Up the (Willow) Creek: Wess Stafford

Willow-Creek
wess-staffordWess Stafford is the president of Compassion International. For those who don’t know, Compassion works through the local church in developing countries to share the gospel while providing for the needs of children living in poverty. It’s also an organization I’m privileged to work for (out of the Canadian office). For literally the entire time I’ve been at Compassion, I’ve always heard people tell me how much I need to hear Wess speak, and how I really need to read his book. So for me, it was very interesting to see Wess speak at Willow Creek during his session, Leveraging Your Past.

In this session, Wess addressed the question of how do we leverage the pain and hurt in our lives for the ministry?

If anyone’s not heard his story before, it’s heartbreaking. The son of missionaries serving in Africa, Stafford, along with the children of several other missionaries serving on the continent, suffered horrific physical, mental, and spiritual abuse. As he put it, “We were little sinners in the hands of an angry god.” [Read more...]

Up the (Willow) Creek: Dave Gibbons

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david-gibbonsDave Gibbons is the founding pastor of Newsong Church, a multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multi-site, multi-continent church based out of Irvine, California, and the author of The Monkey and the Fish. His session, Thinking Forward: Third Culture Leadership, addressed developing a church that’s contrarian—one that embodies the Great Commandments to love God and love our neighbor.

Gibbons is a charming, charismatic speaker, and I was extremely interested in what he had to say about becoming a “third culture leader.”

What is a third culture leader?

According to Gibbons, it’s a leader with “a mindset and will to love, live and serve, even in the midst of pain and discomfort.” To love people, especially when it’s hard. Because it’s easy to love people who are like us, but “it’s beautiful if we love someone whose unlovable.” And we need to change our focus to loving the unlovable. To focus on the misfits, rather than the masses. Because, Gibbons contends, “it’s the misfits that lead a movement.” [Read more...]

Up the (Willow) Creek: Harvey Carey

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harveyHarvey Carey is the Founder and Senior Pastor of the Citadel of Faith Covenant Church in Detroit, Michigan. Citadel of Faith is the fastest-growing multicultural church in the region. Carey’s lecture, Against All Odds, was, personally, one of the brightest spots of the Willow Creek Leadership Summit.

Carey brought a very different flavor than everything that had come before. He preached, and he did it with passion and style.

It was awesome. In fact, along with Keller, Carey was one of the brightest spots for me in the entire conference.

Carey shared the story of starting Citadel of Faith and the challenges that he faced. Planting in the “poorest zip code of the poorest city of the poorest state” in the United States doesn’t seem like a winning strategy. Yet his church has seen phenomenal success, growing to 800 members in six years.

More importantly, the people are active in seeking both the redemption of their community and reconciliation between Caucasians and African-Americans. Ironically, because white people were returning to the neighborhood, nine churches called Carey to task, informing him that they were “going to collectively come against you.”  When faced with this level of opposition, Carey believes that you know that “God is getting ready to show up.” [Read more...]

Up the (Willow) Creek: Tim Keller

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tim-kellerTim Keller is the extraordinarily gifted pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, and author of The Reason for God, The Prodigal God, and the upcoming Counterfeit Gods. I’ve greatly benefited from Keller’s writing and was looking forward to hearing what he had to say.

Keller’s session, Leading People to the Prodigal God, was in large part a summary of The Prodigal God. This is by no means a bad thing, because the book is excellent.

“The thing that shocks ministers is the high level of spiritual deadness in congregations,” said Keller. A tiny amount of people do anything, as far as service and giving are concerned. There’s a great deal of back-biting, and territorial attitudes within ministry.

“Spiritual vitality is still the big problem.” It’s a problem because people are trying to be their own savior.

“There are two ways to be your own savior. One is by being very, very, very bad [and just doing whatever you want]. The other is by being very, very, very good.”

This seemed to catch the crowd’s attention—the reality that those who are outwardly obedient may be just as hopelessly lost as those who openly reject and mock the gospel. “The ‘good’ boy [in Luke 15:11-32] is lost not in spite of his goodness, but because of it.” He’s lost because he’s trusting in his performance to give him right standing with his father. [Read more...]

Up the (Willow) Creek: Gary Hamel

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Gary Hamel is one of the world’s most influential business thinkers and was the second speaker at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. Overall, I think he had some really great points, particularly in terms of seizing the opportunities that exist in the current economic climate.

“In an environment of increasing change, [one that is] less and less about extrapolating the past, you’re either moving forward or you’re falling behind,” said Hamel during his session.

To unceasingly fall behind is to embrace entropy as an organization.

This is a very profound statement. As leaders focus on the opportunities that are presented by shifts in the global marketplace and culture, there is a great opportunity for positive change, provided that one resists the temptation to become convinced by denial—to believe that everything’s fine and if we just ride things out, we’ll get back to the old normal.

Hamel presented the audience with a continuum of the cycle of change: [Read more...]

Up the (Willow) Creek: Bill Hybels at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit

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I’m at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit this week (Forest City Community Church here in London is one of the satellite locations), and I thought it’d be fun to share some nuggets from the summit with y’all. I don’t know if I’ll be writing about every session, but I will start with the first, featuring Bill Hybels.

Hybels is actually quite an engaging speaker. Very passionate and obviously loves the church. Say what you will about the whole seeker sensitive, smoke machine, laser light show scene he’s associated with, but he really cares about the health of the church and people meeting Jesus.

His talk centered around leading in the new reality—how do we navigate the waters of ministry after being slammed by the “rogue wave” of the recession. Great encouragement from Hybels: The recession gives the church the opportunity to truly be the church to each other and the community, what he calls “the Acts 2 dream.”

“There is nothing like the church when the church is working right. Nothing like it in the world!” exclaims Hybels (to which I say a hearty “Amen!”).

What I think Hybels brought to the table was something extremely important for leaders to be considering in engaging the new reality: Is my organization up to the task? And am I? [Read more...]

Book Review: The Heart of Mentoring

Recommended: Mentoring is more than technique—it’s a passion for developing people.

You want to invest in the lives of others, but… how? That is the question at the center of The Heart of Mentoring by David A. Stoddard (with Robert J. Tamasy).

In ten fast-paced chapters, Stoddard makes it clear that mentoring is not about technique, goals or curriculum. It is about relationship and a passion for developing others on a professional and personal level, as illustrated in ten principles for effective mentoring.

According to Stoddard, effective mentors…

1. …understand that living is about giving
2. …see mentoring as a process that requires perseverance
3. …open their world to their mentoring partners
4. …help mentoring partners find their passion
5. …are comforters who share the load
6. …help turn personal values into practice
7. …model character
8. …affirm the value of spirituality
9. …recognize that Mentoring + Reproduction = Legacy
10. …go for it!

With insight from his own experiences as both a mentor and mentoring partner, Stoddard explains each principle, letting readers into his world as he shares his successes and failures as a mentor. [Read more...]

Book Review: Agape Leadership

agape-leadership

Recommended: Leadership fueled by Christlike love transforms everything it touches.

One of the greatest benefits of reading biographies of departed saints is learning from the experiences of people who you’d never have the opportunity to meet. R.C. Chapman is just such an individual. Relatively unknown today, Chapman is a man all believers would do well to see a role model in our pursuit of holiness.

In Agape Leadership: Lessons in Spiritual Leadership from the Life of R.C. Chapman, authors Robert L. Peterson and Alexander Strauch introduce us to Chapman and his commitment to not only preaching Christ, but living Christ.

And live Christ he did.

Chapman was a man committed to love. He loved God wholeheartedly, making prayer and study his top priority, every day. He exuded patience and gentleness. He loved people and desired to maintain unity within the church.

This book is a hard one to review in some ways. It has challenged me more than any other book I’ve read in about a year, and it’s just packed with helpful, timely material. But, one of the stories I found most helpful and intriguing was that of the Ebenezer Chapel split:

Ebenezer Chapel, a member of the Particular Baptist denomination, had gone through three pastors in eighteen months prior to Chapman’s arrival. The Particular Baptist denomination held that you could not receive communion or be a member (p. 29). Chapman, finding no basis for this in Scripture, believed that baptism was a response to and public witness of conversion, but not something that prevented a professing believer from membership or communion. He patiently and gently taught the Scriptures, and slowly brought about change within the congregation. Inevitably, though, there were some who would not agree with him and seceded from fellowship.

These seceders then demanded that Chapman’s group (the majority of the congregation) move out of the chapel building because it was no longer being used in accordance with Particular Baptist practices.

What was Chapman’s response? One would expect a fight; there was no provision in the building’s deed requiring them to move. Legally, they would be in the right to stay.

“Chapman decided that the loving, Christlike response would be to give up the building. He viewed the situation as equivalent to giving up one’s coat to someone who demanded it… the congregation relinquished their rights to the building in 1838″ (p. 33). Such a thing would be unheard of today!

But this is the example of  a man who truly loved God and truly loved people. He gave up his rights for the sake of love and unity. Amazing!

And that’s just one such example. As the congregation was in the process of purchasing a plot of land, the Church of England made a claim on it. When Chapman’s view of the last days came into conflict with that of his elders’, he refused to teach contrary doctrine for the sake of unity within the church(!).

Despite being a short and fast read, Agape Leadership is a difficult one because it’s so convicting. Chapman seemed to exude holiness (indeed, a complete stranger referred to him as a “holy man of God… who anyone can see is going straight to heaven” [p. 22]). Truth be told, I am reminded of how short I fall. But I’m also encouraged to pursue humility. To repent of my pride and my selfishness and love God with all my heart, my soul, my mind and my strength; to love my neighbor as myself.

Read this book and be transformed by the example of the man Spurgeon called, “the saintliest man I ever knew.”

Purchase your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.ca

An Unregenerate Sheep in the Fold – new article at SmallGroupExchange.com

About a week or so ago, my friends at Small Group Exchange posted an article I wrote on what to do if you think someone in your small group isn’t actually a Christian.

Here’s a snippet:

You’re sitting in your living room after small group, reflecting on the conversation of the evening. While you’re reviewing the night, you remember something a group member said that catches you off guard:

“I don’t know why we put so much emphasis on the Bible… it’s just a book.”

As you pray over this, you recall other similar comments, and become increasingly concerned that this person may not actually be a Christian.

And, you’re right. They may not be.

Read the rest at SmallGroupExchange.com