Willow Creek Community Church is reeling in the throes of the deconstruction of an organizational structure built on a house of cards. The crumbling is not pretty. The temptation is to stop the bleeding by doing a reset, a reorganization to desperately stem the flow of further dissolution. But what is needed is not a quick reconstruction, but instead a process of sitting in the ashes, feeling deeply the grief of loss, and waiting on the voice of God to move forward. People who only want to preserve the external structure of the church are in a desperate panic to find solutions because the fear is that the whole church will collapse in the dust of broken dreams. But the Biblical model is one of waiting, sitting in the pain, allowing the grief to produce the wisdom necessary to build on the right foundation.
There are many examples of times that those in great remorse sat in the ashes.
Lamentations 10; “The elders of Daughter Zion
sit on the ground in silence;
they have sprinkled dust on their heads
and put on sackcloth.
The young women of Jerusalem
have bowed their heads to the ground.”
What WCCC needs is not a reorg but instead a repentance. A collective communal acknowledgement of the pain that has been revealed due to broken leadership. The church needs to sit in the ashes of pain, of remorse, of recognition of the wounding that has been inflicted on women who were the victims of a self inflated man who used his male privilege to intrusively invade the holy sanctity of a women’s body. The church collectively needs to mourn the sadness of the trauma inflicted on these innocent victims. The church must seek to bind up the wounds of these women, and send a message that it is unacceptable and will occur no more. They must experience the sincere repentance of those who defamed them because they threatened the reputation of the church or its founding leader. The church needs to live in the pain of its own brokenness, and not just conceptualize what happened as the isolated acts of an entitled man. The pain that has been generated is not just about the sexual violation of women, but, is due to the whole systematic abuse inflicted on a host of people, both employees and parishioners.
The temptation is to move on, to race beyond the pain and pursue hope and change. But sitting in the ashes is the Biblical response that true believers must stay with because this reveals an awareness of the depth of the suffering and the extent of the sin. Moving on is denial, it is minimization, it is a cheapening of the pain of women who have had their dignity violated. Sitting in the pain, owning the level of devastation, shows a measure of the church’s ownership in the destruction. There were many enablers of the destructive ways that people have been treated. What is needed is a time of mourning, an experience of true remorse. No one likes to sit in ashes. They are dirty and certainly not very pretty. A church that has valued looking pretty does not want to acknowledge the ugliness of its’ own hurtful acts. But it is the Biblical way. It is what demonstrates an acknowledgement of the degree of pain and sinfulness that created the desolation of precious souls. Sitting in lament, in remorse, is what keeps us in a level of awareness of the seriousness of sin, of the power of its ability to inflict damage to the souls of people.
The church needs to sit in the ashes of its current destruction because if it does, and if it learns the lessons that are necessary, it will, at some point after the time of lament, rise on the foundation of what is truly Christlike to resume a place of influence in the Kingdom of Christ. If it rushes too quickly, fails to show as the prophets of old, the remorse for how the reputation of Christ has been tarnished, it will simply speed towards resolutions that will just be more of what got the church to the place it is in presently. No one likes to stay in lament, to sit amid the ashes of a burned structure. But ashes are what remind us of what the ultimate results are when a house is built on anything other than the true Lordship of Christ and the servant leadership of those who guide its’ mission.
To lament is to “express deep regret, grief, or sorrow. We can lament through words or actions”. Scripture is replete with lament. It seems that God calls us to long periods of lament because the degree to which we sit in lament reflects the seriousness we take sin.
“Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted” – (Habakkuk 1:3-4).
In our lament as a church we need to cry out for mercy.
“LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy” – (Habakkuk 3:2).
We do not need to rely on experts in organizational regeneration, we need to show God the levels of remorse that we feel for how the church has sinned. The church has not just sinned against these women. The reality is that the organizational emphasis on perfection and image has created a results oriented focus that has left many employees feeling a culture of fear. People, and there are so many stories coming out, that have been ruthlessly treated and eliminated to whitewash the image of the church, have been injured and the church needs to sit in the ashes of awareness of the consequences of sin. And the church needs to hear many stories and ask for forgiveness. Leaders who bought into the repressive tactics to keep the image of the church intact must confess their complicity in creating pain in the lives of innocent people.
There is too much to lament to sprint ahead. Waiting on the Lord, feeling the pain, acknowledging the sorrow, binding up the wounds of those who have been oppressed, must be the prelude to reorganization. If Willow wants to be a church, than doing what God calls us to do must guide the process of healing. We need to show God and the world that we seriously acknowledge the damage that the church collectively has done. Many enabled Bill to continue to act in an unrestricted way. Many took on characteristics of Bill to implement the repressive tactics to maintain the image oriented emphasis of the church.
The church must, collectively, acknowledge the pain, own responsibility for any part we had, and show God we are more concerned about being good than looking good. Running ahead of God in this process is doomed to failure. “It is not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit says the Lord” Zechariah 4:6. Anyone who is seeking to skip the steps must be held to the standard of scripture. Many are too worried about what Willow looks like to the world in this broken state. What we should be worried about is how we portray to the world the way of Biblical restoration. And that is painfully acknowledging the reality of our own failure and seeking the face of God and His mercy. We need to model how Christians repent, own their brokenness, and turn to the grace of God to rebuild the phoenix from the ashes of our sinfulness.
When the inclination is to run away from the pain, God calls us to stay in it and learn the lessons that are necessary to not repeat the behaviors that created the desolation. We are a culture that wants to run away from pain. Willow has been a church that wants to not show its pain. But this is the church, the broken, flawed, sinful, yet redemptive community of fellow strugglers. We must wait when our impulses say to run. Show God that we get the devastation of what sin does to people. Wait for His strength and not our own.
“Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary”. Isaiah 40:31