Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Willow Creek Leadership Summit 2007

Last week I particpated in the Willow Creek Leadership Summit, along with something like 65,000 other people around the globe. I was at the satellite location in Austin. While I was there listening to John Ortberg, I got a text message from my colleague Jenn in Denver, who was attending the conference at a satellite location there. She mentioned how much she liked John Ortberg's talk, while I was sitting there watching him speak "live" from a church in Barrington, Illinois. Technology, huh? Wild.

I'd never been to a Willow Creek event before, and although I was looking forward to the speakers (especially Colin Powell and former pres. Jimmy Carter), I was mostly curious about the whole massive Willow Creek machine itself. What sort of culture spawned such a behemoth of an organization? And where is Jesus in the mix of it?

My GenX genes are naturally wired to be suspect of church-based organizations. Though they typically begin from noble aspirations, they can quickly become their own reason for existing, especially as they grow larger and begin to taste the sweet honey of admiration and power. It's not that I think organizations are inherently bad (or inherently good, for that matter). They just have a nasty habit of running away with themselves...and those who serve them end up losing sight of the orginal cause that inspired them and devolve into working merely to feed the organization and keep it alive for its own sake.

I can't say whether Willow has slipped down the path of existing in order to keep itself alive; I can't tell from this distance. But one thing I have noticed: People in Christian organizations (churches included) who are willing to sacrifice their deep, intimate, relational connection with Christ for the sake of serving His cause inevitably lose their heart in the process. They lose touch with the dream that originally inspired them to serve, and lose most (if not all) of their lasting impact for the Kingdom. Because at the end of the day, whatever the work, whatever the calling, it's still all about the relationship.

"Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can't bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can't bear fruit unless you are joined with me. I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you're joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can't produce a thing."

(John 15:4-5, The Message)

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