Top 5 Things I Learned From Bill Hybels

From the day he lead me to Christ during a weekend church service to the day I accepted a new calling to step out in faith and leave Willow Creek staff, his influence on me as a pastor, leader, mentor and friend has played a major roll in my development as a follower of Christ and as a leader. Like many who have served under his leadership, I would have to say that Bill is not a perfect person. He has made mistakes in many aspects of his leadership over the years.  He can also be an incredibly difficult person to work for, with what would seem like impossible standards to attain.

Well…this is not a post to bash Bill Hybels. He never claimed to be perfect. He is, after all, just a person, he knows it and he owns it. While he is a fallible human being, it is hard to argue with his intense passion for Christ and for Christ’s bride, the Church. In the words of Gary Haugen, President of the International Justice Mission, the Church is God’s plan for bringing hope to all that is broken in our world and “God doesn’t have another plan.” I have never met a person who is more passionate about God’s plan, the Church, than Bill Hybels. Bill’s deep conviction to reach out to those who do not know God coupled with his holy discontent about injustice in our world is contagious. He simply believes that Jesus and His church can change the world…he believes that it is our calling and purpose to follow Christ in this endeavor.

Condensing all I have learned from Bill over the past twenty four years into five points seems like an impossible task. However, out of everything I have learned from him there are five things to rise to the top…

A Clear Destination

I have not always agreed will Bill’s decisions on things, I don’t think he paid me to agree with him. However, I would have to say that under his leadership I always knew where we were going as an organization. Warren Bennis defines leaders as, “people who do the right thing,” as compared with managers who, “do things right.” While I do believe that Bill values doing things right, he demonstrated for me that, out of all the possible ways an organization can go, the leader must have a clear picture of that destination and they must be able to communicate this picture with such clarity that those who hear it and see it want to become part of the picture. Bill is incredibly gifted in this area. He takes this so seriously that he has spent a great deal of time in prayer and in God’s word over the years listening for whispers of direction and wisdom from God.


One time while I was in Bill’s office following up on a technology issue at the church, he decided to pull me aside and offer a little leadership coaching. He said, “Capital L leaders usually have an overwhelming number of problems to solve and priorities to address at any given moment of the day. Yet, they have the ability to focus on the moment. If that moment includes a conversation with someone, the capital “L” leader had the ability to make that someone feel like they are the only person in the world at that moment. Bill then went on to give me examples of other world leaders whom he had learned from in this area. How they might have issues of security, economics and social welfare to deal with at a national level, however, when Bill would meet with them or when he would observe their meetings with others, these world leader types would focus at that moment as if the other problems they faced did not exist. As you might be able to guess, he said that I could use some work in this area of the leadership. I have not forgotten this important lesson and though Bill has affirmed my progress in this area, it is something that I still consciously practice to this day.

Help Me Understand

Bill is an extremely passionate person. Candidly, I would have to say that some of his responses to problems he faced in his earlier years of leadership are legendary. Over the past 24 years of following him, I have watched him develop styles of self discipline to focus his passion. Frankly his rigorous self discipline is amazing to me. Many people know of the consistent disciplines he follows to stay healthy spiritually, physically and relationally. However, one area of his self discipline lifestyle that stands out for me is his “Help Me Understand” discipline.

In a spirit of full self disclosure, I would have to confess I am an activist. The minute I see a problem or get struck with a “holy discontent” about something broken in our world, I want to jump in and fix it. I can also tend to react strongly in the face of conflict. While I would not place myself anywhere near the same caliber of leader and servant as Bill Hybels, the one character trait that we share is our spirit of activism. It is precisely with the back drop of his action oriented heart where Bill’s, “help me understand,” discipline really shines. Typically, I have observed that action oriented people react first and ask questions later. Bill has learned to pause and ask the question, “Help me understand?” before he dives in to solve a problem. This simple practical discipline has saved me and several others who have followed me over the years from many a rabbit trail and false start. All this from pausing for just a moment to ask one simple question before a conclusion is reached prematurely.


When it comes to authenticity there one item that rises to the top when I think about the top things I have  learned from Bill. Authentic leadership in Christ comes from authentic follower-ship of Christ. Bill takes his relationship with God very seriously. He revolves his life around his love and pursuit of Christ and he realizes that his relationship as a treasured child of our most high God is more important than any of the leadership or ministry initiatives he delivers. Bill is a man of action. It would be easy for a person like that to put action over relationship. However, Bill has placed such a high priority on his relationship with Christ that he carefully disciplines himself to keep his relational priorities with God in place. I would even go so far as to say that I have learned much from observing Bill grow over the years in how he keeps his relationship priorities straight with people as well.

The last 2%

Simply stated, the “last 2%” is saying those last things that need to be said to keep relationships healthy. Here’s how I interpret and put Bill’s “last 2%” philosophy into practice. When we are faced with difficult conversations, we often slip into passive aggressive behavior, we either don’t say what needs to be said or the “last 2%” of our words we do say come out sideways and we start to accumulate baggage in our relationships.  I think, at the heart of what I have learned from Bill’s last 2% is that we need to think very carefully about the last 2% of those words we share in any conversation, meeting, etc. If we don’t go that last 2% percent in all of our relationships we will fall short of giving our best to people we share life with. However, we need to be mindful that our last 2% is not a quantity item. Quality is the key in everything we share. Quality is even more critical when we go that last 2%. In classic Hybels style I will end this section with a question. What if all Christ followers went that extra 2% in all their relationship? What if all Christ followers shared thoughtful truth in love and shared meaningful encouragement in love? I think the whole world would benefit from the outcome of this effort. I credit Bill for teaching me this philosophy.


Bill holds himself to incredibly high standards in all aspects of his life as a follower of Jesus. There is nothing casual about his walk as a Christ follower and as a leader. He believes that Christ deserves our whole heart; “ninety five percent of our heart yielded to Christ is five percent short.” He simply calls others around him to the same standard he follows for himself. As I look back over the years, I am thankful for Bill’s seemingly “impossible” standards. His standards called me to a higher level of excellence, yielding, integrity and even love for Christ and for people around me. In the midst of it all, his pastoring also helped me understand my true identity as a treasured child of our most high God.

One thought on “Top 5 Things I Learned From Bill Hybels

  1. Heather Lange

    You’re right, Bill is definately something. He has a way with words that just moves you to conviction and motivates you to make changes. While I don’t agree with everything, I do agree with his passion and dedication and overall goodness and I think we could all learn a thing or 10 from him!


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