like especially solid advice. If Wikipedia is to be believed, a Congregationalist pastor had a profound impact him as a boy. If he still adheres to that brand of Protestantism, Mullaly should have no truck, heh heh, with Hybels, as the latter's seeker'mergent aberration takes up the gauntlet of liberalism mainline denominations once more popularly wielded.
The other biggie from the business, as opposed to business theory and motivation, world on hand to talk, Horst Schulze of Capella and Ritz Carlton hotel chains, in roughly equal measure proffered confusion and simplicity. The confusion came from his admission that he wasn't at first sure whether he was supposed to give the same speech he gave last time he spoke at GLS;with Hybels' and Willow Creek Association (WCA) president Gary Schwammlein's insistence on fresh annual fodder, the distinguished-looking Schulze must have had a previously unused script on hand. Yet t his elegant spiel on treating customers with kindness, efficiency and expertise is sensibly timeless, and his broad insistence that everyone in one way or another is in the hospitality biz, shrewd and astute. Though much of what Schulze philosophized could be transferred to ecclesiology, and godly behavior overall, clergy taking notes kept in mind...hopefully...that parishoners in their congregations are neither customers nor clients, but souls to be nurtured in radical truth;that can be a far messier proposition than making sure there are enough clean sheets for your multiple floors of beds. The other confusion Schulze brought to GLS? That would be his thick German accent, which on a few occasions would have benefited from subtitles for those of watching by satellite-or computer for the few times a glitch came between sky and screen-feed.
On a side note, Schulze's ordinary speaking fee runs between $25,001 and $40,000, as listed by the speakers agency booking him; if every other speaker was paid his or her going rate in the non-church world, it's not only no surprise that GLS tickets are pricy as they are, but that there's no access to what its seat-fillers hear without spending more for access to the recorded speeches. The kind of leadership training Hybels and Schwammlein insist is biblical comes at a gilt-edged price, for sure. Might one assume the military bases and correctional facilities receiving GLS are granted it gratis by WCA's good graces?
Worth at least some of whatever fee he received fee for the resonance of his voice alone may be John Maxwell. The business leadership author and speaker was like the sumptuous dessert to Mulally's tide-you-over saltines. Maxwell's talk of adding value to others' lives, a concept he never really defined, being likeable, trustworthy and helpful and how anything worth achieving is an uphill climb sounded like Motivation 101. It's his rich, basso tone and folksy eloquence that makes it all go down like melted butter (on a dessert?;sure!). I can't recall what critique of his theology that's come my way in the past, but considering that the purported 6,000,000,000+leaders he has trained would include fellow Amway acolytes during my time in that money sect. it's probably safe to assume, self-described man of faith though he claims to be, discernment issues are at least a little fuzzy to him.
The more technical business writers taking the stage were some of the funniest talkers on the bill, even if their bailiwicks weren't in my roundhouse. They were, however, of greater interest to the pastorate in my party. Again, some of what biz authors Patrick Lencioni (another GLSer to rep' papism, though, strangely, he wrapped up his session with allusions to biblical prophecy and Christian persecution coming to the U.S.) and Chris McChesney (executive at the Mormom-founded Franklin Covey, but information on his own background is scant) were on about may be in their respective bits about being the ideal team player and strategy execution could apply to the church militant. Even then, it would be more specifically pertinent pastoral staff and other church workers. Still, Christianity and its administration in Word and sacrament are neither product nor, in the way of commercial transaction, service. And uproarious as Lencioni and McChesney were during their allotted times, wouldn't it behoove Hybels, since he declare GLS a thing birthed of the Lord, to seek out panelists who are assured Christian to talk of practices that can apply equally to sacred and secular contexts?
Last among catagories of speakers at GLS are clergy other than Hybels. Most infamous among that number has to be T.D. Jakes. The, harrumph Bishop of Dallas' Potter's House congregation was treated even more deferentially than was Gates. Hybels came to the set of Jakes' impending television talk show to discuss his fellow mega-church honcho's various entrepreneurial ventures, racial relations and probably at last half-cocked speculation about why Christ would speak to multitudes but only have 12 apostles. No doubt his Maker gave Jakes a booming voice and oratorical gift along with a sharp mind for business. But beyond the point of church and business necessarily being uneasy bedfellows, holding up a preacher whose view of God's triune nature has been polluted by the "Jesus-only" modalism (God existing in three manifestations, but never all three at once, much less two) and his promulgation of prosperity gospel/word-faith heterodoxy make him no model of biblical soundness. That Hybels addressed him as "pastor" and "bishop" only exacerbates the unearned credibility. The shot in the pre-interview hype montage of Jakes and renowned new ager/universalist Oprah Winfrey holding upraised hands-perhaps from the episode of the latter's TV gabfest wherein he, Deepak Chopra and motivational poobah Tony Robbins brought her out as a "Christian"-should have been enough put off anyone with half a cell's worth of spiritual discrimination. Were Jakes to speak at a leadership conference with no specific spiritual grounding, these matters might not be problematic as Hybel's cant help but make them by insisting GLS is a thing birthed of God.
Regarding the Salvation Army, I don't know how far it is the sloping on downgrade that has brought The Potter's House and Willow Creek to their respective states of wanting; if pastrix/officer (that's her Army designation) Danielle Strickland represents the organization, it appears William Booth's brainchild is foundering, too. Upon seeing her a while back in a replay of leaders speaking at Leadership Network's Exponential church growth conference (yeah, I've been to various parts of the evangelical industrial complex beast's digestive system), she struck me as glib. This time out, within a talk that conflated some text from Judges 6, Martin Luther King Jr,.and a chart she had us draw about co-dependency, arrogance, dependence on God, humility and some such, she missed an opportunity to share the Gospel with greater clarity than Hybels did the first day. She seems to really be fostering a healthy self-image for her young son of whom she spoke glowingly. Something, that, yes, but Gospel communication? No.
Jossy Chacko must be a preacher of some kind if his goal is to plant 100,000 churches through his Empart Inc. group. Since his concern and its church-planting operation are listed in the conference note-taking booklet as being about "[igniting] holistic community transformation among the unreached and needy people of Asia," and the function of the church as articulated in Ephesians is to edify and equip individual believers who, in turn effect change in their given spheres of operation by spreading the Good News further, it sure seems like this East Indian with an ebullient smile has also caught the WC/Druckerite/collectivist bug. Like Hybels and others also so infected on this year's GLS platform, Chacko didn't elaborate on his sources of extra-scriptural inspiration. His talk of vision, risk, reach and empowerment could almost pass for edits left from the final draft of Bruce Wilkison's dubious turn-of-the-current-century bestseller The Prayer of Jabez. Thanks, but no, please.
With with all of the mess surrounding those presuming to be church leaders at GLS, how the hey did Wilfredo De Jesus make the bill?! And did Hybels know just how uncompromising this Chicago Assembly of God pastor would be in as the final guest speaker before the host's benedictory send-off? De Jesus may have his own mess about his ministry, but, not because my own church affiliation is an Assembly, huzzah to a preacher who spoke authoritatively from scripture an from a vantage point where he need not go to Africa nor Asia to encounter real hurt, too often to fatal ends, that challenges the Church to be as Christ unto those more afflicted by matters more dire than a cushy bank account;the environs of De Jesus' Windy City church body are war-like enough to warrant a lawn of white crosses representing all the gunfire killings in Chicago this year. Considering WC's own position in the biblically unfounded movement for Christianity to "evolve," it took some godly gumption for De Jesus to speak of a Church that should remain steady and unchanging, but culturally engaged. And what with how Exodus International, back when that ministry was active and interested in helping people overcome attraction t their own sex, was ushered out of WC and the tolerance of music leaders so inclined among Willow Creek's praise&worship teams, the denunciation of homosexual marriage by Pastor Choco, as De Jesus is nicknamed, couldn't have been a balm to Hybels' spirit, either. The encouragement to the audience to shout "Amen!" a few times may, however, at last amused Smilin' Bill.
As Hybels wrapped up this year's GLS, he didn't seem quite the cucumber cool conductor of compromise-and, oh yes, leadership!-he was at the start of the day prior. He even spoke of, as if he's arbiter of such a quality, discernment and using it to process the summit's contents. Might De Jesus have been the Nathan to confront WC's Davidic empire of accommodation to the world and false spirituality? That may be overstating the case by at least a hairsbreadth and giving De Jesus a touch too much credit. Yet, I'd like think Hybels and Choco have by now had a long talk or three about how Willow Creek should go back to whatever biblical footing it had at its founding, or establishing those footings in the first place. Here's wondering, too, whether De Jesus will ever be a GLS guest again.
On a subject not so fraught, the mostly live interstitial music between sessions was largely enjoyable and in a variety of styles. One or two of what I'll assume were new songs written by members of Willow Creek Arts even possess some orthodox doctrinal meat. Whatever good could come from that, however, was considerably diminished by the presence of a recent trifle of a Justin Timberlake hit, performed a capella with human beatboxing. The Asian fellow singing something that sounded akin to a '90s commercial country radio mid-tempo banger was a more welcome innovation.
And were there snacks? Aplenty, in GLS-branded boxes of a size that could fit a toddler's shoes chocked with goodies from Frito-Lay, Kellogg's and smaller brands, both savory and sweet. Don't think that kept us from heading out for a couple of excellent lunches at nearby eateries though. The host church also lacked neither bottled and hot water, coffee nor a wide variety of bagged teas, either.
So, even as much of the 2016 GLS teaching would leave a discerning saint hungry and thirsty for more healthy, spiritually uncorrupted fare, our physical pangs were well sated. May that ratio at last be even in Global Leadership Summits to come.
Jamie Lee Rake
For Further Consideration
*Church Of Tares: Purpose Driven, Seeker Sensitive, Church Growth & New World Order
Elliot Nesch's three-hour documentary meticulously examines the origins and implications of the subjects listed in its subtitle. Special attention is given to Peter Drucker's influence.
*Sound The Alarm:The Dangers of the Word of Faith Movement
Emmanuel Davis; nearly two-doc; takes a even keeled look at Jakes' and his fellow prosperity gospel promulgators' theological bent, with which Hybels is copacetic, it appears.
*"Collectivism In The Church:How Did We Get Here?"
This 2012 of the Stand Up For The Truth radio show cuts through the heady weeds of the seeker/emergent onslaught with the assistance of Pirate Fighting For The Faith's Chris Rosebrough. A notepad and pen could be useful for the 52-miute episode.
Also from SUFTT, "Who Is Peter Drucker And What Did He Do With Our Church," with guest Mary Danielsen of The Things 2 Come prophecy blog (http://thethings2come.org)
*"Willow Creek’s “The Practice” blends New Age & Catholic Mysticism"
This article from the Berean Research discernment blog uncovers ecumenical dangers of The Practice, a Willow Creek adjunct founded by Bill Hybels' son-in-law.