Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Church in Barrington, Il, tells of one such incident in his life. He was attending his son’s soccer game as many of us do. His son’s coach was a man named Brian. Every practice he was there, setting up the practice cones and instructing the kids. One day at practice, Bill says that the Holy Spirit just moved him to walk over, help him set out cones, and strike up a conversation.
Everything went well until they got to the point where they told each other what they did for a living. When Bill confessed that he was the pastor of Willow Creek, he says he could tell the guy wasn’t too impressed. He didn’t press the issue, but just continued to develop a relationship with him. Finally, Christmas was coming around, so Bill invited Brian to attend their Christmas service.
Brian was annoyed to say the least. He said, “Oh man, Bill, I knew it would turn into this. I jsut knew that someday it would land here. Look! I know plenty about Willow Creek – I get tied up in its traffic every week. The whole thing frustrates me. God is not a part of my life, Church is not a part of my life, and I’d just as soon take this whole thing off of the agenda here.”
Bill said he wasn’t expecting such an outburst, but he made it clear that he wanted to put no pressure on him and just continued the relationship until his boy finished with soccer and moved on. That was the last time he saw Brian until he got a phone call.
On the phone, Brian told Bill that he was having a personal crisis and, because of their friendship, he called Bill, but he made sure to tell him, “I don’t want to come to a service, I just need to talk about a few things.” Bill met him a few times, but he said they made little progress.
That’s why Bill was surprised months later to look out at a group of baptismal candidates and see Brian sitting there. His first thought was, “How did Brian get mixed up in this group. Here he is finally coming to something and he’s in the wrong group. Why’s he here?”
After the meeting he couldn’t wait to find out the answer to that question. Brian, as it turns out, was supposed to be there. He told Bill, “A couple of monts ago, I snuck in during a service and sat in the back. You were giving a message on abandoning self-improvement plan and getting on board with the grace plan instead. I gave my heart to Christ.” Brian was saved.
It was sometime later when Bill was walking through the church with his son Todd who had now grown into a young adult. Rounding a corner they almost ran right into Brian. Brian recognized Todd and hugged him and they spent some time talking about their old soccer days. Brian started to walk away, but he turned back and told Bill with a smile, “Hey Bill, I just want to thank you for all those times you walked across the soccer field and opened yourself up. Really . . . thanks!”