Every Journey Begins with a First Step

Parents love to celebrate when their toddler takes their first step! And in the same way, every Christian you meet has had a “first step” in their spiritual journey. You don’t have to be around Willow Creek for very long before you realize how committed we are to the spiritual development of our kids. One way that Willow partners with parents in their children’s spiritual growth is through Promiseland (Infants to Grade 5th), Elevate (Junior High), Student Impact (High School), and the Young Adults ministry.

Scott Rubin, Director of Elevate, says, “Here at Willow, we want to partner with parents every step of the way. If your son or daughter is in Promiseland, Elevate, or Impact, we want to work with you to help your child understand God’s transforming love!” One easy next step is to get your children to church every weekend. “It makes a remarkable difference if a kid is developing friendships in their small groups, which happens so much faster when they can come consistently,” says Rubin. “It helps kids and students to see a bigger picture of faith and to understand how it affects their life day in and day out.”

Another great first step for parents of young children is our Child Dedication Ceremony. This is an event that happens several times a year, and the next Child Dedication is coming up November 22nd and 23rd in Willow Creek’s Chapel.

Willow’s Child Dedication Ceremony is an interactive experience, where supporting family members and many first-time visitors to Willow gather around the child as parents pray a personalized prayer aloud for their child. Pat Cimo, Director of Willow Creek’s Family Life, enthusiastically says, “The God I wish you knew is more crazy in love with your kids than you are.” At these ceremonies, the parents have an opportunity to express their faith to their family members, friends, co-workers, etc. who might not otherwise step foot in a church. Pat says the child-dedication ceremony has now become “an opportunity for parents to witness in a very unique way because they are talking about their heart and their children.” She exclaims, “It’s the day for the parents to declare, ‘I trust the fact that God has a plan and a purpose for my child, and I will do all I can to follow Him, to reflect a Christ-like example.’”

However, this declaration is not a promise of parenting-perfection. Pat says, “When they choose to have their child dedicated, they are making the statement, ‘I’m not a perfect parent, but I want to do the best that I possibly can to create the best foundation for my kids so that they can understand and have a relationship with Jesus Christ, as their forever friend.’”

That partnership between the parents and the church is the beginning of a lifestyle. Whether your children are 6 days old or 16 years old, we want to help kids develop a faith that lasts!

“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children.”
—Psalm 103:13-14,17

To register for the upcoming child-dedications, click here.

Go Deep With Jesus

At Willow Creek, our hope is to encourage those unsure of their faith to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. However, becoming a fully devoted follower doesn’t happen in a moment. That’s why teaching Pastor Steve Carter is extremely passionate about discipleship. He describes it as, “Simply the opportunity to lead people towards full devotion to Jesus Christ. One thing that every disciple has in common is that they ‘go deep’ with Jesus.”

How does that happen? Many of us can quickly recall Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28 to “make disciples;” but we can also linger in the uncertainty of how to live this out. Steve Carter sees discipleship taking shape all around Willow; but specifically in these four areas.

1. Midweek: Sermon on the Mount series
Steve Carter speaks about this series with a unique enthusiasm and intensity: “This is our anthem! Perhaps the greatest sermon of all time—where Jesus shows us how to live.” We can go a lot deeper with Jesus by showing up at a Midweek service and learning about the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. Engaging with this series is guaranteed time well spent.

To encourage more quality time with Jesus outside of church, Midweek Service offers devotionals for Midweek that are packed with powerful scriptures carefully chosen to usher us from Midweek to chair time, into a deeper, more personal connection with Jesus.

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13

Both the messages and the devotionals for Midweek are available here.

2. The Practice: Sundays, 6 p.m. in the Chapel

Every Sunday night, believers meet in Willow’s Chapel to slow down and go deeper. The Practice seeks to teach how to push back against a life of skimming and speeding, and press into a life of Sabbath, simplicity, and prayer. God is using The Practice to mold His disciples through His grace alone. Steve emphasizes the heart of The Practice by saying, “It’s not just filling your mind with ideas; it’s gaining an understanding of the why and the how to actually do it, and an invitation to practice.”

Aaron Niequist, one of the leaders of The Practice, unpacks these Sunday night experiences on his blog. He explains that The Practice is “not something to achieve or conquer . . . but simply a way to allow ourselves to get swept up in God’s unforced rhythms of Grace. It’s all Grace!”

Get a feel for The Practice at Aaron’s blog here.
Join the Facebook community here.

3. Soul Keeping Group Study

In Soul Keeping small groups, we find this truth at work: true discipleship breeds discipleship. Carter summarizes the movement of Soul Keeping groups simply, but powerfully: “It is just a bunch of people who are learning to declare ‘We will not be people who skim through life and over relationships, we will care for our souls.’”

Soul Keeping is not just curriculum pulled from thin air; this study was birthed from the profound bond of discipleship between Dallas Willard and John Ortberg. Through time, Willard became the man through whom God guided Ortberg to a richer, deeply satisfying relationship with Jesus. Join the hundreds of people following in their footsteps towards becoming disciples with souls at rest in Christ.

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1

Connect with a group here.

4. Recover – Wednesday Night at 7:30 p.m.

Those who attend Recover are choosing a fully healed life, free from the bondage of the past and guided by genuine discipleship in the presence of the Light of the World, Jesus Christ.

Recover is offered to anyone who is looking to break free from unresolved hurts, hang-ups, or addictions. No one can fully engage in discipleship and grow deeper with Christ until we learn to, as Carter says, “normalize pain.” The truth is, the more we “normalize pain,” the less we live in shame and the more authentic our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ become.

You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness… Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:5, 11

Learn more about Recover here.

Still lingering in the uncertainty of how to live out and grow in your faith? Here is a link to the entire “Discipleship Toolbox.”

It Never Gets Old

One of the most remarkable things about being a Christ-follower is the joy we experience when we hear stories of how people come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. Hearing these stories never gets old. That’s one of the reasons why we get so excited at Willow Creek about Baptism Services. There are literally hundreds of stories from those who get baptized over the course of two days – story after story of God’s goodness, His faithfulness, and His ability to touch people right where they are and offer them His irresistible love.

The following are two very personal stories written by people who became Christ-followers through the impact made by a ministry within Willow Creek. Be inspired by these stories and take some time to remember your own – maybe even share your story with someone who needs to hear about the God you know.

A.’s Story: Empty but Now Filled

“I reached a point in my life last year where I realized something was missing. Not something tangible but spiritually. There was an emptiness I was feeling. That emptiness led to me feeling very broken and alone. I decided to explore religion and specifically the Christian religion. I wanted to explore it at Willow because I had attended a few services and, each time, I felt the message was applicable to me. I always left feeling good.

During my journey, things were happening in my life that I couldn’t explain. Things that made me feel like I was being tested. I was concerned at first until a friend told me not to be afraid, but that it was the Holy Spirit reaching out. While in Alpha, I was able to understand and put the pieces together of what was going on.

Since Alpha, I have become baptized and have strengthened my relationship with my friends and become closer to my family, even though we aren’t the same religion. I learned how to be a better person and how to live my life in a better way.

I feel at home at Willow. As soon as I walk through the doors, I instantly feel the love of family, friends, and Christ. I still have a lot of work to do, but knowing that I have the love and support of Christ lets me know I’m going to make it.”

J.’s Story: Angry Musician Turns to God

“I lost my best friend to suicide at the age of 16. This made me have anger toward God so I turned my back on Him. I started listening to bad music and playing in a successful band that did not honor God. I turned to destructive behavior to cope with my pain. My life was filled with friends who stayed away from anything having to do with the Lord. I avoided church as much as I could. I kept it together from the outside – had great jobs and made a decent living. I even went through college and became a father. As my anger continued, I went through a divorce in my 20’s.

I got older and met my future wife at 34 years old. She asked me to attend a Willow service on a Sunday. After thinking about it, I decided I would make an effort. When I heard the song ‘Mighty to Save’ I found myself crying. I felt something in my soul I had not ever felt. I felt like the Holy Spirit was hugging me and I was meant to come home.

We have since married and have a wonderful blended family with four children. We have been attending Willow every Sunday for the last five years. We all love helping during Celebration of Hope month and donating any clothing and shoes we can.

I cannot imagine my life without the Lord, and I feel I am making up for lost time. Thank you so much for your wonderful church.”

J. will be baptized during one of the Baptism Services on November 15/16.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
— Hebrews 12:1-2

The Global Leadership Summit: Serving Leaders World Wide

What started in 1992 as a small gathering of Christian leaders in pursuit of sharing their knowledge has become more than just a conference; the Global Leadership Summit is becoming a movement of Christ-centered leadership that is transforming brokenness and fostering empowerment on an international scale.

The U.S. conference, held in August, is just one of many conference locations. The GLS has gained international recognition and has expanded to include over 425 sites in 108 countries around the world.

And it doesn’t stop there.

The GLS continues to expand, providing a platform for leaders all over the world to gain training and insight on Christ-centered leadership and to learn from world class leaders and influencers. This training inspires, encourages, and provides actionable leadership skills – it has enabled leaders to use their influence to affect change in their communities, addressing issues like poverty, education deficiencies, and corruption in the government.

“You have probably heard Bill say, when a leader gets better, everyone wins. On a global basis, we are beginning to see men and women of faith leading more effectively and living out their faith in their spheres of influence. They are beginning to enact change at many levels of society, impacting the lives of many.” Aliece Hendricks, Vice President of International Conferences, said.

One of the most exciting opportunities has been the expansion of the GLS into two dynamic and challenging new locations: Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The ongoing regional conflict has presented a barrier to the GLS, but the Lord has answered prayers and blessed five years of work. Bill Hybels and Robert Morris from Gateway Church in Dallas are among a group of leaders who have traveled to the Middle East to host two GLS events.

The first will be held in Jerusalem this week, on October 29-30, and presented in Hebrew. Then, the conference will travel to Bethlehem on October 30-31, where similar content will be shared in Arabic. These ground-breaking conferences will include live presentations and leadership speakers via video from around the world.

“We want to stand with these brothers and sisters in Christ who lead in such complex situations,” Hendricks said. “Our desire and hope is that this is the beginning of being able to bring leadership training to this area of the world annually.”

The global reach of the GLS is ever-increasing, and the movement of Christ-centered leadership is powerful and contagious: follow the work of the GLS here and learn more about how the GLS is inspiring leaders to change the world for Christ – one country, one city, and one person at a time. Click Here.

Be the Salt. Be the Light.
Compassion and Justice Ministry Rally 2014.

Join our Compassion and Justice Team in welcoming Pastor Wilfredo de Jesus to our Wednesday Midweek service at 7:30 p.m. on October 22nd.

Pastor Wilfredo, also known as Pastor Choco, was one of the favorite speakers at this year’s Global Leadership Summit. He is the Senior Pastor of New Life Covenant Church, an inner city Chicago church, whose mission is finding hurting, overlooked people and transforming lives one broken person at a time. Pastor Choco was listed in Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of the year 2013, and has authored several books promoting compassion and the work of caring for the poor. “I can’t wait to have Pastor Choco back at Willow after his unforgettable and inspiring message at the Global Leadership Summit in August,” says Interim Global Director, Mark Haugen.

Pastor Choco will share an inspiring vision on how to cultivate a lifestyle of serving the poor, vulnerable and oppressed both locally and globally in his message entitled, “Salt and Light.” He believes that we can all make a difference in the world by sharing the love of Christ with those who desperately need just a flicker of hope through the touch of a helping hand. As Pastor Choco says, “The only resource you need to create change is a deep compassion for hurting people. If you have that, you can make a difference.”

There will be a Compassion and Justice ministry fair immediately following Pastor Choco’s message in the lobby outside the Lakeside Auditorium. We will highlight our diverse Compassion and Justice Ministry opportunities so you can easily find a place where you can fully realize your gifts and skills to touch another life and share the love of Christ. So, if you are looking for a place to live out your desire to serve those in need, join us Wednesday night for Midweek.