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.


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.


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, 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.


Just joined this group. I have a post on my general Facebook page about the narcissistically driven leader and how they construct organizations around their core pathology. Willow Creek is a clear example of this process.

I have been deeply concerned about the way that the church leaders have handled this. At the same time, though, it is inevitable that they would handle it this way because it is the way these organizations go into self preservation mode. I wrote the following and will share it here.

I decided to write my thoughts relative to the Willow Creek CC Elders’ decision to engage a conciliatory organization to respond to the issues of allegations of sexual abuse by the senior pastor, Bill Hybels. These are only my observations from my experience. It came as no surprise to me that the principle victims in this situation recognized it as a colossal miss. From my perspective as a clinical psychologist and someone who has worked with multiple people that were employed by Willow Creek, this strategy came as no shock to me as it is consistent with the dynamics of the organizational structure of the church. I have elsewhere detailed the forces at work in an organization that was authored by a narcissistically driven leader (NDL) who constructs the elements of the organization around the core pathology of that leader. I will share first what underpins the view that the organization itself has structural components that support abuse of power, and then finish with my thoughts about the premature emphasis on reconciliation.

My access to the inner working of the environment at Willow through the stories told me in my office by workers who felt judged, bullied, shamed, and often fired due to their somehow not living up to the perfectionistic demands of the church gave me a layered understanding of the abuse of power at the organic level of the church. Coupled with the fact that those who were let go with questionable explanations were bridled by non-disclosure agreements tethered to severance packages exposed the ways that the sometimes-abusive practices of the church were hidden. My experience was that there were “many emotionally and spiritually wounded and dead bodies” littering the history highway of Willow Creek where none of these bruised individuals had a place (other than my office) to share their stories. It became clear that image trumped empathy, and that the maintenance of a perfect exterior was done at the expense of the painful discarding of real human beings.

Another tactic used to repress and contain anything that might threaten or tarnish the image of Willow is the frequent use of intimidation via the legal scare tactics. Numerous individuals who attended the church were served (notice the criminal parallels) with letters signed by a leader and a member of the legal firms employed by Willow indicating that the person must cease and desist or must not enter the property of the church due to some infraction done by the person served. Some of these may have been legitimate but many that I know about were sent without fact checking and resulted in huge trauma to those receiving these intimidating letters. Even when it was pointed out that the charges were false, the church failed to repent and ask for forgiveness, leaving these individuals with fear and anger. The image, and more than likely, the financial vulnerability of the church was put before the consequences to the souls of attenders. In addition, there was no follow through to shepherd these abused individuals through the resulting pain and struggle. I personally got involved in extensive communication to Bill, Steve, and Heather regarding one particularly egregious abuse of a women in the church and this was met by minimization, seeking to control the process, the excuse of “I do not have margin for this”, failure to follow through on a Matthew 18 procedure, and my giving up when it appeared that the church was not going to substantially address the problem.

The need is for institutional brokenness and confession of sinful practices and making amends to numerous individuals who have been damaged by this process. Will the institutional repentance occur? We shall see. Also, elders of Willow, can you disclose how much money has been paid to legal firms for all the non-disclosures and intimidating letters that have been sent? How about transparency? At the first church family meeting by the elders after the March 23 disclosure, I remember that the idea of reconciliation with the “errant” former members that brought the charges was discussed. The excuse was that the lawyers are involved. Interesting to use the lawyers as an excuse but not pointing out the use of lawyers when it was in the interest of the church or leader. Double standard?

As long as I have been involved at our church, which is almost 30 years, Willow Creek has always emphasized excellence. This has been rationalized as being the result of putting God’s product, the church, out there as reflecting the best that the world can observe. I have always felt that given the NDL foundation of the leader, it really was about creating clothes that looked good and hid the brokenness of the leader. Since all the perfection was embedded in “God talk”, it was hard to differentiate the pathology from the virtue. It is only in looking at the dark and foreboding way that this external “God-good” was repressively maintained that it becomes evident that the perfectionist drive was coming out of the shadow of the leader.

It has been obvious to anyone on the inside of Willow Creek that Bill had (may still have) huge power and control. His imprimatur is stamped on everything. Even the elders were “fits” with his needs and seemed to operate in sync with his expectations. By force of his charismatic personality, he collected around himself a cadre of those who had a deep sense of psychological indebtedness to him. The result has been that these individuals seem to be rapturously fawning in their deference to him. Stories of conflict between Bill and personnel in the church are replete with awareness that Bill could dominate and get his way.

So, it is no deep mystery as to why the church elders have arduously resisted doing what they need to do to deal with this situation of alleged abuse. There appears to be a motivation of all that are in Bill’s debt to preserve a possibility that Bill is not what these allegations imply; thus, if it can be framed as a conflict needing reconciliation, then it preserves a sense of equality of responsibility that lessens the potential culpability of a leader that they cannot embrace as having done something so unilaterally wrong. They have protected the image of Bill, who they obviously see as the architect and virtually “owner” of the church. It can never be said that Willow Creek has not done a phenomenal job in multiple areas of Christ’s kingdom and Bill has been used by God in incredible ways. But success can often be the biggest blinder to seeing and dealing with the failures in some areas of the church or the leadership. Success should never insulate the church from ownership of its own brokenness, or that of its’ leaders.

It seems as if the elders cannot stomach the hard task of holding this particular leader accountable. Bill may be gone out of leadership, but the long reaching psychological arm of his influence still appears to control the process. Until the elders learn to differentiate themselves from who they are as seeming attendants to Bill’s charisma, they will not focus on the true issue, which is demonstrating that they will protect the victims, and by extension the members of the church, more than they will protect the shattered image of the leader. The whole unhealthy process by which, through intimidation strategies, the image or brand of the church has been focused on more than the health of the members, must be deconstructed.

A new approach that allows the church to embrace brokenness and be managed by grace must be implemented if anything is to be learned from the trauma of this whole situation. In addition, do not try to make the victims feel guilty by portraying them as obligated to reconcile. A thorough and neutral investigation must be undertaken if the elders want to create a true foundation of trust. Focusing on reconciliation so misses the intermediary step needed to show that the women are taken seriously. We would never ask a child that was abused by an adult to reconcile with that adult. Protect the victims. Protect the sheep and not the errant shepherd.

Bad Acts

Listening to the latest update two things came to mind. Number one the management of this whole situation is, as I have indicated earlier, congruent with an organization whose identity is so fused with the founder that they can not separate themselves from the underlying indebtedness they have to BH. He basically chose them, groomed them to follow his vision, and now they cannot create an independent investigation that might implicate him. He has always controlled the process, and the elders who govern with his methods are following suit. They set up this flawed process whereby women must contact a conciliation organization that has past ties to Willow. Making the conditions untenable, when the women who have been abused refuse cooperation, they can then step back and say basically “we gave them the opportunity but they have not cooperated so what can we do?”. I think the elders would rather die than submit to what they may view as the conditions of the abused women, which would be engaging a truly independent expert in sexual abuse in the church. By setting things up the way that they have, they have insured that Bill is protected while they can say that they did something. 

Secondly, is it me or does the secular world not do a better job at holding men accountable for their sexually abusive behavior? When Harvey Weinstein (sp?) was accused by numerous women of a pattern and practice of abusive behavior, did not the press and public have confidence that these things in deed happened? The accusations brought against Bill follow a pattern and practice that has been shared by at least 9 women that I have heard of at this point. In courts of law the historical “bad acts” of a defendant can be used as corroborating evidence of guilt. When multiple witnesses say basically the same thing describing similar acts the confidence level goes up that the person actually did the behavior that they were accused of. If this was a secular news item most people, due to the overwhelming amount of evidence, would conclude that the women were telling the truth. Should not the church, who supposedly is committed to truth, not show the world that they are willing to call sin sin and stop protecting the image of the leader?



If you were not able to read my post from a few weeks ago on my home page I am going to put it on this site to give context to my previous posts. It is doubtlessly true that both Bill’s and the church leaders’ inability to embrace the sin of abusing these women is due to the narcissistic elements of the church’s structure. Narcissists view life in binary ways, where they are either all right or all wrong. The greys of personal brokenness cannot be acknowledged because they expose the self to the judgement of critics. So they will irrationally metaphorically “kill” the victims in order to diminish the legitimacy of their accusations. The outer bubble of perfection can be poked in such a way that the self would collapse if sins “flaws”are acknowledged and repented of. So here is my assessment of the organizationql context of how I see Willow responding to this whole situation

I will give this caveat. This is my conclusion based on my observation and experience.This is long so bear with me.

In light of so many public revelations of indiscretions by individuals with a position of power in the recent months, I have summarized my thoughts on the subject.

As a systems oriented psychologist, I am fascinated by the way that organizations get constructed. This is true whether it be a family, an organization, or a church. I am particularly aware of the systemic elements in organizations that are constructed around the vision of a narcissistically impaired individual. Here is a summary of issues in this kind of organization.

The common factor in all of the cases of abuse of women, whether it is Bill Cosby or church leaders, is the concept of entitlement and the abuse of power. This attitudinal assumption is embedded in a narcissistic component of a successful person’s personality. Narcissism is a characteristic of personality that is best understood by the development of a sense of one’s specialness. Narcissism can develop as a result of two major developmental influences. One is an environment that elevates a child to a place of unwavering status where they are unconditionally valued and deserving only of positive responses. The other path is the one where narcissistic traits develop as a defense mechanism to protect the child when they are the object of shame producing parental figures, who demand perfection and get angry when it is not pursued.

Narcissistic qualities are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is often essential for a person to believe that they have what it takes to create success. These persons believe that they have a certain specialness that gives them a confidence to take risks and to gather people around them who get on board with the special vision of this kind of leader. The other edge of the sword is the fact that leaders with a narcissistic aspect to their personality contain a shadow component that is the seed of their own destruction.
Narcissistically Driven Leaders (NDL) tend to encase their lives and their organizations in a cloak of their own pathology. They see themselves as special and they believe that their creation, whether it is a church, an organization, or a career, must reflect the perfection of their own need to project this kind of image. Their force of personality generates high levels of control in the service of perfectly creating a vision of success. This kind of leader gathers around them those who get enamored by the success of the NDL and want to be an attendant to his successful vision. Think the Emperor who wore no clothes.

NDLs create organizations around their own pathology. Since the NDL has some deep shadow need to be special, often to prove their worth to a demanding parent, they drive an organization to reflect that specialness and push for results-oriented outcomes. They are often insensitive to the process of an organization, the organic interplay of complex human interaction, where empathy is critical, but rather drive others to adopt and implement their vision. The organization becomes the clothes of the Emperor, and they must look good. This is not a collaborative process, but rather one dependent on those willing to obey and cooperate with the vision of the leader. Narcissistic leaders generate a culture of fear, where failure is unacceptable, and the standards of the leader must be the standards of the attendants. Speed of the leader, speed of the team.

As the leader’s vision grows and becomes special and “successful”, the NDL starts to develope an insidious sense of entitlement. This is particularly problematic when the vision and the organization is the church. Where the NDL may start out idealistically and focused on the mission of their vision as being about God’s work, over time this line may get blurred. When the church gets big and has all the trappings of success, a subtle shift of ownership may occur. Since the NDL has driven the organization in his or her image, a sense of personal ownership may develop. “I did this, I sacrificed, I am the critical factor in this success, I had to drive this vision and get people to stay with the goals, I have worked tirelessly, etc.”

And so I am entitled. I can do what meets my needs and can contain any consequences. The NDL creates an insular environment where containment of any flaws or fluctuations from the intended vision get dealt with in a way that does not come to public awareness. NDLs may operate on the assumption that the “People owe me, are employed by me, have been chosen and groomed by me, etc”. And so, I can do what I desire with impunity. No one would believe anyone who challenged my behavior when it is inappropriate because I have blinded people to my flaws by creating an aura of my own perfection and success. Success can be the greatest deflector from inherent flaws in the NDL and the organizations that they construct. If someone criticizes an NDL, the leader deflects back on the critic by nuking their character in some way. Kill the messenger. Since the NDL often has a fragile core, structured around shame, they must overprotect their image, and cannot embrace the grey areas of their own imperfection. They may express rage due to an underlying threat to their very sense of self.

It is interesting that NDLs often self-destruct near the finish line of their lives or careers. That is because it takes years of building the edifice of their own success, and then, emboldened by their accomplishments they act on the fatal process of entitled behavior that begins to be revealed. After a while, the entitlement-based indiscretions or bruising of others start to seep out in ways that can no longer be contained. The container, either the NDL or his/her organization, cannot for long control the inevitable process that the fatal flaws will eventually crack the walls. And years of abuse then get revealed, either sexually or in the management of personnel within the organization. And their kingdoms collapse. They then are exposed in the most painfully shameful ways.

And for NDL men, the most common factor that brings them down is their tendency to play out their entitlement in the arena of sex and sexualizing women. Think King David. And NDLs do not surround themselves with true Nathans who speak into their blind spots. As part of the pathological selection process, the NDL surrounds himself/herself with those ultimately selected by the NDL who are so enmeshed with the NDL and the grandeur of their vision, that they have no platform of critical detachment. And so, sadly, without the purifying presence of those who can check the unhealthy management by the NDL of the organization, the house of cards eventually deconstructs. And it must because, particularly in the church, there can be no other foundation but Christ. The ultimate hope is that when these organizations begin to be revealed in their pathology, they can reconstruct, retain some of the good the organization has created, and fashion a culture that is more transparent and participatory.