This post will go 100% against everything the person it honors stand for... individual recognition. But I have to write it because I believe it will enlighten folks who've only heard of him or interacted with him at a distance.
The person is Bill Hybels, founder and Senior Pastor of Willowcreek Community Church.
Last night, my family and I had the honor of sitting in the second row for a historic event at Willowcreek Community Church, the first Christmas service presented in Spanish in 34 years of Christmas services - Dios Con Nosotros. The picture above is not great but gives you an idea of the magnitude of the event - close to 10, 000 Spanish speaking people in the auditorium.
Fernando Arau, the Mexican born entertainer opened the event with an incredible testimony of how he experienced Immanuel (God with Us or Dios Con Nosotros) in his life.
What followed was a heartfelt mix of music, drama and message delievered to close to 10,000 Spanish speaking guests in the main auditorium of the third largest church in the United States.
I could not help but be excited when I spotted Bill, one row over from us in the front. I've been part of Willowcreek, off and on since 1990 - settling there once and for all in 2002.
I've attended 3 out of the last 4 Leadership Summits at Willow that draws church and marketplace leaders from around the world with faciliators such as Carly Fiorina, Bono, Colin Powell, Jim Collins, Patrick Lencioni and next year Jack Welch.
To say that Bill is a rock star to me is really an understatement. I have admired him from a distance for many years. His example of leadership has especially touched me since I started attending the Summits in 2006. But none of it prepared me for the chance encounter last night.
At the conclusion of the service, we moved to the front of the stage to hug Gaby Hermosillo, the wife and partner in ministry of the Casa de Luz Pastor Hector Hermosillo. As I turned around, there he was, standing pretty close and not talking to anyone
I introduced myself and told him a brief story I crafted in my head a moment before, as I spoke - he looked at me intently. Smiled warmly. It was as if it were me and him in the room (with 10,000 of our closest friends nearby).
Just as I started to tell him how awesome Willow has been in my life over the years - he got the look of "Please don't thank me" and quickly acknowledged that it was "God thing" how Willow had come together for me over the years including the start of Casa de Luz, a Spanish language service that not-so-conincidently began in the fall of 2002, just as we moved to the area looking for a church home.
Sorry Bill, but I disagree.
You, your authentic leadership and obedience to God is what has propeled Willow in the last 34 years.
Your humility that I witnessed first hand last night, up close and personal is astounding.
Your vision is unshakable.
Your compassion for others and particularly for me and my family last night is moving.
Your genuine desire to put Him at the center of everything is inspiring.
You didn't let me say it last night but I will say it here.
Thank you for your quest for justice.
Thank you for leading by example.
Thank you for leading me (and Willow) all these years.