Ambles through Willow Creek’s Reveal Part 2-Foreword, Preview, Back Cover

So, I was talking about these ambles with a couple of friends this week, and realized again that in taking this approach, I’m acting as a “human barometer” about the paradigm of Willow Creek. Barometers indicate pressure toward change in the weather. Suppose for a moment that the ways I process life are more indicative of the predominant culture of the future. If it’s a relatively accurate conclusion, then I guess I’m a barometer in the sense that my gut-level reactions offer a snapshot of what may or may not survive from current church cultures in that potentially foreboding future.

[Sidenote: O.M.G.! … maybe that’s my REAL super power! And I could be “Kingdom Culture Litmus Man.” Huh. Umm … okay … nice ring to the name … but the costume conjures up really frightening options … some with disco-suit overtones and light-up undercurrents. But then, that could just be from watching “Mamma Mia!” at the movies yesterday …]

I’ve discovered from experience that being a human barometer often requires me to absorb a lot of pain. In order to listen carefully, I generally have to engage emotions, not just mentality. I have to be willing to suffer sympathetically with the difficult plights of others, and parallel their joys as well. Often, I have to be willing to stand alone in silence with my conclusions and just pray, when no one seems to see or understand. I have to turn to God for understanding, comfort, and encouragement so I can persevere in the task he’s assigned. I have to be willing to review and revise my conclusions, and own up to it when I’ve concluded too quickly, assumed wrongly, responded poorly. But then, I am also reminded of the words of King David: “Shall I offer to the Lord that which costs me nothing?” (paraphrase of 2 Samuel 24:24). It’s not about my being comfortable, or even about some “heroic” costliness of “my” sacrifice, but about worship. This is an act of worship through using His providential gifts in ways I trust honor Him. I work to continually improve over time by exercising how I listen to the Spirit more closely, discern coherence with the Word more carefully, and act with more wisdom and grace.

Meanwhile, looks like a pattern for ambling is coming together: read, jot, process, pray, steep, write, pray, return, edit, pray, post. So, most of what follows comes from what I read a few days ago, and have steeped on since while reading ahead into the next section or two. Here’s some Litmus Man musings on futures fusings from the first few parts in Reveal: Where Are You?


Senior Pastor Bill Hybels wrote a two-page piece about his reactions to the news that the self-study research they underwent at Willow Creek pointed out things were not what they thought they would or should be. He stated that the research “is causing me to ask new questions. It is causing me to rethink how we coach Christ-followers. It is causing me to see clearly that the church and its myriad of programs have taken on too much of the responsibility for people’s spiritual growth” (page 4).

I appreciate it when leaders have the humility to actively seek to critique themselves and to learn from the process and the conclusions. I don’t see this happening often enough, and we live in an era when refusal to consider change will – I believe – lead to organizational dearth and death. No one and no organization can just stand still in these times; that only makes us a “sitting duck.”

I’m reminded of a key concept that comes from long-time church consultant Bill Easum. In his book, Unfreezing Moves: Following Jesus Into the Mission Field, he says that the ways we change in the future will have to be different. No longer can we evaluate, strategize, unfreeze our position, change, and re-freeze in a more perfect position. We’ve got to keep unfreezing, moving, and removing. My hope for every church – Willow Creek included – is to learn better how to “read” culture, exercise foresight, and keep making those kinds of unfreezing moves so we can become more holistic in our paradigm, more biblically sustainable in our systems, and both more culturally relevant and countercultural simultaneously.

So, meanwhile, I experienced some gut-response clues from reading that Foreword that make me a bit queasy about what I’ll be reading afterwards … makes me wonder if Reveal will simply lead to refinements in their current methodological model, or to a shift in their paradigm. These past few years while studying systems and consulting with church leaders, I’ve seen that internal refinements on the current organizational strategies and structures don’t really future-proof a church; a more radical shift in underlying paradigm does seem to make a difference. I usually see a more significant shift in deep-level paradigm layers take place with a church plant when there is the freedom to start from scratch.

Also, as a linguist, I’m always concerned for the potential meanings from the words we choose and exclude. And I found myself wondering about the very first sentence in the Foreword: “The local church is the hope of the world.” I always thought that role was reserved for Jesus Christ. And yes, it makes sense that the ongoing incarnation of God’s purposes manifested through The Church means that local churches present the hope of Christ to the world. However, it’s just too easy to confuse the part for the whole, and use the term local church as a building, a set of programs, a set of paid staff, etc. – things.

Later on, Pastor Hybels talks about people reaching out to their unchurched friends. That term in this context set my “Oh-oh!-ometer Barometer” going. I guess I understand enough of the “seeker model” to realize it’s an attempt to use kinder/gentler vocabulary for those not following Christ – i.e., non-Christian. However, unchurched implies the goal is to become churched. Have we unintentionally integrated around things and not around a Person? It fits, then, that part of the revelation from this study is that the church as an institution with programs has taken on too much. Converting the “unchurched” to “churched” does not a Christian make. Is it hoping too much that the recommended changes in church structures return the responsibility to people and not to different kinds of programs? We’ll see …


I have worked in various roles around book publishing since the early 1980s, and I’ve been a student of learning styles since the mid-1990s. And so, at the juxtaposition of those two streams, I just gotta say that when someone puts in an annotated table of contents like in Reveal, I am very, very pleased. Giving a three- to five-sentence summary of each chapter lays out the overall flow of themes. For those who need the big picture first as a framework in order to process all the details, this is a gift!

Also, using questions as chapter headings is helpful for engaging readers in a participatory think-along-with-us kind of process – even if it temporary feels like Jeopardy because the answers are in the form of a question. But okay … kudos to the writers and publishers for doing both of these things. Thanks!


I like questions. When I took one particular learning style assessment, it helped me understand that I do my best thinking when someone asks a question or there’s a practical problem that needs to be solved. So, I like that there are a lot of questions in this book.

Questions do have their problems, however. Such as the fact that the ways we word our questions can precondition our answers. For instance, what do you see as differences in emphasis between these two similar questions:

  • Are we putting our resources into ministries that genuinely change lives? (back cover)
  • Are we putting our resources into people who disciple for genuinely changed lives? (my version)

If the ways we word our questions precondition our answers, I’d suggest there’s an even more core consideration at hand: The ways we structure our paradigm at the very deepest levels precondition the categories and wordings we choose for our questions, and thus, how we perceive the answers. For instance, what do you see as differences in emphasis between these two similar statements:

  • You’ll discover the four segments that characterize the journey of spiritual growth. (back cover)
  • You’ll discover a four-fold framework to interpret layers in a journey of spiritual growth. (my version)

I’d suggest there are differences between the Willow Creek authors and myself at the deepest level of information processing modes that lead to important differences in both question-asking and answering. So, if we want to get to the ultimate root of things, we have to go deeper than our surface practices. Deeper than our operating systems, structures, and strategies. Deeper even than our theologies and values …

Are we adhering to the most comprehensive, integrated, and biblically rich paradigm possible? That will let us ask the best possible questions about our values, theologies, methodological models, and lifestyles – and about the cultural setting we find ourselves in and how best to relate therein.

Because I hold to a processing mode that is apparently significantly different from that at Willow Creek, it’s always a strong possibility of misinterpreting what one another attempts to communicate. But that’s the same essential problem as in all post-Tower-of-Babel talk. It’s all cross-cultural communication, to a greater or lesser degree. Even if we speak the same language, that doesn’t ensure we have the same meanings. It’s about listening. And that’s a consuming task, not just an energy-consuming task.

And I do agree with a number of things I’ve read so far in Reveal, and trust I’ve caught the main drift of what they’re attempting to say. Such as, “And you’ll understand how the church needs to change in order to help people become more like Christ.” To me, that implies they believe that the way a church is structured can limit the spiritual growth of its members. I resonate with that, and with a parallel notion that the way I or other individuals act can stunt the spiritual growth of others, which is one reason why each of us individually and all of us corporately need to consider the impact of our lives have. And that means this matters …

Next post in this series: Where Are You? (the introduction to Reveal).