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Comparative Book Review

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Comparative Book Review

Rediscovering church - Lynne and Bill Hybels

This book was written the founder and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church and his wife. Willow Creek is located in suburban Chicago. It has a weekly attendance approaching 20000. In this book the Hybels share part of their story in pasturing Willow Creek and a little bit of their philosophy of ministry.

The underlying theology assumed by the author is that the church has the power to change the world. His theology seems to be more church-centric rather then Christocentric. I would not call Hybels a theologian. He presents very basic evangelical theology. This is in sharp contrast to Guder's book, which has very sophisticated theologically developed views on the nature of the church.

There is no discussion of God's relationship to his creation or the kingdom. Actually there is very little kingdom talk. The emphasis seems to be that the local church is very important. But there is no connection to the global catholic (universal) church. This again contrasts Guder's global outlook. Guder does not discount the importance of the local church, but wisely sets it within the context of the global communion.

The local church is primarily seen as a vehicle of evangelism and fellowship. I was surprised that Hybels says nothing about the importance of worship. I have come to the conviction that churches should be primarily worshipping community. All other activities (evangelism, teaching, discipleship, social care etc.) flow from this primary calling of worshipping the triune God. But Guder also does not address the issue of worship. Rather he is setting out a "map" for our missional witness in the world.

The philosophy of ministry is outlined by Hybels most clearly in ten and twelve. In chapter ten he basically presents a message given by Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian at a church leadership conference at Willow Creek. The four key elements of a healthy church are: teaching, fellowship, evangelism and helping those in need.

Preaching is seen as something that should be done only by those who are gifted, spiritually disciplined and anointed by the Spirit. Hybels fails here to clearly spell out what biblical preaching is. He does not identify exegetical, expositional, narrative or topical as being the preferred method.

Fellowship is seen as the opportunity to share deep needs in the context of small groups. There is nothing really groundbreaking here. The usual critique of superficiality in churches is given.

Evangelism is a big part of Willow Creek's numerical growth. They have used dram and music to effectively draw seekers into their services. In fact, there Sunday morning services are entirely seeker drive. Hybels emphasis is that Jesus commanded us to evangelize and that people are lost without him. There is no mention of the Spirit's working within believers to soften their hearts to the lostness of man.

The section on helping the poor consists of primarily the need of developing programs such as food pantries, thrift clothing and other such services for those who can not afford them. I found the problem here is that we are not encouraged to challenge the structural evil that creates these situations of need in the first place. The church is not really challenged to be prophetic, but is instead regulated to the function of any other social service agency.

Chapter twelve examines ten core values that Hybels identifies as being part of Willow Creek's philosophy of ministry. The first is that anointed teaching can change lives. It is interesting that Hybels confronts some of the very criticisms of Willow Creek by others. Hybels warns against "felt-need" messages and being too slick in the production of a service. I wonder if outsiders would sense this when attending a Willow Creek service.

The other core values include lost people matter to God, the church should be culturally relevant, Christ followers should be authentic, the church should encourage the members to use their spiritual gifts, loving relationships should be a regular part of church life, small groups are important, excellence honors God and inspires people, pastors should have leadership gifts, full devotion to Christ should be the norm.

Hybels did not have much scriptural examples of these values. It seemed to that these values were more reflections on what he had learned as a pastor at Willow Creek. What was shocking was that there was no connection global missions or global problems. Hybels does discuss their global outreach in chapter eight. But this is more about how they are exporting their philosophy of ministry through conferences and seminars. The values were entirely localized and internal (except the emphasis on lost people).

In Guder's book there are much more sophisticated presentations on the kingdom of God and understanding of the present cultural context. Hybels has very little cultural critique.

The most revealing part of the book comes on pages 173-75 as Hybels reveals how their team evangelism works.

He writes:

Everything from the music to the printed program is designed specifically for unchurched people. We have services on the weekend, because if non-believers finally decide to attend church, that's when they'll decide to go. We minimize the "cringe factor" by maintaining excellence.

Hybels then goes on to explain



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