by Matt Sapp

The Global Leadership Summit is a two-day seminar hosted by Willow Creek Church in the suburbs of Chicago and broadcast live to tens of thousands of people at satellite host sites all over the United States and then to satellite sites all over the world. The Summit brings together the most talented leaders from business, government, media and the church to teach about effective leadership strategies and proven approaches to personal and spiritual development.

I first attended the Global Leadership Summit six years ago at a satellite location not far from the church I served in Atlanta. In subsequent years we become a host site ourselves at Wieuca Road Baptist Church where I enjoyed being part of the planning team for what became an annual event on our campus.  After I moved on to pastor a different church, I continued to bring our staff back to attend the Summit at Wieuca.

The Summit was the brainchild of Rev. Bill Hybels, Willow Creek’s well-known pastor. For more than 25 years he was the face of the Summit. Each year that I participated, I enjoyed hearing Rev. Hybels speak, and I have enjoyed reading Hybels’ books on pastoral leadership and spiritual development.

Over the last several months, though, disturbing and substantiated reports about abuse of power and inappropriate relationships with women that go back decades have surfaced concerning Hybels. As a result, he has stepped down from all of his pastoral responsibilities and resigned from the Willow Creek Association’s board. And, for the first time in its history, he did not appear at this year’s Global Leadership Summit.

Just a few months ago, I used one of his books to teach our weekday women’s Bible study group about prayer. Now I don’t think I’ll ever teach from that book again.

In the era of the #MeToo movement, we have all watched leaders in business, government, the media and our churches step down as past abuses, and often outright crimes, against women and children have been brought to light.

It’s difficult for all of us when people we look up to fail. Here are three things we can learn, though.

Power Corrupts
Power has a corrupting influence on us all. Most of us won’t enjoy the power and influence that comes with success on a national or even global level.  But as we see those who have achieved that level of influence fail, we would do well to guard our own lives more closely.

The more success we achieve and the more influence we have, the greater the temptation to misuse our power. We are all leaders in someone’s eyes, so we all need systems of accountability. And, instead of letting a sense of entitlement grow in us with each new success, the Christian virtue of humility should ground us (Philippians 2:3)—and the Christian model of servant leadership (Matthew 23:11-12) should guide our interactions with others.

Reserve Your Highest Level of Trust for God
We should not place our trust in worldly leaders—not the president, not the pastor, not the sports star, not your favorite Instagram personality. It’s okay to have heroes and people to look up to, but we should remember that our heroes—even heroes in the faith—are flawed human beings. Jesus reminds us that only God is good (Mark 10:18). As soon as we forget that, we set ourselves up for disappointment, and perhaps even for failure ourselves.

Beware the Celebration of Celebrity
Celebrity culture isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The pitfalls of celebrity culture are too numerous to name, but its slavish devotion to worldly standards of success, including wealth and popularity, is a good place to start. The fact that the values associated with celebrity culture so often run counter to Christian values makes the culture of celebrity especially harmful for the church.

Pastor and celebrity are two words that don’t belong together. We can all tell the difference, even among well-known pastors, between those who revel in the spotlight themselves and those who seek to shine the spotlight on the God they serve.

The truth is, the best kinds of heroes aren’t faces on TV, they’re people in our hometowns—the little league coach, the business owner at the cash register, the school teacher, the children’s choir volunteer, parents and grandparents, and the pastor sitting next to me at the conference rather than the one speaking from the stage.

See you Sunday.