Hybels Opens Leadership Summit with 'Rogue Waves'

Rogue waves provide the perfect conditions for leadership and greatness to emerge, said Pastor Bill Hybels at the annual Leadership Summit.

Leaders know these conditions produce our deepest learning curves, strongest bonds with team members, and deepest faith testing, the Willow Creek Community Church pastor told thousands on Thursday. Storms draw something out of us that calm seas don't.

Hybels was addressing church, ministry and business leaders from around the world who were attending and tuning in to the 2009 Leadership Summit, hosted by Willow Creek Association. With this year's two-day summit taking place in the midst of an economic storm, Hybels advised attendees about "leading in a new reality."

The slow economy and constant culture shifts have led the renowned megachurch pastor to believe that they won't be experiencing the "old normal" anytime soon.

"I'm not sure that we'll even experience 'The Old Normal' ever again," he said. "We are leading in a new reality."

And in the midst of this new reality, Hybels posed, "Do we still believe the local church is the hope of the world?"

"No matter how long or how deep the downturn goes, we need to challenge our church to be the Church to one another."

Recalling a time when he almost left the ministry, Hybels had written in his journal 20 years ago, "The pace at which I'm doing the work of God is destroying God's work in me."

He had felt depleted and again he was falling back into that same condition, he said, while recognizing that many other leaders today have also become depleted.

He encouraged leaders to re-invent new strategies that would serve as self-replenishment. That includes reordering their priorities, responsibilities and relationships. During "rogue wave" situations, "the best thing you bring to the table every single day is a filled-up bucket and a heart that's right with God," he stressed.

Let go of the trapeze of the old routine and embrace the new motions and disciplines of the new reality, Hybels added.

Embracing change was also the take-home message from Gary Hamel, founder of Strategos and who was ranked as the No. 1 Business Thinker of 2008 by The Wall Street Journal.

"The pace of change has gone hypercritical" yet churches have turned into weekly convocations for the converted and the content.

The most important question for the church, Hamel said, is "Are you changing? Are you the vanguard or the old guard?"

"You're either going forward or backward. You're not standing still," he added.

Citing statistics revealing the "de-churching" of America, Hamel noted that the number of Americans claiming no religious affiliation has quadrupled since 1990. In 2005, only 17 percent of Americans attended a religious service Sunday morning. And the "Christian" brand has taken a beating among young people.

Hamel, who attends Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in northern California, asked summit attendees if they should be wringing their hands over the secularization of society, or thanking God that so many people are no longer going through the motions of being religious.

Maybe we should be glad that young people have been taught to distrust dogmatic statements of all kinds, because this will force us to build an appeal on the fruit of the Spirit and not on elegant apologetics, he said.

"Success is a self-correcting strategy," he highlighted.

"We are not going to get fundamentally better at changing lives until we get fundamentally better at changing our churches."

The 2009 Leadership Summit is being held at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., as well as at dozens of host sites worldwide. According to Hybels, the annual summit is designed to be a world-class event that is spiritually stretching and intellectually rigorous.

Speakers this year include clinical psychologist and business consultant Henry Cloud, Redeemer Presbyterian Church Pastor Tim Keller, Newsong Church Pastor Dave Gibbons, and Compassion International president Wess Stafford. The summit is also featuring pre-recorded interviews with David Gergen of U.S. News & World Report, Tony Blair and Bono.