Last presentation at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit where I've spent the last two days trying to learn some leadership skills for leading my Operation Christmas Child team==
The local church is the hope of the world!
Your participation in this summit is the fulfillment of a 17-year-old vision. Everyone wins when a leader gets better. I've never looked on the Summit as a hit or miss affair. My vision has been that every serious leader would realize we need an annual heart check. My dream is that every leader would say the Summit is non-negotiable. I'm going to fix what needs to be fixed so I can someday tell God I did my absolute best.
To my knowledge nothing like this has ever happened in our world. It's within our grasp.
Matthew 16:18--Jesus said, "I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it." Jesus will not let us fail.
Google of "The local church is the hope of the world." had 251 million hits on google. A portion of those were in disagreement. The first 18 years of my life if I'd given a quote about the church it would have been, "hopeless." Growing up I saw a lifeless church. I knew I'd only at best be minimally engaged in the church for the rest of my life. Our church was so hopeless I wanted to protect people from coming to it.
Then from age 18-35 I started feeling more hopeful. A professor at Trinity College impacted me by talk of a community totally devoted to God who took their meals together and became open and vulnerable with each other. Bold prayers were prayed. Signs and wonders were happening. Dr. B. would say, "Why can't there be such a community of faith in our culture. In our day. And why can't someone in this class give up their life plan and set out to building one." For the first time in my life I was seized by a vision. Vision propels people forward who would normally be satisfied with the status quo. People live for vision and more often than not people die for vision. Without vision, people die. I got seized with the vision of what the Church could be and I wound up walking away from the script of my life and vowed I would not go to my grave without playing some kind of a role in seeing this vision happen.
I moved to help a friend build a youth group in Park Ridge, IL. Years ago I wrote a book called "Rediscovering Church" and wrote a chapter called "The Wonder Years" because there were so many signs and wonders in 36 months. The group grew from 25 to 1000 students.
I taught 15-year-olds how to be filled with the Holy Spirit and how to find their spiritual gifts. I taught them about the beauty of community. I taught them about the explosive power of the message of Christianity.
We decided to put an outreach night on the calendar and fasted for that night. When the night came the room was packed and after the music I laid out the core message of Christianity--saving grace. God loves you. About 200 students responded to the message. I had never seen the power of God transforming lives as I did in that moment. We counseled students until well after midnight and when I locked up the church my knees buckled and I said to God, "I'll keep doing this if You keep doing that." And God whispered back--there is so much more where that came from. I struck my covenant with God that night and we were to see so much more.
A few years later we saw the birth of Willow Creek in a movie theater. Then we saw the purchase of this property as people gave everything and stood in line to take out bank loans.
15 years into the development of Willow Creek I was in an airport and saw two boys about 7 and 9 years old fighting. He had to leave them to get on the plane and God told him on the plane to think about the future of the little boy throwing the punches. Think what he'll turn out like. If he's using fists at age 9 will he be using knives and then guns and end up in jail and hell. God asked him what could change the trajectory of that child. Will government pass a law or business create a product that will transform that boy's hate-filled heart? No.
So the thought came with clarity--the only thing will change the trajectory of that child's life is for some fired-up Christ follower to show God's love to him and chase out the hate in his heart. A church who will embrace him and invite him into a healing community. I came to the rock solid conviction that because the power of Jesus Christ is the only thing that can change a human heart....that means the local church is the hope of the world.
The next day I went to work different. If the local church is the hope of the world, then we have to get Willow Creek to reach its fullest potential. Each attender matters because they are the church. Everyone needs to make a maximum contribution. People need to step up and lead and teach and shepherd and we need to teach everyone to give and serve.
Over time we'll see the darkness give way to the light and love of God. Will the local church, the hope of the world, be able to sustain itself until the end of time? Don't answer too quickly.
The hope is Who is sustaining it and protecting it and that is none other than Jesus Himself. Dr. B. used to say this is the only thing Jesus is doing between now and the end of the earth.
I hope you understand that one of the greatest privileges of life is when Jesus taps you on the shoulder and says, "I have a critical role for you to play and one of the reasons I redeemed you was for you to step into this critical role. I need you. Will you join me as we build my church?"
If you've ever felt that prompting, for God's sake, how do you say "no"?
Every day we should commit ourselves to God with a "Morning Prayer" of commitment. What if we prayed this every day and did what God whispered to us to do?
What if the 60,000 leaders who are part of the Global Summit prayed this every day? The gates of hell would melt away and the church would prevail in ways the world has never witnessed. I for one am aching to see this and I hope you are as well.
I thought long and hard about how to close the Summit this year and the only consistent whisper I heard from God was to call people to join in the building of the church--the hope of the world. (Take card with printed Morning Prayer)
Group reading and commitment to The Morning Prayer as follows:
My Morning Prayer
AND MY GRATITUDEI commit all of myself to the role you have assigned me in the building of your church so that it may thrive in this world. And I will "bring it" today. I will bring my best. You deserve it. Your church deserves it. It is the Hope of the World.