A Non-Binary Approach To The Willow Creek Community Church Situation

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!

 

 

Willow Creek Community Church Crisis: Where We Are At

Now that we are at the year mark post revelation of the sins of the founder, Bill Hybels, where is the church at at this point?

Institutional Trauma

Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) continues to be in a state of trauma that has not been addressed openly and honestly from the leadership and publicly from the stage. Statements to the effect that the church is going through a difficult season are equivalent to placing a band aid on a gaping wound. It appears that the leadership’s approach is to say the least possible about the reality of the crisis and hope that time diminishes the impact on the church. Meanwhile the numbers of both attenders and income has slowly diminished.

First what is trauma? Trauma occurs when an event happens to a person or community that is so intense and frightening or painful that it shatters one’s sense of self protection. The boundaries of ones’ life get penetrated in such a forceful way that one’s defenses get destroyed, leading to a sudden shift from a sense of safety to one of vulnerability. The emotions of fear become intense, and individuals seek any method to try to regain a sense of protection. The fear alert center of the brain goes on tilt, staying in a defensive and over vigilant state, scanning the world for further triggers of threat. This can lead to a lifetime of emotional turmoil and destructive patterns of trying to soothe the fear one feels.

What is institutional trauma? Let me give an example from outside of WCCC. On October 24th of 1995 a train hit a school bus in Fox River Grove, Illinois, killing 7 students. Instantaneously the communities of Fox River Grove and Cary Illinois went from having a sense of security to one of anxiousness. What had happened? The illusion that was unconsciously accepted that students were safe on public transportation was shattered. An illusion is like a bubble that gets poked by a pin and shatters into a million molecules. Suddenly a community that took safety for granted goes on high alert for the possibility of danger to students. Hundreds of parents became instantly distrustful of allowing their children to ride buses to school, and instead drove them in their cars.

Illusions are mostly unconscious and involve a set of unchallenged assumptions. What happened at WCCC was the explosion of the illusion of a perfect church and a perfect pastor. The bubble that surrounded the church with the illusions of its’ greatness was suddenly punctured and the underbelly of what had sustained that illusion was exposed. As with any trauma, many of the people affected went into a state of disorientation and ultimately, disillusionment.

Two Great Illusions Destroyed

With the revelation and confirmation by the IAG report that Bill Hybels had sexually abused women in the church and that he had used a governmental structure that gave him an unhealthy amount of power and control, two fundamental illusions were shattered.

The first illusion shattered was that of the assumption that Bill Hybels’s respected women and was someone who could be trusted to treat them with dignity and would protect them from sexual violation. The church placed him in a vaunted position that gave him an aura of perfection, so the idea that he could possibly violate the trust of women was almost impossible to accept in the view of many. This illusion was so powerful that if one or two women came forward with allegations, they would quickly be discounted, because the overwhelming illusion of Bill’s goodness would crush their stories. It was only after multiple women came forward saying basically the same thing that it was taken seriously.

No one wants our illusions to be crushed. We want heroes and people that we can trust. Many people at WCCC, to hold onto the illusion, had to cling onto a belief that these accusations were made up by unstable women. When illusions get destroyed, the aftermath is one of great distrust. If we cannot trust that our pastor is safe, who can we trust?

The second shattered illusion was that of the perfect church. WCCC has striven to create a product of perfection, apparently to show off God’s best to a watching world. The idea that we are a flawed community seeking to demonstrate to the world how Christians organically deal with visible pain apparently did not occur to the architect of the Willow model. As such it has pushed for showing off the best of everything, believing apparently that people who see the results will somehow be impressed and see Christians as flawless. One recurring theme in this perfectionist model is that of the “guest experience”. This idea is close to the same concept that Disney uses when people come to their theme parks. Everything must be perfect and magical, a little microcosm of heaven on earth. Not reality folks.

The revelation that Bill Hybels’ style of leadership was driven by his own narcissistic perfectionism, and involved behind the scenes patterns of unhealthy levels of power and control, has pulled back the curtain on how this “perfect” church actually functioned. The illusion that we all wanted to believe is that this perfect product (the church) was created by a healthy process. Because it looks good it must have been built in a healthy way. That, as I have described in previous blogs, is a form of hypnotism, where we get so mesmerized by the greatness of what we see that we automatically assume that it was produced in healthy, Godly ways. But that in fact was not true. When we focus on the product (a well oiled machine church) and presume that it was produced by a good process, we are shocked and disillusioned when reality breaks through. The Hoover Dam is a spectacular achievement, but the number of people that died and the demanding work pressure that operated behind the scenes to produce it is out of our awareness. It is just awesome!

Secrecy, deception , and fear were the operative principles in keeping the church’s facade intact. Secrecy was enforced using Non Disclosure Agreements, where in exchange for silence about the tactics the church used, money was offered for a severance package. This guaranteed that the hurtful practices of how the church eliminated potential threats to its’ image got spirited away. It assured that the distasteful practices behind the scenes would not be revealed. It hid the bullying practices of the senior pastor and his henchmen that were loyal to him. It created the Elder Response Team with its’ trauma inducing strong arm approach to cleansing “problem people” in the church. So what got uncovered as the illusion broke was the fact that this good looking product, WCCC, was in fact created and sustained by behind the scenes sinful behavior that sought to only let people see what made the church look good. Fired and traumatized individuals were collateral damage in the service of protecting the brand. At this point only the courage of Mike Breaux has provided an honest peep hole into the practice of getting people out of the church when they may have questioned the strong arm tactics of the leader by making them say that “God is leading me in a new direction”. True if Bill Hybels is God.

The Intersection of Individual and Institutional Trauma

In the example of the bus accident trauma, the communities provided a number of resources to help people cope. I was part of a mental health trauma team that recognized that this trauma affected everyone and that people would need to seek help to re stabilize their lives. It is interesting and sad that secular institutions recognize the need for intervention when trauma occurs, while the church responds in a somewhat indifferent way. The reality is that due to the shattering of the illusions described above, thousands of people have been affected by traumatic emotions. WCCC leadership has failed to give a broad congregational framework from the public stage to help people give an understanding to what they may be feeling emotionally. The church is called to “speak the Truth” but the severe minimization of this earthquake event at WCCC has been treated like just a “bad season”. I think the prophets of old would get in the face of WCCC leadership and challenge them to call what has happened what it is. A quake of 9 or 10 on the emotional Richter scale. History has shown that when people are not treated with the honest information they need to cope, organizations falter. And this is as it should be, since if leaders cannot speak honestly and call sin sin, there is a deep and abiding sense that they are not trustworthy and not worthy of our belief that they will protect the Body of Christ from the destructiveness of sinful practices. Are we worried about lawsuits? Have we joined the litigious spirit of the age? Can you imagine Jesus not saying the Truth because He feared a law suit? Clearly the cost of discipleship involves speaking Truth and trusting God with the outcome.

The broader institutional trauma affected people in different ways. The breaking of the illusion of trust of the senior pastor relative to sexual improprieties likely activated an enormous traumatic reaction to a huge number of women in the church who have been sexually violated. In the United States one out of three women have reported some kind of contact sexual violence in their lives. These micro traumas had a huge impact on these women’s sense of vulnerability and lack of safety. If the statistics bear out at WCCC, a conservative estimate would be that about 2500 women in the church have experienced this trauma. When the larger systemic trauma occurred and the illusion of safety in the male senior pastor was destroyed, it is likely that many of these women experienced a reactivation of their original trauma. Women who felt that at least the church was a safe place to trust men, now, may well be disillusioned. The church will not know how often this trauma reaction occurred because they have not set up mechanisms to allow these affected women to come forth and get help. Many of these women may have simply left the church, disillusioned and in pain.

The weak and glossed over way that the women’s trauma has been handled is disgraceful. These women experienced the traumatic violation of their illusions that their pastor/leader was safe. Little has been said about the reality of how these women have been hurt. They should be celebrated as courageous whistle blowers of an ugly truth in the church. The most the church will say at this point is that the investigative report confirmed the legitimacy of the women’s stories. Duh! What the leadership is not acknowledging is the reality of the way that this sexual behaviour likely destabilized both the women who came forward and the women in the church who have experienced past sexual trauma. If this is not owned, discussed publicly, and a strong commitment to regaining the trust of women, the church will not, I believe, see God’s long-term blessing. WCCC needs to declare strongly that this happened, harmed multiple women, likely created a sense of distrust in the safety of men and male leaders in the church, and that they will do what it takes to regain women’s sense of safety. If I was a women who had been sexually violated, either by BH or other perpetrators, I would not feel that I could trust a church that minimizes this trauma in the way that WCCC is seeking to “manage it”. Take the bull by the horns and wrestle this problem into a healthy resolution. Image be damned!

The revelation of the strong armed tactics used to sanitize the church’s image, may have triggered many in the church who have their own trauma stories of abuse in the workplace. This could have, for them, triggered enormous pain and distrust, because they may have felt that at least the church is a place that we can trust to treat people with dignity and respect. The revelation of tactics of abuse and deception likely have activated the trauma of many who have experienced work place abuse. And so many people who were driven out of WCCC employment by insensitive and sinful tactics have their own ongoing trauma to deal with. And regular congregants who were forced out of the church due to the church’s need to eliminate “problem people” are living with the pain of their own trauma. No where does it appear that the church is going to publicly acknowledge this wrong doing or offer help for those afflicted.

The real problem is that many who are still on staff were complicit in enabling or even engaging in the behaviors modeled by BH. In dealing with this openly and honestly they may be afraid of implicating themselves. It seems like everyone wants to focus only on the behavior of BH, as if they were victims of his bullying behavior, and could not do anything to stop it. The truth is that they did not collectively confront the broken-ness, either out of fear of BH’s disapproval, or fear of loss of their job. The reality is that the work culture of WCCC was formed from the perfectionistic driven-ness of BH, but every person that bought into that model and learned to treat people consistent with his bullying behavior is complicit. There is no public acknowledgement of this reality, where people show lament for their sins in engaging in the broken tactics of a sinful model of perfection. How do we as congregants know that these people have owned their own participation in these destructive and soul damaging tactics? The number of people who participated in the trauma inducing behaviors of the Elder Response Team have not publically owned their sinful behavior, at least not to the larger body of Christ. Multiple stories of traumatic abuse by the Human Resource department of WCCC exist. Are these people still free to continue their behavior? Has their behavior been identified and how is it going to be held accountable?

Summary

The intersection of the larger institutional trauma that WCCC has experienced, which very likely triggered trauma in multiple individuals within the church, has not been dealt with in a strong, aggressive way. Although I have seen attempts in one of the regional campuses to address the trauma, the problem is that only a few people have enough understanding of the trauma to engage in discussion groups. The congregants in the church have to have a conceptual framework about the institutional effects of trauma in order for them to recognize or identify with its’ impact on them.

So why has leadership for the most part ignored dealing with the earthquake that has hit WCCC? Is it because the leadership that remains was so much a part of the fabric of this abusive process that they are still minimizing the reality of the disillusionment that has been created? Those that have been formed or molded into the use of tactics that seek to hide and eliminate any ugliness in WCCC may be so immersed in this process that they cannot step back and recognize their underlying participation in the perfection producing culture at WCCC.

As I have previously explained, churches are like larger families. Families that minimize trauma and pain and seek to ignore it and hope that time diminishes it ultimately fail. This is because the deep healing needed is not brought to the surface. Families where trauma has occurred need parents to own their part and speak to the reality of the pain that exists. Only then do the family members start to heal and trust again.

This blog is about where we are at, and the next two blogs will be about how we got here, and then what we need to do. Those that are involved with WCCC must demand change, and not just passively sit back and hope the church leadership does what should be done. If we want a church that eventually, and not in our lifetime, gets presented as “without spot and wrinkle” we must find ways to pursue honest and transparent engagement with our leadership. We have to move away from an elitist view of leadership. The new “set point” of a healthy WCCC must be shifting from an image of perfection to a process of honest and visible wrestling with the real issues of how human families (churches) reveal their struggles and demonstrate healthy ways to resolve them. We need to have confidence that those who lead us have the courage to identify and confront sin in the culture of WCCC. If they do not , we can have no confidence that the illusion that has been shattered will not simply be recreated.

Church Culture Audit-Part 2

 

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ  (Corinthians 11:1 NIV)

As a follow up to my first blog on auditing a culture, the above verse came to mind as a perfect introduction to the basis of auditing the culture of a church. Paul basically said that he only qualified as a leader to be followed to the extent that his life mirrored or copied the life of Jesus. This foundation is the truly unique and exclusive basis for a metric of evaluation inside the Church of Jesus. Anyone who would become a leader must be measured by the extent to which he or she lives in a way consistent with the character and behavior of Jesus. The life and model of Jesus is he only authority upon which the life of the believer can be judged.

The church, unlike a corporation, has as it’s bottom line, the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Essential to this formulation is the systematic goal of bringing every person into conformity to the example of Christ. To this extent we can measure others behavior as “Christ-like” or not. We can ask the question of another’s behavior “does it measure up to the characteristics of the life of Jesus?”.

The Willow Creek Association, which sponsors a leadership summit, should adopt as its credo the above verse, which clearly establishes that the basis of all good leadership is the degree to which leaders model their lives around the characteristics of Jesus. Corporations, which have different bottom lines, can adopt different measures for the health of leaders.

Bill Hybels Measured Against The Life of Christ

As more and more stories are compiled about the behavior of the senior pastor and founder of Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) the question that comes to mind is “how did he get away with this?”. Clearly his bullying style of leadership consistently violated the standard of how Christ lived. Did WCCC, who holds itself out as a church, fail to use the metric of Christ-like behavior to evaluate, confront, and challenge Bill’s behavior as inconsistent with a leader who submits to the Lordship of Christ? Were we all mesmerized?

Oprah Winfrey, in discussing Michael Jackson’s alleged sexual abuse of boys, said something profound about celebrities. She said that when we make Icons out of celebrities, we fail to see the con dimension that they may possess. She said it is like looking into the sun. We get so blinded by the celebrity that we cannot clearly see the brokenness. We all want heroes and idealize those that we place on pedestals. In doing this we suspend our capacity to see them as having significant broken parts. We then give them a pass when it comes to their destructive behaviors.

Does The End Justify The Means?

It seems clear in looking at Jesus that He was more concerned about character than about numbers. He cared more about the process than the product. When the product is more important than the process, people get hurt. Focusing on the product mesmerizes us and causes us to suspend our judgement as to the process of how the product gets created. We make the erroneous conclusion that because the product looks so good, it must have been created by a good process. But that is clearly an error in our judgement and focuses more on results than righteousness. Jesus would never have glorified something that came at the expense of the mistreatment of people. All of us who allowed this to happen at WCCC hold some responsibility for allowing Bill to delude us into the assumption that the end justified the means.

As we look at the “product” of WCCC, it is evident that many people suspended the use of the metric of the example of Christ in giving Bill Hybels and others a pass when it came to the behaviors utilized to produce the product. Significant sinful manipulation was utilized by BH and others to force their agenda on the growth of the church. Bullying to get his way, threats of employment retaliation, belittling and destructive criticism, cleaning house of any who resisted his “vision” of the development of the church, were just a few of the tactics utilized.

Bullies and Abuse

Bullies, and BH fits this category, do not get their power by accident or out of a vacuum. They groom  their victims in various and complicated ways. Grooming is a systematic process that over time alters the perception of victims to convince themselves that the abuser is not doing something to hurt them. Bill groomed people of WCCC by presenting himself as confident, as possessing the gift of visionary leadership, by pulling off a substantial number of “successful” programs and building projects. All of this groomed, or manipulated, the perception of him by others so that en masse we gave over our critical evaluation abilities to his seemingly confident leadership. As a result, we were bullied and groomed to give him a pass when he powered up on others to get his way, when he threatened to leave if his agenda was not endorsed, or when his sexual advances occurred.

The Life of Jesus As the Only True Metric To Measure Leadership Success By

So many people were duped, mesmerized, seduced, groomed, and overwhelmed by the power of this charismatic leader. We looked at him as if we were gazing into the sun, so that the broken parts of him did not stand out as in radical contrast to the life and character of Jesus. Many levels of leadership at WCCC conspired, if unconsciously, to sustain the inappropriate power of this leader. Many, besides Bill, need to repent and acknowledge their role in sustaining a destructive culture of Bill worship. He created the culture that remains to a large extent at WCCC. Deceiving, hiding information, getting rid of people who may have called him on his behavior, etc. The worst and most culpable were those who adored him and wanted to be in his presence, and so did not have the guts to call him out. In truth, as we evaluate the culture in hind sight, it would have taken the equivalent of a “palace coup” to force him to change. Instead, he would isolate and eliminate any who challenged him. His sexual shadow is the only thing that would bring him down, coupled with the courage of brave women who finally found a collective voice.

A New Commitment to The Metric of Christ-like Behavior

As WCCC seeks to recover from the trauma of building its’ foundation around a “house of cards broken man”, a new bottom line must be established. It cannot be numbers or programs or  buildings or money, but instead, a clear formulation of the behaviors and character modeled by the life of Jesus. As believers, we are all on solid ground to call our leaders to task when their behaviors and character do not measure up to the example of Jesus. We must not follow anyone whose life does not closely follow the example of Jesus. We must not get caught up in the hypnotic appeal of celebrity or human measures of success. We must hold out clearly and confidently those behaviors and characteristics of Jesus as we are measuring the right of others to lead. We must not allow our leaders to hide in the sunlight of their own celebrity so that they are not available to the real scrutiny of any or all believers.

Absolute Bottom Line Qualities of Leaders Who Measure Up To The Character of Christ

 

Humility– do leaders respectfully listen to the ideas of others and incorporate their needs or views in decision making?

Gentleness- do leaders come across as harsh and belittling of those that oppose them or gentle and confident?

Patient- do leaders take time to listen or get annoyed when others do not fall lock step in line with their agenda?

Confidence- do leaders exude confidence or cockiness? Cockiness is connected to arrogance and a condescending view of others.

Respect- do leaders come across as listening with intent to understand and value the input or others or do they manipulate and produce fear in others to get their way?

Honest and Transparent- do leaders regularly open up about their sins and ask for accountability or do they hide behind a veil of perfection?

Character- do leaders use as their measuring stick for their personal success the qualities and character of Jesus?

Fruit of the Spirit- do leaders exude growth and evidence of the fruits of the Spirit?

 

Priesthood of Believers

In the fellowship of believers in the Kingdom of Christ we are equal in value. We have different gifts but are one in worth. Leadership is but one of the many equal gifts, and should not be given an elite status. As such every believer, using the metric of the behaviors and character of Christ, should measure any believer, leader or not, against this standard. If WCCC learns anything it should be to remove leaders from any elite and unapproachable standard, and should, like all other believers, be held accountable to the authority of the behaviors and character of Jesus. The church janitor who is spiritually mature should be able to call out the lead teaching pastor when behaviors are exhibited that are clearly inconsistent with the metric of Jesus.

Elders As The Culture Auditors

It seems clear that in the church the elders should be those whose lives most reflect the maturity of Christ-like behavior and should be on the forefront of auditing the spiritual condition of members of the body of Christ. Leaders need to truly subject themselves to accountability around behaviors and character consistent with the life of Jesus. Elders must be confident and courageous in holding any member of the body of Christ to the high standard of living consistent with Jesus. Anything less is a breach of their Biblical responsibility.

 

 

 

Church Culture Audit-Part 1

Church Culture Audit- Building a Christ-centered Metric for Accountability

 

As two mega churches have come under the scrutiny of multiple investigations a culture of deception and abuse of power has emerged. A critical analysis of how this could happen in the church reveals that when a person of entitlement is at the helm of the organization, a subtle but pervasive process develops that isolates power at the top. Mega-churches are often founded by high charisma, narcissistic leaders, who, as success increases, organize the governance around their absolute need for power and control. People around them are mesmerized by their accomplishments, and  become blinded by the inconsistencies of the leader’s behavior relative to the character of Christ. Their “success”, measured often in numbers, buildings, books, and programs, become the focal point and allow these leaders to operate with impunity. Individual church members compare their own lack of success to the overwhelming indicators of success by the leader and conclude that they cannot critically judge or evaluate the leader. The fallacy that success equals importance or higher authority becomes the foundation that allows for the failure of healthy accountability for leaders.

Awakening From The Trance

The unveiling of the raw underbelly of the current mega church’s problems is resulting in many people waking up as if in a mesmerized trance state of mind.

Mesmerizing is an interesting word. It is another word for hypnotic or generating a trance. People that are mesmerizing get others to focus on some quality that allows for a slight of hand manipulation of a person’s perception. “I found myself mesmerized by the grandiosity of this building”. Every magician has mastered the illusion of getting people to focus on one element of reality so that they can deceptively manipulate people to see what the magician wants them to see. This focus on outward elements of success by mega-pastors is often what allows them to deceptively manipulate the perception of their congregants.

Magician Pastors

The outward measures of success, like a grand building, a huge congregation, a number of books written, or the amount of money taken in, can all be areas that these magician pastors get us to focus on so we do not look at what they do that is not consistent with who they are supposed to be as a leader. Because they keep you focused on and mesmerized by their successes, you do not see that they are bullies who demand obedience to their self-promoting agenda. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”, they call out. This trance that they place their congregants in allows them to mask or rationalize behavior that, measured against the life of Christ, would be hypocritical. These magician pastors have a deep shadow motivation that is more about their self-promoting agenda than the mission of the church. Are they conscious of this and do they do this with willful intent? Who knows. They just know that it works.

A magician’s stock and trade is the art of deception. Get people to look in one direction while they manipulate by slight of hand something in another direction. Their goal is to alter perception so that you believe what is not really true. This all results in a sense of awe and wonder, that elevates the status of the magician. The audience does not want to know that to get the result the magician wants he or she must deceive the perception of the observer. And so it is with magician pastors who want us to so focus on one element of life, their observable successes, that we are willing to suspend our critical abilities to identify what is real.

Deny The Inconsistencies

This is why we can tolerate for years the behavior of a pastor/leader who clearly has deep and destructive character problems. We can allow abusive behavior to continue unchecked. Women who are sexually propositioned can second guess themselves because a leader with this kind of success could not possibly mean by his suggestive behavior what I think it means. The magician pastor can convince a woman that there is a good reason to get her to sit and watch pornography with him, since this is simply research into the state of sexual addictions in our culture. Plausible deniability. Just enough reasoning to say that his propositions were innocent or the projection of histrionic women who misread his intentions. Get women to suspend their abilities to rationally recognize the abuse that they are experiencing.

These magician pastors, who as Christians we assume will model their lives after the life of Christ, can get us to somehow ignore or accept what should be the unacceptable. They can get us to minimize or explain away behavior that is wrong. They get us to deflect the arc of awareness back on ourselves, getting us to question our own sanity. They encourage us to not trust our reality. Crazy making! This allows them to:

  -Manipulate and bully others to get their way

                                    -To act in a self-important condescending way

                                    -To  sexually proposition women

                                    -Live lives of wealth and opulence while demanding sacrificial giving

                                    -Fire people under them whenever they feel threatened or angry

                                    -Muzzle people with Non Disclosure Agreements to preserve their reputation

                                    -Talk about living like Jesus and then not acting like Jesus

                                    -Keep their lives away from the scrutiny that comes from real living among their congregants so that all we see is the stage persona

                                    -Rage at and belittle people who oppose them

                                    -Keep image as the measure of success so that integrity and congruency with the real life of Christ is not used as an indicator of the leader’s success.

                                    -Etc.

 

Magician pastors usually do not have strong people around them who can speak truth and risk the rejection of the leader. As a result, the leader gathers around him or her those who at some level have bought into the mesmerizing perception of the leader. Mega-churches also allow these pastors to be primarily viewed as up on stage, where the illusions of success (programmatic excellence) enhance the hypnotic aura of the leader’s greatness. These churches literally use smoke and mirrors to set the stage for a high level of perceptual manipulation of the attenders. Mega churches also often churn through both attendees and staff, so that any long term, mature believers, do not represent enough of a block of influence to threaten the hypocritical inconsistencies of the leader. Individuals who do not drink the kool aid are sent packing, perpetuating an environment that insulates and protects the power and control of the leader.

Next Blog. Developing a Metric to Audit the Culture of a Church.

 

 

When Pathology Is Clothed In Piety

“The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9 NASB

This verse describes the incredible complexity of the human spirit. Deceit is a telling descriptor of the way in which we hide and distort awareness of ourselwaves. Only this, I believe, can help us to understand how people are capable of living a dichotomy of profession and practice. Anyone who has been immersed in the world of Christianity, and has comprehended its’ core message, knows that the clear values and essential characteristics of a truly committed disciple of Jesus revolve around the concept of humility and servant like love of others.

Anyone who deems to lead others into a life of discipleship and full transformation into the image of Christ, we would assume, must live this kind of life, in order to dare teach about its’ truths. On the surface, it would seem that those of us who understand the hard call of Jesus to die to our selfishness, would clearly expect those who teach and lead to live a life of significant adherence to a life modeled by Jesus.

So, the question that is powerful, is why do we tolerate leaders whose lives clearly and significantly veer from that which they teach and call us to follow? Why do we tolerate leaders who write books like “Who Am I When No One Is Looking” and then lead a life of deceptive violation of the core principles of integrity? What delusion allows us to accept a leader who preaches the value of women and then sexually abuses them? How do we tolerate a leader who teaches about the life of Jesus and our need to be a humble servant, and then has a clear pattern of rage and a haughty attitude towards anyone that opposes them? Why do we somehow excuse a leader who, when we talk to him or her, seems to look beyond us as if they do not have the time for those of little influence? Why do we passively allow leaders, who talk constantly about ministering to the poor, to live lavish lives in palaces that only the rich can afford? Why do we countenance leaders who stay away from the common members of the church, and hang out only with the wealthy and powerful? Why do we not call out those characteristics that so blatantly contradict the essential message of humility and brokenness, which is clearly what we are called to as disciples of Jesus, in our leaders? Why do we tolerate any sense that leaders are part of an elite class of believers, allowed all the trappings of material success, when Jesus has called us to a life of humility and equality?

As believers, we appear to not really vett the lives of our leaders through the character of Christ. Instead we seem to allow them to almost cast a spell on us so that we do not critically look at their lives and hold them accountable for a life that follows hard after Jesus. Whether it is because leaders often do not participate in the life of shared accountability in the body of Christ, or our passivity undermines our motivation to call them out, this dangerous reality exists frequently in the body of Christ. We often place leaders on a pedestal that does not allow us or them to live a life of brokenness and redemption, resulting in isolation and falsehood. Is this because we buy the lie that they are more important than we are and so we have little to offer in the way of holding them accountable? To the extent that we are complicit in not holding our leaders accountable, we share in allowing this travesty to occur. And truthfully, we let our leaders down, because it is in their best interests to get challenged to live like Jesus did.

The recent spate of events surrounding mega churches has clearly focused us on the duplicity that often exists in celebrity leaders. Maybe it is because mega churches have so many people who may not have advanced far enough in understanding the deep truths of a life of full surrender to Jesus that they have no evaluative metric to hold up to the life of their leaders. Mega churches, by their numbers, provide a convenient excuse for leaders to hold themselves apart from the common believer. They may couch their reasoning in the form of security or a lack of time, but all of this allows and supports the notion of elitism in the leadership position and may feed the essential narcissism that these leaders possess.

Piety Scaffolded Around Pathology

Piety, understood as the outward appearance of spiritual behavior, is often built upon a foundation of pathology. It is interesting to me, as a Christian Psychologist, that a great number of pastors and Christian leaders are vehemently in opposition to the field of psychology, branding it as based in secular humanism, and therefore a threat to a Christian.

What is clearly interesting to me is the fact that many of these leaders will rail against psychology as an evil attempt to subvert Christianity. Most of these somewhat knee-jerk critics do not really understand what psychology is and confuse it with philosophy. As such they believe that it espouses a set of presuppositions about the nature of man that are oppositional to Christianity. While a number of psychologists do in fact espouse a set of beliefs about the nature of man, they are only the subjective conclusions of these individuals.

The true description of psychology is that it is the science, much like physics or chemistry, that studies the behavior, thinking, and motivations of human beings. As such it observes, tests, and then generates theories about how people customarily seem to behave, think, and are motivated. The conclusions are based on observable patterns, but then theories and assumptions are posited. Humanism is a world view that informs most of present day psychology. But a Christian world view looks at the conclusions of the science of psychology and postulates a different view of human beings, and then explains these patterns from those presuppositions.

It is the confused understanding of psychology by many pastors and leaders that causes them to charge psychology with the motivation of a humanistic undermining of faith. What is true is that the conclusions of some in psychology that promote an ungodly view of man are in error from a Biblical Christian view. The truth is that psychology has uncovered an enormous amount of information and understanding about human behavior, thinking, and motivation. It, like other forms of science, has in fact contributed to a natural theology fund of knowledge of who God has uniquely created us to be. A truly Christian psychology explains all that is observed from the underpinning of a view of man that is based in sin and self centeredness and a need for forgiveness and redemption.

Many of the pastors and leaders who rail against psychology often attack it because they may be threatened by what they think it may uncover. I know many pastors who have underlying character disorders, a pathology, who attack psychology or counseling, because in their unrecognized awareness, they fear that it may reveal their inner brokenness.

There is a particular prominent Christian leader, charismatic, and a wonderful expositor of the Word, who rails against psychology as evil and promotes only Biblical Counseling. This person shows evidence of clear pathology, in that he narcissistically rages against those who oppose him, belittles people who he sees as beneath him, powers up in caustic and destructive ways with those he comes in conflict with, believes he is entitled to an extraordinary amount of material benefits of ministry, and generally is unruly.

From the perspective of any competent behavioral scientist, he has a narcissistic character disorder. There is no way in any reasonable Christian’s understanding of Jesus, that behavior like that is consistent with a conscientious believer. Although a growing number of people can see this behavior (think the Emperor Who Wore No Clothes) he cannot. Instead, he rails against the psychology that might identify this destructive pattern. In the field of psychology, this is called a Reaction Formation. What this means is that people react intensely against (though possibly unconsciously) something that is a threat to them. Think someone who hates homosexuals but has a deep fear of his or her own potential sexual urges. In the case of this leader, the science of psychology, which has clearly delineated patterns that reflect narcissism, would threaten this man’s need to believe that he is motivated by pure intentions. Piety scaffolded around pathology.

Denial As Deception

What psychology has identified as denial is the human tendency to use an elaborate system of deceptive tactics to avoid acknowledging something that we do not want to see in ourselves. The Bible would call this deceit, as the Jeremiah 17:9 verse so clearly points out. A Christian psychologist understands pathology as part of the ways that sinful individuals learn to cope in the context of their early environments to protect themselves against their fears of rejection and abandonment. As a believer, this makes absolute sense when we understand the concept of sin as a pattern of self motivated behaviors which are an attempt to get our needs met at the expense of others. It also makes sense in understanding that with the coming of the rupture in relationships that sin introduced into the human condition, hiding and deception became a way to protect ourselves from the possibility of rejection and abandonment. A Christian and humanistic psychologist could agree with the essential patterns of behavior and thinking, but disagree about the root causes of this behavior.

Character disorders, which are what we refer to often when we look at pathological patterns, are simply the characteristic or consistent ways that people learn to cope to protect themselves from emotional harm. They become so entrenched over time, that their protective patterns fade from conscious awareness and become simply the fabric of the person’s sense of self.

A person immersed in a character disorder cannot differentiate and recognize it as an unhealthy pattern of coping. It is like asking a fish to become aware that it is living in water. It is too immersed to separate and recognize the element of its own existence.

Looked at this way, denial is not really a conscious decision to avoid looking at something that is true that we do not want to see, but is the way that the character disorder maintains itself. The way that a person with a character disorder looks at the world is normal to them, therefore they believe that the way they act and think is reality. Denial of reality, as others may see it, is simply sustained and maintained by a complex set of beliefs that keep the person from seeing how their behaviors may be inconsistent with healthy ways of acting.

Scripture explains it this way: Proverbs 14:12 “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” (NASB)

The emperor who wore no clothes, due to denial, did not see that he had no clothes. He really did not. Only those from the outside could see it, because they did not see him through the lens of this character disorder. Denial is not just a river in Egypt.

Christians Leaders With Unrecognized Pathology

What happens when a person with a deeply entrenched personality disorder becomes a believer? We often think that this will create a transformational alteration of the core personality of the individual. The problem, sadly, is that often their core pathology, rather than being radically transformed, instead becomes the foundation upon which they clothe themselves with piety. They can take on all the verbal characteristics of what a deeply transformed believer would express, while never allowing it to penetrate and alter their core coping in the world. They can start to clothe themselves externally with all the trappings of a Christian view of the world, while never fundamentally altering their deeper ways of coping. They can appear as if they are growing, but often it is only an intellectual knowing, and not the knowing that deeply transforms.

II Timothy 3:7 “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth”

Their words and seeming knowledge can often create an illusion that they have learned it in a transformational way. But sadly, there is a learning that feeds the mind and sounds good, and then there is a learning that penetrates and challenges the deeper brokenness of the soul that leads to transformational growth. We can not become like Jesus without bringing our pain to the exposure, death, and resurrection patterns modeled by Jesus.

Narcissism and sociopathy are frequently seen character disorders with a number of Christian leaders. Leadership desire is often a self selected consequence of a deeper character disorder. Often the person who believes they have something special to offer will push to engage in leadership positions. This is really evident often with mega-church pastors, because paradoxically, their character disorder is an asset in the formation and growth of their church. They appear self-assured, charismatic, and believe in themselves so much that they can persuade those around them to support the building of their kingdoms.

It is only over time that the narcissistic sense of entitlement, along with its’ control of others, reveals the pathological components of this leader’s actions. Narcissists love being worshiped, which, clue-phone Christians, is inconsistent with Jesus. Narcissist’s tend to attract worshipers, and not in the sense of singing songs of praise. Worshipers of charismatic leaders tend to participate in what psychologist call a folie a deux or shared delusion. The worshiper of the narcissist feels good in the presence of the elevated leader and so suspend their capacity for critical analysis of where the leader is acting inconsistent with the behavior of a Christ follower. This shared and complimentary systemic disorder sustains narcissists for long periods of time.

Narcissists particularly harbor within themselves the seeds of their own destruction. Almost invariably they become so imbued with their sense of personal greatness and special accomplishments, that they make a mistake. They miscalculate a situation. Those that act out with women will fail to assess a women who has strength and will expose their inappropriate behavior. The narcissist will continue to protest and deny the intent of their behavior, but with enough errors in judgement, they may finally be exposed and brought down. They do not own their behavior, because they are deeply shamed based individuals who are desperate to maintain the public illusion of their own goodness.

The Fierce Fire of Accountability

It is absolutely true that everyone has developed some element of pathology, because we all grow up in the context of some level of unhealthiness (due to the consequences of sin) that generates dysfunctional ways of coping. The truth is that we all have things about ourselves that we cannot see. This is why Christianity is a relational faith. We have tools, such as the Word and the Holy Spirit’s discernment, that help in the deep digging into the parts of us that are hidden. But the most beneficial resource that the Christian has is the insight and feedback of fellow believers. Watch out for people who say their faith is just about Jesus and me. They are focusing only on the vertical dimension of faith.

Close, transparent, gritty, exposed connections is where the real uncovering takes place. This is the horizontal element of maturity, and where some of the most important self discoveries take place. People see things in us that we cannot see in ourselves alone. A believer who really wants to uncover the deep pathological areas that bind our lives will subject themselves to the search inquiry of trusted fellow believers. The isolated believer will not grow very much. It is the insight and feedback that those who witness our lives can bring to the light that really accelerates our growth.

It is true that people do not always have an accurate view of us, but when a fellowship of believers deepens their attachment to one another and fully embraces the idea that we are members one of the other, deep healing can occur. If I want to grow, I must subject myself to the scrutiny of others. Not critics who are motivated by a need to see my failure as a platform to escape their brokenness, but loving, caring believers who follow the Galatians 6 pattern of gently and humbly giving feedback that may result in helping us to heal.

These are people who would rather be good than look good. Who have the courage to bring their lives under the microscope of loving critics, to plumb the dark places that we cannot go to on our own. If our desire is to look good, we will flee the presence, like cockroaches run from light, of anyone who may have the maturity to identify something in us that needs refining. If our desire is to be good, we must face the fierce fire of others who can bring into focus what we are blind to in ourselves.

I had to leave a small group because when a conflict came up, the group wanted to avoid it and just go back to looking good as a group. I find this in men’s groups. Sometimes they just want to be a part of a group that goes through the motions of checking in and then staying in their heads by reading scripture. But to be a group means to address the hard things, to allow conflict to be processed in a way that uncovers the deep things in each member’s life. Members of the group I was in simply wanted to avoid conflict, instead of looking at what existed in each member that was broken and in need of healing. In my group there were members who had a deep seated pattern of protecting themselves from the honest self acknowledgement that they had a critical spirit.

As I pushed for resolution and mutual accountability, I became the target of their misplaced fear of owning the broken parts of their lives. This is how relational systems operate. If someone wants to push for change, they will use the full resources of their brokenness to resist. I tried to push for healthy resolution, but the fear of self discovery was too great. I had to shake the dust off my feet and move on, to the detriment of the group members.

Other believers in our lives have the greatest ability to help us see ourselves. Those who run from issues run into the dark places of hiding. The real pathology goes unrecognized while we continue God-talk and comfort ourselves that we are ok.

A useful tool in the field of psychology that is, I believe, for Christians who want to deepen their understanding of themselves, is something called Johari’s Window. This tool helps people to identify four main quadrants of personal awareness. It is structured like a window pane, with each quadrant a separate panel in the window pane. Quadrant One is called the open space and is the area of awareness where things about you are known to others and known to you. For example, if I am a person who laughs a lot, I am aware of this characteristic of myself, and others can publically experience that about me. Quadrant Two is called my blind spot, where things are known to others but are not known to me. For example, if I am a chronically critical person, I may be in denial about this and not see it in myself, even though people around me would say I am very critical. Quadrant Three, called the hidden area, are things known to me but not known to others. For example, I may know that I feel like a failure but have not shared this belief with others. Quadrant Four, called the unknown area or shadow, is something not known to me and not known to others. For example, I may have experienced a trauma, such as a parent’s abandonment when I was very young, and I am not aware of it nor is anyone else. However, behavior may be expressed that is formed as a way of coping with this unaware area of my life. The shadow element is a critical factor in many Christian leaders being unconsciously motivated by a shadow mission.

Johari’s Window allows one to intentionally seek accountability. If one wants to grow as a believer, they will willingly submit to the observation of others and seek feedback. They will generate a sense of safety where they can share the hidden things in their lives and will ask for feedback about ways that they come across that they are unaware of expressing and may reflect the shadow motivations that are inconsistent with their Christian beliefs. They will seek to do some deep work of exploring how their behavior may be reflecting something in the unknown area, and may strive to bring this to full awareness so it can be dealt with and healed.

I believe that every Christian leader should be engaged in bringing their lives into the scrutiny that the Johari Window focuses on. This should not be just with “yes people” who are too weak to bring fierce reality to the broken parts of the leader. A leader who wants to grow will subject themselves to this crucible of growth. A leader that is hiding, either intentionally or due to a character disorder, will avoid it like the plague. They may be in a small group, but they will simply focus on the heady elements of scripture, and not the painful process of emotional surgery.

Psalm 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts;

The church is a system that is either healthy or sick. Everyone must search themselves, and ask for the assistance of brothers and sisters in the search process. Leaders must submit to the search light of God’s truth. We must create a culture that, rather than coming together to look good, desires to be good. And we all are broken. A church that starts with that awareness, and then commits to the process of collaboratively helping each other to heal, will see God’s hand of spiritual growth. Churches who simply participate in a choreographed image that protects each person from their pain, will be diseased at the core and will be the spawning ground that allows for the dramatic problems seen with pastors acting out their brokenness and wounding many people in the process.

Believers must bring their brokenness to the refining fire. It starts with honesty and a willingness to acknowledge what is undeniably true- that we are all pathological in many ways and must deconstruct the inner sickness if true piety is going to shine through authentically. Run from a church that does not embrace this truth, because you can be sure that the fruit of a rotten tree will never produce the fruit of the spirit.

Why No Public Prayer For The Women Victims At Willow?

It has been pretty clear that the “event” of exposure of sexual improprieties of the senior pastor at Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) is starting to recede into the past and a focus on change or restoration is the predominant momentum of the church at this point. This process is not unlike any trauma that occurs in a dysfunctional organization. In a family, for instance, an event can occur that is intense and destabilizing, and the momentum of the family is to restore stability as quickly as possible. In healthy families the experience is explored and processed in a way that allows the full expression of the emotional pain of each family member and constructing positive changes to avoid the recurrence of the problematic event are explored.

In unhealthy families the trauma is minimized, and the idea of “time heals all wounds” mentality is pervasive. The immediate objective is to re-stabilize the family system as quickly as possible. Respect for each family member who has experienced pain and suffering due to the event is ignored. The family simply goes back to the pattern of unhealthy behavior that fostered the problem in the first place. In some ways this is understandable because it is what the family knows and is the process of restoration of the family set point, values, and behaviors that are familiar.

But without a fundamental shift in the core functioning of the family process, the inevitable outcome is the continued creation of the problems and traumatic events that are fostered by unhealthy practices. The characteristics of a healthy family are: 1) recognition that each member of the family is unique and has a contribution to the well-being of the whole. 2) Anger is listened to and understood as an expression of the frustration that each member may have in the course of living together. 3) Feelings are openly expressed and are the basis of having empathy for one another. 4) Each family member is respected as having a set of needs and point of view that should be acknowledged and, where appropriate, incorporated into the family decision making process. 5) The rules of the family make sense and work towards the best interest of each member, rather than dictated in a way that benefits only those in authority. 6) The pain and struggles in the family are acknowledged and not minimized. 7) Parents, as leaders, are approachable and not threatened by questions about their rules or leadership style. 8) Also, parents, as leaders, are not rigid, but flexible in incorporating new information about how to conduct the family in healthy ways. 

The church, as I have discussed in earlier blogs, is a bigger and more complex system, but, in a fundamental way, should follow the same guidelines of what a healthy family looks like. Used as a guideline for how WCCC has responded to the trauma of  its’ fallen senior pastor, these characteristics are not being followed to process the “event” that has occurred.

If WCCC were processing this experience in a healthy way, the situation would be talked about openly and honestly. No euphemistic references to “this season” of the church’s life, but instead pointing out the sin that has occurred, the pain that it has inflicted on the congregation, calling the senior pastor back to repent, and most of all keeping the victims of all this, the women, front and center.

If healthy processes were followed, the pain that has been inflicted on multiple women would be honestly recognized and discussed. The church would see this as an opportunity to show its’ commitment to the sexual safety and dignity of women. Is this really what WCCC thinks about sexual abuse of women?  That a minimal reference should be made to their pain and suffering? If WCCC’s response to all of this is a model of how the church deals with the violation of women, what is the message they are sending to the secular community at large?

Why no prayer for the victims? Why no open and honest acknowledgment of the level of pain that they have gone through as a result of the actions of the senior pastor? Why no reaching out to the women, asking them to come to a service, and publicly acknowledging that the church recognizes the horror of their experience? Why no public ownership of the church’s complicity in enabling an obviously entitled senior pastor that used his position to harm innocent women? Why no admittance of the fact that multiple levels of leadership failed to confront and therefor protect the (female) flock from the predatory actions of one man? Is it because the current leadership, in doing all of the above, brings the focus back on themselves in a way that they do not want to acknowledge?

As I have written before, this is not just the sin of one man. It is the sin of the church. It is systemic sin, that, in the name of covering imperfection, allowed obvious patterns of behavior to continue that were sinful and destructive to the safety and security of the female members of the flock. What is needed is systemic confession. As scripture clearly points out we must confess our sin to be healed. It is like putting topical pain killer on a tooth that has infection at the core. It has to be lanced to heal. In trying to isolate this situation to one man and an “event” in the past, the leadership is in effect trying to dull the pain without really getting to the infection.

I will believe that WCCC leadership is serious about true healing when it publicly does the following: 1) Expresses the deep empathy it has for the pain that was inflicted upon the abused women 2) Keep them current by praying openly for their healing 3) Inviting them to a public service where they are affirmed and their pain acknowledged. 4) The leadership who have been complicit in the enabling process have the courage to own it and ask for forgiveness, both of the congregation and of the women 5) Bring the hidden nature of how this whole thing has been managed out into the open where they can acknowledge the legitimacy of the pain that the congregation has gone through. 

Without this, WCCC is simply a dysfunctional system desperately seeking to restore and preserve what is clearly unhealthy. The current culture of minimal communication, minimal mentioning of the trauma, and the general “trust us” mentality is simply anesthetizing an infection.

98.6- Willow Creek Has A Fever

The title 98.6 refers to the temperature  which the human body seeks to maintain for optimal health. The complex physiological process that works to keep the temperature at this normative level is at work continuously, detecting changes and then making the adjustments necessary to keep the body regulated. The temperature of 98.6 can be viewed as the “set point” around which the body either works to increase or decrease its’ temperature to keep it at its’ optimal healthy state. Body temperature is a good example of what is called a “system”, which is an interconnected collection of elements that work in concert to maintain and sustain itself. The body seeks what is called a healthy “homeostasis” which is a stable steady state.

Systems

Examples of systems are evident from the macro level to the micro level in nature. The solar system is a collection of planets that revolve around the sun. The angle of the planets and the orbits are precisely set to maintain the intricate movement of all bodies together in a complex interaction between gravity and motion. One significant alteration of any of the planetary bodies would move the system from harmony to chaos. The same thing is true at the micro level of sub-atomic particles. They too reflect a harmonious interconnection that maintains a steady state of interaction.

It is evident at every level that to understand any one element in life, one must understand its’ dependency on the larger system. Systems nest inside one another so that systems themselves become part of a larger system of interconnected systems. An example of this is a thermostat. The human body as a temperature system is nested inside the larger system of earthly temperature. When a person is in a room with the temperature set at 72 degrees Fahrenheit, the thermostat is the set point for a system of regulating the increase or decrease of temperature by the heating and air conditioning system. If the furnace fails resulting in a drop in temperature, the body system seeks to compensate by raising the temperature, by such complex processes as shivering, etc. This is an example of how systems are interrelated  and nested inside of one another.

Set Point 

The notion of set point is critical to understanding systems. The set point is essentially the aspect of a system around which it organizes. The simplest understanding is that of the body temperature set point. We are created in such a way that our body temperature set point has been established to be at around 98.6. The body systems organize around maintaining this established temperature.

Another physical example of set point is that of body weight. We all create a set point of what our weight is going to be over time. The set point in this situation is not always the healthiest for us as individuals. I have established my set point at over 20 lbs higher than my optimal weight for my body type. As such, my body systems operate to keep me pretty close to that set point. When, on occasion, I have lost weight, over time, if I do not sustain the reduced weight, I systematically move back up to the set point that I have established. This is an example of how a set point can be created that is not healthy, but the body tends to sustain it as the weight that I have maintained over time. Set points can be changed, such as in weight, but they have to be maintained for a long enough period of time that the body adjusts its systematic regulation to sustain this new set point. Unhealthy set points tend to have a powerful impact on systems, so that even with short term change, they tend to pull the system back to established set points.

Relational Systems

It appears, in looking at the universe, God has created all of life around a complex process of the systemic organization of individual elements around more sustaining interrelationships. From ecology to physics to biology, systems sustain and maintain the order we see in the universe. Without systemic regulation, the universe would dissolve into chaos. God so designed life that systemic organization is the inevitable way around which life moves away from chaos and towards regulation. The heavens declare the glory of God, so that as we look at the complex organization of the individual to the larger system, we get a glimpse into the very character of God. He is both One and a Trinity.

Relational systems are the complex interaction of individuals nested in a larger social network. Family systems are essentially the way that individual family members organize their relationship to one another. In dysfunctional family systems, the family organizes itself around a complex set of relations that sustain the unhealthiness of the family and the individual members.

An alcoholic family system organizes around the alcoholic family member. If, for instance, a father is the alcoholic, the family member must adapt to sustain the unhealthy behaviors of this individual. Families establish set points, much like the example of body temperature. The set point of the alcoholic family system revolves around the notion of protecting the family members from the abusive behavior of the symptomatic member. These families might describe their set point notions as “we have to avoid stirring up dad and having him throw an explosive angry outburst”. Simpler said, this family has to avoid conflict at all costs and placate the “monster” in the family. If one member of the family breaks the rules and challenges the alcoholic, the rest of the family organizes to force the system back to the “steady state” of peace and calm. They can do this by getting angry at the challenging family member. Whatever restores the family to its’ set point is what is values. If one member of the family develops symptoms as a result of the unhealthiness of this family, the family will scapegoat that member and make them what is in family systems counseling  called the “identified patient”.

The family is so unconsciously committed to sustaining the system as it is that they cannot see the essential unhealthiness of the larger relational system. The set point is the basic state that the family must maintain- avoidance of the anger of the alcoholic. The set point creates a set of values that the family absorbs and implements. These values are things such as “do not feel, do not talk about what you are experiencing, do not challenge the elephant in the room, do not have your own needs or feelings, do not trust, stay on guard at all times, etc.” These values then are sustained by behaviors that come to bear on the system to keep it in its’ steady state set point. These behaviors are things like punishing anyone who challenges  or comments on what is going on in the family. The family operates in harmony,  keeping the system organized around whatever  set point values and behaviors have been created.

The Church As A System

As I have witnessed and written about what has happened at Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) I must confess that I feel somewhat weary and burned out. This flows from how powerful and resistant to change systems can become. WCCC is simply a much larger and complex interconnected system. Analyzed based on systems concepts, the set point of the church reflected its’ architect, Bill Hybels. That set point clearly was the emphasis on creating a church that looked good on the outside with multiple ministries that reflected its’ focus on numbers as a metric of success. The values that flow from this set point concept are those of notions such as “guest experience must be excellent, we must be as good as the world to impress non-church-ed people, focus on building numbers and serving opportunities that help large numbers of people, do not pay too much attention to the distressed individuals because this takes up too much resource time, programs must be flawless and entertaining, maintain control over any potential defects being exposed, only people that are 100 percent behind maintaining our set point values are a “good fit” at WCCC, etc.”  The set point of WCCC and Disneyworld are very similar.

The set point and values connected to it are supported and protected by a set of behaviors. These include ” trust us, do not talk about the elephant in the room, do not challenge the architect of this spiritually unhealthy set point, do not challenge any of the values of this system, get rid of any who are not on board with this unhealthy set point, make decisions by only those who have bought into the unhealthy set point values, do not share any information that might expose failure of sustaining the set point values, put pressure on people to use the metric of success that this unhealthy set point mentality drives, punish any and all who seek to move the needle from the set point established in this unhealthy system, employ only those who buy into the set point values, do not let the larger uncontrollable elements of the system have much say in the values and behaviors of the church, etc.”.

Fever In WCCC

This well oiled system, which created a great deal of external success, has a fever. A fever, such as when the body goes from 98.6 to 102, is a traumatic intrusion into the body system. The immune system is activated to bring to bear all of the complex protective functions that combat and seek to restore  the body to its healthy set point.

What if the set point is not healthy? Using the example of weight, my set point is established at a weight that is not optimal for my health. But systems seek to maintain and sustain the set point values that have been created over a long period of time. When I lose weight, my body wants to get me back to the “normal” if unhealthy set point that I have established.

This is an example of what has happened at WCCC. The crisis of exposure of the leader and architect of WCCC as having sinned in a dramatic way has sent the well oiled elements of the church’s system into chaotic disarray. Systems hate chaos and will always seek to restore order based on the set point that was established. This is a concern that I have as I look at WCCC. The people who were so immersed in the set point values in the first place, are trying to reformulate the church and move it out of chaos. But, from my perspective, they are doing it in a way consistent with the original set point values and behaviors. There is still massive deception and failure to keep people informed about the decisions that are being made. They are still operating essentially with the mentality of “trust us”.

Clue phone to leadership! You were part of the system, you absorbed the values and behaviors that sustained the system as it was. You are so immersed in its ethos that you cannot differentiate from its methods and values. Without a systemic evaluation, which it does not appear anyone currently assessing WCCC has the capability of doing, you are very likely to reformulate the church based on the core set point values. That is what leadership knows and the staff has followed. The experts that they are bringing in do not appear to be doing any systematic system evaluation.

WCCC has a fever and it appears they are trying to deal with it by a return to an unhealthy set point. As I have written elsewhere, healthy system change occurs when people are able to heal from the trauma of how the system has been shifted. There is no systematic willingness to bring the elephant in the room to full exposure so that people can process and heal from such a traumatic disruption in trust. The WCCC approach, consistent without fundamental challenging of the core set point of the church, will be to flee the chaos in a way that goes back to the essential elements of the original unhealthy system components.

Kingdoms Of This World

WCCC is not Disneyworld and as such should not have its set point and values built around that secular view of excellence. The set point of the church should be a healthy church culture, modeled after Christ, and reflecting the core values of Christ. Systems can be in conflict. The communist system is in conflict with a capitalistic system. The church should be in conflict with the systems or kingdoms of this world. Its’ set point must be clearly that of the values of Christ’s Kingdom. Only when WCCC set point is changed and properly aligned with the set point of Christ will it move towards health.