Bill Hybels: What Bono Taught Me About Fighting Poverty

The founder of Willow Creek Community Church says fighting poverty is a matter of changing hearts.

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By Bill Hybels

Bill Hybels is the founder of Willow Creek Community Church outside of Chicago, the fourth-largest congregation in the country. While Dan's away, we've asked a selection of prominent guest bloggers from a variety of perspectives to give their thoughts on religion and public life.

Nearly two weeks ago, I stood before 7,000 people—and an additional 60,000 connected via satellite feed—who gathered for the Willow Creek Association's annual two-day conference the Global Leadership Summit to hear from diverse faculty on the subject of how to get better at leading whatever it is that we lead. Part of the assortment this year included Bono, who agreed to a follow-up discussion to our 2006 interview, during which he called out the local church for being inexcusably late to the game of fighting extreme poverty and treatable disease.

The evangelical church has taken a lot of justifiable heat in recent years for being vocal about the things we hate while staying silent about some of the most pressing needs in our world. There are times when I believe the church should be the conscience of our culture, but to Bono's point, a reframing must occur, one where the divisiveness that once defined us as people of faith gets edged out by a unity around great societal causes. And what has to unite us in this day and age is the fight against poverty and disease. Faith leaders the world over expected this day would come. What we didn't expect was that it would take an Irish rock star to demand the dawn.

As leaders, there are so many things we must get better at: casting vision, building teams, solving problems, enforcing values, and building the next generation of leaders. But if we excel in those areas and still neglect to use our leadership octane to address God's clear mandate to serve the poor, what have we really gained?

Since Bono's clarion call three years ago, well-resourced churches have banded together to take a bite out of poverty, pouring vast amounts of resources into building orphanages, clinics, schools, and sports fields through partnerships with underresourced churches around the globe. Not that the ultimate judge comes in the form of a leather-clad superstar in shades, but still it was gratifying to hear Bono's assessment of progress to date: "I knew [the church] was a sleeping giant, but I didn't know the giant could run so fast."

In some parts of Africa, malaria deaths have been halved. Antiretroviral drugs are being shipping back because villagers have what they need. Education is having an effect. These are all good changes, but admittedly more must be done.

The crowd's collective vibe at the Global Leadership Summit verified what I've observed for several years now: There's nothing like the church when the church is working right. I'm all for better legislation and stronger education about solving the needs of the poor, but I've maintained for 30-plus years of ministry that no intervention from government, academia, or business can solve what ails the human heart. What's most needed is a change of heart, a task left to people of faith. Consumerism and corruption and apathy and greed fundamentally are the church's to solve.

Before it's all said and done, this year's Summit will find its way to 120,000 leaders in 56 countries and will have been translated into 29 distinct languages. But the numbers only matter if each person represented in them helps to effect change.

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