Why I love Bill HybelsI quote Bill Hybels occasionally and occasionally someone has come up to me afterwards and said, "I appreciated everything you had to say except one thing. You quoted Bill Hybels. I was a part of a church once and the pastor went to Willowcreek and came home and terrible things happened."
I don't doubt that it is true. I just doubt that it is Bill Hybels's fault. I think it is a little unfair to blame Bill Hybels for every bad thing that someone who comes home from a Willowcreek conference does.
But still, I am not a fan of Bill Hybels for the reasons most people are, or the reason you might think. I am not actually a big fan of the seeker service or the Willowcreek model of doing church. Although, most churches would do well to listen and learn a bit. The longer I live the more I realize that is just not who I am. I am more about more or less traditional churches with traditional Sunday Schools. I believe the solution for church, generally speaking, is not to do things differently, but to do things better.
I am not a fan of Bill Hybels because I am so much into his philosophy of ministry. I read his books and listen to his messages because I appreciate his heart. It seems to me he just loves God and is deeply committed to the cause of advancing God's kingdom no matter what it takes.
It is Hybels's passion, not his program that excites me.
In Hybels's award winning book, Just Walk Across the Room Hybels has a chapter on what he calls a Matthew party. The Matthew party has been taught and practiced at Willowcreek for a decade or more. It is a core part of what has enabled Willowcreek to reach 20,000 or so people for Christ. It is precisely what I mean by "Giving Friday Nights to Jesus."
When I preach on giving Friday Nights to Jesus I always start with this text.
 After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. "Follow me," Jesus said to him,  and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.  Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"  Jesus answered them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Luke 5:27-32 [NIV]
There is within the heart of everyone who has been touched by grace an inclination that says, "I have got to tell someone!" In a way it is a spiritual inclination, in a way it is just a human inclination. Whether we enjoy the birth of a new grandbaby or the opening of a new Barnes and Noble, when good news comes our way, we tend to want to tells someone.
As we grow in Christ, we realize this is not just a spontaneous inclination, but also a moral obligation. Paul spoke of the fact that we are debtors to those who do not yet know the good news.
Still, many of us feel this inclination, but we struggle to tell. We push ourselves. We feel guilty. We take some training. We try to do better. We do a little bit better. But, we don't do all that well. Most Christians--I read somewhere around 90%--struggle with this.
Bill Hybels points out that he believes Levi (also called Matthew) struggled with this. Between verses 28 and 29, he imagines Levi is wondering, "How can I get this message about Jesus to those guys at the I.R.S. office?" Perhaps he thinks about passing out tracts, or inviting them to the temple, or getting a box and standing on it and saying, "Hear ye! Hear ye!" But, he is not really a box kind of guy and he doesn't think the crowd at the tax office will respond to the box approach.
We are not sure what Levi thought about, but we do know what he came up with.
Levi threw a party.
Levi threw a party. He invited Jesus and his disciples. He invited those who didn't know about Jesus from work. You get the impression that many of them became followers of Jesus because Levi held a party.
I have had several people ask me over the years, "What kind of party should I throw?" My answer is, "How should I know?" Do whatever it is you like to do. If you like to watch movies, do a dinner and a movie night. If you like to play games, do a game night. If you like to go to sporting events, go to sporting events. Start with what you like to do.
This last Friday night we had a Sunday School party at our house. I emailed the church office to get some names of prospects to invite. I called all of them. None of them came. I can explain why. In fact, I could have predicted it might happen.
The problem was, I didn't get enough names. I only got two. And of the two, one was disconnected and one was a wrong number. Not hard to predict we wouldn't be seeing many prospects at our party. Still, we had a nice time and it built the groupness of the group. It is a good thing for families to spend time together. It is a good thing for couples to spend time together. And, it is a good thing for groups to spend time together.
But, it was also a good reminder to me that if you want to get a group, get a longer, rather than shorter invitation list.
One of the hidden benefits of giving Friday Nights to Jesus is just at this point. Even the people who don't come are usually glad you asked. You do some good even for those who do show up.
I have found that often time people will not respond till the third, fourth, sixth or tenth invitation. Keep inviting. Keep calling. Keep emailing.
This is how God treats us and it is how we ought to treat others. God worked with some of us over a long period of time before we responded. We need to be prepared to work with people over a long period of time.
This is another hidden benefit of giving Friday nights to Jesus. You can invite people to a different event every month for a year and it doesn't get old. If you visit them or call them and invite them to class once a month, it soon gets awkward. But, if you invite them to a different party every month, that is not awkward, that is just friendly.
It is not enough to invite them, you have to be nice to them. You have to talk to them. You have to pay attention to them.
Mark Twain tells the story of a soldier who stumbled across one of his comrades. The fallen soldier begged the man, "I have lost my leg. Help me get to the back." He helped him up and, with arms on shoulders they stumbled away from the front line toward help. The battle was thick. Bullets and canon balls were flying everywhere. One of them hit the fallen soldier, decapitating him. There was so much noise and commotion that the other soldier didn't notice. He just kept carrying him toward help. An officer saw him, and asked, "Why are you carrying this corpse out of harms way? He is dead." "No he not, he just lost his leg." "Lost his leg, great day, man, look at him!" "Well, he told me he lost his leg."
Sometimes we just are not paying attention. It is not enough to invite them, you have to pay attention to them. You have to be nice to them.
Bill Hybels and I don't agree on everything. We do agree on this: a Matthew party (his words) or Giving Friday Nights to Jesus (my words) is a great way to reach people for Christ.
And, lest you think giving Friday Nights to Jesus is just a fluke of an idea dreamed up by some guy from New Mexico, consider this: it is essentially the same idea that Bill Hybels has used as a core philosophy of Willowcreek and Outreach magazine calls the resource of the year. Perhaps it is time you gave Friday nights to Jesus a try.