October 14, 2008
Live from REVEAL: Bill Hybels on Self-Centered Christians
Jumping the chasm between self-centered and Christ-centered faith.
by Skye Jethani
Last week it was Catalyst in Atlanta. This week's it's Willow Creek's REVEAL Conference in South Barrington, Illinois. (At least I'm closer to home.) I'll be here for the next two days with a number of updates from the conference. First up: Bill Hybels.
Greg Hawkins began this morning with a recap of the mission - to move people who are far from God toward being fully devoted followers, which means increasingly loving God and loving their neighbor. In churches we create services, classes, small groups, etc. He said, as people participate in these activities, we assume, they will become disciples - those who love God and their neighbors. REVEAL was designed to measure how effective the church's programs have been in order to refine programs and allocate resources to those that work best.
Willow first conducted the REVEAL survey with its members and attenders in the fall of 2003. The results, says Hawkins, showed that "participation in [church] activities doesn't predict whether people have a heart for God and a heart for other people." Instead, one's maturity was not related to activity but intimacy.
After the opening remarks, Bill Hybels took the stage to talk more about REVEAL's impact from his perspective. He began by noting that this past weekend marked the 33rd anniversary of Willow Creek Community Church, and how one kid reminded him that Jesus lived for 33 years and "then they killed him." The laughs showed Hybel's strength - his amazing ability to connect with an audience.
"Most people go to conferences to get their current way of ministry reinforced," he said. But he promised that the REVEAL conference would screw with our heads and cause disequilibrium.
His focus came from Hebrews 13:17 and the reality that church leaders must give an account to God for their people's souls. Hybels confessed that this verse has haunted him throughout his leadership at Willow.
He asked the pastors, "What is good enough? Seats full enough, offerings big enough, people happy enough?" He said too many of us are unwilling to go after radical change. We may tweak our style, but we don't seriously reconsider our fundamental approach to ministry. Bill choked up when he described his unwillingness to upset the apple cart at times in order to keep the peace. "I'm not proud of that kind of leadership," he said.
But Bill Hybels is very proud of "the REVEAL era" at Willow Creek. "We've challenged things that have gone unchallenged around here for a long, long time."
When the initial study was done in 2003, Hybels says he expected results to be "benign." And it did show some good things. Willow proved to have a sizable number of seekers, a strong evangelistic orientation, and a good number of strong Christ-centered people.
However, Bill also confessed that "Some findings in the survey bothered me at a level so deeply that I wanted to strangle the messengers." He continued, "It was hard for me to admit that I'd poured 30 years of my life in to this thing, and part of the findings showed that we'd fallen short in some ways."
Bill said as he and those around him wrestled with the findings, they had to keep encouraging one another with a mantra: "Facts are your friends. Facts are your friends?" [More laughter.]
Hybels went on to discuss some of the findings relating to the four identified groupings in the REVEAL study: Those Exploring Christ (the seekers), Growing in Christ (beginning believers), Close to Christ, and Christ-Centered. These basic findings shouldn't be new to regular readers of Out of Ur. Let me highlight something that was new. Bill Hybels said the leaders of Willow began to discuss which jump was hardest to make. A "jump" means moving from one of the four segments to the next. For example, is moving from "Exploring Christ" to "Growing in Christ" more or less difficult than moving from "Growing in Christ" to "Close to Christ"?
With palpable passion and intensity, Hybels said that by far the largest, toughest chasm is between those who are "Close to Christ" and those who are "Christ-Centered." He described people who are exploring, growing, or close to Christ as still fundamentally self-centered. They believe, "God is for me, and my plans, and my agenda in this world." Those who are truly Christ-centered, however, are fully surrendered. They've given up their dreams, desires, and agenda and exchanged them for Christ's. Hybel's said, "A big honkin' thing has to happen for a Christian to move from self-centered to Christ-centered."
This movement is essential for every pastor and every church to focus on, says Hybels, because you're not going to change the world with seekers, or immature Christians. It's the Christ-Centered, fully-devoted disciples who are going to change the world.
After this morning's session, Marshall Shelley and I had the opportunity to interview Hybels in his office to talk in more depth. So, you can expect to hear more about Bill Hybel's perspective on REVEAL in a future issue of Leadership.