of babies and bathwater (part 2) :: leading your church like a heathen

January 24, 2011

There was this blank spot on an otherwise meticulously detailed program. 1:30PM session… TBA.

To be announced? What?

It was August of 2000. We were in South Barrington, IL. Willow Creek Church. 4,500 church and ministry leaders from around the world shoulder to shoulder in a sprawling auditorium for the annual Leadership Summit. End of the last session before lunch, and we still had no idea what was coming up.

And then came the announcement.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we need you to exit the auditorium immediately following this session. Please do not stay and chat. We know you have tons of ideas to process with your teams, but we’ll need you to have those conversations over lunch. For reasons that will soon become apparent, we have been unable to publicly announce our 1:30 session interview. We have been told that the Secret Service will need a full 90 minutes to sweep this auditorium and secure it for our next session’s guest… President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton.”

There was an audible gasp. On the one hand, it is stirring to be at an event with the leader of the free world.  On the other hand, for those of you who know your history, you might remember that in the year 2000 President Clinton was not exactly regarded as a model of Godly leadership by the evangelical community.  President Clinton may not have actually been the devil, but they were at least drinking buddies, in the eyes of many.

But I don’t want this post to get tangled or hijacked by a discussion about the wisdom or morality of bringing Bill Clinton in to talk about leadership to thousands of church leaders.  This isn’t a political discussion.  Nor is it a discussion about the dangers of mega-churches or the personal theological failings of Bill Hybels.  It’s a leadership discussion… about babies and bathwater.

Several months ago, in a Seminary class on Theology, on of my classmates began to decry the sad state of affairs in the modern church, and how deplorable it is that church leaders today are willing to listen to “outside voices” to learn leadership principles, rather than looking to the Bible for direction and guidance.

“Wait a minute…” I said.  “What?”

“We’re supposed to be transformed into the image of God, not conform to the patterns of this world.  What in God’s name are we doing looking to BUSINESS models and so-called ‘leadership experts’ to learn how to run our churches?  The Bible gives us everything we need to know.”

Flash back to Willow Creek, circa August, 2000.  Just after lunch.  The crowd has been readmitted under the watchful eye of the Secret Service.  There is a nervous buzz in the air.  Bill Hybels comes to the microphone, and I’ll never forget his first words to us.  “You think YOU lead a big deal…”

If ever there is someone who knows something about the demands of being a leader, surely the President of the United States is that person.  Politics aside, to say that being President requires a high degree of leadership is like calling the sun hot, water wet, or “Three Amigos” hilarious.  Willow Creek over the years has consistently brought high level leaders to the Leadership Summit, to speak and teach about leadership principles to a crown made up of mostly pastors, church staff, and ministry leadership teams.  Many of these speakers and presenters are vibrant Christians, sharing powerful real-life examples of Biblical leadership methods in action.  But Willow unapologetically invites non-believers, as well.  Because they belive in the Baby regardless of the Bathwater.  And some of my most memorable God-encounters, Holy-Spirit promptings, and ministry-changing leadership discoveries have come through the ministry of the Willow Creek Leadership Summit.

What is this “Baby” of which I speak?  Basically it boils down to this…

Truth is truth.

I know… God’s Word is truth, and evangelicals believe it is our sole authoritative standard in all matters pertaining to faith and life.  Yes we ought to be forsaking the sin of the world and allow Christ to shape us and guide our ministry direction through His Word and by His Spirit.  All good.  All necessary.

But when my Muslim neighbor, gay coworker, Catholic mail carrier, goth pizza delivery guy, angry right-wing radio talk-show host, heathen President of the United States, [fill-in-the-blank] has something TRUE to say, the bearer of the truth does not change the truth he or she bears.  Truth stands on its own, and all truth is God’s truth.

Therefore, if we can gain wisdom from the CEO of Southwest Airlines, or the leader of International Justice Mission, or the rock star Bono… why not?  Yes we must be discerning.  Yes we need yield to a higher authority and disregard whatever they bring to the table that does not square with scripture.

Babies and bathwater.  I say let’s be open to conversations with all KINDS of people – and humble enough to learn from them. 

I know… some of you, like my fellow Sem student, might see this as dangerous – or foolish.  A slippery slope.  “Conforming to the pattern of this world.”  I hear that.  I get it.  I’m not talking about SUPPLANTING Biblical truth with any man-made business plan to run the church.  No way.  But I AM saying, how about BOTH/AND?  Why not be open to learn from smart people who might have something true – something wise – to teach the church?  Or are we so proud that we think we have found every good idea that’s ever been had about leadership?

Eternal souls are at stake.  More humility.  More conversation.  Let’s hold onto those babies, regardless of the bathwater.

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“of babies and bathwater (part two) :: lead your church like a heathen” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Psalm 24:7 & Luke 10:42 >> Like David, and Mary, I'm in pursuit of my one thing. I'm the Pastor at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Montgomery, IL. Pastor, teacher, writer, communicator, designer, and drummer. I definitely got the better deal in my marriage to Amy. And I couldn't be any more proud of my five amazing boys. Deeply grateful.

7 responses to of babies and bathwater (part 2) :: leading your church like a heathen

  1. “all truth is God’s truth…”

    Amen. 🙂 Fantastic post, as always! Couldn’t agree more.

  2. I keep finding myself intrigued by your posts when I should be going to bed! Always enjoyable reading. Good stuff, again.

  3. Finally got a chance to read this. Saw it posted a few days ago. LOVE the way you think and write, Josh. Good, good stuff.

    Your call for humble and intentional conversation is a good one, bro. The kind of conversation that affords individuals and communities the ability to listen, to consider and then to wisely recognize the truth, while at the same time exposing the deception…this is the kind of posture I want to pursue.

    This passage from Isaiah is a good one. I want to give it to you. I think it completely applies to your heart and pursuit – “This is the one I esteem, the one who is humble, broken and trembles at My Word.” Isaiah 66:2b

    Keep writing bro. You’re the real deal.

    • Thanks so much Ben. This matters deeply to me coming from you. Thanks for the encouragement.

      I’m honored you’d hit me with that verse from Isaiah. It might be a little closer to reality if it read, “This is the one God is still holding out hope for… the one who is secretly proud, and ashamed of that at the same time – the procrastinator and the stubborn of heart – the one who alternates between trembling at the Word and trying to ignore it even though he knows better. For that one Jesus died, otherwise he’d be totally up a crick.”

      Can’t write as much as I’d like because I have all this CRAZY homework. But I will keep writing when I just have to get my thoughts out into the fray. Thanks again Ben. You’re a genuine friend in the deepest way. Bless you and Dre always.

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