It’s the Spirit Stupid!

This is the first in a series on Spirit-filled pastoral leadership.

2 different churches within two days—one that has over 17,000 members and one that has 75 on Sunday mornings. Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, Illinois, has satellite churches and tentacles throughout the world. Faith Baptist Church at Mill Creek has been declining for 15 years, but is now excited about moving into a new building in three weeks.  The former just hosted 7500 pastors and church leaders on site for its annual Leadership Summit, with tens of thousands more viewing via satellite both domestically and (soon) internationally. The latter church hosted just me.

Both events were inspirational and electric, but very different. At Willow, some of the most articulate and capable leaders shared insights and wisdom with us, and we were led in worship by phenomenally talented musicians. The Leadership Summit provided a unique, mountain top type of experience that encouraged me to keep my vision big, my heart open, my will surrendered to God, and my efforts focused and dedicated. I left on a high, more motivated than ever to develop Faith, Hope and Love Global Ministries (see

In contrast, the little church, also in the western suburbs of Chicago, could not begin to compete with the quality of speakers, music or leadership. Yet, the funny thing is, I felt just as motivated to worship and serve God after my time there as I did at Willow! How could that be? Yes, I was the speaker, and I did like what the speaker had to say! But the energy, the power, the joy, the quality of conversation and fellowship for me came from something else, or rather, Someone else.

Ah yes. It’s the Holy Spirit that makes the difference in morning worship—and in every other aspect of our life. What was your church experience like on Sunday morning? How about on Monday morning?

It’s so easy to look at a church like Willow Creek or Saddleback, or at leaders like Bill Hybels or Rick Warren, and feel awed, intimidated or even discouraged (if you try to compare yourself or your ministry to theirs). We look at our little churches (over 50% host fewer than 100 people on Sunday morning) and even medium sized churches (100-499 people, representing another 40% or so of all Protestant churches according to 1998 statistics) and wonder how we can compete with the mega-churches or superstar pastors. Or, if we’re not into competing, we may just feel discouraged by our limited resources or feel the weight of trying to lead people who don’t be to be led or who don’t want to change. Sure it helps to have a multi-million dollar budget, topnotch staff members, superb facilities, and sensational music, but are these the most important characteristics of a truly thriving church?

What I witnessed again a couple of Sundays ago is the same thing I experience when I speak at chapel at HEAL Africa in the Democratic Republic of Congo to women waiting for fistula reparative surgery and their doctors and nurses. When Jill and I are sharing our testimony with the 50 member Chemin Neuf community in Chartres, France, or simply participate in their praise and prayer service, we can feel the vitality “in the air”. When we preach to 50 or 75 people in small churches in our own country, or teach seminarians in Myanmar, lead workshops or continuing education classes, or facilitate prayer experiences on the labyrinth, what makes the difference is not the size of the group, the drama, the technology. It’s something else.

The quality of the experience is rarely about how many people are present. It’s about the Holy Spirit’s activity in our midst. It’s about the authenticity of those who share. It’s about the love that is offered and felt. It’s about how well God is genuinely honored, and the leaders humbly use their gifts rather than stroke their own egos or otherwise serve their own agendas from their position of leadership.

One of the speakers at Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit talked about the churches that have “it”. He couldn’t define what the it was, but he seemed to know if a church had it or didn’t. He didn’t want to identify “it” with the Holy Spirit, and deny that churches that don’t have “it” have the Holy Spirit. Yet, from a biblical perspective, how can explain the “it” without referring to the power, filling, and flow of the Holy Spirit?

I am not into judging who has “it” and who doesn’t. Rather, I want to hold up hope for every Christian leader, pastor and minister for their ministries. I have been in seeming dead worship services, and have led a few myself. Yet, I also know the experience of a Spirit-filled and Spirit-led ministry—from worship services to using my gifts in public settings to individual encounters on a daily basis, some planned and some entirely spontaneous. I know the difference.

I believe God intends to work in us and through each of us in more powerful ways that we can imagine—and the key is not church size, budget, technology, and superstar staff—as helpful as each of these things can be. The biggest factor by far is the Spirit. I pray that I can remember that every day.

What do you think is the key to making your life and leadership more Spirit-filled and Spirit-led?

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Filed under Pastoral Leadership, Spirit-Led Leading

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