I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Leadership isn’t for cowards.
Those who pursue leadership are putting themselves in a position where:
- They will be criticized
- They will have a target on their back
- They will be scrutinized
- They will have more responsibility than they can handle
- Their failures will most likely be public, publicized even
In a recent and very publicized public fall from grace, Evangelical leader Bill Hybels was accused of sexual misconduct.
Now, for those who don’t know him, Bill Hybels was a giant in Evangelical circles, but also in the field of leadership. He pastored Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, one of the most attended churches in North America, with an average attendance of nearly 24,000. He is the founder of the Willow Creek Association and creator of the Global Leadership Summit. Hybels is also an author of a number of Christian books, especially on the subject of Christian leadership. (Wikipedia)
Before I go on, I want to make something crystal clear: This post is by no means my attempt to strike the man (when he’s down), to criticize him, or to crucify him. The media did a pretty good job of that.
In my opinion, Bill Hybels is, like all of us, only human. I actually sympathize to some degree with the ordeal he put himself in and the toll it must have taken not only on himself, but on his wife and marriage as well. And, of course, I also sympathize with the women who were put in some pretty nasty situations throughout this whole mess.
You see, back 2002, my wife and I were engaged and going through marriage preparation with our pastor. During this course, he assigned us with a book to read to help us and equip us in our future marriage. The book was Fit to be Tied by, you guessed it, Bill Hybels along with his wife Lynne. It was, and still is, a good book on marriage – although its author might have lost some credibility – understandably so.
The point I am trying to make is this:
Leaders are people, and people are sinners.
Should Bill Hybels have lost the pastorate of his church even if he hadn’t resigned? No doubt. Should our leaders be accountable to a higher standard? Of course. Should we expect integrity from our leaders. Absolutely! Should we expect them to be without sin and cast them the first stone when they do sin? … This of course, is a rhetorical question.
You see, when the news came out about Bill Hybels in late March 2018, I was shocked and like many not too sure what to believe at first. I mean, let’s be honest here; in the wake of the highly sensationalized ‘Me Too’ movement, one has to be careful before he jumps on the bandwagon too quickly. Although the ‘Me Too’ movement did a lot of good for many female victims’ ordeals, we also know that some claims were made in an attempt to cash in on the media feeding frenzy.
All this to say that I once I did my own research on the matter and saw the claims were legit, it brought me to much thinking. Not just about Bill, but about myself. Through my own introspection, it humbled me.
It got me to ponder about my own weaknesses not only as a leader, but as a man. It got me thinking about the situations Bill must have encountered (and put himself in, through what he called ‘bad choices’). It got me thinking about what I would do if I was often surrounded, like him, by some women who googoo eyed me as, take your pick: a speaker, author, leadership expert, counselor, etc. And you know what? It gave me a good dose of reality.
Bill’s story is a cautionary tale for me as a male leader.
It made me take a good look at my own heart. I realized how this verse from Scripture should apply, not only to me, but to all who might too quickly cast the first stone:
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12)
One who understood his own weaknesses in this area is the late Billy Graham. Dr. Graham was known to never, ever, under any circumstances be found alone with a member of the opposite sex, whether in a restaurant, or even an elevator. He avoided it at all cost.
As a leader, Billy Graham understood that certain situations were just temptations waiting to happen. He knew his own weaknesses and avoided any and all situations where he might become vulnerable – where he might fall. That was wise.
In the end, it’s all about wise decisions. And wisdom also means to know our own weaknesses and limits. All of us are weak in some area or other of morality, justice, or integrity. All of us have our breaking point.
The Bible is replete with fantastic leaders who failed at one time or another. In an article titled 28 Proofs that God Can Use You, author Keith Ferrin put up the following thought provoking list:
- Noah was a drunk
- Abraham was too old
- Isaac was a daydreamer
- Jacob was a liar
- Leah was ugly
- Joseph was abused
- Moses had a stuttering problem
- Gideon was afraid
- Samson had long hair and was a womanizer
- Rahab was a prostitute
- Jeremiah was too young
- David was an adulterer (not to mention a murderer)
- Elijah was suicidal
- Isaiah preached naked
- Jonah ran from God
- Naomi was a widow
- Job went bankrupt
- John the Baptist ate bugs
- Andrew lived in the shadow of his big brother
- Peter denied Christ
- All the disciples fell asleep while praying (and ran away when Jesus really needed them.)
- Martha worried about everything
- The Samaritan woman was divorced (more than once)
- Mary Magdalene was demon-possessed
- Zaccheus was too small
- Timothy had an ulcer
- Paul was a Christian-killer
- Oh…and Lazarus was dead
Although some of these examples may be funny or silly, many of them are spot on.
So, how did the Willow Creek debacle impact you? Did it make you angry? Thoughtful? Shocked? Bitter? Repentant? In asking this, I do realize the story surely impacted women differently from men, understandably so.
Nonetheless, as leaders or aspiring leaders we must be able to learn from other’s mistakes – and try to avoid them. As someone who is in leadership and studying for the ministry, Bill’s story was a teachable moment for me. What was it for you?
Yup, leadership isn’t for cowards.
May God bless you as you humbly strive to stand strong and Thrive On!