A friendly dissenter’s view from the Willow Leadership Summit
Last year’s Leadership Summit filled me with all kinds of hope. In the past, Willow Creek’s Summits have been more about building great institutions with heroic leadership and great strategy. While that isn’t all bad, I think it reflects more of a North American approach to church than a Kingdom one. The Kingdom is counter-cultural and not about building sleek organizations.
Last year gave me hope because they seemed to be less about building brands and more about Kingdom stuff – a pastor from South Africa, a single mother who moved into the poorest part of Detroit, stuff like that. Maybe, I thought, things are changing.
I think things are changing. Hybels has caught a vision for social justice, for instance. But maybe things need to change more.
Yesterday I heard that the parable of the weeds from Matthew 13 is about getting rid of the enemies of church growth in your church. No mention of Jesus’ explanation of the parable, which is completely different, or that Jesus explained that we shouldn’t go trying to pull out the weeds. No matter what Jesus said! Pull out the weeds that are preventing your church from growing. Your church can grow by a thousand in the coming year. You have to believe and it will happen. Pull those weeds!
To which I reply: more positive church growth thinking isn’t likely to get us where we need to go in a post-Christendom culture. The answers are harder, maybe a bit more theological, maybe a little bit more Kingdom and a little less human strategy and brilliance.
I am not trying to criticize Willow here – they are brothers and sisters, and I get caught up in this as much as anyone. But if the church growth movement is going to transform culture, where is the evidence of that over the past twenty or thirty years? Books like Selling Out the Church? help us ask good questions about church marketing and other modern approaches to doing church.
I can’t help but thinking sometime that we need to stop looking within the North America for guidance on how to be the church in these days.
I am really not trying to slam Willow. I am grateful for them. They have enormous influence and I pray that God uses it. And I do not want to be the one to argue for bad leadership instead of good leadership.
But what we really need may not be more lessons on leadership, but more discernment about the forces that are shaping the church that have nothing to do with the Kingdom. That is the kind of leadership we need at such a time as this.