Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Business of the Church - Reflections on the recent Willow Creek Leadership Summit

Fellow PCA minister Eric Landry, wrote a thoughtful piece about the recent Willow Creek Leadership Summit.  For those who do not know, this is an annual event hosted by Willow Creek Church in suburban Chicago, designed to spark enthusiasm and entreprenurialism among the evangelical church.  The pastor of Willow Creek is Bill Hybels.  Landry attended the event as the guest of a friend. 

Landry writes:

"I’m sitting in South Barrington, Illinois (in the western suburbs of Chicago) taking a break from the Willow Creek Association’s Global Leadership Summit, an annual event hosted by Willow Creek Community Church and its pastor, Bill Hybels. I joked to my facebook friends that I was undercover this week and that’s partly true. I’m the guest of a national corporation who—through a friend—paid for my registration and my nametag says I’m an employee of theirs! Well, no harm done. Not many people here read Modern Reformation or listen to White Horse Inn anyway…at least not yet!

The two-day conference is an intentional effort to combine the wisdom of business leaders with the wisdom of ministry leaders, with the hope that these two different kinds of leaders could learn from one another. The difficulty of that enterprise was demonstrated yesterday when Bill Hybels had to announce that Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, had cancelled his scheduled appearance at the summit because of an online petition by a gay rights groups upset by Willow Creek’s prior relationship with Exodus, Intl, which advocates that gay people can change their sexual orientation. Business leaders have different agendas than ministry leaders and that difference is spelled out in quarterly profit reports, reports that depend on keeping many different segments of the marketplace happy with your product. I wonder if many of the thousands of registrants here and at dozens of sites across the country watching by live video feed caught that lesson.

The product that the Summit is offering is enticing: success...The unmistakable message is that applying leadership principles that are common to all leaders (no matter what “industry” you might be part of) will result in that most powerful of aphrodisiacs, success."
Landry asks the following questions that grew out of the conference:

 * Do the kind of leadership principles that are necessary for a business to be successful belong in the church?

*What business is the church in?

* So what does success look like in a church?

You can read the rest of his analysis here: The Business of the Church

For my part I've shied away from this conference even though we have a local church that has hosted it via satellite.   I share many of Landry's conclusions about the wisdom of applying business thought and business models to the church.  I've been a pastor for 15 years and I've also worked in a Fortune 50 corporation.  My growing up years were marked by a series of corporate transfers as well.  I guess I just don't see how the average CEO has much to say to me and the vocation that God has called me to.  Word and Sacrament is what God uses to build his church, not the management techniques of Peter Drucker, or what one will clean from MBA classes. 

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