Bill Hybels, Global Leadership Summit, and the mishandling of Joshua 1:9


The Global Leadership Summit just went down a few days ago, and it’s coming to Fort McMurray via a live feed in a few months. I’m not sure who is all participating, but i would guess it’s the usual suspects. As it were, I came across an article in the Christian post about it, and I thought it worth discussing. Unfortunately the audio is not available, so these direct quotes from Jeff Schapiro will have to do.

“During the opening session of The Global Leadership Summit on Thursday, Bill Hybels exhorted pastors and leaders of all kinds to lead with courage.

‘Every single woman and man who steps into the leadership role discovers within days of donning the mantle that leadership demands a nonstop flow of fortitude from day one until the leader’s final day. They learn that leadership is not for the faint of heart, and that without God’s help the job of a leader is almost impossible to sustain over the long haul.’ said Hybels, founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill.”

Alright, so far so good.

“During his message, Hybels frequently referred to God’s promise to Joshua found in Joshua 1:9, which says, ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.’ Hybels spoke about four specific areas in which leaders must have courage, starting with the courage to act on a vision God has given them.”

Here’s where we stop for our think-a-long. It’s important that we ask the question, “Does Joshua 1:9 promise leaders a direct vision from God that they’re supposed to act on?”. The answer is, “Not at all.”.  The story of Joshua is a historical narrative grounded at a particular time in history where God is speaking to a particular person in a particular context. To get into the story and see what’s going on, let’s look at Joshua 1-

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 5 No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.”

So the Lord is speaking to Joshua specifically and gives him instructions for how he is to conquer the land and the rate and means he is going to do so. He discusses the actual geographical land mass that will be conquered and consumed and reassures Joshua of his guaranteed success and conquests in war. We see the Lord telling Joshua that he would never leave him nor forsake him. In the same vein there are parallels in the new covenant from Christ himself that describe how he will never leave us nor forsake us. The exhortation of “Be strong and courageous because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them” is a specific promise given to Joshua, and the manner in which he inherited the land would involve much real bloodshed, real war, real death, and real destruction.

“7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.”

This is referencing the Mosaic covenant-

“8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” 10 So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: 11 “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own.'”

Despite the fact that Bill Hybels stated how Joshua 1:9 speaks about the courage to act on a unique vision from God,  nowhere does the text say that all leaders are going to receive specific and unique visions from God. Furthermore, he seems to have left out the important part about meditating on God’s law day and night and meditating on everything according to it. Because as soon as you tack that on, you can’t rip that verse out of context and then come up with four things leaders are supposed to do courageously.

In other words, Bill Hybels is twisting God’s word. This is not something that we should be particularly surprised at as we’ve seen this many times before from him, most notably with his “The Power of a Whisper” sermons/book which are especially cringe-worthy. But the ability to understand that you don’t get to take descriptive texts and make them prescriptive texts is something basic that any pastor should know. Ultimately he has shown himself not to be trusted when it comes to rightly handling God’s word. As a further note, if you know anything about the “Reveal Now” study which happened a few year ago and the dismal results that belayed the problems that plague that Church, you would know that there is very little if anything about the Willow Creek Church Model or philosophy that any Church ought to admire or aspire to be like.

“Hybels spoke about four specific areas in which leaders must have courage, starting with the courage to act on a vision God has given them.”

Nowhere in the Bible does God promise leaders he will give them a specific and unique vision from God. This is just assumed to be true, an idea brought in from external sources and then eisegeted into the text. To make the point further, look at the rest of this chapter-

12 But to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said, 13 “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you after he said, ‘The Lord your God will give you rest by giving you this land.’ 14 Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, ready for battle, must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites. You are to help them 15 until the Lord gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the Lord your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise.”

16 Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses. 18 Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous!”

If  we are to take these verses and make them prescriptive as to what we Christians should be doing or to draw out principles from these texts, why just stop at verse nine? If we insert ourselves into the story and claim the promises and directives from the Lord to Joshua for us, then we ought to accept all the directives, right?

We see in verse 14 that while the leaders are to be strong and courageous, the women are not. This command or exhortation was not directed to them. They were not to join the battle and fray but must stay home with the children and livestock. Furthermore, we see in verses 17 and 18 that anyone who fails to do what the leader commands should be put to death.

Or how about Joshua 5:2-3 where we read, “At that time the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.’ So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath Haaralot.”?

Or how about in 2:1, “Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. ‘Go, look over the land,’ he said, ‘especially Jericho.’ So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.”?

If there are no qualitative differences between the commands of God to Joshua in either of these examples, we ought to assume they are all for us. Instead of four areas, why not six areas? Why not something like, “You also need to have courage to spy on your enemies and be willing to enter into the house of prostitutes if necessary” or “You need to have courage to circumcise the people that follow you”, and then insert some business principle about cutting their paycheck by 10%, if you get my drift. Ultimately it’s a selective use of scripture to make a point. It’s the worst kind of prooftexting.

To state it more succinctly, Bill Hybels had a point that he came up with on his own which he desired to make. In order to give the point a greater sense of legitimacy, and in order to maximize the power and poignancy of the point, he went and found a Bible story that he could sort-of make reference to which then functions as a vehicle to deliver the maxim. And because the people he is speaking to are so Biblically illiterate, and because they are so used to their pastors abusing them in this way, it is not seen as abuse or as a mishandling of the word but rather an earth-shattering revelation. Ultimately it’s a form of spiritual and scriptural Stockholm Syndrome, and it’s being eaten up all day long. This is on full display here.

“He spoke about how, in the midst of an economic recession, his church moved forward with the vision to build a Care Center, a facility where Willow Creek could provide those in need with food, clothing, housing and transportation, help, medical services and much more. ‘Every significant vision that God births in you is going to put your courage to the test – you can count on this,’ said Hybels.”

Again, where in the Bible does it say that God is going to birth visions inside of me? You hear that language and terminology a lot, but you never seem to find a scriptural reference nearby which demonstrates that this is the case. And you would think that if it were so important to the life of the believer to birth visions that we would see some command in scripture to do so.

“After the Care Center was up and running, a woman with several children told Hybels the center was her family’s ‘only hope,’ which caused him to think about how close he came to ‘killing’ that vision before he even shared it with anyone else.

Visions are ‘holy commodities,’ he said, and many leaders secretly abort the vision God has given to them because it requires risk. Their fears cause them to reject the vision, but that can have major consequences.”

I’m probably sounding like a broken record, but let’s examine the presuppositions here.  Where in the Bible does it say that visions are holy commodities and that many leaders secretly abort the vision God has given to them? Joshua 1:9 certainly doesn’t. I know it sounds spiritual, and we in the evangelical church have grown up on this sort of thing, however our tradition of extra-biblical traditions does not equate to biblical facts. It’s assumed, plain and simple, in the same way that ideas and concepts like the pastor “casting vision” are also assumed, which we will see in a bit, yet all of it originates in the mind of men and not in the word of God.

“So, in my view, when we look at a violent and suffering world, and we all watch the news every night, I think we have a decision to make on where to lay the blame,” said Hybels. “Should we lay the blame at the feet of a compassionate God, who has been sending life-enhancing visions to millions of leaders all over the world? Or should we lay the blame at the feet of a large number of gutless, cowardly leaders who aborted the misery alleviating visions that God could have blessed wildly had there been the leadership courage to give them birth?”

This statement is alarming, primarily for how bad it is. Here is the idea, not only are you supposed to receive a direct and unique vision, but you can’t be cowardly and abort it. Furthermore, this essentially suggests that the reason the world is in such the rough shape its in is NOT because of sin but because people aren’t birthing the visions. That is nowhere taught in scripture, though I suppose the key phrase there is “In MY view.” Near as I can tell, the whole talk was a collection of concepts that were in his view.

There’s a bit more to read. You can check out everything else at the source given above, but at this end I want to add a few more quotes from the event as quoted by Will Mancini here.

“Every significant vision that God births in you is going to put your courage to the test.”
“What do some leaders do when they get a challenging vision from God? They abort secretly. I believe that God has sent millions of visions to leaders all over the world. No one knows that all of these visions are being aborted though.”
“Don’t go to the grave with unrecognized visions dying inside.”
“Visions are holy commodities. They come from our transcendent God. Treat them with utmost respect.”
“There’s a time to cast vision, and then there’s a time to instill viable value.”

All of those sound spiritual and sound great, but there is really no biblical substance to them. It boils down to this man’s ideas wrapped in a veneer of Christian-ish language and little else.


The Global Leadership Summit Is Coming to Fort McMurray- Some Concerns

This weekend thousands of Churches across the world will be opening their doors and hosting  men and women who are supposedly experts in leadership. They will be inviting them to teach them how to develop leadership skills. The intent is that once they’ve absorbed these leadership skills and have utilized them for personal edification and growth, they will then be equipped to unleash them within an ecclesiastical setting. This is the Global Leadership Summit, and several Churches across the city will be taking part in it.  I’ve had several weeks now to think about this whole affair and I think there are some real concerns to be had. For that reason, I wanted to ask a few questions;

1. What if the tips, tools and techniques that these men and women wish to focus on are contrary to the biblical model of leadership? Are the same characteristics and qualities that a capitalistic corporate world finds invaluable the same ones that the Bible focuses on and in which we should develop?

2. Is there an elevation of man and a focus on his abilities,  his wisdom, his will, and his perseverance? To what extent does it focus on psychology, sociology and personal development that may have as its foundation an unbiblical view of mankind and his nature?

3. Do the leadership ideas and ideals from a secular corporate world necessarily translate to the Church, and should we want them to?  Does getting leadership advice from the CEO of a large corporation and implementing it in a Church run the risk of turning the Pastor into the CEO, the Elders into the CFO’s and board members, and the congregation into consumers? Does this treat the Church like an organization that needs to be run, managed, analyzed  and grown? Is that the message that is being tacitly or explicitly encouraged?

4. These speakers, as well as speakers in the past, have been a curious mix of conservative pastors, liberal emergent pastors, seeker sensitive church leaders, oneness heretics, atheists, agnostics, and people possessing all manner of spiritual gradation in between. Are these the best examples of leaders we have, and how will their religious worldviews bleed into their presentation and theology of leadership? For certain pastors, what role will their currently pragmatic, unorthodox approach to ministry play? If there are some who are very good at twisting the Bible to suit their needs, is this something that will be pointed out and watched for?

5. Do we really want to support  Bill Hybels and emulate his leadership ideals? I think his tenure at the Willow Creek Community Church has in many ways been utterly and completely disastrous. This was no more evident than when the Reveal Now studies came out and showed that the biblical illiteracy, ignorance and spiritual shallowness of the members of his Church had reached Corinthians levels. Can a case be made that Willow Creek’s methodology seems to multiply the number of almost-converts who dabble in spiritual matters until they are no longer amused, and then fall away without ever coming to authentic faith in Christ? Having failed so publicly in so many areas of ministry, can it be said that this man is a Christian leader?

Ultimately I think that people can go to this conference and learn much. I am not denying that there are lessons to be learned, and I imagine from a certain perspective this could prove fruitful for many people, at least on a certain level. I think the choice to go and attend is ultimately up to a person and in fact I wish I could attend, but work prevents me from doing so. At the same time it seems to me that if a pastor wants to show himself a leader, I think a great place to start would be to caution his Church about the very real dangers of this event. A leader would shepherd them through this, pointing out the briers and pitfalls before they occur. There are some real, legitimate concerns here, and I think a pastor would be wise to share them with his congregation, before they descend into the Global Leadership Summit world.