I've just returned from a week in Chicago. The week started with my leadership team from Crossings joining me in two days of evaluation, planning, and dreaming. It was a very productive and inspiring time together. The team came back to Oklahoma City Tuesday evening and I remained in Chicago for the annual Global Leadership Summit debriefing, which is a meeting I look forward to every year.
The Global Leadership Summit started in the auditorium of Willow Creek Community Church in 1994. I found myself sitting in that auditorium in 1994 when Willow Creek Community Church was becoming a church that was changing the church landscape of Chicago. Their Pastor, Bill Hybels, had an unusual and compelling story, as church leadership goes--I had to go see it for myself.
In the summer of 1994, I went to Chicago alone to find out what this church was doing that had the church world talking. It was also a unique moment in my life and the life of my church. It had been eight years since I reluctantly agreed to be the pastor of Westridge Hills Church. I was reluctant because the résumé which qualified me to be a pastor did not exist; I had a degree in business and music.
In 1981, at the invitation and urging of my high school youth pastor who was then the Senior Pastor of this small church in Oklahoma City, I visited Oklahoma City. Something very unexpected happened to me on that visit to Oklahoma City: it became clear that God wanted me there. It didn't make much sense, but I had no doubt I had heard from God.
There have been many times in my life I've asked God to be as clear to me as He was in 1981. I'll spare you all the details, but in the fall of 1985, I was sitting around a table with the church board as they asked me to be their Senior Pastor. I was 26 years old. The church was 26 years old.
Once again, it was very clear that I was called to do this. The invitation and my decision made absolutely no sense. I was not qualified. No experience. No seminary degree. And it certainly was not on my list of life goals.
In 1985, I became the pastor of this fabulous church in northwest Oklahoma City with 143 people attending on an average Sunday. There were a few church members who just did not think it was a good idea. Neither did I! They left the church but, thankfully, remained my friends.
By 1994, we had grown to 500 people, built a new sanctuary to seat 500 people, and there was no sign the growth would stop any time soon. It was out of control. I felt overwhelmed. All we ever wanted was to reach 200 people. 200 people showed up by 1997, so we decided to increase our faith and build a 500-seat sanctuary. 500 people soon showed up.
Back to my story: it was 1994 and I was having an experience that should never have happened to me. I really wasn't sure if it was a good idea for me to continue on as the pastor. With 500 people and more coming, I was certain it was time to find a capable, qualified, and experienced pastor to lead this church. I was more than willing to help them find that person. But these gracious folks believed I should continue leading them. I wasn't so sure.
And that's where Willow Creek and Bill Hybels enter the story.
I sat in the Willow Creek auditorium on that summer day in 1994 and heard Bill Hybels tell a room full of church leaders that he didn't really feel qualified and that speaking each week left him completely exhausted. He also demonstrated an unusual transparency and humility that I'd rarely seen in a pastor. Sitting in that auditorium in 1994, God used Bill and Willow Creek to nudge me to trust Him and continue leading our church in OKC.
Fast forward to 2001. We were now a church of 2500 people. My dad’s friend, John Maxwell, came to town for a conference and brought--of all people--Bill Hybels. I went to the conference and John insisted I take Bill over to our new church campus on Portland Avenue.
Bill was extremely kind about our building and it wasn't long until he called and invited Crossings to be the 28th site for the Leadership Summit. How amazing is that?
The conference in 1994 was now being held in my church and the pastor I never dreamed I'd know was now a friend.
The Global Leadership Summit will be experienced by nearly 400,000 people this year. It has been a privilege to be on the journey now for 16 years. This opportunity has given me the gift of a friendship with Bill Hybels and the privilege of a front row seat to one of the greatest congregations on the planet led by one of its finest leaders.
As I flew home from Chicago, I was filled with a deep sense of gratitude that God would have been so kind as to allow me this great partnership with all things Willow Creek and their pastor. The impact is immeasurable. There are no words. When I tell Bill "thank you," it feels so inadequate and hollow. Yet, this world-class leader humbly deflects any praise and always responds with another dose of encouragement.
My heart, mind, and soul are full today. Thank you, God, for putting people in my life that helped me succeed, even though the résumé would never have indicated it was possible.