Whitewashed Tombs

Take Heed Willow!

What has happened at Willow Creek Community Church is a wake up call to all that focus on any other vision of the church than that of what Jesus has called it to become.

Matthew 23: 25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisee’s, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. 27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisee’s, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

WWJD

A popular but at times somewhat trite statement that floated around years ago was the WWJD- what would Jesus do? As I pondered the current Willow travesty, the idea of seeking to look at it as Jesus might seemed appropriate. What would Jesus think about what has occurred at Willow Creek Community Church, and what would Jesus do? Jesus, I would think, should be the foundation of any critical evaluation concerning the church and its function. Is it not, after all, His church? And so, should not the church reflect what He has called it to become? Novel idea.

As more and more stories are starting to pour out of the seams of WCCC, a picture is coalescing that paints a painful image of disease in the inner structure of the church. Women who were placed in vulnerable positions of being propositions by an out of control pastor, who assumed that due to his position and power he could manipulate women for his own gratification. Multiple stories exist where either attenders of the church or employees were dealt with in a way that generated pain and shame, all in the effort to “clean” the church of any problems that might reflect negatively on the public image of the church. An entity within the church, the Elder Response Team, staffed by “fixers” essentially used the bigness of the church to intimidate and eliminate any who for any reason presented a problem. The “problem” could be that individuals were critical of things within the church, and so were labeled as divisive and had to be scrubbed from the body of Christ for fear that they might be rable rousers and disrupt the status quo. Sounds like Jesus from the eyes of the Pharisee.

I have no doubt that Jesus would look at many aspects of the Willow image as He did the Pharisees. A whitewashed tomb, a beautiful looking edifice on the outside, but a collection of dead bones on the inside. The historical trail of the employment churning at WCCC is littered with the horrific pain dealt to those faithful employees who for some reason (not a good fit) were purged from the ranks. Many had stood up to unfair practices within the church, and many confronted what they saw as moral inconsistencies. They, who had faithfully served the church, were suddenly spirited away with their critical silence guaranteed by severance packages and non disclosure agreements. The wineskin’s have begun to hemorrhage with hundreds of stories of pain and humiliation at the hands of fixers and cleaners who purified the church of any and all who represented some kind of blemish to the perfect image that the church wanted to portray. Many members at Willow were traumatized by being told that they were no longer welcome at the church because they had done (or thought to have done, never verified) something that was a threat to the church image. These people were not loved and cared for and followed up on, but rather cast out. Blemish eliminated. So much pain. And these leaders are going to be held accountable and cannot continue in a new Christ generated picture of the church.

The architect of all of this was Bill Hybels, who clearly drove the construction of the church governance model to fit his narcissistic personality. The church was an extension of him, and since he personally pushed for perfection, he demanded the same from his creation. His sense of special ness, the core of narcissistic behavior, allowed him to justify reprehensible treatment of any who would not get on board with his vision and image of what the church should look like. He placed it all in God-talk, so that any who heard it second guessed themselves and had a difficult time detecting that it was less about God and more about Bill. He perpetrated the notion that the church should present the very best to the world. That, he believed was what would draw them to Christ. A beautiful, well oiled organization, that testified to the perfect ness of God. But the perfectness of God is not the church, it is His grace that is perfect, and the church is simply a representation of the transforming work of God with visibly imperfect people.

Repression

Top down management. Over time Bill collected around him people who bought into his vision and into his repressive style of managing any problems that would result in dirtying the image of the church. After all, the church was an extension of him, out there in the public where it (and he) could be judged. The church was the clothing of the emperor, in the metaphor of the emperor with no clothes. Anyone who judged the image of the church or the tactics used to create it had to be dealt with in a swift and decisive way. People who were the attendants to Bill had to buy into his vision of the perfect church and to retain their privileged position of leadership, had to remain silent. That is why Bill churned the leaders under him. As leaders grew in influence or insight, that might result in questioning the emperor, they needed to move on, go to new pastures somewhere else. Bring in a new batch of highly idealistic but naive leaders, who could not substantially see what was going on and challenge the vision and the repressive governance that sustained its’ whitewashed appearance.

What would Jesus say about all of this? There is no doubt that he would have condemned what he saw as the repressive wounding of the sheep to sustain the fragile image of the shepard. Jesus would have quickly discerned and called out Bill for driving a church agenda that was more about him than about God. He would have easily identified the hypocrisy of Bill’s wounding people to create an outcome that looked good but not was good. He would have told Bill that He is not pleased with creating a perfect church on the backs of countless people’s suffering. No the ends do not justify the means. He would have confronted and called to courage any who allowed the tyrannical practices of Bill to continue. He would have called out Bill’s arrogance as completely at odds with his modeling of a servant leader. He would have told Bill the he had strained out the gnat and swallowed the camel, when he focused so much on legalistic adherence to behaviors that maintained image, while focusing away from the behaviors that came from a broken and contrite heart. Jesus would confront Bill with his sexual violation of women who were made in the image of God and as such are precious and worthy of the utmost respect. He would have condemned the utter self centeredness and hypocrisy of someone who was placed in a trusted position, but then shattered that trust with traumatic self indulgence. Jesus would call out to all that give Bill a pass because of all the good he created that our righteousness (acts) are filthy rags and that the condition of the heart is what He values most. And above all, he would call out to Bill to repent and confess his sin and apologize to every women that he has sinned against!

Calamity

The day of destruction is, I believe, upon Willow. The courageous women who called out Bill were, I believe, the hand of God in this great winnowing process. When the storms come it tests whether or not the church is grounded upon the rock or upon sand. Many elements of Willow were built upon the sand of image and perfectionism. God has brought a great wrecking ball to bear on this situation, to deconstruct what was never His view of the church, and to reconstruct it on the rock of Christ. It is an opportunity for Willow to turn away from Bill and the image of the church that he perpetrated, and towards the church guided and constructed around His model of servant leader. Humility has to be the very most important quality, the litmus test, that is demanded of all leaders. Arrogance and indifference to the needs of God’s people must be rooted out at all levels of church governance. The church needs those with vision of how sinful, narcissistic systems are allowed to form and perpetuate systemic sin.

Fruit of the Poison Tree

The concept of the fruit of the poison tree is relevant to Willow at this point. The principle is that if a tree is poisoned, it can only produce poisoned fruit. Bill created a governance model that unfolded around his pathology. He selected and kept in place those who consciously or unconsciously bought into the image of perfection. The church is filled, at the upper levels of management, with people who “fit in” to what it took to sustain Bill’s narcissistically driven picture of the church. The Elder Response Team, in its current expression, is close to our conceptualization of the gestapo, who come in and intimidate and scare and drive out all that do not fit the requirements of sustaining perfection. The ERT must be dismantled and the people leading it must resign. They are responsible for much oppression and pain to many. Their style of purging the church in an unbiblical way is not acceptable. It needs to be replaced by a model driven by humility and compassion. This does not mean that true sin should not be confronted, but it needs to be done with the humble motivation of restoration, not elimination, of those who are caught in wrongdoing.

Galatians 6: 6 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.

The current ERT is staffed by individuals who many have reported act without compassion and certainly without the humility that allows one to recognize that we all sin and so should be very cautious about confronting someone else’s failure. These individuals have been Bill’s fixers, henchmen, and cleaners, and have not intervened with a spirit of restitution but rather of elimination. When your image of the church is perfection, you must drive out anything that threatens that image. When your picture of the church is that of a broken, but reconciled body of believers, the job of the leaders is to restore with humble compassion.

The current governance model is a poisonous tree and most of its fruit comes from that root source. That is why it is so hard to trust the decisions of any leader currently at Willow. They cannot be left in a position to influence the direction of the church since they have participated in a corrupt picture of what the true church of Christ must become. Bill created the church in such a way that it was dependent upon his and the leaders’s he chose governance. The governance structure evolved around his vision and values and have in place those people who will implement his picture. Can we trust them to have the discernment to make critical decisions about the direction of the church? I think not.

Matthew 16: 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17Jesus 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. 18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hadesc will not overcome it.

Willow must put in place true servant leaders who understand the daily need to surrender to the Lordship of Christ, and see their role as stewarding this precious bride of Christ to be inside and outside the true character of Jesus. They must, like Peter, daily be reminded that the church is built upon the acknowledgement that Jesus, not the leader, is the sustaining bedrock of the church. They will be wise guardians of what is of real importance to Christ. They will have strong accountability around them, where the benchmark of their success is the depth of their humility.

Whoever gets chosen to implement an analysis of the governance changes necessary cannot just be academic experts. They must be people that have both the spiritual wisdom and the capacity to understand complex systems to determine whether they are sustaining Christ’s vision of the church or some limited human image.

DESIGNATED SURVIVOR

 

Proverbs 1:20 Out in the open wisdom calls aloud,
she raises her voice in the public square; 21 on top of the wall[d] she cries out,
at the city gate she makes her speech: 22 “How long will you who are simple love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? 23 Repent at my rebuke!Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings. 24 But since you refuse to listen when I call and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand, 25 since you disregard all my advice and do not accept my rebuke, 26 I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you; I will mock when calamity overtakes you— 27 when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you. 28 “Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me, 29 since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord. 30 Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, 31 they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. 32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; 33 but whoever listens to me will live in safety
and be at ease, without fear of harm.”

For years I have been aware of multiple people who have called out the sin that they observed inside the structure of Willow Creek Community Church. I have written countless emails and talked to multiple people at WCCC about the abuses that I was made aware of with little in the way of acknowledgement, and certainly without any real change. In many ways, I believe that this was wisdom crying out to the leadership of Willow, but it fell on deaf ears. Rarely did the leadership acknowledge failure and they certainly were not open to change of unhealthy practices. So now WCCC is on the verge of calamity, experiencing the bitter fruit of their indifference to the cry for wise and humble leadership. Will God listen? I am not sure for the ones who have turned deaf ears on His voice. They have shown a pattern of indifference and have disqualified themselves from leadership. But who fires them?

In the tv drama Designated Survivor, the concept of what happens when an entire governing structure is wiped out is explored. It made me think of the current situation at Willow Creek Community Church, and how it reflects another component of the unhealthy governance model generated by Bill Hybels. As I and others have described, Bill’s narcissism motivated him to exert almost absolute control over the decision making at WCCC. The concentration of power in him and the elders guaranteed that no-one could fire him, because in reality he controlled the elders through psychological dominance.  They likely tried their best to confront and limit him, but his forceful and over-confident style likely wore them down to the point that endorsing his ideas was the easiest way to handle things. So, the way that the church governance model was constructed, guaranteed absolute power at the top. Who fires the elders? Nobody fires Bill Hybels. If the current elders need to leave, along with Heather Larson and a number of Bill’s henchmen/women, who fires them?

Bill Hybels knew that in structuring the church the way that it is he became untouchable. He was insulated from true accountability. So now who is the critical authority that comes in and cleans house of all the unhealthy personnel that Bill gathered around him as both his attendants and his protectors? Is there a designated survivor? Of course we could say God, but God acts through people. It appears that it is going to have to be a populist uprising of parishioners who become educated and motivated and demand action. Are there, among a young and potential spiritually naïve population of the church, those who would unite and cry for change?  This, after all, is Christ’ church and composed of Christ followers. We must pray to this end.

But if people rise up and demand the resignation of the leadership, they will need to know that there is some kind of transitional government in place. Otherwise, they likely will keep what is there, in fear that everything will collapse. What is needed, is a kind of shadow government to form, composed of respected Biblically sound leaders, who can stabilize the ship and give the church a rudder. Those that have awareness of potential leaders need to suggest them and seek to solicit their willingness to help ground the church. They could act as the designated survivors who come in, give direction in the restructuring of the church in a more accountable way. I am thinking of people like Don Cousins, as Rob Spreights suggests. They might be past leaders at Willow who got fired because they stood up to Bill over strong moral principle. At any rate, this transitional group can facilitate a new set of elders and new leaders. This step is important to have in place or people will not get behind the house cleaning that is needed. This group should have people who have knowledge of the dynamics of church governance and can critically evaluate all practices and policies currently in effect and alter those that support unhealthy control oriented management techniques. I imagine that attempting this kind of takeover would be confronted with a legal response from the current leaders at the church.

Again, we who are strongly calling for the elders to leave have to address the reality that getting rid of leaders is frightening for people. Even if they are corrupt leaders. So we who love Willow and want to preserve what is great about it must be taking some active steps to create this transitional governing structure. We can help alleviate people’s fear by providing an alternate solution full of people with Biblical integrity.

BUT HE VALUED WOMEN

On the surface the greatest contradiction of the whole Bill Hybels mess was his reputation for championing the notion of equality for women in the church. How could a man who spoke so eloquently and often about the value of women now be exposed as a serial abuser of women?

The contradiction resolves when one comprehends one critical difference between two words. Gives value vs. recognizes value. A person who has authority or essential importance can give value to someone else. For instance a king can give or distribute value to those under him. A boss can allocate a position of importance because they have  the authority to do that. So only a person that has the power and authority to vest another with value can give value. Recognizing value is completely different. For instance a good athletic scout has the critical capacity to identify the innate talent that a person might have. The talent was already there but simply needed to be recognized.

Bill Hybels is clearly narcissistic.  A narcissist lives with the illusion of their own specialness, that they believe is inherently existent in their being. This is not, in fact, true, but for all intents and purposes the narcissist believes it to be true. So the narcissist assumes that he has some inherent specialness that he can distribute to those around him by “choosing” them as special. They derive their value from the narcissist. The narcissist is so seemingly self assured and confident and often successful in some way that they are imbued with power from those that surround them. Those in the presence of the narcissist bathe in the sense of shared specialness conferred by the narcissist. They participate in the delusion that the narcissist has inherent power and worth and can, in fact, confer upon others a sense of specialness.

Bill Hybels gave worth to women. He did not recognize the worth that God, the only true giver of value, had inherently gifted to women as equal heirs to the Kingdom life. God alone said that there was no difference in the essential worth and giftedness of men and women. We as humans can, like the scout, simply recognize this truth.

So Bill, it so appears now, from the vantage point of his historical abuse of women, gave worth to women. But this kind of giving exposes the fact that it was not really about the women. It was about Bill.  Narcissist’s derive a deep sense of gratification in the knowledge that they are the “king makers” the power brokers who others owe a debt to for the privilege of entering their domain. Bill likely luxuriated in the awareness that the women that he lifted up were “his” women, who had to have such devoted gratitude because he picked them.

Who were his women?  They were not heavyset because being overweight was a sign of defectiveness. They had a certain physique that matched what he determined was a person who reflected his own need for self discipline. He knew that they knew they derived their value and position from him, further expanding his inflated sense of specialness.

When this distinction comes into focus, Bill had no contradiction in saying that he elevated the worth of women in the church. He did. The contradiction comes when the idea of recognizing the value of women is explored as a reflection of what God gives. It does not appear that Bill came from that perspective.

His treating women as objects for his pleasure is what is most telling of how he really saw the value of women. You do not force yourself on  a woman if you truly believe that they have God given value and dignity. You only do this if you narcissistically believe that you have given them value so they owe you. Sick to the core.

With this distinction there sadly is no contradiction to the idea that Bill lifted women up but then abused them. They were his, not God’s.

 

 

Slip Sliding Away

Word is that the Willow Creek Association will do a 10 minute video acknowledging the fact that Bill Hybels is gone and why.  They may spend more time than this but the lead- in video is an attempt to get this behind them so that they can move forward with the leadership summit.

So maybe ten minutes to explain away something so ruinous to the history of the GLS.  Ten minutes to quickly “acknowledge” the “controversy”. Ten minutes to explain away this annoying “challenge” that the WCA has been dealing with for four months. Ten minutes to make the “acknowledgement” that they believe they are forced to make. Ten minutes to somehow excise the memory of the man that envisioned and developed the concept of the WCA and the Global Leadership Summit. Ten minutes to insert a choreographed statement that is supposed to suffice and allow the GLS to plow forward. Ten minutes to so easily call the GLS God’s thing, in spite of the reality that everyone knows it was Bill Hybels’s baby, created, incubated, and nurtured by him as a crowning reflection of his leadership. Ten minutes to seek to distance the GLS from the man who spent 26 years providing “insight” into leadership issues, while at the same time listening to the input of countless speakers on leadership health. Ten minutes to essentially do what they must do in order to move onto the business of selling leadership ideas. Whatever the actual content of the acknowledgement, ten minutes seems far too little time to address the complexity of this situation.

Can this possibly be happening? The WCA is presenting itself as a victim of this “controversy”. They are minimizing this situation to a level of absolute pathology. To in any way try to characterize this situation as like a CEO gone bad or a pastor guilty of moral failure is so disingenuous as to be absurd. Bill Hybels and the WCA are so organically enmeshed that it is impossible to think of one without the other. He envisioned it, championed its’ inception and development, and was the principle figurehead from year to year. To act like he is just a pastor who may or may not have had moral failure is beyond incomprehensible. The very DNA of the GLS has BH’s imprint, so that when he leaves it is a cataclysmic shift that cannot be denied. Minimizing it as like any other situation where a pastor leaves should insult the intelligence of everyone that comes to the GLS. Do they think that they can in so cavalier a way quickly insert some minimalist statement about a man who created and was the driving force behind the WCA and the GLS? Apparently yes.

How about explaining to the thousands of participants how a man, an icon of leadership championing, can participate and teach about leadership for so long when he violated almost every healthy element of being a good leader? Does the WCA really believe that people are that naive? BH sat under the instruction of countless experts on what comprises a healthy leader and  organization, while at the same time using entitlement as an excuse for sexually abusing women. And he created a governance model that was as repressive as any despotic government structure. There are well over 250 stories (and growing)  of people who experienced coercive abuse either as employees or congregants at Willow. These stories are beginning to congeal into a picture of a ruthless leader who used fear and shame to impose his will on all that were subject to his authority.

Should the participants in the GLS be told about the real way that Willow operated? How can an organization like the WCA put on a GLS when it’s sponsoring parent, WCCC, violated so many principles of healthy leadership and healthy organizational structure? Should they be called out for this hypocrisy? ABSOLUTELY! But the poor victims, the WCA, are taking criticism for this “controversy”. Give me a break! Attenders should be warned that they have been led by someone who spoke about leadership but was not a healthy leader. How can this happen, that a leadership conference can be led by someone who was hardly affected in a positive way by the very conference that he created? This man who is inseparable from the DNA of the WCA and the GLS is treated like a common person who can just be sent away with very little in the way of an explanation for the complete hypocrisy of the whole sordid situation. The WCA wants to push through, make some bland statement that explains it all away, control the narrative, and then fast charge into the next chapter of the GLS.

Tom D basically saying that the attenders need the GLS is so wrong. What they need is an explanation as to why a man could supposedly lead the GLS for over 26 years while at the same time violate every basic tenet of healthy leadership. How about a session on how as scripture says we can be “ever learning but never coming to the truth”? The WCA has a responsibility to tell the attenders how they managed to allow this hypocrisy to continue. The simplistic way that they are trying to  slip slide this quickly by the attenders is simply an insult to the intelligence of all the participants and the rest of us that can see the bigger picture.

The current WCA leadership’s response to this travesty is in fact  an homage to the leadership model that BH actually created. You must choreograph everything. The WCA does not need to talk about BH’s propositioning of women  as some discrete act in the past, but rather as a reflection of behavior inherent in an organization that has perfected the model of how to get in front of bad press.

What is needed is organizational repentance. How about the WCA saying “we were complicit in the organizational process that allowed this domineering man to stay un-confronted with how his domineering style of leadership has abused people? Can the WCA extricate itself from culpability for their collusion in this process? I think they learned from BH how to spin things to minimize damage, paste the page down, and move on to the next chapter. But my understanding of scripture is that the whole organization should confess and lament and ask for forgiveness for its’ part in allowing a man to lead in a way so contradictory to the very principles that the WCA was peddling to thousands of leaders. Own your hypocrisy! Ten minutes!

What needs to be done would more likely take ten weeks to do an examine of the radical hypocrisy and collusion that the WCA is guilty of by its’ enabling of BH. The first nine weeks would be best served by prayer and examination of the core sin of the organization. The WCA should not get off the hook so easily by trite statements that “the GLS is not about one man”. But it was. Admit it. Are the WCA leaders so drunk with the kool-aid that BH has been serving them for years that they cannot step back and recognize that they have an obligation to explain the obvious dichotomy between the message that the GLS sold and the lack of ownership of those very principles?  Do they presume on the naivety of those who observe this process?

The WCA has to stop their paternalistic pattern of treating their constituents as essentially stupid. Any thoughtful person can recognize the fact that what the WCA preaches and what it does are two different things. Any thoughtful person can easily ask why the WCA was led by a man who violated the very principles that the GLS taught. How could he continue to act without being confronted? Who were the Nathans in this story?

The spin doctors at the WCA, schooled by a master, will seek to portray this simply as a discreet set of acts by just a mere pastor gone wrong. The WCA should pass out kool-aid while their statement is being read to symbolically reflect what is really going on in their handling of this. BH still is present in the way that BH’s organization seeks to cover up his behavior. Who would have thought that Bill’s construction of an organizational structure would eventually serve him well, by minimizing and clouding the real problems that his behavior reflects?

To the kool-aid drinkers the video scenarios could go somewhat like this:

          The WCA acknowledges BH’s behavior at the beginning of the GLS!                                  W huh!Got that out of the way. Please people pivot to the incredible content of             the  conference and do not ask questions about the obvious hypocrisy of the                 whole situation.  Amen? Now charge forward to new and exciting ideas about             healthy leadership!

It is only a remnant of the people who will call out this hypocrisy. In scripture there usually was only a small band of those who prayed and called upon leaders who had sinned to repent, confess, and turn from their wicked ways.

Chronicles 7:14 “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

The WCA must take the time to confess its’ complicity in idolizing and enabling BH’s behavior. They need to say “we allowed a man who had clear entitlement characteristics to roam without accountability, and this resulted in numerous instances where he acted in a sexually inappropriate way. We failed to confront him and hold him accountable. We were more afraid of Bill than of God.” This is the strongest argument that they cannot just look at Bill’s behavior as his own. It was the failure of the WCA and the WCCC that enabled his behavior by not standing up to his clear, long expressed sense of entitlement. It is like a family that sets no limits with a bully child and then the child acts out against a class mate. When I see that as a psychologist, I understand it as a system problem with systemic culpability. The leadership of the WCA has sinned as well, by knowing the entitled behavior of Bill and allowing it to continue to its logical end of hurting people.

But instead, it looks like they will take ten minutes to satiate some simplistic notion of only his  moral failure so they can sprint ahead to a “successful” summit.

Lord create in all of us  a broken and contrite heart. Break the heart of the WCA for what breaks your heart. You are a God of Truth and Honesty. Your heart breaks for the way this situation has been minimized, and Your reputation tarnished in the eyes of the world.

Time Should Not Heal

The problem at Willow is that they think that the whole crisis of Bill’s being accused of sexual improprieties is an event in time that with attrition will fade away. What the elders do not get is that the courageous exposure by the women of Bill’s behavior is a window into a much more systemic cancer that exists internally in the governance model of Willow. Time will not distance the fact that what remains is essentially a governance model that was created to give power to one elite leader and a group of elite elders who are accountable to no one. Now they might say that they are accountable to God, but if they are they cannot be hearing His voice. God would not essentially give a pass to a man who sinned against the dignity of women. A pass to a man who by his behavior disillusioned thousands of people who trusted him. A man who is not owning his own sin and yet claimed to believe in a God of grace and forgiveness. God would not allow leaders to craft a strategy to minimize the damage of a crisis situation by deflection, denial, and repression. So really, to whom are they accountable? BH crafted an almost untouchable governance model that is immune from culpability.

The elders should resign but they do not have the spiritual awareness that they have disqualified themselves due to a lack of wisdom. What is coming out, kind of pouring out of the seams of the church, are stories of repression and abuse. More and more people are feeling empowered to name what they experienced as the abuse of power from a powerful organization. We need to hear from many more people who have been traumatized by legal intimidation because they somehow did not fit the model of what Willow wanted to portray. We need to hear from more women who were propositioned or let go of because they did not cow tow to the demands of male leaders in the church. What is seeping out is a story that is not pretty, about a church that cared more about its public image than it did about it’s people. A church that employed people that labeled anyone who disagreed or questioned things in the church as suppressive. (Think Scientology, who called anyone who left a suppressive person).

What time will not heal is the systemic problems inherent in the church and from which behavior like BH’s grew. He thought he was untouchable. He thought no one would dare to expose or challenge him because he had won almost every other battle. Thank God for the women who stood up to the bully! It took so much courage to do this. Bill has so much influence in the evangelical world that they easily could have felt that this was career suicide for them. Thank God that they realized that they were not accountable to Bill or the elders but to God. And they have exposed the crack in the whole church foundation, which is not built upon the rock but on sand.

Those of us who love the church must have a sense of righteous anger that the church that Willow is presenting to the world is not the true church. The church that Willow is holding out to the world is one where image and programmatic superiority is more important than moral excellence. The true church confesses its systemic sins and models to the world that we are forgiven not perfect. It courageously enters into exposing its sins and shows how reconciliation follows a pattern of confession, and turning away from sin. But Willow has not confessed its systemic sins. It has not said to the Chicago Tribune that yes we failed, we sinned, and this is what we are going to do about it-truly seek forgiveness from those women that we called liars-really look at the ways we manage our church to root out all methods of repression of those who disagree with us-give people a voice and move away from an elitist, unaccountable leadership structure.

Those of us that see what has happened are like the prophets of old who wept for the people, for the church, and for its reputation as a reflector of God’s character. We are not putting ourselves out as superior but humbly seeking to avenge and protect the bride of Christ. We are not going away because the core problems that exist at Willow have not fundamentally changed. We love the church as it is clearly described in the New Testament and cannot abandon our voice in the wilderness call to the leaders to repent and turn away from what is evil in God’s sight.

The Elders of Willow Creek Community Church Should Resign

The Elders of Willow Creek Community Church Should Resign

 

No Confidence

When a body of leaders has acted in such a way as to lose the trust of the governed, they need to step aside. A no confidence vote must be enacted to point out that the actions of those in leadership are so egregious to the well being of the body of Christ that they must be removed. This, I believe, is the current state of the leadership of Willow Creek.

Wisdom

In looking at leadership from an elder perspective in the body of Christ, wisdom is the paramount attribute by which an elder/leader must be appraised. The reason that wisdom is so vital in the church is that it is the characteristic virtue by which the spiritual health of the body of Christ is assessed. From a biblical perspective, wisdom is a form of intelligence informed by years of vetting the values of life into two basic categories. First, the values of the non-believing secular world and second, the values of the Kingdom of Christ. Elders should have examined values over a long period of time conversant with the scriptures and have, like a sword, separated life into the two above categories. They should be able to quickly identify and call out actions and attitudes that conflict with the value system of Christ. In essence, elders are the guardians of the culture of the Kingdom and two supreme qualities should be evident in their administration of wisdom. First they must show discernment, which is the capacity to recognize and evaluate values based upon the underlying criterion of the Word. Second, they must demonstrate judgement, which is the capacity to act and determine  wise choices to protect the culture of the Body of Christ. The elders have demonstrated grievous deficiencies in this arena relative to the developing crisis of the abuse of power by Bill Hybels.

Rebuild the walls

In the book of Nehemiah there is the narrative of how the walls of Jerusalem stood in disrepair and Nehemiah grieved in anguish at the condition of the city and the people. He was moved to rebuild the walls, and showed courage in that process. Now the walls of a city in the Old Testament were both literally and figuratively a boundary that separated the people within from the people without. The job of the leaders, seen in the people of Israel, was to build those walls of protection, because they allowed the differentiation of their people as Jews from those who were often their enemies. The metaphoric link to walls in our day are the somewhat invisible walls that separate actions and values that are distinctly Christlike from those that are not. The job of the elders in the church “walls” is to be vigilant in their capacity to separate what belongs inside the walls (behavior consistent with Christ-like-ness) and what belongs outside these theoretical walls. And it was wisdom that allowed them to discern and make judgments and call out and protect against those values and behaviors that sought to infiltrate the culture of the Kingdom. That is why elders must have a deep hold on the Truth of the Word and an evident capacity to differentiate Truth from error.

Gates

So in the Old Testament, the walls were important to create boundaries of identity between the people of God and those who were not. Critical to the concept of the walls were the gates of the city walls. Gates were the critical entrance points through which anything from the outside would funnel and potentially penetrate into the inside of the city. It was critical that sentries were established that were equipped with the vetting ability to determine who was an enemy and who was not. Enemies could come in and plunder and kill and pollute the culture of the city in unacceptable ways. Often elders sat at the gates of the cities to serve as those who could separate friendlies from foes.

Proverbs 1:20-22. “Wisdom calls out in the street, she lifts her voice in the square, in main concourse she cries aloud, at the city gates she makes her speech: How long, O simple ones, will you love simplicity? How long will scoffers delight in their scorn and fools hate knowledge?…” Berean Study Bible

Four Breaches of the Wall

So, the elders are to be the gatekeepers, the vigilant and discerning detectors of that which seeks to invade and pollute the values and culture of the Kingdom. They are the protectors of the flock, of the people of God, the Kingdom of Christ. But in at least three crucial areas the Willow elders have allowed the breaching of the wall. This is the foundation for calling for a no confidence stance and asking for their resignation.

            Breach One- The elders have failed to protect the body of Christ by not swiftly placing Bill Hybels on a leave of absence while a clear, unbiased, and independent investigation went on to determine the extent of truth of the allegations of sexual sin. Instead, they caved to his overbearing personality and basically gave him the benefit of the doubt probably because they did not  believe the women. To allow a potential predator to continue in the body is essentially like leaving a wolf in the sheep pasture. Every women that has been abused by a man knows the terror of having to continue to live in the presence of their perpetrator. Protect the sheep first! This shows a critical lack of discernment and judgement and is reason number one to disqualify the current elders.

            Breach Two- The elders, during the time frame that they were “investigating” the allegations against Bill Hybels, allowed him to choose his successors. He was being looked at for impropriety but apparently his character qualified him to make a decision that would have long term future implications for the church. What organization would allow someone under the shadow of scandal to stay in a position of this much influence? Apparently, the current elders. What kind of wisdom informs that decision? Parenthetically, what organization has such weak leaders that they do not trust their own independent ability to choose a strong leader for their organization? A sub reason for disqualification. And could there be greater evidence of the narcissism that I have previously described then what we observed when Bill gave his retirement speech, saying that no one person could possibly fill his shoes and that they had to split the job in two? And then making the grandiose statement that the world had been scoured to come up with the two that were already in place. And those two were his personally selected attendants who would allow him to continue de facto control from afar.

             Breach Three- The decision to hire a reconciliation group to deal with Bill Hybels behaviors is the last major indication that the elders lack wisdom and therefore disqualify themselves from continued leadership. Reconciliation obviously (but not apparently to the elders) indicates a level playing field of responsibility. It so dilutes the responsibility of the offender that it is laughable if not for the sickness that it demonstrates. A wise and discerning elder would have quickly known that focusing on reconciliation before confession is not part of the values of the Kingdom of Christ. They would have quickly known that that was an inappropriate “getting the cart before the horse”. And they would have had the empathy to know how that would look like a slap in the face of women who had been so egregiously failed by a man they were supposed to trust.

             Breach Four-   A fourth indication of the elders failure to use discernment and good judgement. When it was shared during the first family meeting at Willow that the woman who had alleged a long term affair with Bill became suicidal they allowed Bill to counsel her. Now as a mental health professional I know that the assessment and treatment of a suicidal person is the highest risk intervention possible. Only people who are licensed and qualified by experience should have involvement with this type of individual. One of the highest areas of liability for a mental health professional is in the detection and best practices intervention with these fragile individuals. To allow someone who was the target of an accusation of sexual impropriety, even if it was subsequently recanted, to counsel the person doing the accusation is on its face irresponsible. To allow someone who does not have the requisite qualifications to intervene with someone like that is reckless at best. The church was placed in a legally vulnerable position by the elders allowing Bill to be the one to “treat” this individual. So unwise and a further indication of why the elders should resign.

The Dilemma

As Scott McKnight,  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2018/07/09/willow-why-the-women-went-public/ so eloquently explained Willow is an autonomous entity. As I have outlined, Willow was created around the core narcissism of its leader, so that he alone was the final authority in the governance model. A narcissistic-ally generated organization can be described using the emperor who wore no clothes story. To borrow a metaphor, the organization is structured kind of like how we have come to understand black holes. Black holes are at the very central point of a swirling of matter and exercise an enormous strong gravitational force on everything in its field of influence. Think concentric circles. The narcissistic leader is like the black hole itself, exerting enormous influence and power. He or she then has a ring of chosen leaders who have a great deal of power, but only derivative power from the leader. The elders and Steve and Heather are in this ring. The next circle out are the C level leaders whose power and influence can be great but again are derivative. Moving down the org chart are managers and then the people who do clerical work etc. As the circles get further from the black hole, the direct influence of the workers diminishes. The final ring in the circle are the congregants, and they can be subdivided into engaged and disengaged. The engaged people in the church feel connected because they are doing something to volunteer for the church and so feel they have a vital role. The disengaged come mostly for entertainment or passive learning.

So, in this kind of autonomous structure how can change occur at the top? Since the elders now have lost their center, who manages them? Who calls them out? Effectively they have no higher authority than God, and when they are following patterns that reveal a lack of God inspired wisdom who challenges them? The elders have shown a pattern of repression of Truth. When they are approached they basically tell people to trust them. Huh? The very fabric of wisdom has been breached and we are to trust them. Unfortunately they have disqualified themselves from trust.

Willow, in the governance model that it has developed, has concentrated a hugely disproportionate amount of power and control in a very small number of people. Mainly Bill Hybels. But when the powerful fail who are they accountable to in this structure? As Scott McKnight described, they have no higher denominational guidance. They repress truth in the interest of protecting an unbiblical set of values- that of looking good publicly and keeping the numbers up. Willow has used repression of truth in very strategic ways. Dictatorial and corrupt governments can use mass killing and torture to keep the common people from seeking change. Willow has used non-disclosures and financial manipulation and threats from law firms to keep people in line. Willow also keeps getting new and uninformed people who misinterpret real Biblical success from what they see on stage or in the programs of the church. These individuals would be the hardest to convince that something is deeply wrong at Willow. Fortunately most repressive organizations eventually foment so much discontent that they are brought down. It is probably going to take enough people who are discerning of the unhealthiness of Willow’s leadership, to demand change. The entire governance structure of Willow needs to be deconstructed and rebuilt on Biblical foundations and with people who have true wisdom as its leaders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ever Learning But Never Coming To The Truth

As I have observed the efforts to get churches to pause on their involvement in the GLS as an expression of support for the women who have been abused, another concern has been formulating in my thinking relative to the GLS. In all of my involvements as a participant in the GLS there has been a heavy emphasis on the impact of healthy leadership on the formulation of a healthy organizational culture. So how, with all of this emphasis and all of this championing of great leadership, has it been that Willow Creek Community Church has, at its core, one of the unhealthiest cultures led by someone who is even now denying wrongdoing?
 
How did a church know for over four years that serious allegations were being made against the senior pastor and no one in the congregation had even a faint whisper of knowledge of a legal evaluation costing thousands of dollars? The culture of patronization of the parishioners whereby only the elders or senior leaders know of these serious issues is incredible. But it is an expression of a pattern that has described the ongoing repression or suppression of negative information in the interest of only showing the good or perfect and hiding the ugly underbelly of the church. Since when is the church to only look good rather than being good? When perfection drives the image of the church, any threat to that picture has to be quickly and effectively dealt with by secretive actions by the leadership.
 
My view of the church from scripture is that it has a lot of ugliness. Lots of conflict. Lots of leadership struggles. Lots of sin in the midst of the people. Lots of power struggles and faction creating. And it was not hidden. Instead, it was revealed in all of its ugliness so real humans can look at the real human condition in the face of our sinfulness. Nowhere in scripture does it portray a fake, plastic looking body of Christ. Instead it reveals in all of its darkness the real human struggles of people who hurt each other and do things that must come out and be dealt with. In other words, the church of scripture did not hide but rather was transparent so that real healthy solutions could be discussed in light of our sinfulness and our need to grow in the fruits of the spirit. A perfect looking church can only be sustained in an atmosphere of deep repression and suppression of the real brokenness of the people who inhabit its community.
 
People have come and gone at Willow and nobody really knows why. Many leadership people who were loved by a great deal of the congregation, suddenly left. Questions were always formed as to why, but again the paternalistic attitude of leadership was one of just trust us. But many of us who know the insides of the church know that there has been some ugly conflict, ugly sin, and ugly repressive behaviors on the part of leadership. But just trust us.
 
As I have discussed before, silence was bought by severance and non-disclosure agreements. People were spirited quickly out of the church by intimidating legal threats because they represented potential ugliness to the church image. And the strong and dominating influence of the senior pastor set the tone. And now the ugliness of his actions must be repressed, denied, minimized, or allowed to fade with time. Same MO. The structural integrity (really lack of integrity) of how to continue an image of perfection is still at work. The leader groomed the current leaders, so this is all they know. Still shameful.
 
So does a healthy culture produce a perfect looking church? Absolutely not. The thing that makes the church so powerful is not impressing people but modeling for people pathways through ugliness and brokenness. Treating people like children who cannot know the pain or sin that goes on in the internal culture of the church sends a message that they should repress their own brokenness, and not bring it to the body of Christ. Confess your sin one to the other. Novel idea? No the core of authenticity.
 
How does Willow sponsor and support the GLS for so many years, and still maintain an essentially unhealthy culture? In our personal lives we would call this hypocrisy. So can we call out the WCA and the GLS and say walk the walk before you talk the talk? Do the churches and other leaders know the essential inconsistency that this models to the world? That is the problem I have with the GLS.