What Does Millions of Dollars, Professional Clergy, and a Large Building Buy You? Starving Babies

Posted: January 25, 2008 by Rick Hogaboam in Book Reviews, Ecclesiology (Church Stuff)
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The verdict is out on the ministry of Willow Creek, pastored by Bill Hybels. In the book, “Reveal: Where Are You”, it was concluded that Willow Creek is filling up the building, but failing at growing disciples. Success isn’t determined by the size of the crowd, but rather by the transformation of people’s lives. I am sure that many have grown at Willow Creek in their faith, but the studies show that all the bling bling of programs, professional clergy, etc is not meeting the most important need of all: Spiritual Growth.

John Piper rightly discerns in his book, “The Supremacy of God in Preaching”, that the greatest “felt need” that won’t show up in surveys and focus groups is…God Himself. People are hungry for and craving for the glory of God. Ministry must be fueled by this desire to exalt in the glory of God so that others will be caught up in the splendor of who He is. I am all for meeting tangible needs in the lives of the community, but it must all be fueled by a desire to meet the one infinitely important need: God.

To Hybels credit, he didn’t try to offer spin on the study, but humbly acknowledged that, “We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their Bible between services…”

I do pray for Bill Hybels and the people at Willow Creek. I hope that they will now strive to fill the God-shaped hole in the lives of their people with God Himself, as seen in His Word.

This all confirms in me that the greatest thing I can be as a pastor to my people is man who loves God above all things. I want people to sense God’s presence more than my affability. I need to be God-Saturated. Jack Hayford once said that he viewed preaching much like giving mouth to mouth CPR. He would suck up Scripture all week, and then breathe it out into the hearts and lives of the people. I liked that analogy. I have always thought that being a pastor meant being in love with God and His Word and His people. I have resisted the tendency shaping some pastorates that place a higher premium on leadership classes, how to cut your hair, how to smile, etc. I think such things are okay in their proper place but have seen such create a self sufficiency among people who think that church growth is their own doing by following the “12 steps”  or by being a “likable” person. God hates such self sufficiency. I am broken and like Moses I declare I am inadequate for the task to which I am called. It is God who supplies the strength so that He gets the glory. May my life and ministry forever be dependant upon God’s provision.


  1. Daqvid says:


    I have a similar, though not exact spiritual pilgrimage, and we have a common friend in Joe Lamay (How did someone in Alaska and another in New York connect with a guy from El Segundo?). I saw him and his family recently over the holidays.

    As a young pastor I devoured leadership books but then largely ignored them (as a result of the influence of someone who was in the church I was pastoring, Joe LAmay, who also influenced me toward a more consistent calvinism and Christian Hedonism) but recently have started reading them again after seeing mistakes I have made as a leader. I am realizing that I threw the baby out with the bath water, loving to be an amateur theologian and devouring theology books to the neglect of leadership issues in my ministry. I have recently been spending much time in Missional reading and it has thoroughly reinvigorated my thinking about ecclesiology and how I am reorganizing my life and time toward mission.

  2. rickhogaboam says:

    I know Joe from my days at Cornerstone Christian Fellowship, glad you got to see him recently. I agree that most people tend towards two extremes: theological intensity while being ignorant of practical ways to improve the ministry vs. pragmatic driven ministry according to business models while ignoring theology, or worse yet, viewing theological intensity as being an enemy towards pragmatic growth.

    I think that one should have both. Elders and Deacons in a church will hopefully be blessed with some folks who are savvy in certain leadership issues, etc. I am still firmly convinced though that the pastor needs to be more of an Ezra and less of a Nehemiah. Ezra and Nehemiah complement each other and a good ministry will have a variety of giftings among their people that will enhance and edify the whole.

    I am encouraged by your journey and pray God’s continued blessings upon you. I sense that God has much more in store for you and is preparing you for that season.

  3. David says:


    I sense a pastor’s heart coming through your writing. What specifically are you thinking when you make the distinction between Ezra and Neemiah?

  4. rickhogaboam says:

    I would say that Nehemiah best applies to the ministry architects of the day. These are people who are gifted to look at a situation, assess what needs to be done, gather resources, inspire people, and build things up.

    Ezra is a picture of what I envision the preaching pastor to embody: devotion to God’s Word and concentrated focus on the declaration of God’s Word. The apostles were devoted to the study of Scripture and prayer. Deacons complement elders in that the giftedness and calling upon both groups will create a wholistic ministry that flourishes.

    I guess I would say that I feel inclined to both Nehemiah and Ezra. I have heard it said by Mark Driscoll that he has basically functioned in both capacities and recently realized that he needs to relinquish his Nehemiah role and focus on being an Ezra. I think that I would like to function in both realms for awhile and will eventually come to a point when the church is best served if I devote the majority of my time to study, prayer, and preaching.

    Thanks for your affirmation of my having a pastor’s heart. That means a lot. I care deeply about the church and loving people. I want to contend for the supremacy of God in all things and satisfy my people with Christ and Him alone.

  5. Sean says:

    I’ve grown up with Willow Creek as my home church since 1st grade. I’m now turning into a junior in college, and the church I am involved with on campus really showed me what it meant to grow in Christ and to love Him and serve Him faithfully.

    Each time I would go back home, I would attend services in Willow and serve in campus operations, because my mother had recently obtained a job in campus operations. Yes, the Willow services are much more broad and in a way, friendly to non-believers, but though some may consider the messages dilute, leaving some more-mature Christians thirsty, I earnestly believe that good things are being taught, solely based off of the scriptures.

    There were a lot of things I became hungry for at Willow, after seeing how my campus church was, especially in terms of worship and fellowship. However, Willow has been making attempts in the past two years to really improve on these two aspects. Bill Hybels always emphasizes the heart of worship prior to worshiping, and each time I return to WCCC, the worship seems increasingly more heart-felt and passionate. For a church of this size, fellowship is hard, but they’ve also made some changes to tackle this challenge, such as offering coffee and donuts in the atrium, which is divided into sections by areas, with each respective area pastor there.

    In terms of feeding the more mature Christians, classes are now offered and the response had been overwhelming when they were first introduced.

    Seeing the people who were serving behind the scenes in various ministries (people I’ve met through serving in campus ministries,) these people are true servants of God who have a heart of sacrifice. As fellow servants, these people faithfully pray for each other and for their callings, and really try to progress as Christians. It was very comforting to know that these kinds of people were helping in running the church.

    WCCC is imperfect, as is any church. But I also think they’re doing their best to address these kinds of issues that are coming up. I do think WCCC is more susceptible to criticisms due to its sheer size. But you’re right, we do need to pray for Hybels; we do need to pray for WCCC.

    These are my thoughts, and thanks for sharing yours.

    • Thanks for that feedback. I do appreciate that Hybels and WCCC seeks to address the needs in their body…but I am also critical over precisely that thing…that they introduce new classes because mature Christians want it. It makes me wonder if they do anything out of sheer conviction or simply create and adjust programs based on polling. I realize that we must hear our people and reasonably respond to needs as they arise and it may just be that they are so large that they must do these large scale surveys to asses how they are doing.

      Our Church is far from perfect and I hope that I am charitable towards other fellow pastors because I know the challenges that come with pastoral ministry and I just want to see the universal ‘Evangelical’ Church do well.

      • Ralf - Rio de Janeiro says:

        Hi, I´m writing from Rio de Janeiro – Brazil (so please forgive my english!). I think it´s funny the need people have to make some critics. The body of Crist is so rich and maybe it would be better if you wait for some more 10 or 20 years and get more mature. Then, if, and only if you are the same blessing that Bill Hybels and WCCC are in the hole world, you may write another article like this.

        WCCC is a big blessing here in Brazil. Without any charge they are helping so many churches. While some people do talk about teology others go after souls.

        Grow man…

      • I appreciate your feedback and your parting words “grow man” as I know you are very grateful for the work of WCCC. In fact, I applaud their efforts as well. I read a recent article about WCCC’s involvement across the globe in a quite unassuming manner. They’re not trying to get attention, etc. That stuff is all good!!!

        My criticisms towards WCCC are the very SAME criticisms that Hybels himself has had as a result of the self-study they did. I was just suggesting that their answer to the problem was a wrong one. I was also critical of his decision to pull the plug on Driscoll. You want to encourage me to grow up, how about reniging on a booked speaker and video. My point is that Hybels has little problem putting Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and secular CEO’s on the platform, but censored Driscoll because he actually happens to think that one qualification for pastoring is that you are a man…which is not a small minority fringe view.

        As for your comment that I might just be talking about theology and not going after souls…I think you force a bad dichotomy. Doesn’t going after souls require a confession in Christ Jesus? Does that not require we have some creed or theology that informs what we do, why we do it, and how we do it? I share your same criticism over folks who like to bicker the minutia of theology, but neglect weightier issues, but I think the predominant problem today is actually the radical indifference towards theology in going after souls. WCCC may be winning souls, but those souls are crying out for more serious Bible preaching and study…they are malnourished. They get through the doors, make a decision for Christ, might assimilate into some small group, everyone is nice and loving….which is all good, but they are saying that there is a lack for intense Biblical teaching and discipleship. Rather than changing the ethos of WCCC, Hybels instead chose to give these people more resources so that they can become “self-feeder”. Of course, we should all read the Bible personally and seek to grow, but Hybels essentially said that one shouldn’t expect such teaching in the congregational gatherings, nor in small groups, but rather in the privacy of your home.

        Again, I am grateful for many aspects of WCCC. My criticism was qualified and confined to just several major concerns I have.

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