Saturday, August 13, 2005

back to that existential spiritual vertigo

a second attempt to report on my experience at Willow Creek's Leadership Summit.

Actually, I had no desire to attend, due to the fact that I am behind at work, and the leadership from our organization would be spending 2.5 days sitting in a local church watching a satellite simulcast of the event. It is odd to try to engage in a worship experience with a leader in Chicago (stranger still was the clapping for speakers at our site- did people forget they could not hear us?).

However, even though I had very little interest to sit through Hybels (whom I always enjoy), Warren (whom I usually tolerate), Maxwell (does nothing for me) or Blanchard, along with many speakers I had never heard of, I gave it a chance (I only wish they had last years interesting speakers, such as Steven Sample and Tim Sanders- 2 authors who greatly motivate me). Much to my surprise, the bait and switch was on.

Thousands of church leaders came to a leadership conference and sat through a Justice conference. What?

Hybels started us off with the idea of holy discontent. What do we see that wrecks us inside? That which wrecks us can lead to our calling and vision. Most of the time, he spoke of AIDS, racism and injustice. MLK was a major character in the talk and he said he as only come to realize lately that Willow Creek should spend its time working for justice.

Next up, Purpose Driven Rick, as endearingly corny as ever. Although he pimped his projects, foundations and books, Rick repented of his lack of concern for Africa, the poor, AIDS victims and the voiceless. He realizes that God gives influence to people so they can speak for those with no influence. It was fascinating to see his new found understanding of the Gospel. I hope it continues and his followers take heed.

By this time I was experiencing what I earlier termed an existential spiritual vertigo. Has the evangelical church, as Jim Wallis predicted, begun to tip to the whole gospel? Why has it taken these great men 30+ years of ministry to figure this out? Why couldn't they have figured it out when I was younger? Maybe I would not have been such an outcast in my own denomination.

Will the masses of ministers, churches and believers listen? What, in fact, are the guys around me thinking? Why must it take popular guys saying the same things I say for people to pay attention (I feel like I was in High School wearing my black Chuck Taylors. No one wore them until the quarterback asked me where I got them. He came to school after Christmas break with a pair and they exploded in our hallways. I started wearing blue.).

Have these guys been reading my journals? What is a contrarian like me to latch onto when the masses line up?

I am so confused and have too many questions. It is also like the day R.E.M. went Top 10.

What blew me away was the fact that the Summit kept it up the whole day. They had a pastor from Africa that deals with poverty and AIDS daily in his church, the leader of the Guardian Angels and an activist that set up an inner city ministry in Detroit.

My brain still hurts.


Anonymous said...

I drop in occasionally just to see what you're writing about. And yeah, I'm impressed /amazed about your description of the Willow Creek thing. Dang. I still remember way back in Houston when you started the justice group. I never told you, but it's one of the things that prompted me down that road... and has taken me many places - the slums of Manila, a justice team in the campus fellowship i work with, and mosaic, here in austin. Anyway, just wanted to tell you that. Not in the cheesy way, but in the very sincere way.

Unknown said...

Great post. I love it.

Eric said...

Rick, I understand your dilemma and lived it in seminary as well. And as you will discover as a parent, often it is your very own kids that will only learn something after a non-relative speaks the exact same words to them:-) I'm sure my parents were always chapped about the credit I gave to others for the lessons I was learning. In the end, if it is not about us, we can all rejoice in growth and integrity in the Body of Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

I had the same exact thoughts.... of why did it take 30 years for these leaders to awaken to all this. My hope is that these leaders are not just doing this because it is now hip and trendy to be like Bono and pay attention to the poor, needy, AIDS etc. which is convenient since now their home church is large, and 7,000 set sanctuary built etc. so, now let's make sure since we have our luxury church built, we better now after 30 years do what some churches have been doing all along.

Unknown said...

It may have taken 30 years for Warren, Hybels, et al to wake up to poverty and injustice. But at least now they are aware and doing something about it. A conference like this would not have happened 5 or 10 years ago.

It's the hard work of folks like Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Ron Sider, etc on the larger stage, and folks like yourself and hosts of others at the local level that helped the big guys see the Whole Gospel.


Anonymous said...

whats a chuck taylor?

hey - glad you were there rick!

Steph Stanger said...

Dan-why you gotta be a hater? I can't understand why we have to tear eachother down? Were all on the same side...aren't we?
Rick-I thought your post was really interesting as an employee of Willow I was equally suprised by the "justice" theme at the Summit!! I was also extremely excited and proud! I understand your fustration with the whole "why does it take the popular guys to say it" feeling but according to the previous responses people heard you too! Be encouraged and lets celebrate that more and more people are fighting for justice! I have never understood the philosophy that something looses it's cool when it becomes popular. (like REM or black Chuck Taylors) If it has value it has value and the more people who are fighting for it, believing in it, listening to it...the better! I hope you will be pleased to know this isn't just a Summit thing. This is something that has been in the spotlight at Willow very heavily for sometime now! AND Saddle Back is having an entire conference commited to challanging and educating churches to move into action regarding the Aids crisis in Africa. I'm so excited for what God is doing and how we can all continue to be a a part of it! Thanks for your voice!

Kimberly Cangelosi said...

Thanks for the great report, Rick. I couldn't be at the Summit this year but have loved reading everyone's comments.

I don't think Dan is being a "hater," just a little skeptical...But I have to agree with Steph that this emphasis on social justice has been going on at Willow for some time, even if it didn't come up in the WCA events.

I also think it is completely plausible that Willow wouldn't be talking so much about AIDS these days if it weren't for Bono's visits with Bill and Lynn Hybels. So what? Does that diminish the value of the work Willow is doing to address this issue? I don't see how.

Great discussion!

Steve said...


Two things:
1. I have to admit that I turned down a free pass to go to the teleconference - mainly because Hybels and Warren are too cool for me (i.e. I'm not the kind of leader they usually have in mind). Your report is making me wonder if that was wise . . .
2. You're still cooler than me. When I met you at Seed Stories in '02, your voice had impact, and even now, I remember your heart. The kind of voice that emerging types have at this point is still very organic. Not that issues of justice are "emerging".

DJ Word said...

Thanks to anyone reading this post. I am not used to much traffic (even my wife won't read my blog).

To Andrew Jones- I forget that american fashion is not as omnipresent as I may have thought. Chuck Taylors is the official name of the canvas converse high tops that come in multiple colors. They have gone in and out of style many times.

To Steph- Thanks for coming and representing Willow Creek. It is always good to get the perspective of some one who is on the inside.

I think the frustration people have with Willow and Sadleback might be a bit of the "little brother vs big brother thing" or even the "dad vs son" thing. While breaking away and making their own lives there is frustration towards dad or big bro because they see the flaws of this person they look up to. I think the closeness and past influence cause much of the frustration.

By the way, say hellow to Jon Wise and Jarret Stephens for me. Jon just started as a worship leader.

To Steve- I am "Post-Cool." It was a suprising event. I still hate watching a screen and all the music on the screen. But, Hybels usually delivers and Warren surprised me.

To all- I am not surprised at Hybels getting onto the justice thing. But, it surprises me a little regarding Warren (since we both have SBC backgrounds and it flies in the face of most things SBC and PDC churches think about). Not that I am complaining.

I am so glad that this is happeing and becoming popularized. i only hope that people still listen as well when Rick and Bill speak on these issues than when they speak on issues such as "growing your church."

To Sabrina- thanks so much. I cannot tell you how much your comments encouraged me when I read them.