The recent news regarding the accusations against pastor Bill Hybels and his subsequent resignation have caused me to think more about life and leadership. Bill founded Willow Creek Community Church and the popular Leadership Summit. Over the past four decades, he had a significant impact on hundreds of thousands of people, many churches, and a significant number of Christian leaders, including me. Here are a few of my personal thoughts regarding what I should do when a leader falls.
Prayer. I have spent far more time reading about the accusations against Bill and the stories of victims that have accused him than I have prayed for either. Reading such stories has a magnetic effect, and we keep wanting to read more and learn more. Consider it natural curiosity. Yet, these are real lives with real families, and there is real damage that has taken place. I need to remember to pray for all of them, the accusers and the accused.
Alignment. Years ago, Bill Hybels wrote a book on character called Who You Are When No One is Looking. What a great and accurate title not only for Bill but for me as well. As a Christian leader, I need to continually assess my life and aim for my public life and private life to be aligned. And I need to constantly be reminded that to whom much is given, much is required. I will be held accountable to the teaching and counsel I share with others.
Volume. As a leader, I need to turn down the volume when people compliment me and turn up the volume when people critique me. You may think it should be the opposite, but it often isn’t. Why? Because we are seldom as good as the affirmations sent our way. And due to our leadership positions, criticism often come to us in muted fashion - meaning the volume in their minds and hearts is much greater! And, even if I don’t see it, it does not mean there isn’t at least some truth to it.
Courage. I need to speak up if and when I see things in others that may cause harm to the lives of those around them and/or to the mission of their organization. I would hope others would do the same for me. Our normal defensive responses make it easy to dismiss or shift blame. But what I really need to do is remember that “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Proverbs 27:6)
Humility. I need to be humble enough to know that I am probably weaker than I realize and prouder than I should be, and that is a bad cocktail. I need to focus more on my own life than on the high profile stories of success and failure that often dominate the news. There is little I can do for them, but there is a lot I must do in managing my own life and reputation. I need to remember the powerful words from proverbs - with pride comes disgrace and with humility comes wisdom.
Prestige. The higher up in prestige and profile I go, the more likely I am to have a sense of invincibility and to start believing all the compliments that are sent my way. When people tell us we are great and extraordinarily special, we tend to believe it. And sometimes, people are so attracted to what they get from those of us in positions of leadership that they become blind to, ignore or downplay our flaws because they don’t want to lose the benefits. I can honestly say that I am thankful I never became too well known, high profile or very popular – it is a burden I would prefer not to bear. And, I’m also thankful to not look like Leonardo DiCaprio!
Forgiveness. We are all broken people – as some have said, we are leading with a limp. This includes religious leaders as well. King David, the greatest king of Israel and “a man after God’s own heart,” failed mightily. And there were serious consequences. But he eventually confessed his sin and went on to have a meaningful impact. When a leader falls, I must balance my view of justice with a lot of mercy and forgiveness.
Vigilance. Bill Hybels once said, “Everyone wins when a leader gets better.” But we also know everyone loses when a leader gets worse. I don’t know what really happened between Bill and the accusers in this situation, but I do know it is another reminder to me that there really is an evil one who is continually on the hunt to steal, kill and destroy, and we are all fair game if we do not guard ourselves and one another. Below is a helpful resource from Dr. Gail Saltz in her book Anatomy of a Secret Life. If two or more of these are true of us, we are having an emotional affair.
- Do you keep most meetings and conversations with this person secret from your partner?
- Do you tell this person more about your day, or even about your marital dissatisfaction, than you do your partner?
- Do you ready your appearance before seeing this person?
- Is there a sexual attraction (spoken or unspoken) between the two of you?
- Would you feel guilty if your partner saw the two of you together?
If you would like to learn more on this subject of healthy and broken leadership, you can read our article here.
Jay Desko is the Executive Director of The Center and serves on the Senior Leadership Team at Calvary Church in Souderton, PA. Jay brings experience in the areas of ministry assessment, leadership coaching, decision-making, and strategic questioning. Jay’s degrees include a B.S. in Bible, a M.Ed in Instructional Systems Design and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Leadership.