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Cultivating Your Church's Heart

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Welcome to Defining Moments. In 2007, our team traveled to Nottinghill, an area of London, England, to meet with British screenwriter, music producer, actor, film director, Richard Curtis. We recorded an interview, which we later used at the Global Leadership Summit. You may not be familiar with his name, but you may be familiar with his work. He's known for the film Nottinghill, Four Weddings and A Funeral, Bridget Jones' Diary, Love Actually, The Girl in the Cafe, as well as the sitcom Mr. Bean. In addition to his work in film and television, he has a heart to take what he does best and use it for good. Curits founded Comic Relief, a British charity created in response to the famine in Ethiopia. He organized the Live 8 concerts to focus attention on issue of extreme global poverty. He pressured G8 leaders to adopt proposals for ending it. He also convinced Simon Cowell, producer of American Idol, to travel to Africa and experience a level of poverty for himself and share his story with the American public through the special American Idol Gives Back. During this video interview, Richard shared the need to identify with the names and faces of the people who live in extreme poverty. He takes cameras into troubled areas and leaves them recording for long periods of time so we could get a real, better perspective of what life is like in these terribly impoverished areas. One of my most memorable moments of all the Summits Willow has had happened when we watched this video. Watch then we will unpack this topic with Bill. Kolkata, India 11:27 pm May 30th, 2002 You can help. Wow, that's powerful. The most extraordinary thing about that in a way is the timing of that person walking by. We have to try not to do. The Sermon on the Mount was fundamental to how I started to think about things. If that seems to you to be the truest thing you have ever read, and you have not heard anybody say anything better, you're not being convinced by Socialist politician or a conservative politician that their ideas make more sense than that. They seem to talk about things are too high up the ladder when there are some things very low down on the ladder that we should be dealing with. Economic structure and trades and way companies work and way societies work... that is gripping and needs to be dealt with but there is a very simple thing of loving your neighbor, the most simple order of all that I think I am still haunted by. I've seen many of my friends lose themselves in the luxury of political theory. People who seem to really care about stuff when they were 18 or 19 and they've gone on arguing the theory of it. You have to get up and do stuff. I'm a great believer in that. I think that at the end of a sermon, prayer or reading the Bible, you have to say, "I haven't let myself off the hook by doing that. I'm really on the hook now." If I'm going to pray for people, I've got to do something to help them the next day. I think that's the deal...that you have to try to find ways. I believe individuals can have a fantastic affect. Not only in the money thing, that I am very interested in that you can save someone's life for little money. But clearly all popular movements have to be built out of individual people. I had a sweet thing the other day, my son who is 5 said to me... I asked him what he wanted to do. He said he wanted to take care of poor children like his dad. But he was worried that after that day there wouldn't be any poor children. I told him that I thought he could rest easy. Richard, you have watched the church in the United Kingdom and the United States and gauged it's level of involvement in ending global poverty. What grade would you give the church? That's an interesting question. All I know is that a guy over there should not be dying when I have so much. I think that fundamental human truth keeps the church as good, flexible, fluid partners. If the church takes a central stance on this issue and says it's our human, God-given duty to say this is an achievable aim in the next 10 years to halve poverty, I believe they'll be able to do it. It's a great ambition that there couldn't be too much churches do. I would hope that it would become something where churches never let their leader off the hook and unite more and more, write more letters, make it clearer to their leaders that if they want to hold the enthusiasm of people who go to church, they are going to have to crack this issue in our time. I promise you we can achieve world poverty being crushed by a new generation. We are just trying to find leaders who will have the courage to do it. Bill, I remember after that interview, you got up and said that doing that interview was the most disturbing interview experience you ever had. Why did it have that kind of reaction in you? I had known Richard from another occassion and I had enough conversations with him to know he did not consider himself a Christian. He is spiritually curious but is open to other truths. He is still contemplating if he wants to commit his life to Christ. While he's in the exploration phase, his heart reflects more of the heart of God regarding concern for the poor than most Christians and pastors and seminary professors that I've met in my life. This guy's heart breaks for the plight of the poor. He's become very wealthy through his film making and he takes most of his wealth and converts it to practical ways to serve the poor. Then when he could be making millions more, he starts organizations whose sole purpose is to alleviate poverty. He gets a double hit, you might say. He's a joyful, smart, fully alive person. I thought that I have only met a handful of Christians in my life who are as close to emulating the Spirit and the activities of Christ as Richard Curtis. And he's not a member of the faith yet. He's quite a guy. He's quite a leader, Jimmy. I don't know why we sometimes put filmmakers in a category and assume leadership doesn't apply to them. Probably we think of them as creative types...artists. This guy is a dynamic leader. He has to cast a vision for a film he's making. He has to select the team. He has to establish a budget. He has to stay on time. He has to deliver that thing. He has to inspire. He has to fire. There's a lot to leading huge film projects and he's among the best in the world. He's an amazing leader. Over the years at Willow church, we have gone through a huge metamorphosis. And a good portion of it is tied to the journey that God has had you on with regard to this issue of compassion and poverty. Talk about your personal journey and the church's journey along the way. As I have communicated at the Summit and other places, I think Christian leaders have their first conversion to Jesus Christ. Then I think the way it's suppose to work is from the time you come into faith with Jesus Christ to the time you die, Christ would have another series of conversions you go through when He awakens your spirit or rocks your world about other things in the Kingdom you should be alive to. I had one of those second conversions with regard to global poverty and AIDS and injustice. A lot of this coincided with the travel I do to train church pastors. You travel into an area to train pastor and you realize half the people in this guy's church have AIDS. He does 20 funerals a week. Then half the population of this other guy's church are illiterate. Then you visit another guy's situation and 1/3 of his congregation is infected with waterborne illnesses that with very little money a purifier could be put next to the church and could save hundreds of lives and change the whole nature of the church. Those things started to really roil up in me. I decided that part of my role as a senior leader in the church would be to increase the awareness at Willow about the fact that a good portion of our world lives this way. I started to integrate it into our teaching. I described the congregation that needed the water purifier. I would say, "Certainly someone in this congregation would be moved to resource that need. Talk to me after the service." I remember one time 25 people came forward and all wanted to buy water purifiers. In a couple of months, we fixed the water problem in 25 different villages in the area we were working. Then these families would see the purifier they installed, meet the pastor and villagers. They would then tell their friends around Willow. Then the whole thing started to really move forward. Being part of the congregation, I've been on this journey myself trying to instill this value and live it out myself and pass it on to my children. But the church at some point needs to decide what it's strategy needs to be to impact and have a global expression that they feel compelled to have. When you were in the strategy selection process, what were guiding values that grew along with the global expression on how we were going to impact this issue? Because we're local church maniacs, Acts 2 fools, we said, "Everything we've done at Willow since we started the church has been about building local churches here and elsewhere. Why don't we do this in partnership with local churches in under-resourced areas?" We knew hundreds of them because of the Willow Creek Association, because of the Global Summit, because of our pastor training exercises. I already knew about 100 or 200 fantastic pastors, great churches, under-resourced areas. I said to our Compassion and Justice people, "Why don't we strengthen our relationship with these churches that we already know who have pastors that we trust. Why don't we send some of our top people over to their environment with a serving towel over their arm. And simply say, 'What are you already doing and committed to that in some way we could multiply or assist in anyway that you tell us would be helpful to you'." Instead of us coming with our money and our strategies and imposing it on them. Really getting underneath them. We were going to be in relationship with these churches over the longhaul no matter what. Working with them seemed to make sense. Speak to...on a strategy level you've concentrated our church's efforts on certain regions versus trying to go too far, too wide. Talk about how that has worked out. There are 196 countries in the world. Willow is a large church. It's not large enough to be able to meaningfully be in every country. We were already in relationship with many pastors in certain countries. So we decided to go deep as opposed to going too wide. We said, "Let's saddle up for a long time and do a long ride with various leaders and congregations." I would be the last person to tell a pastor with a different strategy that they are donig it wrong. I think there's a lot of latitude in the Scriptures of how you assist the poor. We decided to be consistent with the way we're wired up. We're going to do it consistent with our scale and funding model. We did it in fewer places through the local church and relationship. Both ways, when our people go to an under-resourced country and build relationships and serve, it's not uncommon for those families who go over to invite the pastor or staff or some of congregation to stay in their home for a month. We have cross ocean relationships with hundreds of people. After services it's typical for someone to come down and introduce their friend from Malawi, or a friend from Costa Rica, or a friend from Dominican Republic. So through local churches, by relationship, servant-oriented, assisting what they are already doing, not doing too much so that we begin to undercut or create dependency. We are really careful about those kinds of things. We know this is the right thing Biblically. These are things Jesus told us to do. They are also from a spiritual formation standpoint have cataclysmic impact. We do it out of obedience to what Jesus said about caring for the poor. He talked about it so much. The reality is what it does in us also is a huge transforming affect. As I've been raising our children in this 0.1% of the world bubble in terms of a resourced environment, how do I help my children grow up without an air of entitlement that is almost unavoidable growing up in this kind of region? We've sent our children to our partner churches in the Dominican Republic and Guatemala so they could touch, live and experience firsthand how most people in the world live. It's been huge in their development. Jimmy, one thing I've made a commitment to. I've told our church and other pastors about it for years. For the health of my soul, you talk of your children's hearts and souls... For the health of my soul, my travels annually have to include a stop in an under-resourced country. I arrange my travel that way because we do a lot of pastor training work in Scandinavia, UK, Europe, Singapore, developed and resourced areas. Many years ago it was possible for me to live in Barrington, a very affluent suburb, then to only travel to resourced countries. I would do that for a second year. I would begin to lose my sense of urgency about alleviating poverty. Then I would travel to an under-resourced country the way the travel schedule went. And I would get smacked again and reminded by the Holy Spirit, "You have to keep your head in the game. You have to be touched by this on a regular basis." About 10 years ago, I decided that every year one of my stops has to be in an under-resourced country, where I can see it, taste it, feel it, smell it, not sleep at night because of it. I've challenged every pastor. I don't care where they pastor, bishop with this... I just ask them, "Are you with the poor somewhere in the world or in your backyard at least once a year?" Because visions for the congregation have to come from the top. Pastors have to be broken about this, so when they talk about it and inspire the congregation to get involved. The congregation is looking at that pastor wondering, "Are you pushing a program? Or has your heart been touched by this?" They can read you like a book. If your heart has been freshly banged up by having been someplace where people are starving and... The thing that perhaps touches me most when I'm in those kinds of environments is when children the age now of my grandkids are dying from diseases that cost 2 pennies to cure, it's one pill. That upsets me so deeply when I'm in those environments that I take a breath and think, "I'm coming back...I'll never forget that family, that little guy and that mother." It stirs my spirits. It never leaves you. And that speaks to one other aspect that is a value of how global expression has grown over the years, in addition to church-to-church, longterm relationship and partnership, letting the resources and projects flow out of that relationship, concentrating in certain regions instead of going too wide, the other one is holism where you are not doing one thing in a specific area but you're looking at a concentrated region and at the poverty issue through multiple lenses. Speak to the holism value and the importance of that. I didn't understand the concept 10 years ago. People would refer to holistic ministry and I would say, "Let's just build their churches. I don't know what you're talking about." Then I visited some places and spent days in the same village. The pastor would explain to me, "We have a water problem so all of our children are sick. The water problem is because there is a sewage issue that contaminates the water. And the sewage thing happens because the city's infrastructure and pipes are broken. The government is broken so it's not going to fix the pipes." After walking around all day you think, "The whole thing is broken. How do we come and give this guy a Bible and ask him to lead people Christ?" Yes, they need to lead people to Christ, then what? Have them live in misery and poverty and illness and die young? Pastors in under-resourced countries have to be holistic. They are part doctor, part counselor, part agricultural engineers. They have to understand waterborne illnesses, sewage systems. What they have to get their head around to try to bring justice to a community blows your mind. One of the things that because we've experienced this church-to-church thrill over the years, it's probably added more value to us along the way. We've had a burdern to help make that available and possible to churches in the WCA that's why we entered into the relationship with Compassion International who is in longterm relationship with 5,000 churches in some of the most impoverished areas of the world. Now we are in a position, if there's a WCA church that would love to enter a church-to-church relationship we can get you connected with a church in a responsible way. The reason I love this is everyone wins in this equation. The children, the community, the receiving church, the resource church. Everyone wins in the equation. I'm delighted you have been so excited about this over the years and that you put that partnership together because if any church is listening now don't have at least one relationship with an under-resourced church somewhere those pastors and elders and staff members don't know what their missing. That has been the global side of our efforts. But locally we've had some dramatic and significant things occur in the last five years. I would love for you to share how the local compassion efforts have changed over the last few years, and some ways the church is responding to that now. I was affected some by Richard Curtis because when he does this Red Nose Day, which raises money for the poor. It's not just for the poor around the world, it's for the poor locally in the UK. One reason Richard Curtis is a folk hero in the UK is because the poor in the UK know that he is on their side. When our economy went through a downturn in 2008, we had a small food pantry operating and so many people lost their jobs that I remember visiting the food pantry and seeing 25 in line, then 3 months later 75 people in line. Then another 3 months later there would be 100 people in line. I started thinking that we are as responsible for the poor in our backyard as around the world. We paid attention to how do we do holistic ministry to our community in the name of Jesus within a 15 minute driving radius of Barrington. We found there was pain all over the place. We started offering English as a second language, attorneys of the church offered free legal aid, the food pantry's services expanded greatly. We started gleening. We have a retired business person, who knew after doing research that the amount of waste from restaurants and grocery stores is obscene. He went out and knocked on doors and wrote letters and emails to all area restaurant owners and grocery store owners and said, "Before the expiration date goes bad, if you're going to throw it out what if we send a truck. And the day before you throw anything out, you give it all to us. We'll do the physical labor if you can put it on a skid. We'll load it on our truck. We'll bring it to our food pantry. We'll distribute it that day so it's still good for the people who are going to use it." I forget the last quote on this, Jimmy, but it's millions of dollars worth of food now. There are 40 gleeners. Most of the time they use their own car. They go twice a week. They'll go to one restaurant or one grocery store. They'll fill up their trunk and back seat, then deliver it to the food pantry. Our people will reprocess it and get it out to them. Our former board chairman, who did an unbelievable job chairing our board for many years, he's retired now. He gleens twice a week with his Buick. He'll fills the back seat and the trunk then he brings it to the Care Center. He has a cup of coffee with some of the guests who come, talks and prays with them. He loves it. He's doing something. He's hands on. He's not sitting around at breakfast deciding where he's going to eat dinner. He's doing something. Bill, one of the times when you visited our food pantry and you saw the line of 100 people it was in the middle of winter. That created a level of discomfort in you that has emerged and turned into an initiative that our whole church has supported. How are you dealing with the fact that our need overcame our capacity of the existing food pantry? Because we rent space in an industrial park 3 miles away from the church and because of the need in our local community and how many people are standing outside in rain and cold, We said, "We have to treat these guests with a higher level of dignity than we are. The Golden Rule...do unto others what you would like them to do unto you... How would you feel if you already had to face the indignity of going to a church food pantry to get groceries for your table. And you stand in the rain outside for 45 minutes with your kids. There are no bathrooms outside, no shelter. One day in the winter when I saw people without coats, it was snowing, blowing, cold and their children were there. I said, "That's enough. We are one of the most resourced churches in the world. This has to stop." I met with the board and said, "We are almost at the end of the lease, why don't we bring this on campus? Why don't we have the food pantry and expand it. Build a building that's consistent with ours? Put a beautiful lobby so we can have 200 people in a warm, dry lobby with restrooms. Why don't we treat our neighbors in need with dignity?" They agreed. We brought it to the congregation. They were fired up about it. We are near the completion of the funding for it. We'll start building this Spring. It's going to have a tremendous impact on our church. It's really one of the most fun, I don't know if fundraising is ever truly fun, but this one has been a joyful thing. There has been almost no pushback. People have given more than once to this fund to relocate the Care Center onto our property. This is an exciting era of our church because of this. I love the fact that it's repurposing some of our space that used to be for athletics, city leagues. This is a repurposing that square footage to some things that we all think are closer to the heart of God in terms of leveraging this property. Bill, along the way, what has been the most challenging issue in leading a congregation to have a deeper heart to care for the poor? Going back to a basic leadership concept is that the art of pursuading, the art of moving someone from 'here' to 'there.' When I had a second conversion about the poor, my heart moved from 'here' to 'there.' I knew I had the advantage of travel. I got to see it, smell it, touch it. I threw up because of what I saw and not sleep... It really affects you on a deep level if you can see it. You have to know the heart of God about it. So you need some teaching about it. What I decided to do was to ensure every influential person in leadership at Willow got on a short term trip where they could see it for themselves. I arranged hundreds of those trips. Took some people with me. My wife took some people. You've been on similar trips where you've taken people. The combination of having people see it, touch it, smell it, and increasing teaching on it... I think it's those two rails that need to run parallel. You'll start seeing people return from those trips or walking out of church after certain sermons where a video was shown and you've spoken about it. You can make gains steadily. I often tell pastors it will usually take 2 to 3 years if you're starting from nothing to the point where you've established relationships with good churches in needy parts of the world. I was at a leadership function. We were talking about what's changed in your church in the recent past. One pastor talked about all the changes in their relationship to alleviation of global poverty. I asked him, "Where did it all begin?" He said, "The girl with the yellow dress." I said, "You're kidding." He said, "No, I was at the Summit with a bunch of my team members. I saw the Richard Curtis interview. Don't remember much about that. But we talked about the girl with the yellow dress all the way back to our church. We never recuperated from that 3 minute clip of the girl with the yellow dress." I said, "Isn't that something that God can use a clip to change a church with regard to these great compassion and justice issues." Other people will say it was the Bono interview at the Summit that kicked them into gear. It doesn't matter what kicks you into gear, you just have to get into gear. The last time I spoke at Willow a week ago, I was teaching from the book of Luke where John the Baptist says, "If you want to get your heart prepared for the coming of the Messiah, if you have two coats give one to someone in need. If you have more food in your cupboard than you need for this day, find someone without food and give it to them right away because you'll be getting on the page that the Messiah is coming and that's the page He's going to be on." I received many emails after that of people saying, "For some reason, the clarity of that passage snapped something in me and now I'm ready to get involved in the Care Center or go on one of these trips." It takes different inspiration or point of stimulation, but everyone needs to be awakened to this. I don't think you want to stand before God some day with clean hands. By that I mean, you're hands have never been roughed up or dirtied fighting for the plight of the poor. You don't want to be in that condition. I think you want to say, "Yeah, I got in there and I couldn't change the whole world. But there was a place, a relationship, a church, a minister, there was something where I personally got involved." We have a couple of minutes left. I didn't want to leave our time without talking about a really important subject matter that if a church is really involved in compassion issues over time, what's the relationship between compassion and justice issues? You've mentioned justice a couple of times. We haven't talked about it. How does compassion and justice go together in your mind? This is something I backed into. When you're very committed from keeping children from starving, or keeping children from waterborne illnesses, so you're going to a country with food products, seed packs, or you bring a water purifier and put another one up. At some point you stop and think, "This river has bad water and we're purifying it for this village. What's happening up the river that's polluting...?" You get in a 4-wheel drive vehicle, drive 10 miles through the bush, and you get up there and there's a factory that's pouring raw, poisonous substances into that river illegally. There's a rich guy whose bought off the public officials. He's doing it, making money, while 10 miles down river children are dying from this. Well, then you have to make a decision. Am I going to keep installing more water purifiers? Or am I going to go after that guy? Now it's a justice issue. Now we have to get some attorneys involved and fly them over or go to IJM or other ministries that do this and try to bring charges against the factory owner to stop this. If you do enough compassion, you end up getting curious about the circumstances that cause all of this compassion work to be done. That's when you find the injustice and when you find the injustice because you're already involved in the compassion stuff, you think, "If I solved it at that level, then we're going to be able to help these people help themselves out of this mess." It's very interesting. I never knew that Willow would become so justice oriented. We just did enough compassion to get sick and tired of watching the ongoing, systemic injustices occur. We say, "Then we'll do that too." Thanks, Bill, for the discussion on a very important topic for the church. I think of Jesus' words, his first public sermon, when he announced he had come to proclaim good news to the poor and set oppressed free. Compassion and justice for the poor were on the top of Jesus' mind. So I think it should be on the top of our mind as well. If God has been speaking to you as you've listened to this discussion, maybe there's more He wants you to do. Maybe take first step and build a relationship with a church on the other side of the world. Discuss with your teams. Take a next step that's relevant to where you are in your own life and your church's life. To help you along the way in partnership with Compassion International, we've created a 3-week experience to help you help your people join God in serving the poor. The kit includes message videos, transcripts, small group DVDs, participant guides as well as many downloadable materials to serve you. Use it with you whole church or small group ministry. You can find out more at willowcreek.com/58 The 58 comes from Isaiah 58:10 which says, "If we spend ourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, our light will rise in the darkness." Our prayer is that all our churches would be that light. Thanks for joining us. We'll see you next month.

Video Details

Duration: 42 minutes and 10 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: None
Producer: Willow Creek Association
Director: Willow Creek Association
Views: 187
Posted by: landsm on May 10, 2012

Richard Curtis

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