One of my observations on many church leaders is how unapproachable they can appear to be. I've seen it in both large and small churches, where the leader only appears in the meeting once it has started, and then disappears as soon as it's all over. Either that or they're so busy chatting to all their friends that nobody else gets a look in. I'm sure there are a variety of reasons for it. Some leaders are probably natural introverts and so just don't enjoy talking to lots of people. Others are bound by traditions about praying before the meeting starts, or processing in as part of the meeting. Still others I'm sure have been so hurt by people's comments in the past that they want to avoid any possibility of being hurt again.
Observing other leaders made watching Bill Hybels all the more remarkable. When we go to the Willow Creek Leadership Summit in Chicago (which is on a Thursday and Friday) we normally stay over and go to either their Saturday night or one of the two Sunday morning weekend services. Usually after the Summit it seems Bill doesn't preach (it's been Henry Cloud the last three years we've been), although he does anchor the meeting. But the remarkable thing is what happens at the end. Bill will stand at the front of the auditorium, and a line forms of people wanting to have a chat with him. When it starts the line extends all the way to the back of the auditorium (which is a long way in an auditorium which seats over 7,000 people), and Bill stays there until he's chatted to and prayed with everyone in the line. There is someone there making sure nobody takes too much of Bill's time, but basically anyone who wants to can spend a few minutes talking to him. Watching the line you see Bill chatting to people, laughing with them, crying with them, holding hands with a family group as they pray together, just amazing. And he stays there until he's seen everyone in the line. Sometimes when we've been there that has been over an hour after the meeting finished. And all this off the back of two days of the Leadership Summit, one of the most exhausting events I can imagine any leader having to host, and when he's leading a church with over 28,000 people attending across its five locations.
I've seen the same thing in other leaders I admire. I remember Mahesh Chavda coming to the Kerith Centre. He wasn't well, but at the end of the meeting he stayed until every last person who wanted it had been prayed for. I've seen the same spirit in people like Canon Andrew White and Michael and Esther Ross-Watson. Inspiring.
Now I realise that at the end of our meetings there are very few people who want to chat to me! I have no illusions of grandeur in that respect. But it has made me resolve as a leader that I always want to be approachable. That anyone who comes to Kerith and wants to have a chat with me, or for me to pray with them, can do that. So please do come and chat with me on a Sunday if there's anything you'd like to talk about, good news you'd like to share or you'd like me to pray for you. And if you ever feel that I'm becoming unapproachable just remind me of this blog, and the example of Bill.