My next theology course essay is for a module called Leadership and Ministry. We have a wide choice of topics but I think I'll be choosing to 'Summarize and critically evaluate the contributions of Bill Hybels' book, 'Courageous Leadership' to a Christian understanding of leadership'. I read through a large chunk of the book last week on the train (a meeting in London on Wednesday meant I had plenty of time on the train!) and what I've read so far has really got me thinking.
In case you don't know, Bill Hybels is the senior pastor at Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago in the USA. He was a founder member of the church some thirty years ago and it's grown to become one of the largest congregations in America, with many thousands of people involved in one way or another. As it happens, I went to a Sunday meeting at Willow Creek in summer 2009 when I was visiting my friends Duncan and Gloria in Indiana.
Anyway, back to the book. Hybels mentions several times that Willow Creek was set up to be an 'Acts 2 church', by which he means a church where 'believers loved each other with a radical kind of love... took off their masks and shared their lives with one another... laughed and cried and prayed and sang and served together in authentic Christian fellowship'. (From page 17 of Courageous Leadership.) Now that all sounds great, doesn't it? Surely few Christians would argue with any part of that vision!
But what Hybels hasn't apparently given much thought to is the structure of the early church. This came out clearest for me in chapter five of the book, called 'The Resource Challenge'. Hybels says that, 'My romance with the notion of building an Acts 2 church had blinded me to the harsh realities of funding one' and, 'The point leader... responsible for overseeing the team, congregation, or organization... has to raise money for the staff, for the ministry programs, and for his or her family as well.' I don't know about you, but I'm struggling to see a lot of that in the early church. I see small house-based communities with no single person responsible for their leadership. I see little evidence for there being anyone in the position of leader; it's all about function . If people pay attention to what you say and think you are worth following, then you're a leader. Just like if you do a lot of spurring people on and giving them fresh belief, then you're an encourager. And if you are often ready and willing to give generously to those in need, then you could be described as a giver.
The whole approach that Hybels takes is summed up nicely, to my mind, by a comment in one of the reader's reviews on the Amazon page: 'It is a secular management book with a bit of Christianity bolted on to it'. Now that's fine if you think we should organise and run our churches on the same general lines as we run our businesses. But if churches are something unique, not like anything else found in the world, then I think we should be very cautious about applying business methods to them. For me, it comes down to this: the church is the Body of Christ, not just another organisation.