“When Leadership and Discipleship Collide”

One of my favorite writers/leaders is Bill Hybels, founding/senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church (South Barrington, IL). Hybels has more than 30 years of leadership experience, and I am always inspired and challenged when I read his stuff.

It’s no different after reading When Leadership and Discipleship Collide, a brief book with about 57 pages of text from start to finish.

In this short book, Hybels addresses a great question — “What do you do when the laws of leadership collide with the teachings of Christ?”

Hybels begins with the claim that Jesus “was the greatest leader ever” (12). Even so, Hybels writes that he noticed after reading through the gospel of Mark, that Jesus, on a number of occasions, broke conventional leadership laws, including …

  • Build a team of highly qualified leaders
  • Keep up the momentum
  • Propagate good press
  • Avoid unnecessary controversy
  • Leverage time and influence
  • Don’t bite the hand that feeds you
  • Avoid sensational exploits
  • Demonstrate unshakable courage

After sharing some of his own experiences of breaking leadership laws at times, Hybels asks the question, “What will be my response when the laws of leadership and discipleship collide?” (43)

Hybels writes that he has come to understand leadership laws as simply “descriptions of hard-learned lessons that, for hundreds of years, leaders have come to view as valuable guides toward mission fulfillment” (45). (For more on leadership laws, check out John Maxwell’s book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, which Hybels also refers to.)

Of course, anyone who is familiar with Hybels knows that he believes in the value of leadership. Hybels contends, “collisions between leadership and discipleship are actually quite uncommon” (47). In fact, “Jesus consistently manifested what we might consider ‘leadership laws’ throughout his ministry” (49).

Hybels writes …

It has been my strong bias for the last thirty-plus years that Christian leaders must take full advantage of the accumulated teachings of every leadership generation that has gone before them. What we work for in ministry leadership is the single most important endeavor on planet Earth–the building of the kingdom of God (48).

So, Hybels is by no means devaluing leadership. But he is saying that there will be times when what God calls you to do will collide with known/trusted leadership laws. Hybels writes …

In those rare cases when the humans laws of leadership and the scriptural demands of discipleship do collide, decide on the side of discipleship every time (50).

Further, Hybels challenges leaders …

to be the Christ-follower who really does seek God’s kingdom first. Be Jesus’ disciple in whatever arena you lead and conform yourself to his image in whatever situation you find yourself. Keep Christ first whenever the laws of leadership and discipleship collide (57).

Toward the end of the book, Hybels discusses the ministry of the Holy Spirit, writing, “the ministry of the Holy Spirit is a very real, very accessible gift to be opened by every Christ-follower” (57). Hybels continues …

Christian leaders cannot afford to wield influence apart from the direction of the Holy Spirit. It takes more than human-crafted leadership laws to be effective; the role of Scripture and of the ministry of the Holy Spirit can never be overestimated (58).

I think what I loved most about the book is this seasoned leader, through his own life experiences, has grown in his dependence on God. It’s all too easy for leaders to gain confidence in their own ability to lead and to subsequently depend on God less. Leaders must never forget, as Hybels writes, “the power of the Holy Spirit is the leader’s best friend” (64).

Hybels leaves readers with a great challenge …

If you know the laws of leadership and follow them when they should be followed, if you love God and readily follow the prompting of his Spirit when you sense he is guiding, then you will make it. And when there’s a collision, if you say, ‘I’m going to decide on the side of discipleship and the clear teachings of Scripture every time. I’m going to put my hand in the Holy Spirit’s hand all day, every day, and allow him to be my guide and my strength,’ then you will make it. In fact, you won’t just ‘make it’–you will thrive. You won’t just thrive–you will prevail! And you will be able to overcome whatever the forces of darkness throw at you, guaranteed (66).

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