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Bill Hybels & the Rogue Wave

September 3, 2010

I haven’t been living under rock for the last 15 years or so, but though I am aware of Bill Hybels, I have never knowingly read anything by him nor heard him speak. I’m aware, of course, of Willow Creek, and aware that by some measures of the thing the model of church there has been a success. Success enough for thousands of congregations wanting to follow the same model.

So I had the chance of hearing a dvd of his address to a huge crowd of leaders at what I now understand to be a global event called the Leadership Summit. He’s a capable communicator, passionate and driven. The title of his address was ‘A Rogue Wave’ (or something similar), and I got to hear 40 mins out of a 75 minute talk.

Here’s my tuppence worth.

In 40 minutes he never once engaged with the bible, other than to mention a verse which happened to contain a word that corresponded to something he was talking about. It was an illustrative use rather than an engagement with the text. I understand that the leadership summit does not cater exclusively for church people, but many ‘secular’ business leaders also attend. So the omission may be OK, but I thought it was strange.

But what really interested me was his comment that the economic downturn was similar to a rogue wave, which is an unpredicted occurrence in the deep ocean which causes devastating effects.

It’s the idea that this recession was unpredicted and ‘rogue’. Really Mr Hybels? It was certainly predicted in Ireland, and the prophets who got it right are making a fortune in book sales and on the rubber chicken circuit. Was there no-one in the US who had foresight? And if not, why not?

Because even if the business media missed it, or buried its collective head in the sand, the one place that should have seen this coming was the Church. The frenzy of easy debt and overconsumption and the increasing marginalization of the poor is repeatedly condemned by the Old Testament prophets. And the story of the foolish farmer as told by Jesus also warns of the folly of building a business or an economy on the basis of assumed future incomes.

The fact that we missed this occurrence says more about our failures as a prophetic community. Was this rogue because we were so enmeshed with the wider culture that we were all blinded, even to the warnings of the Scriptures?

And one more thing. By calling this a rogue and absolving ourselves from blame, are we tacitly giving ourselves permission to behave the same way once the recession lifts?

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