On Thursday and Friday this week, I went to the annual Leadership Summit put on by Willow Creek Church of Chicago. There is a large event held at their campus in Chicago, and they broadcast it live to various other locations around North America. One of the places where they broadcast it is Cornwall Church in Bellingham, and one of the churches that sends people there is my church, Bellingham Covenant. The associate pastor asked me last week if I wanted to go, and I said yes. I found myself on Thursday afternoon (I missed the morning sessions because of a prior commitment) watching the summit take place on a big screen.
I thought it was great, honestly. Ever since I was in college at the University of Richmond, with its Jepson School of Leadership Studies, I’ve tended to become a bit suspicious whenever I hear the word “leadership” bandied about too readily. Perhaps it is because I met too many Leadership Studies majors who weren’t necessarily good leaders; they were really just overbearing. Perhaps it is because I got the impression that studying leadership was an easy way to breeze through college after hearing it derisively called the “group project major.” Perhaps its because too many uses of the word “leadership” smack of elitism.
Whatever the reason, I have often scoffed whenever I heard people talk about leadership, its training or techniques. It may be that that impulse will never completely go away. But I will tell you that my experience at the Leadership Summit was overwhelmingly positive, and I am actually hoping to go again next year. I had heard of a few of the speakers involved, but interestingly enough, the sessions that I was most impacted by involved people I had never heard of. Here are just a few highlights for me:
On Thursday afternoon, Bill George talked about “finding your true north.” What really stuck out to me about what he said was his emphasis on character and humility in leadership. Instead of getting people to follow them, leaders are meant to empower others.
After an interview with the founder of “Teach for America,” Wendy Kopp, John Burke and Efrem Smith spoke on leading in new cultural realities. Burke spoke mostly about our postmodern environment, and Smith about our multicultural environment. In both their talks, I was struck by the need for church leaders to abide in Christ, and to interact in a non-antagonistic way with our culture. Some culture is good, some is bad, and some is neutral. We need to embrace as much as we can of the good and neutral stuff, lest we make it more difficult than necessary for people to become Christians.
On Friday, the two people who stuck out to me the most were Craig Groeschel and Catherine Rohr. Groeschel is the pastor of lifechurch.tv, a multi-site church in Oklahoma and a few other states. He’s a great communicator, but what stuck out to me the most about him was his honesty and transparency. Rohr founded the Prisoner Entrepreneurship Program, which equips Texas prison inmates with “values-based entrepreneurial training” in order to reduce recidivism and help them to re-enter society productively. Her story, and the stories of the graduates of her program, was inspiring.
Even though I still think the word “leadership” can be abused, I found that what I learned at the Leadership Summit was valuable. Maybe leadership doesn’t have to be a dirty word, after all.