This summer I spoke at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. It was an honor to be invited. No one pulls off a conference like Willow Creek. Who else could bring their content to 120,000 people? And the three other talks or sessions that I saw were extremely high quality.
The time at Willow led me to reflect on how much criticism this church has taken over the years. On the one hand, my own 'camp' -- the non-mainline Reformed world -- has been critical of its pragmatism, its lack of emphasis on sound doctrine. On the other hand, the emerging and post-modern ministries and leaders have disdained Willow's individualism, its program-centered, 'corporate' ethos. These critiques, I think, are partly right, but when you are actually there you realize many of the most negative evaluations are caricatures.
John Frame's 'tri-perspectivalism' helps me understand Willow. The Willow Creek style churches have a 'kingly' emphasis on leadership, strategic thinking, and wise administration. The danger there is that the mechanical obscures how organic and spontaneous church life can be. The Reformed churches have a 'prophetic' emphasis on preaching, teaching, and doctrine. The danger there is that we can have a naïve and unBiblical view that, if we just expound the Word faithfully, everything else in the church -- leader development, community building, stewardship of resources, unified vision -- will just happen by themselves. The emerging churches have a 'priestly' emphasis on community, liturgy and sacraments, service and justice. The danger there is to view 'community' as the magic bullet in the same way Reformed people view preaching.
By thinking in this way, it makes it possible for me to love and appreciate the best representatives of each of these contemporary evangelical 'traditions.' Nobody provides more practical help for organizing and leading ministry than Willow Creek. I also am humbled that Redeemer is well-regarded in each of these 'streams' of evangelicalism, though we have our feet firmly set in our own Reformed tradition. That is quite unusual, and it makes it possible for us to both teach and learn across the spectrum of church life today.