Stephen Wilburn was comfortable in his ministry role as a worship leader at his church. But God doesn’t always keep people in their comfort zone for long. He often calls on the humble leader to stretch beyond himself.
In 2008, God used The Global Leadership Summit to call this worship pastor out of his comfort zone. The ministry adventure not only changed his life, but the lives of countless numbers of human-trafficking survivors, as well as people with disabilities.
“I’m not the leader I used to be,” says Stephen, pastor of worship at Christ Community Church in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “The Summit developed in me a far greater vision than I could have had on my own. Because of the Summit, I’ve not only become a better leader as a worship pastor, I’ve also been inspired to look for ways God is leading me into a grander vision, giving me the courage to obey his voice, even in the challenging times. I started an advocacy group to fight human trafficking, and was inspired to finish my Doctor of Ministry dissertation on the inclusion of people with disabilities in the corporate worship of the church.”
If I had not been to the Summit, I would have missed hearing the voice of God.
Two specific Summit sessions profoundly influenced Stephen’s leadership path. Leading from Here to There, and Just Courage: Charging in the Darkness.
In Hybels’ session about leading from here to there, he discusses how your first step in changing an organization is to communicate why it is not ok to stay “here.”
“Now my initial question whenever I’m helping people through a change process is, why can’t we stay here?” Stephen explains. “Asking that question has helped inspire and get buy in from those I’m working with.”
Taking action, moving here to there
The concept of leading people from here to there was an essential tool in his next endeavor, after he was deeply impacted by Gary Haugen’s session and learned about the devastating reality of human trafficking in our world today.
“Gary’s session directly inspired me to start my anti-human trafficking advocacy group in 2008,” says Stephen. “Because of Gary’s talk, I began volunteering as a local advocate with International Justice Mission and eventually found others who wanted to join me in fighting human trafficking. I went on a trip to Cambodia, and my passion really ignited. Hearing about the unbelievable trauma these people had been through, and then seeing the incredible restoration that God had done in their lives, gave me great hope that justice really was possible. I believed God was calling me and the church to bring freedom to those in bondage.
“Over the past five years, our group, Chester County Abolitionists, has helped raise over $70,000 for International Justice Mission through events like our 5k For Freedom and Stand Up For Freedom comedy night. We’ve also visited dozens of local hotels to offer resources and training in how to spot victims of trafficking in the hospitality industry. We’ve had dozens of meetings with our state and federal representatives, asking them to support anti-trafficking legislation. And we’ve helped gather supplies for organizations working with victims of trafficking in our community. All of that has happened because I attended the Summit in 2008 and felt God moving me to be an agent of justice in the world, and to help bring freedom to slaves around the globe.
God surprises us when we say yes
“The most surprising thing God has taught me is that it only takes a small step of faith to create something incredible. If you had told me 10 years ago that I’d be meeting with U.S. Senators and Congressman about the issue of human trafficking, I probably would have laughed. And yet it was the small decisions to be faithful over the years that have brought me here. God has done all the work; all I’ve tried to be is obedient.”
God ignited a grander vision in Stephen
Stephen’s heart grew. Not only was God using him to bring awareness and help fight human trafficking, but he also laid it on his heart to serve those with disabilities by providing opportunities for them in worship.
A young man in his church named Ryan, with severe cerebral palsy, was Stephen’s inspiration for his dissertation. When Stephen discovered some of Ryan’s innate musical gifts, he wanted to come up with a way for him to contribute to the worship services. Today, Ryan is a regular part of the worship team. “Going on this journey with Ryan inspired me to do my doctoral dissertation on inclusion of people with disabilities in corporate worship,” said Stephen. “I saw the blessing his participation was to our church community, and I wanted to share that with other churches.”
The Summit inspired Stephen to expand his vision, and go beyond his comfort zone, seeing people in the way God sees them.
“My grander vision is to see people become who God made them to be and discover the incredible contribution they can make for his kingdom,” says Stephen. “No matter where a person comes from or what their limitations are, God has given them an ability to bless others. They can share his love and salvation with the world, if they just have the freedom and support to do so.”
Want to expand your vision? Try the Summit. It may change your life.
“The Summit is my annual opportunity to recharge, retool and reinvest in my leadership,” Stephen shares. “Every single time I’ve attended the Summit, I have come away a better leader, a better minister and a better follower of Jesus. The Summit has and continues to shape my life, and if those on the fence take a step of faith, I know it can change their lives too.”