Saturday, August 9, 2008

Hybelian Leadership

I can't help but express an opinion on this sort of stuff.

I mean aside from the fact that Willow Creek Community Church has long specialized in watering down Christian praxy into some kind of bubble-and-froth spirituality, their feel-good message now comes with an implicit moral impetus to do as they do so you can lead just as effectively as they do. But I'm willing to bet that if you take any one of these super-leaders and ask them why they prize 'effective' leadership (over, say, personal discipleship), and you'll get some kind of soupy rhetoric drawn straight from the Gospel of Programmatic Christianity (á la Rick Warren, Robert Schuller, and others of their ilk). Scratch the paint off the Willow Creek über-leaders and you'll find a Hybelian automaton underneath.

Does this mean that none of the people attending this massive leadership conference are sincere, thoughtful, insightful people that see through some of this stuff but go and catch whatever tid-bits they can, anyway? Heavens, no! But nice concessions like that don't make up for the fact that these kind of conferences rarely, if ever, hit on the context of real living. Sure, they include punchy examples of how to 'be a leader' in the workplace, in church, in college, in the family, blah, blah, blah. The problem is that imposing a model for leadership into this-or-that situation is just a subversive way of taking control of people; it's not really leading. It's not even leadership when you wrap fancy, emotionally charged words around it, such as 'serving others' and 'regain vision':

The summit, which kicked off on Thursday, has been a self-investment opportunity for many leaders who are usually too tied up with serving others to make the time to regain vision and fine-tune their leading skills.

We can suggest, from a Christian context that leadership involves 'doing as Christ would do.' All well and fine until you realise that you are not Christ and may just have an agenda of your own. Then what? How do you know that your agenda lines up with what Christ would do? Prayer? Reading of Scripture? Sure. Why not? Certainly doesn't hurt.

But it may not necessarily help either. This is because we have a pesky little tendency to think that what we understand is right must be what Christ thinks is right. The Pharisees seemed to think that. Most of history's 'leaders' thought that. The current U.S. president thinks that; as does the current Canadian primeminister. And they've landed us in a whole heap of bloody messes with their 'godly leadership'.

But I digress...

What really irks me in this whole fluffy notion of leadership they Hybelites are pushing, is the idea that leadership is a 'self-investment opportunity' that will improve the church community.

According to the Rev. Bill Hybels, Willow Creek’s founder and the senior pastor, leaders should take time invest in themselves in order to help their church.

“Everybody wins when you improve as a leader,” said Hybels on Thursday during the summit’s opening session, titled “The High Drama of Decision Making".

“And sometimes the best way you can bless your church is to make investment in yourself,” he added.

I don't have a beef with leaders keeping a watch over themselves and doing what it takes to gain some catharsis. Leading is not easy. I do have a problem with the implications of “everybody wins”, as if there was some kind of competition between the church and its leaders. I do have a problem with stating that the church is better-off when “you improve as a leader” instead of the biblical truth that conformity to the likeness of Christ is true improvement.

And I have a huge problem with the sentiment that self-investment is sometimes “the best way you can bless your church”. As Christians, we are not called to self-investment, but self-divestment (John 3:30, ESV). In other words, investing in to yourself is exactly opposite to what biblical leadership is all about, which is setting yourself aside and bowing your head to the overtures of Christ. Christ leads, and everybody else who is a Christian follows, even the 'leaders'. For what are Christian leaders if not people who conform to the likeness of Christ, and point others to Him? The way to lead, for any Christian, and not just those who share the select privilege of being entitled 'leader', is to lift Christ up and He will draw all people to Him (John 12:32).

Still, the Hybelites are sure their steps to leadership are what's needed for their congregants to be effective in preaching the gospel.

This year’s summit was designed to hold a total of nine sessions over the course of two days with topics ranging from "Leading in New Cultural Realities" and "How Leaders Can Get IT and Keep IT" to "Defending the Faith" and "Risk Taking, Barrier Breaking Bold Leadership".

Excellent. So, now, if you just follow these nine steps to effective leadership you, too, can join in the fun of coercing others to believe what you believe – er, what Willow Creek believes. In fact, you can “Get IT and Keep IT”. Whatever 'it' is. Maybe it's that ethereal quality/quantity called 'leadership.' Or maybe, it's Christ, who, in the wisdom of this pop-psychology-type-talk, is (im)properly reduced to an 'IT'.

But it doesn't stop there. No, no. Mr. Hybels had to make the vomitorius remark that having a quick-and-ready stash of catch-phrases, and pithy maxims is a vital tool for leading effectively, and that any leader should cling to such devices.

In his opening session, Hybels, who recently released his new book, “Axiom”, stressed the importance and effectiveness of axioms or proverbs and encouraged leaders to utilise them.

“Some leaders not only have a framework, but they also learned how to condense … questions and wisdom of all their past decisions and compress them into sub-composed leadership proverbs, or sayings, or axioms that give them focused counsel, or ‘microwave wisdom’, for their upcoming decision,” the megachurch pastor said.

Hybels challenged the attending leaders to compose their own axioms to "add so much to the efficiency and effectiveness and clarity of decision making”.

Great! So when your door is knocked on, or you have a chance encounter with one of Bill Hybels' sychophants, when you're looking for the opportunity to digest some deep understanding, you can have “microwave wisdom”. Or, when you really want to delve into a personal issue and gain some insight that you might desperately need, you can rely on these people to not necessarily relate but to condescend to you from on high because their proverbial wit (sarcasm intended) will “add so much to the efficiency and effectiveness and clarity of decision making.”


suneal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
suneal said...

I would like to merely comment about this topic with regards the term "leader," in the New Testament. There is certainly little if any preoccupation with such a term, nor it's related noun "leadership." Now one might say, neither is there with the word "Trinity," yet its importance is paramount. But break down Trinity and what do you have but "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," of which the New Testament is rife. Conversely, break down the term "leader," and "leadership," and what do you have? Apparently, a Bill Hybel's best-seller conference.

But I would argue without getting into Scripture too deeply, that the word "leader" is a bastardized and blackened word for "pastor." To be a leader can summon the host of leadership philosophies the corporations and institutions the world over also employ, quite well without a "Christ," other than the anti-christs they either knowingly or unknowingly pay homage to. Let it suffice to say, to be leader must mean to go first to the cross of Christ, as did Jesus, in how He has gone before us; that is if one wants to take the common term "leader" and now baptize it in the name of Jesus. Baptism into Jesus means baptism into His death, no? (Rom 6:3) And at only a cursory glance, it should be obvious "death" and 60,000 people getting all excited about "microwave wisdom," are generally not the same thing. Having it all figured out in condensed form where you can just add water later, stick it in the microwave and zap, you got awesome "leadership"; I am sorry to say, does not line up with "laying down our lives" for one another and Christ in the messy, gut-wrenching job of true discipleship. Take Christ in the garden of Gethsemane, there is true leadership. If any one wishes to take Christ's axiom of leadership and lead a congregation by it; "not my will but Thine be done, Father," well then I have no problem nor any criticism.

(But it wasn't working in the Garden, none of His disciples followed Him into prayer, maybe Jesus could have had better tactics, something more productive, how about smelling salts to keep the disciples awake? Yeah and then the disciples could have fought off the armies with their swords, (one or two I believe), and Jesus could have come first as the triumphant King, not as the suffering Servant of Isaiah as it was prophesied about Him...)

So I echo your sentiments Chris, the "blah, blah, blah" rhetoric of pithy sayings can certainly rally the masses, but rarely will it rally the faithful to the cross of Christ, which in my opinion is the true role of a pastor, uhh.., I mean of course leader. I don't want to be behind the times you know. But the "blah, blah, blah," does help me go to bed earlier than usual. I only wished more Christians would also feel likewise and the attendance of such conferences were somewhere around 6 instead of 60,000. But "not my will Lord, Thine be done."

Gregory said...

Of course! How could we have missed the clear fact that axiomatic sayings are what really saves souls?! All hail the Gospel according to the Fortune Cookie! Or St. Paul's Motivational Poster to the Ephesians!

Confucius say: Bill Hybels is ignoramus.

Okay, I could have way too much fun with this...

But really, how are pithy remarks such as one might read on the sign of a Church or bumper of a car somewhere really going to fill the place of true leadership--which is, indeed, service through relationships. And relationships are not dependent upon words. Often, words, especially trite, pithy words, are the opposite of what is needed.

Ironically, Hybels is advocating developing your own maxims based on your own wisdom and experience--yet wisdom would, hopefully, dictate that paying great expenses to hear someone hawk their latest attempt at writing isn't a good idea. If these "leaders" are going to use their "wisdom" to minister to the Church, I might be tempted to despair, but for Christ's promise that the Gates of Hell would not prevail.

suneal said...

Yes, and looking even further back into church history, I would be tempted to despair all the more over other forms of church leadership, if not for the promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail over the body of Christ, those believers united to Him through grace by faith alone.

Gregory said...

Are you picking a fight, Suneal?

suneal said...

Hi Gregory.
Listen, there is so much I could say, but what for?

Just believe me the answer is no. I hope you can ascertain on your own my real point. If not, I have no desire to illuminate you any further than past discussions.

Take care.

Christopher said...

I think what's important on both sides of the divide -- Protestant and Catholic -- is that each tradition recognize that there have been horrendous, and godly leaders in either camp. More, both sides have teamed up more than once to be rotten leaders together. Anyone remember the peasant wars? How 'bout the persecution of the anabaptists?

Both sides of the divide have also lead well together: The Declaration on Justification By Faith, for example.

Hybelian leadership is simply an example of what happens when charism gets pushed to centre stage, and people put their faith not in God's leading (except by rhetoric) but in their desire to lead, their developed skills in leading, and their gift to lead. Faith in leadership style is an insult to Christ, no matter what side of the communal fence you sit on.

Anonymous said...

I was at the 2008 Leadership Summit last week--not because I am the pastor of a church or because I am CEO of anything. But everyone has influence and everyone leads--even if it's just in his or her own family! (Aren't parents leaders within a family?)

I'm sorry there is no mention of the final session of the Summit where Bill Hybels message "Relentless" used the leadership statements (modeled after Mother Theresa) that we should all be espousing:

“God, I fully yield myself to you.”
“I will do your bidding without delay.”
“I will refuse you nothing.”
“I will seek to love You as You have never been loved before.”
“Here I am. Send me.”

True Leadership is about submission to Christ.

Bill Hybels asked: "If you were God, would you send you?"

Christopher said...

Bill Hybels asked: "If you were God, would you send you?"

See, and I have a problem with this kind of sentiment, too. At what point does it benefit anyone to ask questions like that? They only engender a fasle sense of certitude. For example, if I answered 'yes', I would have to assume that I know as well as God what the variables are that give me the confidence to say 'yes'. Similarly, if I say 'no', I have to know all of the variables, to the same degree as God, that would allow me to say 'no'. In either case, I don't have that kind of insight; I'm not omniscient. I don't see into my heart and capabilities as well as God. Hence I'm unqualified to answer such a question.

A pastor at a church I used to attend asked a similar question: "If you had a button on your pew right now that you could press and it would translate you straight into heaven, would you press it?" Again, I don't know enough of the variables to allow me to intrude on God's kingdom, nor enough of the variables for why God hasn't brought me there already; I'm not omniscient, so I'd have to say 'no.' Any other answer to that question would be dishonest. Unfortunately, that was not the answer he was looking for.

So, when it comes to questions that manufacture a sense of introspection, guilt for shortcomings, and a false sense of certitude, I'm four-square against them. I think Hybels should apologise for asking such a thoughtless, emotionally explosive question as "If you were God, would you send you?"

On a more formally logical front, asking a person to assume the role of an all-powerful being just to answer the question of what that person would do with his/herself is a grievous anthropomorphism. It is a false premise right from the start, and can only prompt dishonest, or ridiculously ignorant answers.

Christopher said...

Besides that, Anonymous, here's the obvious difficulty with the question Hybels asked: the answer could be easily given, "of course I'd send myself. I'd be God!" However, since that's not the case, the question is just dim.

More, the question implies a works-based righteousness: am I good enough to be a leader for God?

I'm sorry, Anonymous, the question is wrong no matter which end of the spectrum you view it from.