Stay on course in the midst of storms Print
Written by Bill Hybels   
Thursday, 30 December 2010 12:25 PM America/New_York

Hybels_BillIt’s important to listen for God’s whispers above the noisy winds of change

Bill Hybels Author and senior pastor, Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, Ill.


Every responsible ship captain about to head out on an ocean passage knows to check the weather forecast. One valuable piece of information a forecast will provide is an estimate of the average height of the waves. The computer printout of the forecast might show that the expected waves will be only 3 feet high in the charted direction. Or, the forecast might be for 6-foot waves. 

When the ship captain receives a report suggesting 9-foot waves are in the forecast, it becomes more disturbing. It’s at this point he or she has to determine whether or not it’s still wise to make the voyage.

One set of sea conditions, however, will keep every ship captain tied to the dock. Oceanographers call them “rogue” waves. They often get to 80 feet high. That’s 24 meters.

Experts aren’t even sure what causes this phenomenon. What they do know is that when they come, sometimes unannounced, they spell doom for even the strongest of ships.



For many people in both business and ministry, the past season has been like weathering an economic and cultural rogue wave. 

Millions of people around the world have seen their retirement funds lose 40% or more, millions of jobs have been lost, and whole industries have shut down. No industry has experienced changes more rapidly—in buying patterns, pricing and delivery mechanisms—than publishing and retailing of published products. Combined with current economic stresses, it’s a rogue wave unlike anything previously experienced. 

It’s becoming clear that we’re not going to experience the old “normal” anytime soon. In fact, it’s safe to say that the normal we all knew and loved has left the building. Whether we like it or not, we are leading in a new reality.

Seasoned leaders know in their hearts that rogue waves and outright storms often provide the perfect conditions for greatness to emerge. Rough patches force new levels of courage and creativity. Howling winds demand a kind of focus and dispassionate decision-making that calm seas never necessitated. Raging seas call for ruthless prioritization and brutally difficult resource allocations.

In the middle of an extremely difficult season, a God-anointed leader often hears whispers from the Holy Spirit that say, “This is why I gave you a leadership gift. You were born for this. We’re going to get through this together.”

Leaders also know that facing ferocious conditions can produce our steepest learning curves, our deepest faith memories and our strongest bonds with team members. Rogue waves draw something out of us that calm seas never will.

Nevertheless, facing a metaphorical rogue wave isn’t easy to withstand, and new realities require new strategies and tactics. Here are some of the leadership principles I’ve seen at play through this recent tumultuous time.



A few years ago, I was honored to conduct a live interview with Jack Welch, the former president of General Electric. I asked him, “How do you lead through a crisis?” His response was immediate: “In a crisis, cash is king. It is absolutely king.”

Though I made a quick mental note to myself that I actually believe Christ is King, his point was well-taken. When an organization is hit broadside by a rogue wave, it really, really helps to be sitting on healthy cash reserves. They give what leaders need most in a time of crisis, which is time.

With additional time, you can form a new plan, decide how to raise different forms of revenue or decide which services to expand and which to curtail. 

In the last several months, I’ve talked with hundreds of Christian ministry leaders who are dealing with realities they never learned about in school or seminary. For example, what percentage of annual revenue should be held in operating cash and what percent of annual revenue should be put in a long-term cash reserve?

I’ve learned that many Christian businesses and nonprofits have never established a point of view of what is appropriate for their organization. If this describes your organization, now is the time to become intentional about a plan and to establish and build a cash reserve.



As I’ve lead through this difficult season, I’m learning about the vital importance of building a team of people who are full on for God. Hab. 3:2 says, “Lord, I have heard of your fame, I stand in awe of your deeds.” Then the passage turns to a request, as the prophet says, “Renew them in our day, in our time make them known.”

We all know that God has done great, great things. Like Habakkuk, I’m looking for God to do more great things in our day. I’ve also realized afresh that He usually does His great work through people—not just people in general, but people who are totally yielded to Him.

God is looking for people who have abandoned their own program and are just looking for how they can use their unique talents and abilities to further God’s activities and programs in this world. These are the people that God will tap on the shoulder and say, “Come with me. We’re going to do something great in your lifetime. We’re going to do this together, you and me.”

If you want to be part of a team that does great things, even when the situation might appear grim, surround yourself with those who are fully sold out to Him. 



Another lesson I’ve taken to heart this season is the importance of a personal replenishment strategy. Rom. 8:6 reminds us that when you’re in syncwith the Holy Spirit, it leads to life and peace.

When you’re good with God, good with your family and committed to your physical disciplines, you’ll be able to lead at your very best. Instead of anxiety, those who are “filled up” experience peace and exude enthusiasm.

Speaking personally, this has been a time when I’ve had to discern which people I needed to be around more because they fill up my bucket, and who I’ve needed to stay careful of being around because they deplete me.

On the physical front, I’ve doubled the number of miles that I’m running these days. I’ve narrowed my diet. I’ve paid special attention to taking my days off, and I’m getting more serious about scheduling vacation days. 

The single most bucket-filling change I’ve made involves how I’ve been starting my day. Instead of coming to the office at 6 a.m., I’ve set up a room in my home and I read God’s Word with no distractions. I slowly listen for God’s voice, for in my life, when I listen to God slowly, He speaks more frequently.

The best thing you bring to the table at your place of work is a heart that’s overflowing with optimism because of your faith in God. When you show up with a fresh spirit and a grace-filled demeanor, everybody around you benefits in profound ways.

Especially in times like these, when your organization needs strong vision for the importance of what you do and strong leadership, remember this: Your God-given job is not to merely preside over something. It’s not to pontificate to your underlings how smart you are.

Your job is to not merely preserve something from its gradual demise or to make a profit. Your job is to figure out what God wants to get done in this world, figure out what role you play in that and then to move it from here to there, no matter what season you are in.