My last blog focused on what I believe is a serious trauma that was inflicted on the church congregants by the destruction of the illusion of the perfect pastor/perfect church. This I believe has had a profound effect on the level of trust and safety of many attenders, some of which have responded in their own personal trauma based ways. I believe that the church must step up and courageously speak to the “Elephant In The Room” if safety and trust are to return.
Recently I got a comment on my blog site by a person named Alex. Here is the comment that he shared:
“The WCCC congregation has moved on. We’re doing great things and we’re strengthening the torn fabric of our church. We’ve admitted our faults, we’ve let go of all the pertinent people, and we’ve MOVED ON. Things are really good at Willow right now. Having you continue to pick at the proverbial scab is doing NO ONE any good. You continue to harp on the fact that we haven’t done enough. What else can we do? We’ve admitted there was sin, we‘ve chosen a whole new elder board, we’ve admitted over and over that we were wrong, and we’ve put things in place to ensure that nothing like this will happen again. What would satisfy you? Reparations? Public flogging? Your blog is written anonymously which tells us that in all likelihood you’re afraid of your own convictions (probably because they’re highly flawed) and that the anonymity of the internet is the perfect place for you to continue to opine on matters that everyone else seems to have moved on from. God has not forgotten our church. He sees our brokenness and the earnest efforts of the new leadership to do the right thing. And He is honoring that … no matter what you anonymously say.”y
I must say I was somewhat amused by the fact that the commenter was communicating anonymously about my anonymity. I will admit that I am a novice in the social media world and did not realize that nowhere on my blog site did I have personal information about myself. I have no need to be anonymous, as what I write comes from my heart as well as my mind. I have corrected the lack of information so for Alex, I can be contacted directly.
Who Is Alex?
I do not know Alex but from the way in which he wrote the comment, it sounds as if he believes that he writes for the whole congregation. He uses the word “we” consistently in his comment, which would lead me to that conclusion. Is Alex a leader at the church? Does Alex have both the theological expertise and the organizational insight to make the sweeping conclusions that he declares? Is Alex someone who liked the image of the church and longs for it to return to its public status and glory? Is Alex a part of a group that is closed and basically an echo chamber for all the goodness of Willow? Why would Alex want Willow to move on so quickly? Does he believe that a church, that has had over forty years of identified sinful government practices, should be able to change so quickly? We do love our illusions and desire their return.
Is Criticism Of Willow Wrong?
I have encountered a number of people who wonder if I am a Willow or Bill hater. They do not like the fact that much of what I say in my blogs focus on what went wrong and what needs to be done. As a result the assumption is that I am out to destroy Willow and Bill’s reputation.
Let me say in bold letters “I LOVE WILLOW CREEK AND BILL HYBELS!” I still attend Willow Creek Crystal Lake, but I do not love some very serious aspects of what has gone on in the church and with Bill. I think of the verse where Jesus says: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Matthew 10:34
Many people are black and white in their thinking. Things are either all good or all bad in their view of the world. It reminds me of the confusion now days with gender identification. Some people have come up with the word “non-binary” if they cannot identify as either female or male. Well I am non-binary when it comes to analysis of Willow and Bill. I do not identify with the group that sees Willow as all good or those who see it as all bad. One’s inability to see the bad within the good cripples their ability to make substantial changes for the better.
I believe (and if my theological and Biblical training at Trinity Divinity School gives me some credibility) that Jesus was pointing to a very non-binary way of looking at life. As such, he did not come only to bring the peace of white washing everything as good, but instead came with the sword, to separate truth from error. It is the purging process that brings healing and growth. Jesus focused on the vine, and in many ways this could be viewed as the church, with its connection to Jesus, that had to be pruned. The “sucker” branches were stealing nutrients from the flourishing vine. Therefore, it is that when we look at the church, if we cannot see the cancer of sin as a part of the overall function of the church, then the church cannot diagnose and excise what is malignant. People who so quickly want to return to a broad brush focus on the goodness of the church are running from a deep dive into the cancer that, if not excised, is doomed to re-emerge and reconstruct the church around the DNA of pathology. They call for peace at all costs. Jesus, I am confident to say, was more concerned about people being good than looking good.
Why Do We Need To Learn From The Past?
The past is important primarily for this reason. It contains information that we need to extract about what went wrong and why. People who do not want to dwell in the past for very long are seeking to simply re-establish peace. They want peace without purging what was wrong.
As a psychologist, I see many couples in my practice. I have had people who come in for marriage counseling and they explain that this is their fifth marriage and they are having the same problems they had in their first. When asked why, they tend to explain the reason as in their poor choosing ability. “I keep choosing the same kind of person!” they state. As we explore their marriage, what usually gets uncovered is that they, being unaware of their own wounds and brokenness, keep recreating the same relationship dynamics with new people. Because we as fallen individuals have a bias towards our own goodness, we see the problem as outside of ourselves. It is only when we do a deep dive into how we have been hurt and how therefore we keep recreating our own hurt, that we can start to change. This takes time and comes with an understanding that our default way of doing relationships is guided by these past wounds and coping patterns.
In many ways, this pattern can be seen in churches that form around the brokenness of leaders. Because charismatic leader types are often narcissistic in their personality development, the idea of looking internal to their own brokenness evades them. They design the church around the DNA of their own brokenness. As I have pointed out before, they can create the church in their own image by using deceit and a lack of transparency.
Alex, Why Am I Harping On This Or Picking At The Same Wound?
My dentist, or more frequently my dental hygiengist, tends to bring up every time I get my teeth cleaned that I need to work more on flossing. I personally feel that my teeth are doing fine and I do not need the lecture. However, the truth is, my hygiengist particularly sees what I do not see, he or she sees pockets that get formed that can hold disease when I do not floss. They care more about the health of my teeth than I do. If I lived in denial, I would not go to the dentist, believe that things were ok, and only when pain flared up would I seek help. By that time what was a problem becomes a disaster.
So it is with the church. People who clearly see things that others (even leaders immersed in the church) do not see, are not bringing problems forward just to be negative, but because they care for the long term health of the church. There are, I am sure, people who simply want to tear down the church because of some hidden grudge, but those can be detected if they bring forward no solutions. In a way, like a parent to a child, if you love your church you will bring discipline to it so that healthy change can occur. Individuals who are satisfied with an incomplete and unhealthy model of the church, only wanting it to look good, do not love the church at the deepest level. It is like a parent who settles for a child’s less than potential performance because they do not want to have done the hard work of bringing discipline to the child.
Therefore Alex, I am afraid, I am going to keep picking!