Lynne & Bill Hybels. Rediscovering Church: The Story and Vision of Willow Creek Community Church. Zondervan, 1995. (213 pages)
The first 8 chapters is the heartfelt story of the beginnings of Willow Creek told by Lynne. The sentiment that stands out is the honest sense that the Holy Spirit was guiding and leading the emergence of this church out of their youth group “Son City” and that through it all — the struggles, challenges, insane pace, budgets, hard lessons, amazing growth, media attention etc. — there was something very special that God was doing in and through the people. And all the work and sacrifice was going to be worth all the blood, sweat, and tears.
The writing is real, honest, and raw, and for that, I commend it to you as a read that welcomes you into the broader Church family of which Willow is a hefty member. You’ll learn insights and lessons that aren’t “bullet-pointed,” and you’ll get a glimpse at the heart of a church that is often only evaluated on the aesthetics of its organization.
The follow quotes were highlights for me:
“I’m not sure you can taste biblical community apart from personal weakness.” (16)
“…what they seemed to want more than anything else was to be transformed from the inside out.” (37)
“If you glean anything from this book, I hope it will be that the Willow Creek story is a story of grace.” (53)
“That’s the ultimate contradiction. People walk away from the church carrying a heavier burden than when they approached.” (58)
“Dr. Bilezikian was asked to describe the clearest example of God’s protection on Willow Creek during the Train Wreck era.
That Bill didn’t buckle under the pressure, … When I saw that he had the resources and strength to keep going despite enormous opposition, then I knew that the mettle of the man had been tried and that by God’s grace we could go forward. (94)
“Why are we so surprised when these things happen? Why do we so quickly forget that disappointments and losses and tragedies are a part of life? It’s true. For most of us the good times, the pleasures, and the successes will be experienced alongside pain and loss and sorry. Life is, after all, a tangled web. Our great challenge, then, as Christians, is to discover in our God a peace, a comfort, and a joy that is deep and strong and real enough to thrive in the sin-touched reality of our human lives. That has been the most significant focus of the past few years for Bill and for me.” (119)
“Exactly how will churches around the globe discover their vision and values? Not surprisingly, God has spelled out a plan. His method depends upon the unleashing of men and women who have been given the spiritual gift of leadership.” (148)
“Teachers educate and edify, which are both very necessary. Yet leaders inspire and motivate. they tend to pull people into action and involve them in the mission that they’re spearheading.” (149)
- Leaders have the ability to cast a vision.
- Leaders have the ability to coalesce people.
- Leaders have the ability to inspire and motivate people.
- Leaders are able to identify the need for positive change — and then bring it about.
- Leaders establish core values.
- Leaders allocate resources effectively.
- Leaders have the ability to identify entropy.
- Leaders love to create a leadership culture.
chapter ten: THE VISION OF A BIBLICALLY FUNCTIONING COMMUNITY
- Teaching that’s life changing.
- Fellowship that’s well below the surface.
- Seeking and saving the lost.
- Sharing the wealth.
- Love of another kind.
- The source of hope.
chapter eleven: A MISSION AND STRATEGY
We’re not just wanting to keep Christians happy and growing. We aren’t attempting to lure believers from other churches by having glitzier services and better programs. We’re starting with hard-core skeptics and trying to transform them into zealously committed disciples of Jesus. And that’s really hard! (168)
So we developed a clear vision statement: We want to become a biblically functioning community. Then we summarized our mission in one sentence: We want to turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Christ. … But what’s next? We needed an effective, God-honoring plan to accomplish that mission.
STEP 1: BUILD AN AUTHENTIC RELATIONSHIP WITH A NONBELIEVER.
STEP 2: SHARE A VERBAL WITNESS. “It’s not enough to merely enter into the world of nonbelievers, build relationships with them, and live out our faith in front of them. At some point, if we’re praying for them, the Holy Spirit is going to open up a window of evangelistic opportunity, and we’ve got to know how to respond.” (171)
STEP 3: BRING THE SEEKER TO A SERVICE DESIGNED ESPECIALLY FOR THEM. “We minimize the ‘cringe factor’ by maintaining excellence. We preserve the anonymity that seekers so desperately want to protect.” (173) “The beauty of the seeker service is that it involves the entire congregation in personal evangelism.” (175)
STEP 4: REGULARLY ATTEND A SERVICE FOR BELIEVERS.
STEP 5: JOIN A SMALL GROUP.
STEP 6: DISCOVER, DEVELOP, AND DEPLOY YOUR SPIRITUAL GIFT.
STEP 7: STEWARD YOUR RESOURCES IN A GOD-HONORING WAY. “In the end, financial stewardship isn’t a money issue. It’s a heart issue. And that’s why it’s the last of the seven steps.” (181)
chapter twelve: VALUES THAT DISTINGUISH A MOVEMENT
- We believe that anointed teaching is the primary catalyst for transformation in the lives of individuals and in the church.
- We believe that lost people matter to God and therefore ought to matter to the church.
- We believe that the church should be culturally relevant, while remaining doctrinally pure.
- We believe that Christ followers should manifest authenticity and year for continuous growth.
- We believe that the church should operate as a unified community of servants stewarding their spiritual gifts.
- We believe that loving relationships should permeate every aspect of church life.
- We believe that life change happens best in small groups.
- We believe that excellence honors God and inspires people.
- We believe that churches should be led by those with leadership gifts. “Much is hanging in the balance. It’s my conviction that the crisis of mediocrity and stagnation in today’s churches is fundamentally a crisis of leadership.” (193)
- We believe that full devotion to Christ and His cause is normal for every believer. “Ninety-five percent devotion to God is five percent short.” (193)
chapter thirteen:GROWING FULLY DEVOTED FOLLOWERS
There is a distinction between “positional members” of the church universal and “participating members” of a specific local body of believers. (198)
We call this description of participating membership the Five Gs:
- Group “Relationships aren’t optional in church; relationships are the church.” (199)
- Good Stewardship
An idolatry of words has grown up in evangelism. There are people who, if they fail to hear the repetition of phrases and words with which they are familiar, make the sometimes absurd claim that the Gospel is not being preached. – Alan Walker (208)
The idea that ‘the Spirit can work somehow,’ that God can bring something out of it if we just sort of throw it out there, is unjustifiable from those who aim to know the living God and can see His integrity and dedication to quality in His Word and the world around us. – Franky Schaeffer in Addicted to Mediocrity (211)
— VIA —
The final two quotes are refreshing for me to personally hear as they are apropos to several feelings and conversations I’ve had recently in my transition. So, I bless God for those words at this time.
As for the story of Willow Creek, I’m reminded of something Rick Warren once mentioned. Something to the effect of, “When you’re small they ignore you. When you’re growing, they criticize you. When you’re big, they’re afraid of you (or dismiss you).” “They,” of course being critics. Well, in my class that I teach, the sentiments of “watered-down” and “compromise” still come up when discussing “seeker-sensitivism.” The same criticisms are still around, which emerges a question in me that may come from a Ecclesiastes point of view: Is not all criticism meaningless?
Gamaliel was once wise and advised his counsel to let the movement be. If it is of human origin, it will simply fizzle (come to nothing: a.k.a. “movement fail”). If it is of God, you won’t be able to stop it, and you’ll only find yourself fighting against the Lord. (Acts 5)
So in this present case, I read this book because I have admired and been thankful for Willow Creek, and will continue to encourage all in the Kingdom building programme to continue with vigor and love. I will consider the critiques, and learn from the mistakes. But I believe I will always have an admiration and sense of gratitude for my brothers and sisters who were will not not only give it all, but then share it all for the benefit of the work of God, here on earth, as it is in heaven.