(Photo: Willow Creek Association)
During the opening session of The Global Leadership Summit on Thursday, Bill Hybels exhorted pastors and leaders of all kinds to lead with courage.
"Every single woman and man who steps into the leadership role discovers within days of donning the mantle that leadership demands a nonstop flow of fortitude from day one until the leader's final day. They learn that leadership is not for the faint of heart, and that without God's help the job of a leader is almost impossible to sustain over the long haul." said Hybels, founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill.
During his message, Hybels frequently referred to God's promise to Joshua found in Joshua 1:9, which says, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."
Hybels spoke about four specific areas in which leaders must have courage, starting with the courage to act on a vision God has given them. He spoke about how, in the midst of an economic recession, his church moved forward with the vision to build a Care Center, a facility where Willow Creek could provide those in need with food, clothing, housing and transportation help, medical services and much more.
"Every significant vision that God births in you is going to put your courage to the test – you can count on this," said Hybels.
After the Care Center was up and running, a woman with several children told Hybels the center was her family's "only hope," which caused him to think about how close he came to "killing" that vision before he even shared it with anyone else.
Visions are "holy commodities," he said, and many leaders secretly abort the vision God has given to them because it requires risk. Their fears cause them to reject the vision, but that can have major consequences.
"So, in my view, when we look at a violent and suffering world, and we all watch the news every night, I think we have a decision to make on where to lay the blame," said Hybels. "Should we lay the blame at the feet of a compassionate God, who has been sending life-enhancing visions to millions of leaders all over the world? Or should we lay the blame at the feet of a large number of gutless, cowardly leaders who aborted the misery alleviating visions that God could have blessed wildly had there been the leadership courage to give them birth?"
He encouraged leaders to be honest about the reality their organization is facing, whether they're in an upturn, a downturn or if they're just holding on to the status quo. It takes courage to face such realities, he says, but a leader must face them in order to lead appropriately.
Hybels also encouraged leaders to find the courage to build "a fantastic culture" in their organizations.
"Staff cultures will only ever be as healthy as the CEO or senior pastor wants it to be," he said.
Leaders must offer "brave apologies" for their mistakes and misdeeds, and understand that there are some people who will help build the organization's culture and others who will work to tear it down.
"We are no longer going to pay people to bruise and bust our culture," said Hybels. He later said it can be hard for leaders to say goodbye to colleagues they have worked with for a while, though sometimes it is necessary for the health of an organization.
His last major point was that leaders must have courage in establishing and enforcing the values of their organization. There's a time when leaders must transition from casting vision to making something a value of their organization, he says, and it can be difficult to do so.
"There comes a time when a leader can no longer keep suggesting that something is a great idea, or wait patiently until every last person gets it," he said. "At some point, she or he has to throw down the gauntlet and declare that an inviolable value is being established and the whole organization needs to behave differently from that point further."
The Global Leadership Summit is an "unapologetically Christian" event, Hybels said, though people from all faiths and fields of work are welcome to attend. The event, which is organized by Willow Creek Association, is being broadcast from Willow Creek Community Church to more than 230 locations throughout the U.S. It is being attended by approximately 75,000 people nationwide and will be viewed by an estimated 100,000 more people internationally later this year.