A wonderfully talented British film producer named Richard Curtis agreed to do an interview with me for a Leadership Summit session. In addition to writing and producing some of the best romantic comedies ever, he’s also the brains behind the inception of Comic Relief UK, which last year surpassed the billion-dollar mark in terms of monies raised to fight extreme poverty. Amazing.
During our interview, Richard said something interesting about what it was like to get Comic Relief off the ground. He had been to Africa in the late 1980s and had seen firsthand the atrocities unfolding all around. He returned to England determined to give the next twenty-five years of his life to fighting disease and poverty and injustice.
The only thing he’d ever done professionally was to work with comedians and comedic scripts, so he decided he’d launch a wildly entertaining and hilarious telethon that would try to raise funds for those who were dying in Africa. “People thought we were crazy,” he explained during our interview. “We were doing comedy and tragedy simultaneously, you might say, and the television executives didn’t really have a category for that. But we knew the audience would respond, and well they did.”
As I sat there listening to Richard recount his story, I couldn’t help but smile. The guy had taken a flyer, and just as my experience could attest, many flyers wind up reaping huge rewards.
Throughout the course of his life, my dad built several different businesses but in doing so would always differentiate between “betting the farm” and “taking a flyer.”
“If you bet the farm too many times, Billy,” he’d say, “you’ll eventually lose the farm. But if you take a flyer once in a while, you’ll very likely come up with a breakthrough that could serve you well for a long, long time.” We take flyers. We don’t bet the farm. This was one of my dad’s many mottos that has stayed with me my entire leadership career.
In the three-plus decades I’ve led Willow, I can honestly say that I have never bet the farm. Stories often surface about pastors who bet the farm and had things go right for them, but I never envy their gains or seek to emulate their decision making, because someday, if they keep rolling the dice, they’ll lose the kingdom farm.
So from day one, I was determined to abide by my dad’s flyer/farm policy. And wouldn’t you know it: as far as Willow’s experience is concerned, my dad’s wisdom has been proven right. Over the years, we rolled out a highly controversial but extremely effective “seeker-sensitive” service. We incorporated the use of arts in worship services. We pioneered a new way to do small groups. We started a CARS ministry and a food pantry and a Spanish-speaking congregation. We employed team teaching from the main pulpit. We launched regional campuses. And just like Richard Curtis said, people thought we were crazy every single time.
Until these flyers worked.
In the course of a given month, I connect with probably a dozen local church pastors who want coaching or training in one aspect of leadership or another. On some occasions, they’ll have me take a sneak peek at a strategic ministry plan they’re about to roll out to their board or senior staff. And more times than not, I eyeball the plan and hand it back to them with a playful but dramatic yawn.
“Are you serious?” I ask.
After they affirm that indeed, they are serious, the next words out of my mouth are usually something like, “So let me get this straight: between now and next Christmas, you’ve got a grand total of nothing planned that is going to capture your congregation’s imagination? I think you might be overdue for a flyer!”
I tell them that I think it might be time to get some of their church’s fired-up Christ-followers in a room and ask what bold move they would make next ministry season if they knew that God would anoint it and bless it. “When God gives clarity to you,” I continue, “thank him sincerely, figure out how to implement the move strategically in the life of your church, and then watch what God does!”
My advice to them is my advice to you too, if your setting could stand a few sparks of God-ordained excitement: Take a flyer! It will keep you young, build your faith, and perhaps yield the breakthrough you need.
Hybels, B. (2008). Axiom: powerful leadership proverbs. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.