August 7, 2009
Bill Hybels on "Leading in the New Reality"
Live (sort of) from Willow Creek's Leadership Summit
Opening illustration: Ship captains will sail if waves are 3 feet, 6 feet, or even 9 feet high; but what they fear are rogue waves--the unexpected high wave.
All of us in organizational leadership this past 8 months have been hit by economic turmoil and difficulty and ferocious conditions. Yet for seasoned leaders, such conditions are perfect for leadership to emerge. They force new levels of courage and creativity. The Holy Spirit whispers, "This is why I gave you a leadership gift. You were born for this." These times create great memories and strongest bonds with our team members. A "rogue wave" draws something out of us.
1. Philosophical Lessons. In one week last fall, the stock market lost almost 20% of its value--the single biggest drop in one week since the Great Depression. Many church members at Willow Creek lost their jobs. Calls began coming to the church, asking for help with groceries. A business guy called, who normally gives $200,000 to $300,000 to the church each year. He said, "Bill, I'm not going to be able to give anything. I not only lost my job and my investments, I think I'm going to lose my house."
I put our teaching series on hold and chose to speak into this crisis and tell our people what we would do as a church. We decided we must be an Acts 2 church, where people sold possessions to help those in need. I asked people in difficult financial circumstances to allow others to humble themselves and help them--and we expanded our efforts in our ministries providing financial assistance. I asked those who were not in financial difficulty to step up their serving, praying, and giving. One man came to me the next week and gave a check with many zeroes in it. There is nothing like the local church, when the local church is working right.
We've sensed that people coming into services are coming in with abnormal levels of anxiety. So we modified our weekend services: (a) we're starting 5-7 minutes before the beginning, creatively preparing people's minds and hearts before the service; (b) we're blurring the ending of the services, and invite people to stay and listen to the vocal team "sing over them" for up to 30 minutes, or come for prayer with leaders; (c) and having "serious church" in the middle, insisting that every element of the service be focused and anointed. People tell us these changes are helping them grow closer to Christ.
2. Financial Lessons. During a downturn, we're forced to walk more by faith than by sight. In the downturn, revenues go down and the needs for revenue go up. Financial planning becomes more like guesswork.
In times like this, cash gives you time to make adjustments. Yet many churches and NGOs have no cash reserves and no philosophy for long-term reserves. (At Willow, we try to have 25% of our annual giving in long-term reserves.)
When we set priorities, we ask, "If our revenue were to drop 50%--we plan for a worst-case scenario--which ministries would we stop doing first?" We put those in Bucket C. For a 75% drop, we put those in Bucket B. Then we ask, "What would we never stop doing?" And those go in Bucket A. How clarifying that is.
The Golden Rules of staff reductions: give months of notice, clearly explain the causes, and be generous with severances and services.
Finally, this is an ideal time to explain kingdom principles of giving. People will give generously to a kingdom vision. For example, we challenged people to restock the food pantry for the entire year, and they exceeded that goal. We challenged our congregation to go on a subsistence diet for 5 days and give the money saved to alleviate global poverty and AIDS, and people gave 300% of what we expected.
3. Relational Lessons. I want to see God do great works in our day--to heal marriages, to put an end to violence, war, sex trafficking, and more. How has God gotten great things done throughout history? He usually works through people who are totally surrendered to Him. Are we attracting and hiring people like that, and are we mentoring and developing them? And are we having honest conversations with people on our staff who are not fully yielded?
We read Jim Collins's latest book, How the Mighty Have Fallen, and we discussed 4 questions from it: How many key seats are in your organization? And how many of those seats are filled with the right people--fully devoted ones (we estimated 85% in our case)? What is our plan for filling those seats with the right people? Are we developing backup people for each of the key seats, in case someone leaves?
4. Personal Lessons. A few months ago, at a board meeting, I asked a business person "How was your day?" He said, "I'm still doing my normal 50-hour-per-week job, but because of the recession, I'm in many extra meetings every day. It's like having another full-time job. I don't see this letting up any time soon." I felt prompted by the Spirit to say, "I'm a little worried for you." He said, "I'm a little worried for me, too." After the meeting, the Spirit whispered to me, "Bill, I'm a little worried about you." I had been doing much the same as this other leader. I realized my life is unsustainable. I began to journal about it and talk with other leaders.
One night, my 2 children said they were worried about me. Twenty years ago, I was so depleted, I almost left ministry altogether; I didn't then have an adequate replenishment strategy in place, and I wrote then, "The pace at which I'm doing the work of God is destroying God's work in me." I had done okay since then, but now I was falling back into a depleted condition.
I started playing with a picture in my mind: a big "replenishment" bucket. Romans 8:6 says that being in sync with the Holy Spirit leads to life and peace. That fills my bucket. When my replenishment bucket is depleted, people around me suffer.
The economic difficulties have caused many leaders to become depleted. We have to do self-leadership and re-invent adequate replenishment strategies for the new reality. I have a "planned negligence" strategy: I must say no more, extract myself more. I have to decide afresh whom to be with more, because they fill me. I spend more time with my grandson.
I've changed how I start my day. I have almost always been in at 6 or 6:15 in the morning. But in my office, I was almost powerless not to do the work that was waiting for me. Now I stay at home longer in the morning and pray and read God's Word and do sermon preparation.
When you're in "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 and a heart that's filled with optimism. Then everyone around you benefits. They sense in you a rock-solid confidence in God.
For a complete rundown of yesterday's events, visit our sister site BuildingChurchLeaders.com.