(Photo: Willow Creek Association)
Mark Burnett, executive producer of the record-breaking "The Bible" television miniseries, said Thursday at The Global Leadership Summit that producing the miniseries was a "calling from God."
Burnett, who has also produced popular shows including "The Voice," "Celebrity Apprentice," "Survivor" and others, was interviewed during the event by Bill Hybels, founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill.
Everyone in Hollywood told him that producing "The Bible" would be a huge mistake, Burnett said, but he did not ignore his calling and went forward with the project.
Later on, when he first met Hybels, Burnett says he was feeling defensive because he felt the secular media had been attacking the miniseries. After watching about an hour of the show, Hybels offered Burnett some wisdom that significantly changed the producer's mindset.
"Stop playing defensively, and start playing offensively," Hybels said at the time, according to Burnett. "Stop apologizing…You love it. It's great. Be offensive. Go forward."
"The Bible," despite any criticism it received, brought 100 million viewers to the History Channel earlier this year. Shortly after, it became the top-selling DVD miniseries ever when 525,000 copies were sold in its first week of release. The show has also since become wildly popular internationally as well.
Still, Burnett doesn't give himself credit for the show's success.
"It's not about us," he said. "You know we have great credibility and skill in making moving pictures, television and film, but this has nothing to do with us. This is completely and utterly Holy Spirit."
The show has served as a conversation starter in a culture that would not typically be open to discussions about Jesus or the Bible, says Burnett, though the goal of the miniseries wasn't to preach to viewers.
"We didn't want to preach at people and tell the audience how they should be feeling," he said. "We wanted to just tell the story – the greatest love story in the history of the world – and let you feel it."
Burnett, who leads teams of hundreds of people on his reality shows, also shared some leadership advice with the 75,000 people watching the Summit, which is being broadcast throughout the U.S. from the Willow Creek campus.
On each one of his shows, he said, he pairs up a leader who's focused primarily on creativity with a leader who's focused primarily on finances so they can balance each other out and be successful together.
He also said working with the wrong people or leaving conflicts unresolved within an organization can be a drain on energy and harmful to a project, and emphasized that leaders should trust those working under them with the task they've been assigned to do instead of interfering or doing it for them.
"Hire great people, and let them do their job," he said.
The Global Leadership Summit is an annual two-day event put on by Willow Creek Association. The event, which was first held in 1995, was designed to help local church leaders but is regularly attended by leaders from a variety of different fields of work.