Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. - Hebrews 13: 7 (NIV)
Those who know me, know my general disdain for the annual leadership conference emanating from Willow Creek Church. Not just because Bill Hybels is one of the leaders of the emergent and seeker friendly church movement. Not just because he is a standard bearer for building more mega church kingdoms instead of the kingdom of God. It transcends that these days because the summit has become a beacon for those who seek to turn the biblical office of shepherd in a vision casting CEO built upon carnal and secular leadership principles. Andy Stanley, who was a conference speaker just two years ago, is on record as saying we should not even use the term shepherd anymore when discussing pastors. He claims it is no longer culturally relevant. As if God cares about relevance to a culture that the true Gospel is in the business of saving people out of. In the efforts for full disclosure this is not an easy devotional for me to write. I know people that I love and respect who not only attend the summit but swear by it. True Christian love and friendship however allows for agreeable disagreement. Iron always sharpens iron when two believers at least listen to what the other has to say in light of Scripture. Because ultimately at the end of the day I might be wrong or you might be wrong but God is never wrong.
The key verse today deals with leadership. It deals with the fundamental premise of the summit. It consists of three considerations when examining leadership. The first is to equate Christian leaders to those who spoke the Word of God to us. This means that the first step is always doctrine. Christians often forget in this experiential Christian era we live in that it is doctrine that saves:
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. - 1Timothy 4: 16 (NIV)
Remember beloved that anyone can open a Bible and read something from it. That does not make it the Gospel. Staying true to what the Bible actually says is what makes it the Gospel. Untold numbers of people who call themselves Christian go to churches every single week where someone reads from the Bible yet are sitting under deception. The devil knows the Bible. Who speaks the uncompromised Word of God to you is who you ought to be following. Not someone who twists the Bible. Not someone who uses it for shameful gain. Not someone who does not correctly divide the Word of Truth.
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. - 2Timothy 2: 15 (KJV)
So the first thing we must consider when discussing Christian leadership is doctrine. Does the person in question correctly handle the Word of God. If not, the conversation is over. Now, many summit supporters would argue that this is just about leadership and why can't we learn from anyone who has demonstrated good leadership? Because it is not billed as a secular leadership conference. It is held in a church and marketed throughout churches. I suppose if it were just another leadership conference there would be no need to apply the Word of God to it but once you put on the mantle of Christianity we must apply the Word as our plumb line. Secondly on this argument, I am not entirely sure that the church ought to be in the habit of taking any advice from the world, let alone advice about how to lead. Just last year the headliner at the summit was someone who made 400 million dollars cross-dressing in comedy movies. Who went on then to father a child out of wedlock. That is not to pick on Tyler Perry because similar arguments can be made for following any advice from anyone else who does not share our core beliefs. So I think I fundamentally disagree with the notion that it is just a leadership conference and that we can learn from anyone who the world regards as a successful leader. But back to the Bible and the key verses for today.
The second consideration, after doctrine, is to consider the outcome of their lives. God always covers all bases. It is not just enough to speak correct doctrine. The first half of that 1Timothy verse says to watch our lives as well. There is a word for someone who does not live what he preaches and that word is hypocrite. The number one reason given by people who do not attend church is that they view Christians as hypocrites. We ought to do well to remember how much Jesus spoke against hypocrisy during His three year ministry. He held much contempt for the Pharisees and teachers of law specifically because they were hypocrites. In Matthew 23 when he is pronouncing woes over the Pharisees He refers to them as hypocrites over and over again.
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. - Matthew 23: 27-28 (NIV)
This is what we can become if we preach correctly yet live incorrectly. So after considering if the person correctly handles the Word of God we must examine the outcome of their way of life. Does it bring honor to God? Does it represent Christ? Or is the constant controversy. Are there things about their life that do not align with the Word. If so, then again, the conversation is over. We do not strive to follow people who are not following God. It really is that simple. The third part of the key verse for us to consider today is what we should do when we find that man who is abiding in the Word correctly and dividing it equally well. We ought to imitate them. What does that mean preacher? It means we ought to follow them. It means we have found a leader worth following. Here is a portion from Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible regarding this portion of the key verse:
"whose faith follow; or "imitate"; meaning either their faithfulness, by owning the truths and ordinances of the Gospel before men; by reproving fellow Christians in love; by discharging the several duties of their place in the church; and by performing the private duties of life: or the grace of faith, their strong exercise of it, together with its fruits and effects, love, and good works; also the profession of their faith, which they hold fast unto the end; and the doctrine of faith, by embracing the same, as it appears agreeably to the word; by abiding by it, standing fast in it, striving for it, and persevering in it to the end."
We follow this type of leader and imitate him because he correctly handles the Word as we should and his life reflects that as ours should. There is no need for human wisdom and fancy leadership principles. There is no need for carnal logic and secular motivation. This is truly what Paul meant when he said follow me as I follow Christ. Yet here we are year after year chasing the world. Lining up the "captains of industry" and those who have succeeded in the realm ruled by Satan to learn from them? Then we take these flesh lessons and go back to our churches and ministries to try and implement them? Yet somehow we still wonder how come the church continues to unravel into more and more secular humanism? Seriously?
So let us take these simple principles and apply them to the all star lineup Bill Hybels is promoting this year from the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. Let's start with the low hanging fruit, which is always easiest when dealing with the summit because there is so much of it. There are 13 scheduled speakers at this "Christian" leadership conference yet eight of them are not associated with the church at all. Sixty percent of the speakers fail the first test of our key verse. Not only do they not handle the Word correctly but they do not handle the Word at all! Summit supporters will argue that we can learn much from the CEO of the Ritz-Carlton Group or a professor from the Wharton School of Business. They will be wowed by the President of Walt Disney Animation or the former President of Bank of America's Global Wealth and Investment Management. Yet I hate to keep bringing it up but none of these credentials matter to God. None of them. They are extremely accomplished as the world goes and if you wanted to learn how to lead in this fallen world perhaps these would be the eight people you would start with. But as far as our walk with God and our service to Him, none of them even pass the first and most basic test. None of them even touch the Word of God.
The next application for these eight would be to look at their lives and whether they are living a life that honors and glorifies God and His principles. Please beloved, this is not personal. These eight people live in the fallen world and have prospered in it. So it is no wonder that their lives may not live up to the Word of God. Take Sallie Krawcheck, formerly of Bank of America. I say formerly because she was fired from that position yet still walked away with a six million dollar severance package. Now I understand the world is OK with such opulence but not according to the humility spoken about biblically. It is not something to be bragging about. What about Jim Collins, business consultant and author whose famous quotes include:
"Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice."