My journey to accept the role of president at Compassion International has been quite a spiritual one—not only for me, but for my wife, Leanne, and my family. It began in the summer of 2011 when Leanne, said, “Jimmy, I think God is calling us to be open to anything new that might come into our lives.”
I had no idea what that meant, but I listened. Leanne has always been sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit—even when they don’t make sense on the surface. And this didn’t make sense. We loved our church (Willow Creek); it’s where we raised our three kids, saw them come to Christ, and mature in their faith. Willow Creek Association (WCA) had been my primary vocational expression for more than 20 years; I was totally focused on the mission of WCA and I’d poured so much into it—how could I leave? I certainly wasn’t pursuing anything else, but little by little, I became “open.”
God knew I would need time to get used to the concept of being “open.”
Almost a year later, I had a conversation with Wess Stafford (president of Compassion International), and he asked if I would be “open” to being one of the candidates who would be considered to succeed him when he retired. What Wess didn’t know was I’d been preparing to be open for nearly a year.
Bill Hybels, Willow’s senior pastor and the chairman of the board of WCA, said he’d like to continue ministry with me for sure, but if I felt God was calling me somewhere else, he would support me. I’ll be forever grateful to Bill for his mentorship, friendship, and for giving me the opportunity to lead.
God has taken me step-by-step through this, speaking to me through inexplicable events that have led me to where I am today.
A close friend told me there was a mercy and compassion component to who I was intrinsically and that it hadn’t had a significant expression in my vocation—yet.
Before Leanne and I met with the CI Board, Michelle, my amazing executive assistant, gave me a copy of a book called Love Does, written by Bob Goff, who will be part of the faculty at The Global Leadership Summit this August. Michelle, who knew nothing about my process with Compassion International, told me she believed God led her to ask me to read a particular chapter. “God sometimes uses completely inexplicable events in our lives to point us toward Him. We get to decide each time whether we will lean in and say yes or back away.” Then in describing the story of Joseph, Bob writes, “Joseph’s story has more turns in it than a mountain road in Colorado” It really said that. And the title of the chapter Michelle asked me to read? It’s “Just Say Yes.”
On our way to the airport as Leanne and I were headed to Colorado to meet the Board of CI, we passed a billboard I’d never seen before even though I’ve travelled I-90 to and from O’Hare more times than I can count. The billboard said, “Come to Life. Colorado.” God even used Colorado’s department of tourism to speak to me!
In June, I’ll step down as president of WCA, but will continue serving WCA until after The Global Leadership Summit. Then in September, I’ll become part of the Compassion Team and step into my new role—it’s a role God has called me to and one He has been preparing me for all my life.
The next time God calls you to do something completely inexplicable, be open to it. And say yes.