Casualty of Conscience: Out of Integrity A Pastor/Leader at Willow Creek Community Church Is Leaving

 

They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Acts 15:39

Collateral Damage

One of the campus pastors at Willow Creek Community Church, (WCCC), announced that he was resigning his position. He explained it as consistent with the Acts 15 passage above, indicating that he had a fundamental disagreement with how the church leadership has handled the sin by Bill Hybels of sexually abusing women and the need for healing and reconciliation with many who have been wounded by past actions of Bill and his governing style. He followed his convictions, and because of this, he is collateral damage from the way that this whole sad situation has been dealt with. His church, because they had a leader with integrity, is the victim of the widespread failure of the WCCC leadership to align their principles with a Biblical model of accountability to sin. 

A Long Slide from Illusion to Disillusionment to Reality

For over 18 months, I have written about the scandal of sexual abuse that occured at Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC), perpetrated by its founder, Bill Hybels. I acted on the underlying assumption, (dare I say illusion)that WCCC was a true church, grounded on the biblical design for a church. As such, WCCC would be dedicated to a thoroughly authentic commitment to truth-telling and integrity. My assumption was that when WCCC was presented with the truth that they would hold Bill Hybels’ publicly accountable for his taking sexual advantage of women who were under his employ as the senior pastor.  Most secular corporations would have to act to protect its workforce if a senior employee took this kind of sexual advantage. Look at Matt Lauer, who was condemned and fired for his misuse of power and position to exploit women. I believed, that as a church, and even more so than a corporation like NBC, they would see the light, and do the right thing. I hoped that the leadership of WCCC would strongly and publicly declare that the actions of Bill Hybels were sinful, extremely harmful to women in the church, and behavior like his would not be tolerated. 

Disillusionment

But the truth is that the current leadership of WCCC has been confronted by many with their duty to protect the internal integrity of the body of Christ, and they have largely minimized or ignored the truth. It has become apparent to me and others who have attempted to hold WCCC accountable, that they have engaged in a strategy that can be characterized as “weathering the storm”. They are essentially ignoring all challenges brought to them that have asked them to deal with the sin in the church in an honest and forthright way. They are using  an atritional strategy, that involves the leadership “sort of” listening, acting like they agree, but then essentially ignoring and not addressing the truth in any real way. It is a passive resistant organizational strategy. The underlying goal, it appears, is that with time, the intensity of the concerns of those critics that are trying to hold WCCC to a truly Biblical standard of accountability, will wither and die. The critics in time will start to realize that they fundamentally are ignored, and will lose energy to continue the fight for truth. (Disillusionment)

The  confusion that we critics feel is due to the fact  that we assume that we are sharing a common view with the leadership of WCCC of what the church is and what it should do . That is not true. The current elders were immersed in the culture of WCCC, and so for them, focusing on the image and programmatic elements of the church is more important than focusing on the deep integrity issues of those in leadership. There is a lack of congruity between the concerns of the critics, and the values of the WCCC leadership. That is why it appears that  they are ignoring the concerns of the critics, and why there seems to be a lack of a serious and broken response by WCCC leadership to what has happened. 

It dawned on me that the real problem is that I am comparing the behavior of WCCC to my understanding of the church. I grew up the son of a pastor, where the responsibilities of a pastor/elder were drilled into my understanding. My father was mentored by A.W. Tozer, who taught him the deep and sacred oath that pastors must abide by to live a life above reproach and to care for the safety and well being of his congregants. I witnessed several pastor’s situations where sexual immorality by a pastor was dealt with swiftly and condemned publically. I studied theology at a seminary, so I also had that grounding in understanding the church. 

The leadership of WCCC, on the other hand, appear to have a whole different frame of reference for what the church at its core should look like. The trigger for me to recognize this was a statement in the description of what the church is looking for in its search for a new senior pastor. It indicated that the candidate does not necessarily have to have a seminary education. This, in some way made it very clear that the church is not concerned about having someone who has a thorough grounding in Biblical theology, particularly the theology of what a Biblical church should look like. It occurred to me that this is like seeking to hire a person to do work as a physician who does not necessarily have to go to medical school. It is because the WCCC culture has been created around a different model than what a Biblical blueprint would require. They can ignore what is true about a Biblically-grounded idea of the church and the handling of discipline of a pastor/elder.

An analogy comes from family systems thinking. If one grew up in a family that was abusive in multiple ways but had no other frame of reference for what a healthy family is supposed to look like, it is understandable why they would conclude that  their family is the way families are supposed to act. That is their normal. The critical description is what compromises the word “family”. So it is, I believe, that at WCCC, the word “church” has been defined by what WCCC is and presents to the world. Those who grew up in it, and have no clear alternative Biblical definition of what the church is supposed to look like, believe that the word “church”, as expressed by WCCC, is normal. 

This is an explanation for why so many at WCCC want to “move on” and get this all behind them. They were immersed in the culture of WCCC, and for them, the church as it is experienced at Willow is normal. This is one of the advantages of when you are a seeker oriented church. WCCC has not emphasized a deep Biblical awareness of what the church is supposed to look like, and so for the theologically nieve followers of WCCC, what they experience is normal. Therefor, there is no outcry for Biblical justice and truth telling.

Corporate Church

WCCC has been created  with a corporate framework. A psycho-historical  analysis of Bill Hybels and what drove his DNA and blueprint for the church, is critical to understanding how WCCC was formulated in a way that lacked a meaningful grounding in Biblical theology. From my gathering of information about his childhood experience, mostly from his sermons, it is clear that he grew up with a father who was demanding and hard to please. Although Bill has tended to idealize his father, in areas that he believed motivated him towards success, it is also evident that he did not experience a sense of unconditional love and acceptance from his father. As many who have experienced this lack of affirmational worth from a parent, Bill probably drew the conclusion that acceptance from his father would only be the result of his commitment to hard work and visible success. Then, the experience he had of understanding God’s love and acceptance when he experienced salvation,  influenced him to move out of the secular world of business, and into the spiritual world of building the church. Unfortunately, and I am sure away from his conscious awareness, he incorporated the metrics of the business world into the church world.

 

 It became obvious that as WCCC pursued a “seeker” model for church growth, the goal was an increase in numbers. Numbers would become a far more important measuring stick for success at WCCC than would the harder to quantify qualitative measure of discipleship and spiritual maturity. This “hit home” for me as one of my friends, who I was involved with in the men’s ministry, was let go for essentially not getting enough coaches and small group leaders. He was viewed as more of a pastor (what?!!) than, apparently, a recruiter. 

Corporate and Humanistic Creep

WCCC, instead of building on the foundation of what a true Biblical church would look like, began to build around the presuppositions of a corporate-looking church. In time, words like “McChurch” and “God’s Corporate Headquarters”, would be joked about as descriptive of WCCC. The internal metric for success focused on numbers, size of programming, number of attendees, size of buildings, number of serving areas, and income. Many on staff felt the pressure of being evaluated on the basis of a numbers-oriented criterion, and not the less-measurable quality of the believers’ internal life of faith. Staff reviews felt like they were based more on sales force criterion than pastoral goals. A REVEAL survey done a number of years ago substantiated that WCCC was good at everything, except for the maturing of the faith of believers. 

As WCCC grew into the behemoth it became, the thing that people always mentioned was its bigness. It became what it did because of the person, Bill Hybels, who was steering the ship. I believe he was guided by an unconscious need to succeed in a hybrid of corporation and church, with a lighter emphasis on church. BH envisioned his role as more of a CEO, than as a pastor whose responsibility was the spiritual shepherding of the flock. Although Bill’s father died in the infancy of the church, it appeared obvious that Bill was striving to live up to the legacy of success that his father had demanded of him. 

The Elitism of Leadership

As the corporate model of WCCC grew, BH focused more and more on leadership. But, the model of leadership was not that of what a Biblical view  would be of leadership. It was not the servant-leader style that Jesus encouraged. Instead, it became an evolving corporate understanding of what leaders should know and do. Bill Hybels championed the development of what was called the Global Leadership Summit. This somewhat elitist, over-emphasis on the leader roles in churches, which the summit focused on,  reflected the corporate model of WCCC.. The “experts” brought in to leadership summits were increasingly secular titans of the business and academic world. This emphasis allowed many to drift into a belief that the WCCC/BH endorsed model of leadership was somehow consistent with a Biblical model of pastoring or eldering. As the Global Leadership Summit grew, this became in and of itself another quantitative measure of Bill’s success. 

Although WCCC started with a great deal of passion and vision, as Bill Hybels consolidated his power and control over its direction, a shift away from the Biblical model of church started to take shape. Please, for a moment, indulge my background in studying philosophy in college, in order to illustrate what happened at WCCC. Historically Christians looked to Scripture to find the blueprint for what a church should look like and how it should be governed.  With the widespread growth of humanism, the ideas of human beings started to influence the concept of the church. Where as before, the church unfolded around the blueprint of Scripture, with the creep of humanism, the ideas of man started to edge out what a Biblical church should look like and how it should function. 

This concept of humanism creeped into WCCC, as a model of the church was developed around corporate, or man-generated ideas. I believe that WCCC depended on the humanistic influence of its broken leader and visionary guide, Bill Hybels. He created an ad-mixture of spiritual and humanistic ideas, which informed his vision of the church. If you add in some of Bill’s family of origin issues, how WCCC was formed can be explained. If you look at why a family develops the way it does, you have to understand the primary architects of the family, the parents. So it is with WCCC. The architect was Bill Hybels.

It Depends on What the Meaning of the Word “Church” Is

Seekers, who crossed the threshold of faith, and started attending WCCC, had to assume that the true church is what they were experiencing at WCCC. They had no other frame of reference. If you presume that WCCC is a healthy church, then what they do must be good and virtuous. The truth is that many who attend WCCC were indoctrinated with a flawed understanding of what the church is, but do not have any way to judge it against another standard. This, coupled with the fact that WCCC has looked so externally successful, is why multitudes that attend Willow are happy with it and want it to continue much like it has for many years. The flawed logic is that it is big, does great things, so it must be healthy and normal for what a church looks like.

WCCC as a corporate church is not so dependent on Biblical theology to determine what its blueprint should look like. That is why its requirements for a new incoming senior pastor/CEO would allow a non-theologically trained candidate to be eligible. The reason  WCCC leadership has not come out strong in its condemnation of Bill Hybels’ behavior is because they use a corporate, not a Biblical standard for how they hold a senior leader accountable. Every elder that is currently in a position of leadership, has been immersed in the culture of the corporate church. As a result they do not have a burning need to see the sin of Bill Hybels’ bullying style or sexual predation as something that needs to be condemned strongly. This is why, no matter how much critics from the outside, who may be presuming that WCCC is on the same theological page when it comes to understanding the church and the accountability of the pastor, are largely dismissed. Their words are falling on deaf ears. Corporations do damage control to restore their brand and bottom line. The bottom line of WCCC leadership is to make some cosmetic changes, but essentially continue the metrics of large programs, people, money, and serving opportunities. 

Some Elements of A Biblical View of The Church

The blueprint for the Biblical church is clear in scripture. If it was the foundation of how WCCC saw the church, it would be hard to understand how they have failed to hold the church to the standards articulated in Scripture. For instance, Bill Hybels has acted for many years with a lack of respect for those he oversees. Multiple stories of verbal abuse have come out from many staff members. One of my sources of information for this is multiple employees of WCCC who have come to my counseling practice over the years. He has led with a bullying style, and has been quarrelsome with many. But he got away with this because he was treated as the founding CEO, and not as a pastor who should have been held accountable to a Christ-like approach to those he led. 

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. I Timothy 3:2-3

If WCCC was focused on its Biblical mission, it would have emphasized not only seeker -oriented evangelism, which built the metrics of attendance, but also the qualitative part of the great commision, which is to make disciples of all men. 

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13

If WCCC was following a Biblical standard for leaders, it would have confronted the arrogance and inconsistencies of Bill’s behavior. They would have held him to a standard of humility and servanthood. The Biblical standard for leadership was set by the Apostle Paul who said that leaders should not be followed if they themselves were not following the example of Christ. (I Corinthians 11:1)

It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave. Matthew 20:26

For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. Titus 1:7-8

If the current elders at WCCC followed a Biblical model of the church, they would seriously recognize their responsibility to identify, call out, and protect against, anyone who represents a predatory threat to the women of the church. The incredibly anemic approach and lack of calling out what Bill Hybels did as sin, shows a lack of concern about the safe environment of the church for women. They also would be giving clear information about how they are seeking to guarantee that this does not happen again. 

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. Acts 20:28

Conclusions To Critics

I have been one who has been seeking to call the WCCC leadership to hold Bill Hybels accountable, and to strongly condemn the sexual abuse of women. I have concluded that until a Biblical model of church is created at Willow, my criticism rings hollow in the WCCC corporate model of the church. My dilemma is whether or not to continue to speak what I believe to be true. I am convinced that without a change from the humanistic conceptualization of the church at WCCC, Bill Hybels behaviors are nothing more than history. The strategy of WCCC leadership is simply to clean the church of all symbols of Bill’s presence and move on (as if the very culture and fabric of the church created by Bill Hybels can be scrubbed). From the perspective of the current leadership, the corporate church called WCCC must regain its brand and its metrics of success.  (Reality)

Sadly, the collateral damage to all of this is the dignity of women, the silencing of truth, and the over-focus on a corporate bottom line. And, for me, the loss of my truly courageous and integrity based campus pastor. He is, indeed, a casualty of conscience. 

 

Willow Creek Community Church-Do No Harm!

First Do No Harm

Into whatsoever houses I enter, I will enter to help the sick, and I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm, especially from abusing the bodies of man or woman, bond or free. (Phrase from the Hippocratic Oath) 

The Hippocratic Oath, which every physician must swear by, is put in place to remind caregivers to be certain that their interventions do not exacerbate the condition that the patient is already experiencing. It is a sober reminder that caregivers have a duty to make sure that their treatments are appropriate. It is based on well established protocols that have a track record of being effective in curing an illness.In turn, the interventions will not make the illness even more grave. Patients are given a statement of informed consent, whereby the physician helps the individual to become aware of any known potential side effects or outcomes that might result from the procedure or treatment. 

What is the relevance of this to the Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) situation? Multiple women have been harmed due to the sexual abuse by Bill Hybels, the former senior pastor. The way that these women have been treated by the care-giver leadership of WCCC has  resulted in further abuse, or re-traumatization. Instead of doing no harm, the leadership of WCCC has in fact, potentially intensified the distress of these women. 

Sexual Traumatization 

Sexual abuse by a man towards a female (I will use this term since it encompasses both girls and women) results in characteristic patterns of harm. Most young girls, and even full grown women, have a sense of innocence and trust as it pertains to the males in their world. Trust translates into a sense of safety, which allows females to experience a kind of freedom to be care-free or spontaneous in their interactions with males. When the male has a role of authority, such as a pastor, the assumption is that the male will be respectful of the needs and boundaries of the female. The belief is that a pastor should be mature and grounded  in the Biblical understanding of the spiritual dignity of a female. This should serve as an extra level of restraint against any self-centered behavior that would take advantage of the female. It is this unspoken, but known, assumption that gets shattered when sexual abuse occurs. 

Suddenly, with the sexual advancements of a previously trusted perpetrator, the walls of safety are breached, and the female must make some kind of sense of this intrusion. Where they may have previously  believed that they had control of their bodies, they suddenly realize that a more powerful and sinister person can exploit them against their will. There is a tectonic shift from a sense of safety and peace, to a vigilant need for detection of any possible re-intrusion of the boundaries of their body. An area of the brain called the amygdala begins to dominate their responsiveness to events in their lives. This area is often called the “smoke detector”, because it seeks to recognize and protect them from dangerous potential intruders. Many victims of sexual abuse describe how they go from a sense of freedom and carefreeness, to a preoccupation with their personal safety. In a brutal way, their innocence is lost, and with it the ability to focus and concentrate on areas of growth and goals as they mature. The fear and hyper-vigilance victims experience effectively hijacks their lives as they figure out how to cope. 

The harm done to victims of sexual abuse can vary due to a number of factors. These include how intrusive the actions are, how old the female is at the time, and how healthy a female is emotionally. But all victims of abuse are harmed  in various ways , and should be responded to respectfully and appropriately. 

Re-Traumatization 

When sexual trauma has occurred, the memories of the experience become attached to intense emotions and body associations. Recounting the trauma tends to activate the emotions and body experience felt in the original trauma. That is why it is especially important to know how to get a victim to share their experience in a way that is safe and will reduce the impact of the original trauma, rather than intensify the symptoms. The retelling of the story of trauma has to be done with some kind of redemptive purpose, such as allowing the victim to be affirmed and supported and believed. It should be done in the context of a skilled therapeutic context, where safety is paramount to rewiring the brain in healthy ways. 

When the current elders of WCCC listened to the stories of multiple women who had been abused by Bill Hybels, they should have been aware of the fact that these women were being asked to retell stories that had a traumatic attachment to the original events. This means that the sharing of the stories themselves had the capacity to re-traumatize these individuals. The women came forward to the elders because they had the  assumption that the elders would use the stories to come out with a strong condemnation of the sins of Bill Hybels, and, to some extent, the complicity of the church in supporting someone who had clearly shown entitlement tendencies that fueled his abusive behavior. After originally, courageously, coming out with their stories, they  were publicly maligned and called liars as the church’s spin machine went into overdrive to squelch their stories and protect a narcissistic pastor. These victims had shown great strength in coming forward, and they did so only in the hope that WCCC would take them seriously,  They hoped that WCCC leadership would condemn the actions of the senior pastor. Instead, they were re-traumatized by being labeled as seditious and colluders in some vaguely defined strategy to ruin the reputation and ministry of Bill Hybels. 

The women victims of Bill Hybels then subjected themselves to another retelling of their stories to a four member investigative team. This resulted in another bland affirmation that their stories were credible. Finally they re-submitted themselves to the process of sharing their stories with the current elders. They did this with the understanding that this would finally result in a clear and public condemnation of the actions of Bill Hybels and an honest recognition of the sin and failures of the church in handling this situation. Since, as has been discussed, the retelling of their traumatic stories carried the risk of retraumatization, they did this only with the hope of some kind of redemptive outcome. It was the responsibility of the elders to do no further harm to these women. 

Used and Re-abused 

What happened instead was the “reconciliation” final statement on the Bill Hybels situation meeting that occurred in July of this year. Contrary to what the abuse victims believed would happen, the elders used this meeting to give a minimal recognition of the harm done to the victims, and then sprinted forward to the future of the church. The women that shared their stories had  felt that the current elders appeared sensitive and compassionate. This fueled their belief that finally the abuse would be taken seriously, and a sincere confession by the elders would occur, both for Bill Hybels’ sins and the sins of the church, in maligning these courageous women. The redemptive outcome that they hoped for, and for which they risked retelling their stories, was that WCCC would take seriously the sin of sexual abuse of women and that it would no longer protect the reputation of Bill Hybels at their expense. They experienced instead a massive sense of betrayal. They felt that they had been used so the elders could check off the task of  having listening to their stories in order to declare that “we have listened to the stories, and now we can move on to the future of the church”. No real contrition, repentance, confession, sorrow, or tears on behalf of the abused women. The concluding consensus of many is that they satisfied the minimal requirements necessary so as not to risk exposure of the church to potential lawsuits, at the behest of the lawyers and the liability insurance people. They were used in the most callous way to satisfy the deeper agenda of WCCC leadership to not risk legal actions. They asked vulnerable women to risk the retelling of traumatic stories and used these stories to reduce the church’s risk. 

These women risked, maybe without their understanding, the potential for retraumatization. They believed that the retelling of their stories would have a redemptive outcome and would in some way give purpose to their trauma.  Instead, they felt massive betrayal, which replicated the betrayal that occurred when they were originally abused. If I was one of these women I would conclude that I had been used and re-abused just to satisfy some check-list given to the elders in the form of the guidance of Bishop Tutu. The elders are culpable for inviting the women victims to risk the trauma of retelling their stories and then, by their response, exacerbating or adding to the pain of the original trauma with the betrayal of trust, by not coming out with a strong statement of condemnation against Bill Hybels and the church. Bill Hybels name was not even mentioned by the elders at the “reconciliation” meeting! Do they think that the congregants are stupid? Why, at this point, would these women risk sharing their stories ever again? And, why should any woman in the church believe that sexual abuse of women by pastors is a serious matter? The caution to the caregivers of the church, the elders, to DO NO HARM to the victims of Bill Hybels, was severely violated. 

Continue reading “Willow Creek Community Church-Do No Harm!”

To The Move-On Crowd Who Want A Controversy Free GLS at Willow Creek

 

An email was sent by someone at a host site for the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) to one of the advocates for truth telling at Willow Creek Community Church. It basically admonishes those of us who are personally affected, and have deep sorrow for, the unresolved patterns of sin at Willow to “move on”. As a family systems oriented Christian psychologist, I would liken what is happening at Willow to a family that has been ravaged by the sinful sexual behavior of a parent. The family is in trauma mode, people are in deep pain, and the perpetrator is not owning his or her behavior. But, if the counsel of people who, like this emailer, from afar, just say forgive the perpetrator and move on, the family would be left in chaos. This essentially is what a host and attender to the GLS is saying in his or her email. Forgive and forget. But if the real pain is not identified and worked with, the family will not survive. The real damage that has been inflicted on women and multiple congregants and staff  at Willow Creek will be minimized, almost assuring  that similar behaviors will emerge down the road at the church. The admonishment of this individual does not feel like a brother or sister who really cares about the pain at Willow. Rather, they may believe that prolonging the need to process the pain, and seek real repentance and restoration, is an impediment to a smooth experience at the GLS. In bold and italics, I will share the email and then my response. 

“I received your emailed “blog” and find it very interesting that you want to perpetuate and continue to bring up the bill hybels controversy…especially at less than a week before GLS.  Is the harm done to the victims profound, yes, but continuing to bring it up and demand answers and demand that the GLS be riddled with more apologies and focus on the scandals quite honestly gives the devil a foothold. “

This is typical of the “move-on” crowd. They love the GLS. It is a glossy, hip, gathering of the leadership of today’s church. It makes them feel warm that they can come and listen to a cadre of professional experts on leadership. It is a “sacred cow” of this crowd, who of course as leaders themselves, would be biased towards quick resolution of a leadership “controversy”. These individuals may buy into the elitist mentality of leadership, and have little comprehension for how leadership failure affects the flock. Move on, let us have our controversy free summit to learn more about what leaders are supposed to do. The ironic part of all of this is that Biblically, leaders represented the people of God, and when failure occured in the midst of the church, leaders were supposed to “lead” them into repentance and seeking forgiveness.

But this person, probably representative of many leaders who go to the GLS, do not want to talk about this vital responsibility of leadership as a believer. They just want to go learn concepts of effective leadership, many from secular guru’s in the field. They want to move forward and are unconcerned about the fact that this leadership summit presents itself as  a cutting edge platform for leader effectiveness, while it cannot even honestly address the obvious hypocrisy of having been led by a broken leader. 

The problem with this leader’s perspective is that he or she is viewing the “controversy” from afar, while we who are immersed in the Willow culture, understand the deep dysfunction that exists from an organization that has followed Bill Hybels entitlement-driven vision, has left a church in broken disarray, and has sailed off into the sunset completely disconnected from the people that he claimed to love.  This email comes from a person outside the reality of pain that the people of Willow have experienced. He just wants nothing to impede the movement of this “cool” gathering of leaders. He is not demanding that the GLS address head on the questions of how a leader can be so out front and popular at a leadership summit, all the while living a duplicitous life that led to damage to so many people. He does not want to deal with this because he is not affected by any of its destructive consequences. He just wants to have a good experience, a dose of “cheap grace”, and a little reprieve from the experience of his own leadership responsibility. He shows little empathy for the level of pain this has inflicted on so many people at Willow. His trite and dismissive statements do not reflect the level of empathy and understanding that a true leader would seek to develop.

For attendees that heard nothing of the scandal to walk in to the summit last year and be barraged with all of the talks focused on the abused, they left feeling like “that was all about #metoo and not a leadership conference”.

Please stop with your messages and attempts to bring down the gls and willow creek.  The entire focus of each cannot be on the victims and not on Christ. Forgiveness takes one person, reconciliation takes both parties.  Romans 12:18 tells us as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. I challenge you with that. We can only do our part in forgiving when the other party has removed itself from the conversation.

The fact that this individual does not get the absolute connection between leadership character and the #metoo movement shows a shallow comprehension of what the vital issues of leadership are in this day and age. The sexual integrity of a leader is the top concern among Christians currently. There is nothing more destructive in the body of Christ than the sexual predatory behavior of a leader, who is supposed to be trustworthy. The damage to trust and the uncalculated cost to people who are disillusioned and have left the church with cynical beliefs about the hypocrisy of the church, should be of urgent concern. Maybe, since this is one of the greatest issues of followers in churches, it should occupy a huge place in the curriculum of this leadership summit. The fact that this emailer minimizes, and seeks to have this “controversy” left behind, shows that they lack a deeper understanding of the endemic nature of this blight on the Christian church. He, along with many, view this in a simplistic way.  This individual’s suggestion seems to be that Bill Hybels sinned, it was a hurt-full thing that he did, but let’s move on to less important concerns with leadership. The truth is, Bill Hybels’ behavior as a reflection of the crisis in leadership,  should be the center focus of the GLS. 

The GLS should concentrate on the incredible reality of how Bill Hybels, the visionary and primary influencer, historically, of the summit, was able to live a duplicitous public life, while in the shadows, he took advantage of women. How about topics exploring what makes a Christian leader vulnerable to sexual infidelity? How about looking at how easily leadership and entitlement oriented behaviors can be linked? How about dealing with how easy it is to create an elitist view of leadership that allows for a lack of empathy towards followers? How about exploring how a leaders shadow-needs drive their agenda for the church in self centered ways? How about exploring how a leaders psychopathology influences them to design and guide a church in ways that are self serving? How about a topic relating to the devastating damage that sexual assaults have on women in a church? How about a topic related to how the powerful, but Biblically inconsistent, influence of a charismatic leader, can infect and infuse the sinful behaviors of other leaders under the senior leaders direction? All the other topics are academic, but do not really touch the most important issues of how unruly leaders’ behaviors can damage the lives of followers in churches. 

“Remember, When the people came up to Christ and demanded that he stone the woman caught in adultery, He wrote in the sand and told the people that the person among you with no sin, cast the first stone.  It seems like you as the writer of this email want to cast huge stones, and don’t recall these words of Christ. Are the allegations deplorable, yes, but no amount of emails or continued “reporting” will turn back time.  No amount of #metoo or #churchtoo will take away the pain of these victims, likely the continued talks is being used by Satan to further victimize them and further victimize other women that have been hurt by leadership in church and other sectors who are trying to move on with their lives. Many people everyday are trying to make their life not focus on one horrible event or set of circumstances that they cannot change.”

Aside from the inconsistent, and  ironic, fact that this writer is, from his/her perspective, casting stones on those of us who believe that truth should prevail, it reveals the lack of big picture focus on sin in the church. This email defender of the GLS is confused about the difference between individual sin and corporate sin. If we are not to hold leaders and churches accountable, who will? Paul confronted sin in the churches that he ministered to on his journeys. If he believed we should just forgive and not address the systemic institutional sin, he never would have written what were often letters that reproved the churches. We can forgive individual sin, but we can call individuals to change. Jesus said “your sins are forgiven” but he also said “go and sin no more”. Churches who have created a culture that has allowed for the sin of a leader, must be reproved and challenged to do some deep surgery in the culture that created this sin. Paul admonished the church in Corinthians who had discovered sexual sin in its midst. He did not just say forgive the ones involved and move on. The systemic sin of the church had to be identified and radically changed. 

I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish other than cause a church to go under and the GLS to fail.  It seems that is the only thing that will placate you is this. If you are ACTUALLY a Christ follower, why not leave the judgement to God?  Why not let God make things right rather than continuing to harass host sites? YOU ARE NOT GOD AND YOUR CONTINUED EFFORTS ARE NOT BRINGING GLORY TO GOD.

This defender of the GLS and Willow again shows a shallow understanding of the systemic nature of sin in a church. Should we passively leave the judgement to God?  Of course God is the one that judges, but we are called to discern and call out sin. Read Galatians 6. It clearly calls for believers to come alongside Christians who are caught up in sin. It is, of course, necessary to have humility in the desire for restoration, but if you love someone, or a church that is sinning, you call it to repentance. I and my fellow advocates for truth,  are not God, but neither were the prophets nor Paul, and yet God used them to point out sin and call for repentance and change. You, emailer, do not have the sense of awareness, nor concern, for Willow Creek that I and many others have who have witnessed first hand the destruction that sin brings. It seems to me that calling out the messiness of sin and the need for repentance and change is just an impediment to your ability to enjoy the positive aspects of the GLS. If you cared for your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, who are standing up for what it right, you might realize that the bigger thing is doing what it takes to restore the reputation of Christ that has been severely marred by the scandal and sin at Willow Creek. If that is not important, enjoy the GLS!

I’m so thankful that God did not bring all the families of Paul’s victims when he was Saul to the table and force reconciliation before God used and changed Paul.  I’m glad God didn’t bring every person I’ve sinned against to stand in front of me and tell my sins to the world before He chose to use me. And I’m glad He didn’t do the same for you.  I’m glad I serve a God who detests sin, but loves me who sins every day. I’m so thankful that Christ paid the debt of my sin. That is what I will continue to proclaim. I pray your focus shifts to that rather than where it currently is.  No matter the circumstances of life and our culture that continues to push different #agendas, #Christ and His work on the cross are what we really should be proclaiming. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (even Bill Hybels).

Your focus is on past sins, which God can forgive, if one is humble and admits to them. But Willow Creek is dealing with current sin, as well as past sin, and the task of believers is to call it out and push for change. If you had ongoing sin in your family, do you not think that God would want that challenged and changed? If you loved your family, would you not want to see it become healthy? My agenda is not to bring down Willow Creek or the GLS. It is to push for healing, and that does not occur quickly,or by seeking to minimize or ignore real patterns of sin just so you can have a “controversy free” GLS experience. 

Willow-Gate: The Cover-Up

Willow-Gate: The Cover Up
“And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” John 3:19

Everywhere in scripture the idea of darkness suppressing the truth is evident. Light is clearly identified as exposing truth. Those who have an interest in squelching the truth are motivated by human, not Godly, desires. Those who do not want the truth known work diligently to hide, minimize, and attack those who would seek to reveal the truth that can allow healing.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. James 5:16
Sin represents all human efforts to meet our needs in our way, with disregard for the will of God. It therefore represents a rebellion towards God and the path for which we are called. Sin generates shame for people with a conscience. And shame calls for some type of cover. In fact a root meaning of the word shame is “to cover”. Covering is the way that we hide or suppress the truth about our sin, for fear of further shame, or, because we all follow the path articulated in scripture which states:
There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. Proverbs 16:25
So we all have a tendency to cover up and follow our own path.

Institutional Cover Up

“He who covers his transgressions shall not prosper…” (Prov. 28:13)
The most memorable concept of a cover up at an institutional level is Watergate. A crime occurred and a deliberate strategy was implemented to cover up what had been done. No one in the inner core of the White House would speak truth about what had happened. Only a persistent deep mole, “Deepthroat”, and a couple of tenacious reporters pushed for disclosure.
This is what is happening at Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC). I would name the current situation Willow-Gate. If it were not for a number of individuals who courageously and with perseverance are pushing for full disclosure, the cover up would succeed. There is a cost to seeking and speaking truth. Institutions hate whistleblowers, and will often seek to discredit them, ignore them, or intimidate them. They hope they will die by attrition. Clearly, WCCC does not want the truth to be known, and that cannot be for Biblical reasons. If the leadership stood before God to account for their current strategy, they would be hard pressed to compile a rationalization that would satisfy a righteous God.
God would not endorse the strategy of protecting an image or a brand. In the world of counseling, we often identify what are called defense mechanisms. Denial, suppression, and minimization are powerful ways that people avoid and cover up the truth about themselves. They are primitive (child-like) because they force one to ignore what may be obvious to others. Willow is using these institutional defense mechanisms. Here is the absolute worst. Pretend that if they strip the church of all of Bill Hybels books, sermons, pictures, or references, maybe people will somehow disassociate Willow Creek from Bill Hybels. This is like a young child who believes that if he closes his eyes and cannot see someone they will disappear. So if we never mention the name Bill Hybels in a service, maybe people, at best, will forget that he was here. Maybe he will be scrubbed from peoples memory and we can pretend nothing happened and simply follow his game plan for the church without connecting his name.
But, we have to understand sin as both an individual problem and an institutional one. It is another primitive defensive move to believe that Bill Hybels sinned, he is gone, so the sin in the church is gone with his departure. His vision, values, and methods permeated and still are operative in the culture of WCCC. Everyone who allowed the idolatrous image of the perfect church is a participant in the sin. The church needs to confess not only Bill’s sin but the multiple ways that we followed after an unbiblical view of the church. We cannot just scapegoat Bill Hybels. After all, nobody put a gun to our head and said we had to follow his flawed vision. So the uncovering of sin must be both individual and corporate.
People in the Old Testament produced graven images that were false and idolatrous symbols of what they wanted God to look like. A church that creates a graven image that is a false representation of God is practicing idolatry. WCCC, by never mentioning the name of the idol, is not taking seriously the reality that the face of the image of Willow reflects the quality and character of Bill Hybels. Maybe everyone will not notice that we are continuing the core culture of WCCC if its founder and architect is never mentioned by name again.

Confession Heals
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5:16
Confession is the reversal of cover up. Instead of suppressing the truth, a confessor reveals the truth. It brings out what is hidden into the bright light of truth. All manner of sicknesses, psychological as well as physical, are the result of a persistent effort to hide the truth about ones sin.

When I kept silent,my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. Psalm 32:3-5
It is only a believer, who trusts the grace of God, that risks full disclosure. Christians who desire health, know that it takes more effort to suppress the truth than to contain it in the fig leaves of denial. Fear is the enemy of transparency. These include the fear of the judgement of others, and fear of having to make amends and reparations.

Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. Psalm 51:6
Hiding truth will always lead to destructive outcomes. Hiding is a short term strategy to prevent some kind of loss that we do not want to experience. But listen, GOD desires truth in the innermost parts of us and of our church! There is no rationalization that supports the hiding of truth from a Biblical perspective. Many of us who are calling for this feel like the prophets who basically felt like they were crying in the wilderness. The cry in its most basic form is that of “return to God, turn from false idols, and let the Truth of God reign”. God designed us, created us, calls us to Himself, and knows what brings healing, so why are we not following His admonition to reveal the truth in the innermost parts of WCCC? According to scripture, if WCCC persists in lies, denials, suppression of the truth, and pushing for a way that seems right to them, they are not going to move from a sick culture to one of spiritual and emotional health. There is no Biblical basis for a cover up.

Cover Of Grace vs. Cover-Up
Here is the deepest level of hypocrisy at WCCC. They preached grace. Bill Hybels consistently uttered the challenge to those who felt that they were beyond the reach of God’s love, to trust grace. But did he really believe in grace, and does the church now trust grace? It is an indicator of how much one trusts God’s grace as to whether they boldly bring their sin to the balm of His grace. People who do not share very transparently likely do not trust grace.

A very real question can be asked, based on the lack of transparent willingness to reveal the sin and brokenness in WCCC. Does Bill, and the leadership of WCCC, trust grace? I would say no. Instead of being honest, because they know that God’s grace is sufficient to heal the sin of the church, they are hiding in the cover of darkness. In effect they are saying we will control the narrative, we will cover up what needs to be revealed, because we do not believe that the church can be forgiven or will survive if it is honest about the amount of sin that has been committed.
It is important to say that the current elders at WCCC appear to be Godly people who have worked tirelessly and have shown a measure of compassion towards the victims. But the current strategy of institutional cover-up that is being followed came from somewhere, and is not Biblical. Is it, in fact, lawyers who are guiding the suppression of truth? Is it the deep enmeshment of the Willow culture that simply is continuing the cover up strategy that they have used to try to keep the public image of the church scrubbed from flaws? Is it a lack of wisdom by the elders and leadership? Who knows? The current elders are not being transparent about who is informing their approach to minimize calling sin out publicly. Apparently the elders are following their predecessor’s script of not informing the congregants. Why? I have attempted to access the elders to ask them where they are getting their direction, but they have stonewalled my efforts. If scripture was used as the guiding template for how to heal this crisis, we would not be seeing the level of cover up that is evident.

Tent of Meeting: When The True Church Shows Up For Cleansing
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will heal their land. II Chronicles 7:14
Unlike the “final” elders meeting of Tuesday, July 23, 2019, a true contrition meeting might look something like the following:

  1. Those who are true elders, and represent the spiritual condition of the culture of WCCC, would stand before the whole congregation to express the deep contrition and sorrow over the years of sin that existed in the church. Those elders would symbolize, possibly by an outward sign of sack-cloth and ashes, that the church is coming with contrition before a Holy God to confess its sin and the sin of its leader. They would read Jeremiah 14:20 20 We have sinned against you, Lord; we confess our own sins and the sins of our ancestors. …
  2. The leaders and people would cry out and seek the grace of God in the same way that the tax collector called out to Jesus “Have mercy on me, a sinner” Luke 18:13
  3. The leaders would acknowledge that the church is complicit in the sin, in that we lacked the discernment and courage to call out and root out this leader’s entitlement and the deep sin that it generated in the body of the church. Sin was dealt with in both an individual and corporate way with the children of Israel. It showed the seriousness of sin and how it permeates the very systemic core of a body of people.
  4. The leaders would enumerate the sins of both Bill Hybels and other leaders in the church who followed his leadership and abused people.
  5. The sin, one by one, would be named, detailed, and confessed. The leaders would say (a.) “On behalf of the whole congregation we acknowledge that Bill Hybels sinned in his sexual abuse of multiple women in our church. His actions have caused deep pain in the lives of women who thought that they could trust him. They experienced emotional wounding that we can only imagine. To the extent that we did not confront and demand change in the entitled behavior that drove his abuse of women, we repent and seek forgiveness. Many of us sought to protect the idolatrous celebrity status of Bill Hybels, and therefore, did not want to believe that he was capable of such sin. Because of this we repent and seek forgiveness. Also, to the extent that we participated in a cover up, by believing the narrative that these women were liars and colluders, we repent and seek forgiveness and restitution for these victims. We are deeply grieved by the awareness of how we let down courageous women (and they should be named and celebrated and compensated) who came forth, at their own peril, to stand up against Bill and his sin and for their own dignity. That we did not support them, and all who gave them credibility, (like Betty Schmidt, the long serving, highly respected ex-elder, whose story was falsely represented to support the false innocence of Bill) we repent and seek forgiveness. Lord have mercy. (b.) For the damage that has been done to your reputation by our failure to come clean and share the truth about the sin in our congregation, we repent and seek your mercy and forgiveness. (c.) For the people who have left our church in despair, due to a sense of disillusionment or belief that we have covered up and protected a sexual aggressor, we repent and seek your mercy. (d.) For thousands of women who are survivors of sexual abuse, and who, upon learning that a trusted pastor was in fact a sexual aggressor, experienced trauma and disillusionment, we repent and seek your mercy and forgiveness. (e.)For many staff that experienced the bullying tactics of Bill Hybels and other leadership staff who were groomed by him, and may have been forced to leave under the cover up of the lie that “God was leading them away”, we repent and seek your mercy and forgiveness. For allowing non-disclosure agreements to be used as a means of suppressing the truth about what was really going on in the culture of the church, we repent and seek your mercy and forgiveness. (f.) For many congregants at our church who were assessed to be a threat to the image or assets of our church, who were labeled dangerous with little real evidence backing this up, who were subjected to an elder response team that lacked compassion and a pastoral approach to problems, and used such strong arm repression tactics as threatening arrest for trespassing, and sending scary and intimidating letters, we repent and seek your mercy and forgiveness. For trauma this created and the lack of pastoral follow through with the people who were kicked out and are left with a bitter sense of injustice, we repent, and will seek them out to pursue forgiveness and restitution(g.) For allowing Bill Hybels to manipulate the leadership of the church to create a governance model that gave him near absolute power to push his personal agenda on the church, and for failing to detect that he had character defects that resulted in him acting in ways that were absolutely in contrast to the fruits of the spirit and the life of Christ, we repent and seek your mercy and forgiveness. (h.) For the leadership not being transparent, even in this post-March 2018 period in the church, and creating a cover up approach that is in absolute rebellion to Your call to uncover the truth and sin, we repent and seek your mercy and forgiveness. (i.) For allowing a culture of perfection and image to be the underlying strategy of the church, and for all the behind the scenes ways that we intimidated, bullied, or eliminated people who were a threat to this goal, and for all that was covered up, we repent and seek your mercy and forgiveness. (10) For our multi-year support and identification with a leadership summit and association that professed to be focused on healthy leadership, even though its founder and teacher violated multiple qualities of Biblical leadership, we repent and seek your mercy and forgiveness. That we have allowed the leadership of the summit to get by without addressing the obvious hypocrisy of how the summit is going along, and acting like nothing happened, we ask for your mercy and forgiveness. (j.) Finally, and certainly not complete, we repent of the fact that we allowed our church to be built on a person, on the charisma of a leader who, on many levels, seemed so competent that we continued to support his behavior even though we should have clearly called it out as sinful. Your name has been defamed as the result of our church’s sins. We seek restoration of your name through the cleansing of our transgressions. We commit to protecting Your reputation by establishing the only real path of leadership in our church, and that is that we will follow leaders only as they follow Christ. Amen

“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psa. 32:1)

 

NO MORE COVER UP! RISE UP PEOPLE OF WCCC AND DEMAND THE TRUTH!

Willow Creek Community Church. Decide- Damage Control Or Damage Repair?

For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. Luke 8:17

What Is A Brand?

When a corporation has a product that needs a recall, its marketing department goes into mega spin control. In essence, the strategy is based on deciding what the minimum amount of disclosure has to be regarding the flaws of the product, in order to attempt to reduce the amount of loss of sales and income. The brand of the company is under attack, and the negative impact of a disclosure of product failure must be minimized at all cost.

A brand is the collection of beliefs that the public has about the company and its products. It usually is connected to a mission statement and some advertising jingle that seeks to encapsulate the essence of the product. For example “Things go better with Coke”, seeks to attach the notion that drinking Coke has an emotional hook for people, and will result in their lives somehow being more satisfying. If a recall of Coke products occured, due to a health threatening ingredient being accidentally introduced to a Coke drink, this would massively create a problem for the Coke brand. The full force of the company’s spin control experts would be brought to bear on this threat to the brand. The goal is damage control. The goal is to admit the least to lose the least. That is the bottom line. The trust that a brand seeks to develop has to be restored.

Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) has collected over time a brand that is currently under siege. The brand of WCCC encapsulates the things that the church represents. For instance, the church has disseminated over time, the idea that they are seeker-sensitive, putting forth a program that is just enough spiritual to kind of look like a church, but not so religious in nature as to alienate non-believers. The motto of the church is to convert irreligious people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus. To produce this product, the church has committed to an image that is attractional to those outside of Christ. Deep in the brand assumptions of the church is that WCCC must look excellent, have an image that is just short of the environment of Disney World. The deep underbelly of WCCC has been managed by doing whatever is needed to eliminate anything that might rupture this public image. Messy staff issues were handled in secret, sending people away with the public lie that staff had been led by God away from ministry at WCCC. Lies and deceit were part of the modus operandi that allowed the external brand image to be maintained as excellent and awe inspiring. The congregation was not privy to the ugliness. Thus they were mesmerized by the brand, and felt a sense of pride in their association to such an excellent organization. Brands are, in effect, like the identity of an individual. They represent the values, mission, vision, and operating principles of the entity. The product is what is consumed.

Damage Control

WCCC’s brand is under attack. It’s world wide reputation, which if we as attenders were honest, made us feel pride by our association with such a “wonderful” church. We like the brand and the attention that it has gathered in the church world. Watching such an excellent spectacle on stage was hypnotising, and left us with such a good vibe about how the church could be just as excellent and entertaining as the secular world.

Then came March of 2018. Articles came out about the sexual misconduct of our wizard-like senior pastor. It could not be true! We were under attack. Our identity as Willow Creekers was under attack! And then we watched as the spin-control started. A bogus investigation was revealed that had cleared our vaunted leader of all wrong. He was simply under attack by a cabal of histrionic women who had projected their adolescent infatuation onto this innocent senior pastor. They simply turned their feelings of rejection into attacking him, seeking to destroy him out of their own misplaced desire for him. This is called “plausible deniability”, used by celebrities to deny any responsibility that they have. Of course we can easily see that this senior pastor, Bill Hybels, a good-looking, always tan, seemingly self-confident leader, would be the object of the longings of women that would swoon at his presence. And that is why we can spin and rationalize away the culpability of someone we so do not want to believe is capable of such harm.

So the elders went into spin-control mode. In coalition with this senior pastor, who they could not control, they comforted the congregation that this was all lies, colluding, and an attack on an innocent man. All the while they knew that this man had manipulated them for years. They agreed that the women were lying. Damage control. Our brand is under attack and our brand maintenance involves hiding any flaws. Why? Because the bottom line is under fire. The church could lose people, and as a result, revenue. The spin doctors, probably a combination of marketing experts and lawyers, pushed leadership to minimize the damage. They must have felt momentary victory when the people at the family meeting stood and applauded this poor victim pastor.

Due to the fact that more damning information came out in August, 2018, the collusion and lies strategy could not work. Steve Carter, the face of the church at this point, had had enough and bravely left. Now the breach to the brand was becoming serious. They were leaking water fast and furiously. So, strategy number 2 started to evolve. They would have the elders all resign. Heather Larson would leave. Then, they would start a search for new elders. The strategy, to control the damage, emerged from the same culture that developed the problems in the first place.

The problem with this strategy was that it turns out that it was simply a continuation of maintaining the brand as it existed. The people who were responsible for selecting the elders were either former elders, leaders in the church, or congregants. These people had all been immersed in the culture and brand of WCCC themselves for years, and likely had a subjective bias towards continuing things as they were. So this search committee, not fully understanding the damage inherent in the behavior of the senior pastor, selected the current elders. They got elders in place, who on the surface, looked like they were doing a good job of taking the problems seriously. They listened to the stories of the women who had been abused and, according to some of the women who shared their experience, seemed to be genuinely compassionate and sorry for the pain the women had endured.

Then came the “final” meeting on Tuesday July 23, 2019. It was brand-protecting, in that the elders gave a tepid rendition of the pain that had been inflicted on the women who were sexually violated. The elders, in effect, said we have done what was needed, done the minimal due diligence, and now, on to the future. The brand took a hit, we have lost some people, our revenue is down, but we have weathered the storm. Full speed ahead!

Damage Repair

Damage control is different than damage repair. An analogy might help. If you have a shiny Mercedes Benz that you notice has some rust showing through, you could do one of two things. You could get a can of paint that is the same as the car color and spray it over the rust. The rust is now covered over. It might look a little bumpy, but it is gone, and the essential flaw-free image of the car is returned. That would be damage control. It is a short-term solution, because the underlying corrosion will return soon and the rust will re-emerge.

Taking the car to an auto body specialist and having them cut out the area of the car that is rusting is damage repair. It takes longer, and is more expensive, but is also more permanent.

The only conclusion that one can reasonably make from observing the strategy of the elders’ “final” meeting on the Hybels situation is that they are trying to paint over the rusted image of the church. The problem is that they have not fully investigated and revealed to the congregation the true assessment of the damage. Since the ugliness of the damage is trying to be concealed, the church does not know how desperately rusty the underbelly of the infrastructure of the church has been, and how far the brand of WCCC differs from the brand being based on the person and character of Jesus Christ. WCCC does not need brand control, they need to re-brand. They need to repair the damage.

The new brand must be based on an honest and transparent reflection of a people who take sin seriously, and are willing to courageously expose brokenness publically. Then people will understand that a truly Jesus-based brand will be vigilant about sin in its midst and will have elders and leaders who can detect it and deal with it openly. The congregants of WCCC are not children who cannot handle the reality of real sin and problems in the church. As I have said in the past, this reflects a paternalistic approach that leaves leaders as elitist controllers of the truth. Elders need to be accountable to the people in an honest and transparent way. No more decision-making that leaves the congregants puzzled and frustrated. No more senior pastors who are celebrities who believe in their own invincibility, and control elders who should have the spiritual guts to confront all forms of ego-driven entitlement.

Expose The Damage

WCCC has revealed that it is interested only in damage control. If it was concerned about true repair, it would openly and publicly give a list of the damages that have been inflicted on the church by the entitlement of Bill Hybels and the way that his power and control oriented methods of management have wounded so many. We need to appeal to the elders to pursue repair and rebranding. Here, as best I understand it, is the list of grievous damages that the have been revealed in the last 18 months:

  1. Damage to the Reputation of Christ. Since the church is the physical representation of those who identify with the life of Christ, WCCC’s scandal and the revelation of allowing a man to design a church that in so many ways does not reflect the character and values of Jesus must be acknowledged, lamented, and changed.
  2. Damage to the Lives of Precious Daughters of the Father. As a Christian psychologist, I have witnessed the devastating impact of all levels of sexual abuse on the lives of women. Although each woman that was sexually violated by BH has their own experience of the symptoms that get created by an abuser, I can list a short number of common results of abuse. Trust issues are at the top. At any level, if a previously trusted individual violates the boundaries of a woman’s right to feel safe physically, there is a dramatic shift in trust. Now, men may be seen as potentially non-trustworthy, which produces a hypervigilance in the presence of males. This low grade anxiety is a damage to the psychological equilibrium that a woman might feel pre-abuse. Depression and anxiety often increases as a result of abuse. Awkwardness and fear in having to work in the presence of an abuser undermines a woman’s ability to function professionally. Anger at the abuser who has more power than the woman is a chronic result of abuse by a senior member of the work environment. This can cost the woman the ability to focus and stay engaged. At worst, some women develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as they must deal with the trauma of having to adapt to an intrusive violation of their body, mind, and spirit. The cost of moving from a care-free, to a vigilant, anxiety-based life, is the real damage that many women report. So, do the elders at WCCC want to minimize the public report of damage done to the women that came forward? It appears so.
  3. Damage To Women Who Attended The Church Who Had Histories of Sexual Abuse. A huge cost to women who attended WCCC, but were not directly abused by BH, is the activation of fear and further distrust that gets created from learning that another man, this time one who posed as so self-disciplined and trustworthy, had in fact violated women in the church. This is real damage. Many of these women have their trauma reactivated by awareness of the abuse of other women. I am afraid many of these women had no place to go to process their possible pain. The church offered no awareness or resources to multiple women who may have been affected. Many of these women may have simply left the church, branding (bad brand) it as just another hypocritical place where men can abuse women with no real consequences.
  4. Damage To Multiple Staff Who Were Treated Abusively. As a person who has counseled multiple ex-staff at WCCC for almost thirty years, I can account for the damage done to so many. The bully tactics of BH was evident to many people, but he was enabled by a weak leadership who could not contain his ego-driven need to push forward his agenda. He got rid of staff that he did not like or who he felt threatened by, and did it in ways that left them feeling shame and rejection. I remember one staff member who came to me after Bill had gone by her desk and reprimanded her for it not being up to his standards of organization. He asked her “would God be happy with your disorganization? “BH set up an Elder Response Team and Human Resources Team that is responsible for multiple staff being treated in un-Christlike ways. The emotional cost of these sinful ways of handling people are great and should be made public so the true damage to staff can be comprehended by the larger WCCC family.
  5. Damage To Many People Who Were Effectively Ex-communicated By WCCC. WCCC used tactics that were an extension of their image-obsession in dealing with “problem” people. People who had done something that in the estimation of WCCC leadership created a problem to the image of the church were forced to meet with the Elder Response Team. The people that comprised this team showed very little Christ-like compassion and generated, as I have blogged before, a trauma generating environment that left people anxious and angry. They would use an unbiblical strong arm tactic by having the church’s lawyers send scary letters implying that they could be prosecuted if they did not comply with the church’s demands. Often people who were long term attenders at WCCC were told that they would be prosecuted for trespassing on any WCCC property were they to attend a service. The church had security members with pictures of these “criminals” and would intercept them and escort them off campus. The senior member of the ERT was a man who was a former emergency room physician. He had absolute power, under the permission of BH, to make heartless decisions. He literally treated people like they were in his spiritual emergency room. He would often kick them out of the church with absolutely no regard for the after-care of their souls. Unlike Jesus, who would go after the one and leave the 99, he discarded them like infected tissue. The damage to the spiritual lives of so many people are the unreported cost of a system of control and management that wounded so many of God’s children.
  6. Damage To The Idea Of Leadership. One of the most unacknowledged costs of the behavior of BH is the hypocrisy of his authoring and stewarding the idea of Christian leadership. Leadership was his passion, I believe, because it fit his narcissistic need to be special and have a platform for his entitled agenda. He created the Global Leadership Summit as a showcase for his notion of the importance of teaching leadership. Although he had multiple experts in the world of leadership who taught real authentic things, like being a humble leader who is transparent, he,in fact, violated many of the principles of leadership that he championed from the pulpit. Subjects like emotional and social intelligence were taught as essential to leadership, all the while that BH was leading out of a cold indifference to the consequences of his bully-like management style. How can a person so compartmentalize their life that the truth does not penetrate the practice of Christianity? So, the damage to many who are disillusioned by the hypocrisy of a leader who promoted healthy leadership while exercising damaging practices himself, is great. Can we so quickly roll over and move beyond acknowledgement of the deep damage of these practices? It appears, from the elders’ behavior, as well as the leadership of the Global Leadership Summit, they can.
  7. Damage To Trust In Leadership At WCCC. The fact that we were lied to by our leaders created a serious breach in trust. Trust is the currency of leadership, and when it is compromised, how can we be confident in the direction leaders want to take us? The victimized women were portrayed as liars and colluders, Bill was protected, and we were treated like dumb sheep. How do we repair the damage to trust in leadership?
  8. Damage To The Body Of Christ. It is undeniable that the last eighteen months have resulted in hidden costs to the people who have gone through the turmoil that this has brought into their lives. Focusing on the pain has often interrupted the ability to continue to grow in Christ. The questions that have shaken the faith of many is a huge cost and part of the damage that needs to be publicly acknowledged.
  9. Damage That May Only Be Recognized In The Future. Much of the damage may be hidden only to be revealed later. There may be untold damage to those who left the church disillusioned by the tragedy. There may be those who were on the verge of moving towards a life of surrender to Jesus who, due to the hypocrisy, moved on.

Damage Cost

The cost may be so much higher than I can even articulate. If the damage is kept hidden in the interest of damage control, it, like the rust on the car, will re-emerge. The hidden things will be revealed. Why? Because they are like cancer to the life of the true church of Jesus. WCCC needs to rebrand and the brand must closely reflect the values and actions of a church that is following hard after the blueprint that Scripture has revealed as necessary in the life of the body of Christ. WCCC is doing damage control, not damage repair. And that is because they are minimizing the cost of the damage that has been inflicted. They are painting over rust.

If the current leadership of WCCC does not acknowledge publicly the true cost of the damage that the church has sustained, how can we be reassured that they are implementing the kinds of change that will prevent this kind of damage in the future? It may take, like the French Revolution, a demand for change by the proletariat.

Willow Creek Community Church: Why Processing Fully The Past Is Important

“He wanted to leave the past a few hundred miles down the road, shake it off like dust. But that was the problem with the past. It kept finding him.” 
― Suzanne Woods Fisher, The Keeper: A Novel

Culture of Change

It is clear to me that Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) wants to move forward, seeing the past as an impediment to a strategic focus on the future. From a systemic perspective this makes sense. This church was immersed in a culture of visionary focus on goals, where the past was discarded like ripped clothing. Change was forced upon the congregants without any real explanation of its’ rational. Trust us, we know more than you do. Paternalistic treatment of congregants by an elitist view of leadership, whereby they know what is best, and do not care about the impact of change on people. Trusted and loved leaders left. People were fired. Programs were changed. The future was more important than the past. Attenders at WCCC have been so immersed in this culture of change that they too seem to want to focus on the future.

So it is no wonder that the current leadership, including the elders of the church, are itching to move forward. They think they have done their due diligence about the past. Their privately hearing the stories of pain is enough. The congregants that were impacted by this pain do not need to be substantively involved. Trust us, we have heard the stories, felt the pain, and now let’s move forward. They were trained in leadership by Bill Hybels. He shared that the “speed of the team is determined by the speed of the leader”. Is it really a surprise that the general culture of the church calls for speed in moving out of this crisis? BH in fact could harm people in his leadership, and then move beyond it with little empathic awareness of the damage done.

The current elders have little clue about how this culture is informing their current response to the crisis at WCCC. At some level, they are being faithful to BH and his leadership model. The elders and leadership were all immersed in the culture of change. It permeated their world view in ways that they probably do not fully comprehend. It only becomes clear when their strategy in handling the crisis at Willow is fully understood. They hooked the women into believing that they were truly heard and understood, and that their pain was real, and that the way they were treated was truly un-just. But then they have an elders meeting where they demonstrate that they paid the least amount of attention to the past and think that they are now permitted to move beyond it’s destructiveness. Effectively, as Nancy Beach wrote elegantly, the women were betrayed again. Minimize the pain, keep it behind the deceptive walls of only the elders ears, rationalize that the women have been heard, and then jump back into the culture of change. Retraumatize the women, marginalize their stories, push towards the comfortable safety of the future.

Lament

The Old Testament is replete with stories of lament. The definition of lament is “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow”.  Passionate, intense feelings, grief over the profoundness of the painful impact of a former behavior. In the OT it was over the tendency of the people of Israel to be unfaithful to God. When a knowing awareness develops about the impact of unfaithful behavior, the response of the people should be a “broken and contrite” heart. No strategic plans for the future. The people in lament knew that without a profound time of mourning and acceptance of responsibility, they were likely to be unaffected by the level of pain they had inflicted and would quickly move out of it and into the future.

Lamenting takes time. The length of time in lament should probably be proportionate to the size of the sin and failure. Forty years of power and control based leadership, idolatry of a celebrity senior pastor, and the sexual abuse of multiple women calls for a significant amount of lament time. Sackcloth and ashes were the visible markers of lament, where a public demonstration of how serious the transgressions were before a Holy God was publicly mourned.  No hiding, secretive cloistering of a few who knew the transgressions. The people as a whole knew and participated in the lament. It showed God and others how serious was unfaithfulness to God. Where is the public indications of lament at WCCC? Private closed meeting, where again we are supposed to trust that the leaders have done a limited lament for us, but now focus on the future. This has to be so sad to God, that his people are being guided to minimize the level of sinful transgressions. Based on the limited lament of WCCC, is it not reasonable to assume that God must see the response as a diminishing of the way that people were harmed and He was disobeyed? This church allowed the idolatry of a celebrity leader to have unbridled and entitled power and control. Not unlike the Israelites, we followed a false god. Should that not be responded to with tears, intense sadness, and authentic repentance? Are we laughing at God and saying that our way of dealing with our unfaithfulness to God is better than His?  “A broken and a contrite heart” is what God is seeking. Where are the tears at WCCC? Where is the public lament, and calling us into an intense season of sorrow? Too Old Testament? No, God has a purpose for true lament.

Empathic Forgiveness

As a Christian psychologist I counsel many couples where an affair has visited devastating consequences on their marriage. The offended partner has been deeply wounded, betrayed, humiliated, and feels no trust. This affair happened in the past. Do I just listen to the story of the betrayed partner and then tell them to quickly move into trust? Of course not. I have the partner who perpetrated the affair listen in often excruciating detail to the impact of their behavior on their spouse. They need to listen even though their tendency is to minimize their behavior and rationalize it away. They must arrive at a place of true and authentic repentance and  empathy, so that they really get how desperately painful their behavior was to the victimized spouse. They have to hear and get that nothing the partner did justifies their behavior. They have to sit in the utter sense of shame in owning their behavior and understanding it’s emotionally lethal impact. Only then, when they have deeply and fully listened, can they validate the extent of the infliction of pain. Why is this important? Because if they get how destructive their self centered behavior was to their spouse, the probability is higher that they may not repeat it in the future. It is one step in the reestablishment of trust that an aggrieved spouse feels like their partner truly “gets it”, and therefore is more likely to not re-offend. Only then does the guilty spouse have the right to ask for forgiveness and the offended partner can offer forgiveness. Forgiveness asked for and given too early in the process is never healthy. As Scott McKnight has stated, this is “cheap grace”.

This same idea is true at WCCC. Why do we need to fully understand the deep consequences of sin in the midst of the church? Because without adequate lament and a full and public rendering of the impact on victims of sin, it is likely that history will repeat itself. God is not about the future as much as He is about the present. We cannot move into the future with unresolved pain and unconfessed behavior. We will in fact construct the future on the platform of the past. The leadership so underestimates the unconscious DNA of the culture that was formed at WCCC and seeped into the soul of all who were taught by it’s leadership. That is why at some level, the leadership cannot stand outside of itself and see the unconscious influences that have shaped the assumptions and beliefs about how to handle problems. Problems at WCCC were handled in a hidden manner, by unhealthy leaders, where the concern was only preventing the visible unfolding of ugliness behind the scenes. The current process of handling the ugliness of the past is being dealt with much the same way. A person like BH did not want to dwell on the past, because in his mindset, it prevented his vision of the future. The reason we dwell and give passionate reflection on the failures of the past is because they represent a serious breach of following the blueprint  of God for the church, and so must be responded to in such a serious manner that we are less likely to repeat them in the future.

The leadership of WCCC must lead with a deeper sense of lament. Lament for a church that allowed the entitlement of one man to have such power and control that he could inflict with impunity devastating emotional pain on women and staff members. Lament for the utter hypocrisy of having a senior pastor who elevated leadership to an elitist status  and then violated every tenet of healthy leadership. How is it that the Global Leadership Summit, envisioned and lead by Bill Hybels, is not pointing out the obvious hypocrisy of a leader who had multiple experts teach about leadership, but personally lead in an unhealthy way?  Are we to look beyond the obvious and push towards the future? I believe that the hand of God’s blessing can be removed from a church that does not honor God’s way of handling past sin.

If I Were A Woman At Willow Creek Community Church

If I were a woman at Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC), particularly one who, as almost a third of all women, has experienced some form of sexual abuse, this is what I would conclude about WCCC’s view of women and of predatory sexual behavior by men. This is based on what I have observed as the response of the church to what was a cataclysmic revelation of the sexual in-appropriateness of the senior pastor of the church. It is difficult to understand what WCCC’s strategic process has been in dealing with the crisis. As in so many other leadership decisions at WCCC, what the process is, who gave input into how it should be implemented, and what the goals should be are not immediately understandable. As a systemic and trauma professional, I have written a great deal on systems and trauma, but the leadership has chosen not to consult with my perspective. All I can go on is what I see.

Seriousness of Sexual Predatory Behavior By Leadership in the Church

Sexual abuse of women in WCCC by men is at worst something to be denied, minimized, or weakly reported as “credible” in the church. If instead it was presented as extremely serious, real, and traumatic in the family of WCCC, it would have quickly been accepted as true, condemned in no uncertain way, and the perpetrator called out as having done a horrific sinful devaluation of both the courageous victim-women that came forth in the church, as well as all of the women victims from other perpetrators. The actions of leadership would have recognized the traumatic disillusionment that came from the realization that a supposedly trustworthy and woman-valuing senior pastor had pierced the veil of trust and safety of women in the church’s family.

Instead, the response became an arduous gathering of the facts, diluting the emotional intensity of the crisis because of a cautious concern about the credibility of the victims. WCCC is, by virtue of the lack of strong and passionate exposure of the truth, minimizing the fierce reality of not only the courageous women that came forward, but also the sense of safety and trust in the church as a whole by multiple women who have experienced abuse. WCCC is treating this situation like what often happens in families or organizations. Rather than believing the victims, the leadership of WCCC began a process of initial denial, shaming the victims, protecting the perpetrator, and then slow acknowledgement of the horrific truth of the victims stories.

Families where a father or son perpetrate abuse on a daughter often seek to protect the perpetrator, and often victim-shame the women by challenging the authenticity of the claims of sexual abuse. All manner of rationalizations are used to protect the image of the perpetrator because the exposure of his sexual abuse would cause the financial collapse of the family, or the abuser would lose status, or an ugly legal situation would occur. All of these approaches focus on protecting the perpetrator over the victim. This appears to be happening at WCCC. There is some unexplained reluctance to call Bill Hybels out for his degrading sinful behavior towards women. Why? As has been the case in multiple scenarios at WCCC, the truth is a stranger. The narrative is controlled due hidden motivations. Is it fear of lawsuits, fear of financial collapse, fear of loss of people at the church, fear of the perceived big-ness of BH and his personality, or fear of the global reputation of the church?

Not Protected In The Moment Of Crisis

When unsafe things are revealed and trauma is induced, healthy families and organizations recognize the needs of the traumatized individuals and provide real time interventions. From all appearances, the process of how they are dealing with the crisis of disclosure that has occured at WCCC, looks like what happens when deception and cover up are accepted as a game plan for minimizing the damage. Secular responses to trauma put WCCC to shame. I have been involved in a number of major crisis events, from 9/11, Cary-Grove bus crash, Northern Illinois University shooting, to the Red Lake Minnesota school shooting. When these events occurred, the first response was not to spend one and one half years gathering the facts, but rather an immediate intervention occurs. We did critical incidence debriefing, because the quick response helps people at the most critical window of opportunity to help prevent long term residual effects of trauma.

WCCC should have immediately offered opportunities for women who were re-traumatized by the revelation of a supposedly trustworthy leader’s sexual behavior. The overwhelming number of women who had reported abuse was enough to give immediate circumstantial validity to the revelation of abuse. They needed immediate care, validation, comfort, and should have been offered the opportunity to process their feelings in the moment. The laborious process that appears to be the guiding strategy of WCCC is just plain wrong. By the time that the leadership gathers all the facts and stories, and presumably makes a definitive declaration of the correctness of the accusations against BH, the trauma will have faded, women who were retraumatized by the shocking exposure of the leader likely will have left or concluded that the church is not a safe place. The church should have immediately provided pastoral and counseling resources for all women affected by the trauma of awareness that comes from the revelation that a perpetrator was in the midst of the church.

It Is Risky To Speak The Truth

If I were a woman at WCCC, I would conclude that it was dangerous to come out with the truth about an icon. Like a perpetrator father, the need to maintain the image and illusion of the leader results in the victims getting attacked for their truth. The women who have come forward have been vilified by those who desperately want to maintain the illusion that Bill Hybels, the visionary founder and developer of WCCC, could not have done what he is accused of doing. To keep the illusion going, the women’s truth must be questioned, maligned, diminished, and attacked. The courageous women that have come forward with truth have been deeply doubted and devalued. This adds insult to injury, in that they already experienced the trauma of abuse, and are then abused further by those who wanted to silence them to keep the comfortable illusion of the idealized leader intact.

Conclusion

If I was a woman at WCCC, I would have to conclude that sexual abuse is not taken seriously, not openly condemned, but instead, swept under the carpet, minimized, denied by supporting the perpetrator. Otherwise, why has the leadership not come out forcefully in stating that Bill was a sexual perpetrator, sinned, is not repentant, and shockingly disillusioned the women of the church by hypocritically teaching the value of women and then objectifying them.

As a result of their failure to create an immediate intervention for women, the leadership of WCCC sent a message to women that they are not going to be protected and helped with their trauma. Because what had happened in the WCCC family was not acknowledged and processed, the message to women was that they could not count on their church to immediately respond to their pain.

By the initial attacks on the women who came forward, the message to women was that it is costly to share truth. WCCC did not need anything more than the credibility of multiple women to take a strong stand for truth, reach out to the women who were victimized, and address the reality of the pervasive of BH’s sin.

Willow Creek Community Church: A Cautionary Tale (Section 3)

Culture Repentance 

The poisonous spiritual DNA of BH was the basis for the unfolding of a church that focused more on appearance, program, numbers, money, and worldwide notoriety. The values and vision of this church were never meaningfully vetted against what a church and what a pastor would look like if the DNA was that of Christ. The great reveal done years ago at WCCC is that the church was severely under-focusing on discipleship and the deep growth of the believer. It was no surprise to me that this was the case. Believers who have a mature understanding of their spiritual growth would likely be more inclined to identify and confront the deeply immature and image-oriented focus of WCCC.  

Did the army of staff that signed up, sublimate their understanding of a Christ centered church to the power and bigness of BH’s vision? I know personally and professionally, that  there are a number of integrity based individuals who tried to confront sin and seek change and got crushed by  BH’s power and control. Many people are still on staff at WCCC that either did not have the spiritual maturity or the strength to recognize and confront the deep schism between the vision, values, and management behaviors of BH and what a true and authentic Biblically founded church should look like. Do we need to call out all staff at all leadership levels that co-opted BH’s vision of the church and then fell in lock step to the image developed around a diseased DNA model of Christ’s church? It seems to me that now that BH is no longer at WCCC, the heat is off all of those who had to at some level adjusted and adapted to what it took to stay at WCCC and to support the deeply flawed organizational vision, values, and behaviors used to sustain what was really just the external clothes of the narcissistic emperor. Does God want a public confession from all those who created the scaffolding by which WCCC was erected? I believe so. 

Fair And Balanced 

10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames. I Corinthians 3 

 

To be fair, WCCC has born good fruit in many areas. It looks to me like that which was not of Christ needs to be dismantled so that it becomes Christ’s, not BH’s church. The verses above focus on the fact that the building (church) will be tested, and what is not of Christ will be exposed and burned up. But even those who do things with misguided motives can be doing things where Christ is being communicated. I will leave with these verses that show that God is at work, even in our brokenness. His church will prevail! My next blog will be about what I believe needs to be done to create a Christ-centered culture at WCCC.  

 

15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,  Phillipians 1:15-18 

The Most Important Biblical Advice For Leaders In The Church

It is unconscionable that BH birthed and then developed the Willow Creek Association, whose goal was to equip leaders and had a global leadership conference to teach what leadership was to be all about. And yet, the shocking reality of his own personal life and leadership was so fraught with sinful visions and motivations and unbiblical characteristics of leadership. Why has no one shouted out the hypocrisy of all this? The WCA, now called the something else, has left the hypocritical legacy of its’ founder float like a dark shroud around all that it does. Why do those who claim to be experts at leadership, not lead? Lead! Point out the obvious contradiction of a man and ministry that violated the tenets of good biblical based leadership. Are the faithful supposed to draw their own conclusions? Why does the leadership of the leadership group not have the guts to point out the obvious. Who wants to follow someone who cannot point out the elephant in the room, deal with it with honesty and transparency?

11 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. I Corinthians 11

Simple. In essence Paul says that follows should only follow a leader who follows Christ. If a leaders vision, values, and behavior do not reflect those of Jesus, do not follow him or her. They are not worthy of being emulated nor are they to be obeyed. Strong Nathans are to call out the behavior of leaders in the church who do not follow hard after the life and leadership of Jesus.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. I John 4:1

A mature church, established in the Word, should have the discernment to determine if its’ leadership is following Christ or their own broken agenda. Leaders who, like BH, are aloof and disconnected from the body of believers, do not allow themselves to be held accountable. As mature followers of Jesus, we must not allow a church to have elitist or celebrity leaders, because they can thrive and drive the church off a spiritual cliff.

 

Willow Creek Community Church: A Cautionary Tale (Section 2)

DNA As A Metaphor for Personality Development 

Since I am more familiar with WCCC and its leader Bill Hybels, I will focus on it versus Harvest. As I mentioned, doing a deep dive into the spiritual DNA of James Macdonald would reveal similar dynamics. Think of personality elements as similar to DNA when it comes to the construction of the church. Much like a physical organism unfolds faithfully around the biochemical code of DNA, so organizations who have a leader with flawed personality DNA will unfold the church around the vision and values of that person.  

It is clear to most of those who served close with Bill Hybels (BH), that he was a man driven by a need for perfection, both for himself, and for those around him. This drive enabled him to appear extremely disciplined and productive. Being a leader put him in a position to drive WCCC to unfold its’ structure and governance around the vision and values of his flawed spiritual DNA. The DNA imprint that BH would inflict on WCCC  was formed early in his life. From glimpses into his childhood from individuals that were close to him, and what he has revealed,  BH had a stern and demanding father who was bigger than life to him and set up almost impossible expectations for Bill to attain. Those early influences began to form his values and his ideas about what his success should look like. One element that is crucial to a narcissistic development was that of his father giving him challenges that were difficult, and yet he generally succeeded in completing them. This resulted in two significant lessons. First it resulted in him then being risk oriented, and second he developed a strong sense of self-confidence and a belief that he could do new and different things. He transferred this to WCCC, as the organization in which his flawed spiritual DNA would unfold.   

Creating a physical body in the image of one’s DNA generally unfolds faithfully, short of environmental influences, consistent with the blueprint structure coded in the genetics. Creating an organization, such as a church, from the flawed spiritual DNA of a broken man, is a little trickier. Some leaders who drove the development of their churches around their own flawed DNA have been confronted and either changed or left leadership. So how did BH manage to get a complex organization like WCCC to so faithfully follow his clearly narcissistically formulated image of the church? Why, at multiple intervals over the course of a 40 some year history, did not other leaders in positions of influence over the church not call him out on values and behavior that so clearly deviated from what the church would look like if Christ was the DNA/Cornerstone of the church?  

Power, Charisma, and Force of Personality 

Narcissistic people appear on the surface to be extremely self-assured. They deeply believe in their own superior ideas and visions, and they drive them forward with high intensity. People around the Narcissistically Driven Leader (NDL), shrink back from these kinds of leaders because they often do not have the same level of self-confidence as the NDL. They easily draw the conclusion that their ideas or judgements about things are not as valid, so that they slowly, but surely, give ground to the charisma of the seemingly self-assured leader. They give ground and the NDL takes ground. The people who support the NDL get smaller while the NDL gets bigger.  

The only people that survive around the NDL, are those who compliment his narcissism by supporting his vision, values, and the behaviors used to sustain them. NDLs cull the ranks of anyone in their organization that represent a threat to their absolute need for power and control.

Since the NDL gets bigger and bigger, and begins to take on an aura of celebrity, people that serve around them bask in the glory of this leader’s “importance”. Those people supporting the NDL must either subjugate their values and ideas to the leader’s, or leave. These supportive people have their own “buy in” if they stay. They are part of the inner circle of the NDL. They have a sense of “specialness by proxy” and do not want to jeopardize this privileged, inside status. Nathans, who might point out the sinfulness of the NDL, do not survive.  

NDL leaders in the development of a church, insidiously form the kind of support process that allows them to unfold the unhealthiness of their flawed spiritual DNA. They cannot do this by themselves. They collect and retain people who are loyal to their vision. Because they often drive organizations forward intensely, people who support them either get on the train or get out. Speed of the leader, speed of the team. NDLs criticize, intimidate, cajole, power up on, and generally bully anyone who represents a threat to their pathological vision of the church. Their seemingly impressive “successes” further solidifies their power, and so allows them to continue abusive policies to control outcomes favorable to their vision.  

Culpability Of Those Who Enabled BH 

Matthew 7:17- .Even so every good tree bringeth forth good. But a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit,… 

Consistent with the idea of flawed spiritual DNA, this verse clearly shows that if the foundation of something is wrong, it will produce bad outcomes. Here is a list (not exhaustive) of the bad fruit that was evident in the management of WCCC. If we need a counterbalancing list of good fruit, we can use the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). The sources of this information are many current and former staff at WCCC as well as multiple people that have come to my office after years of abuse in the Willow environment.

-BH would bully people who opposed him. 

BH would belittle people who had differing ideas than he did. 

BH would, through the use of the Human Resource department of WCCC, get rid of employees that he felt did not support his vision or values.  

BH manipulated the elders and executive leadership team to get his way. He would use such tactics as saying that if there was a disagreement, he would threaten to leave if they did not go with his ideas. 

-If BH was confronted about his behavior, he would rage and demand to know who would say such negative things.

-BH consolidated his power by appealing to his influence, saying things like WCCC would not survive without him. This is clear evidence of self importance and the fact that he had built WCCC on the foundation of his own broken spiritual DNA. 

-When those who were supposed to oversee him confronted him, he would disagree with them and say “If I brought this to the congregation, who do you think they would believe?” 

-BH used his force of personality to get his way and deceived the elders and leadership. I have confirmed one incidence of this is (via a former elder). When he invited Bill Clinton to speak at the leadership summit, per their request, he promised the reluctant elders that he would have Clinton admit to having an affair with Monica Lewinsky and apologize. He also  agreed he would not let Clinton talk about anything political. Clinton did the opposite of what BH had promised to the elders at the time. The Clinton situation was a clear reflection of BH’s narcissism, showing that he had the clout and influence to pull in a president of the US. Although he knew there was deep opposition to having Clinton come to the church, given his involvement in the sexual abuse of an intern, BH pressured to get him to the leadership summit. In light of BH’s sexual abuse of women, it is now not surprising that he would allow a sexual predator to come teach on leadership.

-BH claimed to believe in the equality of women in the church, but when strong women confronted him, he powered up and demonstrated that he really thought he was superior to them. He objectified women by approaching them for his own sexual gratification, revealing the ugly core of entitlement that NDLs often reveal.  

-BH culled the ranks of experienced employees, keeping a cadre of young, impressionable, and adulating staff that guaranteed that he would not be challenged.  

-BH allowed the formulation of the Elder Response Team, who, although possibly doing some good, were primarily used to eliminate any person who was a threat to the image of the church. They used unbiblical means of intimidating and often traumatizing people who, when they were kicked out of the church, were never followed up on to minister to their pain. He placed a person who had little pastoral experience as the head of the Pastoral Team. This, by the way, is further evidence of what a NDL leader tends to do. This man was a Medical Doctor by profession, not experienced in pastoral care of a congregation. BH favored recruiting people that had success in the marketplace or professional positions, because this enhanced the appearance of the staff who were high profile recruits. The narcissistic elements of this are essentially the ability to say “see, people who are highly successful in other areas of life are willing to sacrifice that and work for me”. 

-BH used lawyers to scare and intimidate people. Here is further evidence of BH’s deep hypocrisy- During one of the family meetings when he was defending himself against all the “bold faced lies” of the women who had come forward to expose his sexual sinfulness, BH was asked, “why don’t you call them and talk about things with them to seek to reconcile”. His response was, ”There are lawyers in the way of me doing that. You know how lawyers are. I wish that we did not have to deal with lawyers”. But there is evidence that he would have highly threatening letters sent from lawyers telling people they could get arrested if they set foot on WCCC property. The attorney that signed the letters rubber stamped them, not doing the due diligence to verify what the person was accused of doing.

-BH caused extreme anxiety in the lives of those who produced the services at WCCC. Many can relate that they developed physical, stress related problems, due to the fact that BH would scold or criticize them if some aspect of the service went wrong (microphones were off when they should have been on). 

I can go on about the bad practices that were essentially ways that BH managed the church in deceptive and manipulative ways. Why did so many shrink in deference to him? If Christ was the foundational DNA of WCCC, would any of the above behaviors have been tolerated? The truth is that BH had a powerful, mesmerizing influence over the church. When discussing WCCC one did not think of a church that Christ has built, but instead thought of BH. One could not separate WCCC from BH. Wrong rock.

I have not heard many  leaders at WCCC publicly acknowledge that they participated in maintaining BH’s ability to rule the way that he did. If they cannot acknowledge this how can we trust that they have the current wisdom to know what Biblical leadership is all about?

 

Willow Creek Community Church: A Cautionary Tale (Section 1)

 

 

This blog is long so I am breaking it up into sections This is section one.

 

The revelation of sexual abuses by Bill Hybels (BH) and organizational abuses perpetrated both by BH and multiple staff at Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) begs an analysis of how did things evolve to the point at which we find ourselves? Was WCCC a church or a para-church organization that provided a range of Christian products, from evangelism to social services? If it is just an organization providing Christian focused programs, then our analysis of it as a church would be wrong. But it proclaims itself as a church, and as such, declares to the world that this is what the  Church of Jesus Christ looks like. It is against the measure of a Biblical view of the church that a critical analysis can be justified.

 

Wrong Rock

Was WCCC built on the right rock?

Matthew 16:13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter,[b] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[c] will not overcome it.

Jesus spoke in the language of wisdom, which was often cloaked in parables. The disciples were common men, fishermen mostly, who were grounded in the earthy elements of life, and so were able to follow the often nature based teachings of Jesus. The passage above shows the complexity of how Jesus challenged the disciples to grapple with the way that wisdom is portrayed, always in a process that involves pushing below the surface meaning of things to the deeper revelation of truth. In this passage we see this progression. The earlier verses  (Matthew 16:5-12) discussed bread and yeast. The surface focus was on bread and the disciples struggled with understanding what the meaning of this was.  But as Jesus continued to challenge them, they slowly descended to grasp the deeper meaning of what Jesus was teaching. They came to recognize that they must be aware of the penetration of “yeast” which, on a physical level, activated the process by which bread is leavened, but, on a spiritual level, represented allowing any teaching to penetrate their thinking about who Jesus was, and what His Kingdom was about. As with yeast and and how it causes bread to expand, if the “yeast” of false teaching penetrates the church, it could leverage the growth of the church in unhealthy ways. Jesus challenged them to be on guard and vigilant, so that they could first recognize unbiblical teaching, and then, resist its’ entry into their understanding of truth.

It is in this context that Jesus asks Peter to answer the question of who He was. Jesus was testing the disciples to see if they knew the truth that He had been teaching them. When Peter replied that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah and the Son of God, Jesus knew that Peter understood the truth. It was upon the rock of his understanding that Jesus declared that His church would be built. It was not based on the biological lineage of Peter, but instead the spiritual lineage of all those who recognized that Jesus and His Kingdom would be the stone upon which the builders would erect the church.

Jesus called the disciples to be vigilant so that they could recognize any teaching that veered from the truth. The “yeast” of false truth could slip so easily into the minds of men that they must be clear first, of what the truth is, and secondly, to combat its’ influence in the church. The disciples so knew who Jesus was and what His character was like and what His vision was, that they could discern if a “church” were to be built that significantly varied from this model. They were, as I believe all leaders in the church are, given the responsibility to discern whether or not the church was progressing consistent with having Christ as the rock and foundation. 

This biblical teaching informs the evaluation of what happened at WCCC. Essentially, WCCC was built on the wrong rock, the wrong person, and the wrong vision of what Jesus’s Kingdom was all about. It was built upon the personality of a flawed human being, and it unfolded around the limitations that were inherent in a broken and sinful humanity. And the cautionary tale is that the leadership, who were essentially like the disciples, did not recognize the “yeast” of untruth. They either did not see or were powerless to alter where this leader was creating a vision that unpacked the brokenness of his life more than the understanding of how Jesus was to be the rock around which all things in the church were erected. They have a level of culpability around their failure to adhere to Jesus’s admonition to be vigilant in order to identify and stand against the “yeast” of false teaching,  If current and past leadership individuals were honest, they would publically repent of their failure to either recognize the false truth of a church built around the personality of a man, or their timidness in confronting the sin that should have been evident in their midst.

 

Flawed DNA 

Another way of looking at how a church can be formed around the brokenness of a man verses being constructed with Christ as the center, is the example of DNA.

For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. I Corinthians 3:11    

The twin towers have fallen. Although this writing is about Willow Creek Community Church, the same dynamics apply to Harvest Bible Chapel. Two charismatic leaders with deep character flaws have steered the construction of their churches around the pathology of their personality disorders. Two churches  were successful in having  individuals buy into a narcissistic leader driven picture of church and served as the attendants to the deeply flawed vision of celebrity pastors. The falling was inevitable if you believe scripture, which, as the verse above clearly establishes, declares that the church can only last when it is built on its’ founder and architect, Jesus Christ.  

The heavens declare the glory of God… Psalms 19:1. We can see God’s design in nature, where He reveals his awesome creativity. When DNA was discovered, it was like science had peeled back the deep mystery of God’s plan for the unfolding of life.  DNA reflected the way that God shows that life and design occurs before its unfolding, consistent with the blue print of how life gets revealed. DNA determines, with some exceptions due to environmental factors, what the fully unfolded image of life will look like.  

For the most part, DNA as the deep mystery of God’s imprint on life, determines what gets revealed. In the body, the genetic blueprint guides the building process of the biochemical structure of formation. If, for some reason (this is where we understand original sin as having penetrated even the biochemistry process) a person’s DNA has chromosomal damage, the external unfolding of life will reflect the unique mutation of the genes. All manner of characteristics can unfold that veer the manifestation of life from the perfection that healthy DNA would reflect, to the limitations we see in people with physical or intellectual deficits.  

This understanding of DNA can inform one as to how WCCC unfolded. If Jesus Christ was the foundation of the construction of the church, it would unfold as the pure and perfect reflection of all the vision and values that Christ had for the church. Ephesians 2:20 further illustrates the concept of how the unfolding of a building or organization is based on foundational guidelines.  

…built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. Eph. 2:20 

The cornerstone can be likened to the idea of DNA. It guides the construction of the building that unfolds. Cornerstones set the direction of the building, keeping it level and square, so that what rises above is solidly anchored and strong.  

When it comes to the church, scripture clearly says that Christ alone must be the foundational stone, or DNA, used for the construction of the church. If it is faithfully used as the blueprint, the unfolding of the church will look consistent with the original creative intent of the founder. It will, in a deeply spiritual way, be the incarnation of Jesus, living out publically the character and behavior of Jesus. Interestingly this verse also talks about the apostles and prophets who, as they are faithful to building the church on the Christ centered DNA/cornerstone foundations of the church, will steward the design and construction of the church to be a reflection of the intent of the architect and founder. Those with discerning wisdom, will look at whether the formation of the church is varying from the blueprint, or the spiritual DNA of the architect, Jesus Christ.

 

Any church built upon a flawed and broken person is destined to fail. Only Christ’s church will prevail. The gates of hell will not prevail against it and a church built on the flawed spiritual DNA of a man or woman will not be allowed by Christ to succeed long term. The church is the most evident concrete manifestation of who Christ is and how Christ followers are to live. Because of this, a church built on the wrong foundation, cannot and should not continue.   

In a nutshell, the spiritual DNA of both WCCC and Harvest, unfolded around the flawed design of broken men.  (continued)