Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bill Hybels on Ministry Leadership

Bill Hybels of Willow Creek fame, makes the case that ministry leadership is more difficult than leading in the business world. The article starts with Hybels recalling a conversation with a business executive who arrogantly trivializes the challenge of leading a church. (Unfortunately, when business leaders think of the church as just another organization or enterprise, they expose their own folly.)

However, Hybels goes on to make the case that church or ministry leadership is more complex and challenging than leading in the business world. He offers the following four reasons to make his case. Let me state the obvious - I'm nowhere the equal of Hybels in the arena of leadership and I've had relatively little experience leading in ministry. However, there are elements of his words that really misses the mark - my comments and rebuttal in [ ] below.

1. Every life requires a custom mold. Essentially, he's making the case that church leadership is about people and it's very difficult to lead people without "leverage".

"...Napoleon, de Gaulle, Eisenhower, MacArthur, Patton. They were all the great military leaders....but I've wondered, What would it be like for some of those leaders to have to work it out with deacons before they charged up a hill? ...How would the whole military system work if you took away the leadership leverage of the court-martial? Anyone could build a church with leverage like that!"

[I wish that Hybels had a more realistic view about how effective business really run. They don't operate that differently from the church leadership scenario he speaks of. Yes, the CEO is the one "in charge" but in most organizations, effective leadership still involves leading by influence, building consensus and casting a compelling vision. And, no, we don't have the threat of court martial either. ]

2. The church is voluntary.

"But in the final analysis, we have little or no leverage, no real power over anybody we lead...To mobilize an utterly volunteer organization requires the highest kind of leadership. We cannot compel people; we must call them."
[Yes, but sustained leadership in any arena isn't about compelling people, it's about calling and engaging them]

3. The church is utterly altruistic

"When leading a business, you can hire a bright, energetic, young employee and say, "...Here's your salary, your perks, your car...If you work hard, in five or eight years we're going to make you a partner...And when we sell this place in fifteen or twenty years, we're all going to walk away wealthy...Are you interested? But as church leaders, what do we tell prospective church members? "You're a depraved, degenerate sinner who's in trouble for all eternity unless you get squared away with Christ."...Oh, yeah, you get no parking place, no reserved seats, no special privileges, no voting rights, no vacation or retirement program. You serve till you die. But trust us: God's going to make it right in eternity."

[Ministry isn't about altruism, nor should it ever be. It's about gaining a reward greater than the best the world has to offer. If we miss this, we miss the heart of gospel centered service. "Serving" God is a gift, not grudging sacrifice. It is our joyful opportunity to participate in what the Eternal God is doing on this earth. No business can compete with that. Effective ministry leaders remind us of that reality as often as they can, not to manipulate us for service but because there's nothing better we can give ourselves to]

4. The church has the highest calling.

"We can no longer afford to leave people leaderless in the arena of the church...May the church be the one place where people who come out of leaderless homes and schools and jobs and athletic teams discover, maybe for the first time in their lives, the excitement of being valued, of being included, of being told that they are indispensable for the achievement of a common vision. "

[I'm not sure it's correct to view ourselves as "indispensable" to the achievement of God's work. God can use anyone. Often, it truly baffles me why he would use me...but it's my privilege to participate in His work. Should we be incredibly grateful? Certainly. Are we indispensible? I don't think so.]

Here's one more unique advantage the church has - it is the only institution that God guarantees will be there on the Last Day and throughout eternity - it will not fail, its purpose will stand. No business will last that long nor will its pinnacle be as glorious.

What do you think? Is ministry leadership really more complex as Bill Hybels says it is?


Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

It's good to hear your blogging voice as well - I'm afraid mine is strangled at present by the "cares of the world" at work. I trust is it just refiner's fire, else I would despair.... I am hoarse from trying to even hear the thoughts in my own head over the din of my new chairwoman's severe reprimand for my current lack of grant support - it's the first poor performance review I've ever had - and that's saying something at 54 years of age - some were certainly better than others, but I don't remember ever just crying because I was so weary - physically and spiritually - at fighting the academic battle.

What I'd really like to do is take myself off to Pennsylvania and study more Biblical Counseling - and take my daughter and the potential spouse there as well and put them in seminary - but clearly God has other plans for my life right now - I think I would do well to remember He promised exceedingly, abundantly above....

I need to read your post more carefully to give a thoughtful analysis, but one thing I did think of was this - surely the stakes are higher for "successful" ministry than for successful business ventures - therefore the opposition should be much greater. Don't know if that makes leadership more complex, but it seems to me that it would surely make it more critical.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Halfmom Susan, Will be in prayer for you over that.

In context as I see and understand it I have no problem with Bill Hybel's words here, nor with your words alone- though you are rebutting him.

For example the church is altruistic in that it is the Body of Christ in this world becoming like Jesus in his death- for the world- I believe. Altruistic I guess has the sense of not being in it for ourselves, and there is Hebrews 12:1-3 which probably should be rendered FOR the joy set before him- and not INSTEAD OF. And you also must remember Philippians 2 in which Jesus makes himself "nothing" or "empties himself" so in that sense I think what Hybels is saying carries weight.

I'm not all that fond of hearing models of the world as in business compared to the church, myself. Maybe it resonates with those in the business world. I see God's kingdom come in Jesus as in a sense higher and beyond all this here, yet truly for here, as well.

Thanks for making us think, and I'm not sure I get it all that well. But that's all for now. Off to the land of nod.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I would like to gently challenge the idea that ministry is about gaining award. I think it's through grace, of course- and about loving God with our whole being and doing, and loving our neighbor as ourself. In that is reward enough. The extras evidently come, but it is a shame when we look at the age to come as about ranks of Christians, and I know you're not saying that. We'll all be so taken up in the love of God and in communion together that it will be about plenty of room for all, not my own special private room or mansion (see TNIV in John 14).

Maybe I'm being hard on rewards, but I really have a hard time (yes, I remember the Hebrews 11 passage about Moses looking ahead to his reward) believing we should be serving for rewards we'll get. I'm sure you agree that it's about loving God and loving our neighbor, but doing so knowing that no matter what, God's goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Sleeping on it I could not get away from the thought (while awake, of course) that I was being too hard on rewards. Yes, they're there in Scripture.

I am probably pushing against the notion that rewards would be our chief motivation when surely it should be love for God and for others.

But rewards are like the fulfillment of what begins for us in Christ now. As we're faithful, God rewards graciously as gifts. And ultimate blessing comes. You can't get away from works and rewards in Scripture. As we take the way of the cross here, in Jesus, we know we will be in Christ's exaltation and glory someday (1 Thessalonians I think).

I also push against the idea of not emphasizing our oneness in Christ as one Body. We can push that too far and deny individuals which even that analogy does not, but the goal is that we would all together come to fullness and maturity in Christ.

But yes, while we're to love our enemies and not resist their evil, but seek to overcome evil with good, we also are helped and sustained by the fact that God will make all wrongs right in his just judgment.

Every Square Inch said...


May God help you in your trial at work. God often sharpens us in the midst of life - that's when we can apply what we learn in those counseling books. We can counsel our own hearts...and once we learn to do that, we'll be better positioned to counsel others.

Every Square Inch said...


You bring up good points but I think that perhaps my poor articulation may have led to your confusion.

So here's my point -
When we tell a fellow Christian to serve w/ altruism in mind i.e. nothing in it for you, we completely blunt the essence of what the gospel accomplished which is to bring us to God and enabling us the joy of glorifying Him.

We should instead encourage our fellow believer to serve by reminding him of how great God is, how wonderful that we possess a relationship with Him, what a joy that we can give our lives to this eternal purpose of magnifying His name. Perhaps I'm wrong, but there's no way anything the world offers can compare with that.

As far as I know, no one has ever died to build General Motors or Microsoft or even Google. Yet many have given their lives for the sake of the gospel. It's because as Hebrews tell us, they get a glimpse of God's glory and they look forward to a better place.

L.L. Barkat said...

Just listening. No profound thoughts. Except that any endeavor that involves people is necessarily complex. Even the military.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I was afraid to come back here, a personal weakness on my part, because I felt like I had abused your blog, not that I wanted to at all, as I certainly respect your thoughts here, no matter whether I'm completely in sync or not.

I would say that humans in our foolishness do give our lives to much lesser causes. And I have to agree with C.S. Lewis in "The Great Divorce", that many diminished souls would be quite unhappy in "heaven" or in "the new heaven and earth". But this may not really be out of sync with what you're saying here.

I do think a big missing part of evangelizing is the need to talk about shalom, and how sin is against shalom, that is in the breaking of relationships between God and humans, and humans with each other...........

George said...

Great post and great comments. I knew there was a good reason I'd bookmarked this blog and a bad reason for never, until now, returning to it.

It seems many leaders think their jobs are hardest because (a) they are hard and (b) they've not experienced alternatives.

In the military I never threatened, nor was threatened by, court martial in order to get achievement. While one was aware that people did get court martialed for messing up, mostly you performed because of expectations -- yours, your buddies', your leader's, and, to some extent, what you perceived the nation's to be.

In business the motivation was not fear-of-firing but social, referent, and the desire for money. Yes, one is aware that others get fired, but no one feels they deserve to get fired and don't seem to worry about it much -- any performance issues are rationalized as personality clashes.

In churches and other non-profits, what makes leadership tough is working with unpaid people who find it easier to walk and where the mission is less defined. And where the volunteers come in with well established notions of how the mission should be defined. But church leaders are seen as God's anointed by their followers, and that gives them authority other leaders lack.

It seems to me that religious leaders have the most trouble leading when they insist on their way or the highway without teaching the merits of their way to those who are motivated to learn. If I lack a desire to please God and follow Christ, I won't have any interest in serving beyond what's in it for me. If I do have that desire and a pastor wants me to serve in a particular way to the exclusion of other ways, then he needs to persuade me of the overwhelming value of that way. The authority of "God's anointing" only goes so far, especially among evangelicals who are taught we have no intermediary but Christ.

Every Square Inch said...


Thanks for coming back again, always feel free to disagree and please never feel like you're "abusing" this blog when you disagree. i love your points of view


Thanks for stopping by and for sharing your thoughts. Your perspective about the military is particularly interesting because I think we, non military types, sometimes hold a caricature of how leadership works in a military context.

I suspect in most contexts, the goal of effective leadership involves "compelling by persuasion" rather than by the threat of demotion, loss of employment...or even court martial. ;-)