Willow Creek Community Church’s pastor Bill Hybels was featured in a recent edition of Fast Company magazine, which explored Hybels’ passion for leadership training and development. In 1995, his team developed a one-of-a-kind conference to teach pastors and other leaders management and leadership skills. Now called the Global Leadership Summit, speakers include successful executives like Jack Welch and Carly Fiorina, business thought-leaders like Jim Collins and Marcus Buckingham, political names such as Colin Powell and Bill Clinton, successful sports leaders like Tony Dungy, and leaders from the largest churches in the U.S. such as Rick Warren and T.D. Jakes. This year, the conference reached pastors from 70 countries on site at Willow Creek and more than 125,000 more in 130 locations in the U.S. and Canada and via live satellite simulcast and video-based meetings translated into more than 30 languages.
Many secular leaders are quick to admire Bill and his efforts to bring the best skills of the business world to ministers and leaders in all capacities. In the Fast Company article, Jack Welch affirmed Bill’s “four Es”: his energy, ability to energize, edge in decision-making, and ability in execution. He also referred to Bill’s strong passion, saying, “He’s a winner. He could be running a company—or a country.” Babson College president Len Schlesinger said the conference “offers a deep set of lessons about organizational life that I have not been able to learn anywhere else.” Even so, the conference aims primarily at the leaders of today’s churches. Bill’s oft-repeated mantra, “The local church is the hope of the world,” isn’t just something he says; the Summit aims to support and equip churches using the very best of what the world has to offer in terms of leadership expertise and practical help.
The conference invites viewpoints and attendees from all walks of life, including those outside Christianity, and this fact has drawn fire from conservative Christians. Professor David F. Wells from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary says the Summit “brings knowledge of organizations that do not have biblical truth as their driving force…Willow Creek has confused what leadership is in a company and what it must be in a church.”
But Hybels disagrees: “What has made [the Summit] last is…the blend of high-impact, God-honoring messages with savvy, street-smart, don’t-spiritualize-everything lessons from business…we don’t ask non-Christians to come teach theology.” Hybels himself studies management and leadership as a “discipline” alongside his Bible and constantly encourages attendees to the Summit to read everything they can find on the subject of leadership.
Jim Collins, who has appeared four times at the Summit as a speaker, says the importance of such teaching for the church cannot be overstated. “We need superb leadership in all sectors of society…if we only have great for-profit businesses, then we will only be a prosperous nation, not a great nation.”