Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Becoming Less

Bill Hybels is considered, by critics and admirers alike, the pioneer of the modern "seeker church" movement. He founded Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois nearly 30 years ago and led it to becoming one of the largest churches in North America.

I recall in a so-called "mutt session" on church growth at the church's 1996 Leadership Conference that Hybels talked about the transition the church made to a collaborative teaching structure. At one time, Hybels, as senior pastor, was pretty mcuh the only preacher in the weekend services. But he recognized that teaching was not his primary gift, leadership was. He still planned to teach, but he thought it valuable to raise up other voices in the pastoral team and begin a rotating preaching schedule. Hybels continued to be the lead pastor for the church's leadership team, but he became one of a few regular voices in the Willow Creek pulpit.

He could have easily maintained that pulpit monopoly. In fact, many of the congregants expected him to. But realizing his own strengths and weaknesses, and fearing for the church becoming, even by accident, a cult of personality, he gave up a fair share of time as the public face of Willow Creek.
And in this way, the collaborative teaching structure of Willow Creek has given evangelicalism important and influential pastoral voices like John Ortberg and Lee Strobel.

Bill Hybels is known for his passion, drive, and priority on excellence and quality. He is the founding pastor of what was until recently America's largest megachurch. But he had a firm knowledge of his own strengths and weaknesses and a heart for his church's growth, not for his own exposure. I suspect this is how the American pastor with the most right to be arrogant and influential came to write a great book on humility called Descending Into Greatness.


At 11:37 AM, Blogger judas icarus said...

I would also like to point out that Willow Creek has an incredibly large portion of "sustained" seekers in their congregation who have become long-term believers... and Willow Creek is a full-service church.... providing for the new and the old and the in-between... that have come to know Jesus Christ.

The thrust of their church is not so "narrow" as to clog it's arteries and choke off the seasoned "seeker" who has grown beyond the... "I was afraid of church"... "I never went to church"... "Church is too religious" and etc....

BCC has grown immensely in this regard... from the time I was on staff.... and opened many more arteries for growth... while trying very hard to maintain a very "seeker" oriented image. I think that is healthy and I believe that many on staff and among the elders have truly tried to live up to the BCC's statement of Faith and BCC's core values.

I think some would say... you can't have your cake and eat it too... when it comes to whether or not BCC can sustain this broader scope of statments and grow it's seekers while bringing new seekers to a place they can accept Christ...

But, I say that cake is created with human ingredients and baked in an oven of doubt...

I prefer to believe that God can do anything... that nothing is impossible... that I, we and BCC... can do all things through Christ....

And, having our leaders become less... and descend into greatness.... and sincerely advocate and support collaborative teaching.... is the recipe God just might be looking up for BCC's "cake".

Kind regards,

C. Evan Leonard

At 11:55 AM, Blogger Jared said...

Evan, right.
Willow Creek has been a favorite whipping boy of some, and while they have their fair share of flaws, they do an incredible amount of things right. And those things tend to be the important things like community, service, and actual spiritual growth.

Lee Strobel, for example, who is perhaps best known for his books "The Case for Christ" and "The Case for Faith" first came to Willow as an agnostic journalist tagging along with his believing wife. He eventually became a teaching pastor at the church.

Over the years lots of folks have tried to clone what Willow does at their own churches, to varying degrees of success, but over time I've come to think of Willow Creek has really a very one-of-a-kind place. There is something about what they do and how they do it that just works so well where they are. How they manage to create such a palpable sense of community and to authentically disciple new believes with so many people coming in and out, I don't know.

But I think we can figure out what principles they have that are transferable and apply them.

At 8:24 PM, Blogger judas icarus said...

I would also like to point out that Willow Creek, like many other vibrant churches, has an outreach side:

They offer conferences year round that open the doors to wider-reaching collaboration and the sharing of knowledge, experience and techniques (if you will) for developing a more vibrant and contemporary-sensitive church. They specifically offer the Creative Arts conferences to better educate and facilitate churches that are trying to reach the very, attention deficit, world we live in via the.... creative arts.

That leads me to making a point that I haven't seen made anywhere in the midst of all the blogging going on... and it has to do with vision.... but the larger vision of what a church can do to reach the lost.... draw the seeker... and sustain the believer... that live beyond the "it's too far to drive" reservations that many have.

It has to do with ministries within the church:

When you look at all the ministries at BCC.... you can find several that are world-class... and I've heard that said about several.

One, in particular, is close to my heart as a "worship" guy... and it is the music ministry.

I know for a fact that the leadership (i.e. specifically David Foster via his appointed gatekeeper(s)....) was approached about making a concerted effort to take the wonderful, original music (including new arrangements of cover material) beyond the auditorium at BCC. It was met with LESS than luke warm interest. At best, BCC has produced a couple of CD's and some MP3's posted here and there, held a few concerts... some writer's nights and the like.... over it's history. And, that is admirable.... and worth noting.

But not much has been done to really, seriously promote it beyond BCCville... like other things have been promoted. My question is why? Why has little credence been given to the truth that the praise and worship music pouring out of the gifted and talented music ministry crew over the years is as much of a viable outreach as the series and lectures and books of David Foster?

I have my opinions about that.... but I see it as akin to hiding a major light on the hill at BCC under a bushel. I find it hard to understand how this area of ministry has been limited, controlled and kept hidden from the world at large. Again, I have my opinions.

But we can all agree on this, I think:

We live in Music City USA and the cream of the crop have shown up over the years to serve at BCC.... while sharing their song-writing gifts, musicianship, vocal talents and arrangements of some amazing music. That is not to demean or make less of those that are not "professional"... in fact, it has been one of the most cohesive ministries at BCC... considering the mixture of both. I believe an authentic church can and does benefit from both entities. That mixture... in fact.... makes the music ministry at BCC pretty unique in many ways. I just think it's been stymied, stunted and given less than deserved consideration regarding it's potential global impact.

Check out HopePres.com.... and look at what they have been working on for the past several years. They are in Memphis. A very capable and passionate fellow has been instrumental in forging the same possibility, dream and vision I speak of here. He has had the full support of his church body, the staff and his Pastor(s). Memphis, folks.... if they can do it.... can't we????

But, to further my point.... why has this area been so overlooked? Why would there not be a "passionate" desire to amplify and magnify the value and authenticity of the local music ministry at BCC.... beyond the walls of the sanctuary? Considering all I've heard and continue to hear about... commitment to excellence and etc.... at BCC.

A few CD's and such are a fine step in that direction.... but the music ministry area needs and could use an augmented leadership and an augmented direction at BCC. It would benefit so many.... it would bless so many. To argue that it wouldn't... would be to say that it hasn't.... and I think there would be few that would say it hasn't been a blessing and a benefit. In fact, some might say... it has been an equal draw to the "great speaking" at BCC. And, for those that say.... they go hand in hand... I can agree.... but I say they also can stand alone. And, well they should.

So, here's a paradox wrapped in an enigma.... due to the usual arguments that it's a budget issue or that's just not part of the focus of the overall church vision..... and etc....

But, what is left out here is.... once again... God. God may very well be willing to bless that possibility.... that dream... that vision.... but it, to my knowledge, has never been brought forth to Him in a prayerful and reliant on the Holy Spirit regard. I have often wondered why....? Lack of vision, lack of leadership? What? Maybe somebody can tell me.

But, if it has.... somebody please correct me.... I will always be willing to stand corrected. I would only say that... it would seem very odd to have all these gifts and talents in one place and God not be aware of the seed(s).... that only need watered by prayer. There really has to be a "want to".... I believe.... and I just feel there really never has been.

Anyway, that is just one ministry area that has long been utilized below it's full potential as a resource for BCC, the world at large and for God.

I can't help feeling that it may continue to be kept hidden... but I intend on approaching the leadership at BCC... once again.... and asking them to commit that possibility, that dream, that vision.... to serious, sincere prayer. "Ask and you'll be given, seek and you will find".... and you know the deal.... even the basic... "where there's a will, there's a way"... could be apropos.

Imagine.... just imagine.... what that would mean. If you need examples.... look around at other vibrant churches (besides Hope Pres.com) that have successfully mentored, edified and helped launch some amazing praise and worship ministries.... that have gone on to do more than simply be used to enhance a plethora of lecture series at one church... like the one isolated.... to a degree.... for a long time... on a hill in Bellevue, Tennessee.

I would also argue that BCC has had the great fortune of having some of the most humble and Christ-centered people in it's music ministry... past and present.... that surely could and would have a great impact beyond BCC.... given the possibility. Is that a door worth opening... or praying will be opened? I really believe it is.

Maybe the time is now.... maybe the timing is right.... maybe there is nothing standing in the way of that possibility.... that dream... that vision... except petitioning God to bless the endeavor. I know of many that would give their all... and, really have in the past and have recently.

I wish the "if you're gonna dream, dream big" catch phrase really was for the bigger picture... not the modified and myopic picture that has long been hanging in the music ministry hallway at BCC.

Kind regards,

C. Evan Leonard

At 8:46 PM, Anonymous Damon said...


I've just spent the better part of an hour reading from the bottom, and have arrived at this post at the end. First, I want to say my heart is grieved that your church has had to undergo this experience. My wife and I saw a similar situation coming at a Baptist church we attended in Louisiana, and felt God's calling elsewhere. The event was brutal on those who remained, and I am thankful I didn't have to experience it from the inside.
Second, I think it's interesting that you hold Willow Creek up as an example of the way it can be done right by a large church. Obviously, your church is an example of how it can go wrong. I think the common thread is accountability - to the elders in place, to the body, and to God. It seems the larger a church grows, the less the body inserts itself in the daily operations, opting instead to allow the elders to run the show and handle it as they may. But when they run into a Type "A" personality, it can be a difficult proposition.

Again, I see much wisdom in the steps your elders have taken, and I hope Dr. Foster is sincere in his desire that this be put behind everyone.

Thanks for examining things with an eye to the Scripture...


At 8:41 AM, Anonymous Chris said...

I'm a current staffer on the Creative Arts Team. And I just wanted to quickly respond to you. You have no idea how much we on the Creative Team want to get the musical content out to the world. We have been seriously, seriously talking about it for the past 2 years. And come closer every day. We would not only like to make available the original songs we do here at BCC but also the "cover songs" we do as our walk-in and the music illustration. Unfortunately, we are understaffed to accomplish this. The Creative Arts team is responsible for any and all creative elements that happen on the campus of BCC. Main Auditorium, student ministry, etc. It takes a lot for us just to produce the weekend services. In order for the musical content to become available, we would need another audio engineer who all he did was re-mix the songs from the weekend and another person completely dedicated to dealing with the legal end of things, copyright letters to publishers, artists, etc. It's a huge undertaking. Trust me, I've looked into it personally. And have also talked to several other churches that do it.

When BCC gets back on the road of the future, the first thing we'll probably put emphasis on is breathing more life into the student ministry. I don't know that for sure, but can only guess. The youth facility is not an inviting atmosphere for students. It needs a huge renovation to bring it up to par for the kids. But all of this takes money.

So you see, we can either put the money that's coming in towards the kids or we can put it towards hiring 2 more staff positions to get the musical content out to the world. And I haven't even spoken to the other staff positions we need to organize and support small groups and other much needed programs. We just don't have the funds.

So bro, and everyone else out there that has ever requested BCC music, we hear you. And please know that we have recognized the the desire and potential of getting the awesome music we do here at BCC out to the world. Please just continue to pray for that area.


At 9:00 AM, Blogger judas icarus said...


I appreciate you sharing that with me. I would be more than willing to come along side you and others in the coming weeks and months, if I can work out a viable reconciliation with BCC regarding my history/past... and given the opportunity, to pursue this endeavor.

It is something I attempted to develop while at BCC - 1999-2001 but found that it was just not even a low priority. Perhaps there might be a way to forge ahead without the hurdle you speak of... called funding. But, I would also submit that given that we are the beneficiaries of God's abundance, I think that a more deliberate and committed approach would go along way in making it a reality. With focused prayer and petitioning to Him.

Please understand that I fully appreciate and am aware of the many needs that a church like BCC has... and what it takes to fulfill the many aspects of the combined ministries... I just believe that unless this possibility, this dream, this vision is put on the front burner. because it truly is a viable and worthwhile pursuit... it may very well take another 2 years....

When I add up how far back it was birthed and how far it has come... I am slightly pessimistic to a certain degree... but I have been trying to give it a fair amount of space in my prayers over the years since I departed BCC.

I have substantial experience and knowledge of " dealing with the legal end of things, copyright letters to publishers, artists, etc." and I offered to provide that leadership while on staff but was given the thumbs down.

I have simply found it amazing that such a vibrant and powerful area and resource has for so long been placed so low on the totem pole of possibilities at BCC. I don't think I know of one person who would argue that the music that has poured out of BCC could and would make a global impact.... given the possibility. It would be an incredible benefit and blessing to many.

Thanks againg and kind regards,

C. Evan Leonard


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