5 Church Leaders You Should Follow in the Post-Hybels Era
It’s hard to believe it but it’s true. We live in a post-Bill Hybels era. Over the last few months, watching from the sidelines has been heart wrenching to say the least. The resignation of the entire elder’s board, Heather Larson and Steve Carter this week does seem like the start of a new beginning for the church. Even though Bill hasn’t acknowledged what really happened, it’s evident that he stepped way out of line and hurt people in the process.
It’s hard to overstate the influence that Bill Hybels and the people of Willow Creek Community Church have had on the evangelical church world. As a result, much of what we view as “normal” within a broad spectrum of this segment of the Christian world traces its roots back to this leadership community. Just a few ways that this group pioneered what we currently do include:
- Communicating in a way that can be easily understood by unchurched people.
- Bringing clarity in mission and vision to drive our churches toward deeper effectiveness.
- Small group ministry to help connect more people.
- Gift-based serving focused on helping lead from how God has uniquely created them.
- Employing modern music in weekend programming.
- Establishing church marketing as a normative way to relate to the community.
- Elevating the role of women in leadership.
- Putting the focus on raising generous givers to fuel the mission of the church.
- Reinforcing leadership development as a core function of church leadership.
- Using kids’ ministry as a strategic tool to grow the church.
- Implementing multisite church as a way to improve a church’s ability to serve the community.
- Identifying practical acts of rendering service to our communities locally and globally as the essence of what we do.
- … just to name a few.
On a personal level, I remember sitting in the Lakeside Auditorium as a young leader and crying during a “normal weekend” service at Willow and being astonished as I realized how effective church could be in reaching the community. Over the years, Bill’s voice has served to reinforce the irrefutable importance of reaching people far from God in my life.
So what’s next? It would seem that Bill’s inability to acknowledge his own shortcomings undid his leadership and legacy. Rather than owning up to his human weaknesses, he’s run from them and arrogantly defied accountability. What’s happened here has an uncanny similarity to what happened when Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill doubled down on his own narrative instead of humbly pursuing reconciliation with the people accusing him. It was beyond sad to watch Mars Hill unravel in a matter of weeks after that stunningly selfish act. It also has some resonance with what happened when Perry Noble from NewSpring was relieved of his role after refusing to submit to the elders’ authority at his church. I’ve been cheering from the sidelines as the leadership team at NewSpring continues to serve its community and find a new path to impact even after such a traumatic transition.
Some will say that the large “attractional church” model will die an inevitable death with Hybels and Driscoll and Noble. However, I genuinely believe that what needs to die is ego driven leadership models that are oftentimes drawn to this approach. The need of the hour is to find a new set of leaders to follow who are both impactful and have their egos in check. This holds true for pastors of very large churches down to the smallest of communities. Self-absorbed leadership is found at churches of every shape and size.
I’ve had the privilege of connecting with lots of amazing church leaders over the years and to that end, I want to help point you towards a set of leaders that you would be enriched by following. I’ve pulled together a list of five leaders who exhibit the following attributes from my point of view:
- Humility // They have a track record of integrating emotional health into their leadership.
- Unusual Impact // They serve in a part of the country that you don’t normally think of as a place where the church thrives.
- Accessibility // They are willing to help leaders like you grow.
Personal // I’ve had some level of personal interaction with each of these leaders, which has led me to want to endorse them to you.
Bruxy Cavey – The Meeting House, Canada
Bruxy has a bit of a disarming persona. While he doesn’t fit the mold of mega-church pastor, the community he leads comprises of 5,000+ people weekly and meets in 19 locations. Bruxy has an unrelenting focus on implementing the teaching of Jesus in his life and communication. Coming from the anabaptist tradition, he seeks to live out the values of peace, simplicity and community for today’s world.
Recently, some “angry neo-reformers” have challenged him publicly, literally calling him a heretic. It’s been nothing short of stunning to see his loving, mature and measured response. You’d be wise to follow Bruxy to embrace a different model of leadership that we typically think of at the center of large impactful churches. (Sidenote: Chapters 4, 5 & 6 of his latest book are must-reads in my eyes. I’m sure that once you read those, you’ll want to dive into the rest of it!)
Church Website: The Meeting House
Rich Villodas – New Life Church, NYC
Rich is the senior pastor of this vibrant multicultural church in New York City. Watching the four year succession process that he went through to assume the church’s leadership was an outward manifestation of his inner life.
New Life is thriving and making waves in the midst of some of the toughest grounds to grow churches. His blog is full of emotionally healthy conversations aimed at helping church leaders live a well-rounded life. Rich is known as a particularly profound voice on the role of racial reconciliation within the church.
Church Website: New Life Church
Carey Nieuwhof – Connexus, Canada
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to see Carey up close. This ex-lawyer is courageous enough to joke publicly that he doesn’t really have the gift of compassion, but people who know him personally will tell you that’s not the case.
Ten years ago, I watched other church leaders publicly ridicule Carey and I literally saw him turning the other cheek and seeking to bless those who were cursing him. He’d say he burnt out early, and that gave him the gift of needing to live a more balanced life. Carey is definitely the sort of person you should follow closely and pattern your leadership after. In fact, his latest book is such a timely resource in the light of all that is happening in this post-Hybels era.
Church Website: Connexus Church
Mark Chitwood – StoneBridge Church, Omaha
I once heard Mark joke that StoneBridge is the slowest growing church in all of America. The church has steadily grown by around 10% a year for the last few decades under his leadership. Today, this vibrant multisite church is impacting thousands in Omaha and is poised to continue to make a lasting impact for years to come.
Recently, this church was deemed one of the best Christian Workplaces and it clearly shows when you begin to interact with the team. Mark’s leadership epitomizes what steady and humble leadership can do over an extended period of time.
Church Website: StoneBridge Church
Tim Lucas – Liquid Church, New Jersey
Tim is a vibrant communicator with an admirable personal life. He is particular to live out the message of Jesus in his team and his family. Unlike so many mega church-lead pastors who run 7+ days a week, Tim actually seeks a work-life balance. From my seat, he has limited his “platform building” so that he can focus on being a better dad and leader. God is using his leadership in unique ways to create a huge and enduring impact in Jersey.
Seeing him steward multiple church mergers is a testament to his humility and care for the “Big C” church. Following Tim will not only expose you to one of the most effective communicators in the church today, but will also give you actionable insights into how you can continue leading at a high level and still be rooted to family life.
Church Website: Liquid Church
Who would you add to the list?
I would love to hear who you think needs to be added to this list.? Follow the pattern that I’ve set out above and tell us who we should be following in these days?