A large part of the takeaway of any experience is what you bring to the table yourself. My parents always told me, You’ll get out of it what you put into it. In her 2018 Summit talk, Juliet Funt said that 50% of any problem you face is your responsibility.
But we live in such a consumeristic culture; we are used to focusing on what we receive. We bring attitudes and expectations to events or encounters and evaluate the results based on the degree to which we were satisfied. That’s basic human nature, and it’s the give and take of the world we live in. Sometimes we ignore what we’re responsible for.
I attended what is probably my 14th Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit this week. On the heels of the shocking revelation that the leader of both the Willow Creek Community Church movement and the Summit had, on several occasions, moved into sexual sin and abuse of power with female coworkers, it’s amazing that this event is even happening. Most folks who have been aware of the spool of pain that’s been unraveling as the past has been exposed and Willow has sought to find its footing probably walked, like me, somewhat hesitantly into the rooms that housed our Summit gatherings all over North America. The event began with an apology, and the opening spot in the program – usually the place where Bill Hybels walked out to represent what seemed to be one of the best efforts of contemporary church growth in this century – was instead filled with a powerful, encouraging message that included a confession of grief and sickness over the sin that had been exposed, and tremendous pain for those who have been hurt.
It was definitely different.
As the day unraveled for me, I realized that there was something new thrumming underneath the experience. Usually, the Summit is a “rah-rah-let’s-go-team!” sort of event for The Church global, and for our church in particular, which has followed the Willow Creek model as we’ve sought to follow our mission and find our place. The shadow of pain ever present over each successive talk, the double meanings that were all too obvious in statements related to authenticity and transparency and accountability; it was glaringly obvious, and it wouldn’t go away. And yet, surprisingly, rather than dampen and disappoint, I found that I was receiving the teaching and ideas in a way that felt…..well, fresh. True. Powerful. And I finally recognized what was different about this year’s Summit, what simmered just underneath every speaker, every transition, every bit of my heart and mind opening to what was being said and shared.
There’s nothing like being broken wide open, being exposed, and getting it wrong to make space for what’s truly necessary for oxygenation. Truth be told, we often attend these conferences to celebrate our success, to get inspiration and motivation and ideas as we see the great things others are doing – that might be our success one day, if we get it right. We drape it in God-Language and the requisite “All for Jesus!” declarations, but the truth is that we lean hard into how good it feels to get it right. And for decades, Hybels has been the leader of our here’s-how-to-get-it-right moments; our “King”, of a sort.
With the kingdom shattered, we are invited to see who we really are: broken people in need of deliverance. Mere mortals, who are capable of doing very bad things. Needy men and women who are subject to our own desires and desperation.
We’re such a mess.
But when there is space made for salvation, it’s quite amazing what can happen, as we acknowledge the truth about ourselves. When the world sees just how imperfect we are, the slight turn of our faces toward One who offers redemption reveals something quite beautiful and powerful; authentic Love.
Sitting in that auditorium yesterday, reminded constantly of the pain and grief and frustration that follows sin, I sensed something I’d never experienced so fully at any of these yearly treks to the mountain: the Spirit of God, hovering in the atmosphere, moving towards a group of people who finally, truly, obviously, have the opportunity to acknowledge that we’ve failed to get it right. In our brokenness, there is a spirit of leadership that has been throttled in years past.
It’s been easy for folks to pile on; in social media, in conversations. There are sides to take and declarations to make and boy, don’t we love to do that? We’re only human, after all. But both the Summit yesterday, and some personal revelations about my own life last night, offer a powerful, stark reminder, one best exemplified by the powerful words of Jesus:
You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
The blessing of brokenness; the blessing of moving in humility, instead of around it. That’s what this Summit experience has been like for me.
In gratitude, expectantly, humbled; I’m coming back for more.
May we all be blessed.