Resignations at Willow Creek:  It’s a Start

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Don’t get me wrong.  Heather Larson and the elders resigning on Wednesday night, August 8, 2018 was a big step forward for the women and Willow Creek.  And I am grateful to God that they did so.  But there is still much work to be done.  There are lots of difficult challenges and choices ahead for Steve Gillen as the interim lead pastor.  We are grateful that he authentically gave hope to Willow Creek this weekend.

Devastating Congregational Damage That Needs Repair

One of my first concerns after Bill Hybels resigned and the mantle of ultimate leadership was passed officially to the elders was for the welfare of the congregation.  I attended the first “family meeting” when Bill and the elders declared all allegations against him as lies.  I watched as the congregation breathed a collective sigh of relief standing to their feet, applauding Bill and the elders for a job well done in handling these unwarranted accusations.  Less than three weeks later, the founding pastor of the 42 year old iconic ministry called Willow Creek resigned.  In effect, he has not been heard from since in the ensuing 4 months, except to deny any and all additional charges leveled against him by other women.  Tragic.

I wrote an email to the elders immediately following Bill Hybels’ resignation on April 13, 2018 entitled “An Appeal.”  In it, I sought to warn the elders of the potential congregational devastation that would occur on their watch if they did not humble themselves, come clean and tell the truth immediately.  Below is a short excerpt from that email.  I strongly suggest you read the entire second email.  I wrote to the elders:

You have thousands of people in the congregation that ONLY know what you have told them.  They believe you.  They are on your side in your public portrayal of the events. …

How devastated will those defenders of Bill be if the truth lies in options 2, 3, or 4?  Then, not only is Bill guilty of abusing his power with women, now he and you have perpetuated a lie.

We are now experiencing this congregational devastation in full bloom.  On Wednesday evening I witnessed people in every stage of grief when Heather Larson and the elders resigned.  

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I heard the Denial when congregants yelled, “No!” at Heather’s announcement that she would step down.  Hundreds, if not thousands of the faithful, have kept their heads down, serving as always, trusting, believing, hoping that Heather and the elders had and were handling the Willow tragedy well.  Wednesday evening’s confessions and apologies were a shock to thousands who trusted their leaders.

More than one person expressed their Anger towards me for what I have written.  I sat with advocates for the women at the Wednesday evening Family Meeting.  We were verbally attacked when the meeting was over, being told, “I hope your group is happy now.”  Our group happy?!  I was flabbergasted.  Certainly this individual should know better!  I told her that this was not about groups.  This was about the women and the future of the church.  No apology came our way.  Rather, a retort that “this has been so divisive,” a thinly veiled reference that the women’s advocates have caused this division. She did not see that it was Bill Hybels and Heather Larson and the elders who were at the very core of this congregational division.  The women and their advocates have simply been God’s whistleblowers!

Hundreds, if not a thousand folks, stayed in the auditorium after the resignations to talk and support one another in impromptu small gatherings, to use Kubler-Ross terminology Bargaining with one another.  A healthy and beneficial exercise to make sense of it all.

Others I know, didn’t even come to the meeting, feeling too Depressed, feeling overwhelmed and helpless as to what they viewed as inevitable.

And then there was a contingent of folks who received the news of the resignations with Acceptance.  They knew that this was necessary for the church to move forward.  They knew Willow needed a fresh start with new leadership. They embraced; they shook hands heartily, rejoicing that Wednesday evening was a very good FIRST step for the women and for Willow Creek.

Admittedly, I was a part of this last group.  But I also recognize that NOW the hard work starts.  And much work needs to be done.

FIRST THINGS FIRST

Before moving forward, the congregation needs to become unified again.  I believe this is job #1 for Steve Gillen.  The divisions are horrible.  Bill and Heather and the elders are the reasons for this division.  I believe that Mr. Gillen needs to communicate the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help him God.  As difficult as some of the truth is, the truth is what the congregation needs.  There has been so much misinformation shared from the stage and through the Willow website.  Most in the congregation have counted on these outlets to be their sources of “truth.”

That which has been confessed by our former Lead Pastor and former elders needs to be reiterated to those in the congregation that still refuse to believe that what happened on Wednesday evening was anything other than a railroad job.  The congregation must understand that Heather and the elders were not forced out of leadership for no reason. They earned it.  And their resignations were absolutely the right thing to do for the sake of the women and for the welfare of the church.

Mr. Gillen needs to help the congregation navigate through the five messy fluid stages of grief until there is an overall sense of ACCEPTANCE within the congregation.  Each of the stages is represented by thousands for those who call Willow Creek their church home.

More Confessions To Come

Yes, the elders misrepresented the women.  Yes, the elders misrepresented the former beloved leaders of Willow who became the women’s advocates.  Yes, they did poor investigations.  Yes, they did not hold Bill accountable well.  Yes, Bill is guilty of more than lingering hugs.  Yes, Bill lied.  Yes, Bill is unrepentant.  Yes, the WCA slandered Vonda.  Yes, the WCA echoed the false narrative of the elders.  These are but samples of what Heather and the elders and Tom De Vries have admitted to.  The yeses are many … but there are unfortunately more.

Throughout the almost 5 months of public discourse on Willow’s tragedy, other significant concerns have been raised.  Rightfully, nobody has wanted to detract from the main focus, the women’s claims of sexual harassment at the hands of Bill Hybels.  As the confessions and apologies to the women by Willow leadership are now taking place, it is imperative that these other significantly dark issues also be transparently addressed prior to Willow being able to move forward in a healthy manner.  

Steve, here is a sampling of issues that we need addressed, and where sin is in the camp, it needs to be rooted out:

  • Non-Disclosure agreements (NDA’s) — severance for silence, separation packages for silence.  I am aware of a Willow employee as recently as a month ago who “disappeared,” and has just surfaced stating that she can’t say anything due to a legal agreement with Willow Creek Community Church.  The history and cost of NDA’s to the parishioners of Willow Creek needs to be revealed.  ALL NDA’S NEED TO BE DECLARED NULL AND VOID so the ugly truths behind them will be revealed and so that history will not repeat itself.
  • Who / What departments have been behind NDA’s?  Did the Elder Response Team (ERT) play a role in these?  Was Human Resources complicit in administering these?  Were there particular individuals that spearheaded the dismissiveness and dismissals of Willow staff?
  • Requests made by Steve Carter that the elders were not able to accommodate?  Missy Rasmussen referenced these in her statement Wednesday evening.  What were those requests, and why couldn’t the elders accommodate them?
  • Who is the outside, independent governance expert that you have engaged?  Please be specific. Remember:  transparency!
  • What about former elder Rob Campbell whose current role is the pastor of Willow Chicago?  Rob was instrumental in the initial investigations of Bill when he was the elder board chairman.  He was on stage at the first family meetings giving testimony and color around the investigations that declared Bill’s innocence.  What is his culpability?
  • How much money has Willow spent on legal fees and outside marketing addressing investigations into Bill Hybels as well as constructing NDA’s?  The congregation has a right to know.  It has been their tithes and offerings that have financed these bad ideas and cover-ups.
  • What financial separation agreements did Bill andonion Heather receive?  Severance packages?  Pensions that the congregation will be paying on for years to come?!? 

Steve, there are many layers to this onion that must be peeled away.  Think: transparency.

THE FUTURE

Heather stated, “God has helped to give us a clear plan, and we have asked Steve Gillen to step in as interim lead pastor to set up the new pastoral team.” 

When a leader resigns due to failing to lead well, that leader does not get to set a plan for the future of the organization.  

Everyone hopes that Steve will lead the church well through this transition, but it is not clear what it means when Heather states that Steve will “set up the new pastoral team.”  Has he been assigned to choose the new elders?  Is it his duty to find a new Lead Pastor/Teacher?

Will a search committee for a new senior pastor of WCCC be formed?  Please describe the process that you will employ to select a new senior pastor.

By way of reminder, may I also encourage the review of all the ministries at Willow prior to seeking a new senior pastor.  Please see more detail in my post, “For Willow Creek to Survive …” 

The first step towards Willow Creek recovering was taken on Wednesday evening, 08/08/18.  It was a big step, a necessary step. There are many more steps to be taken. May we do so humbly, wisely and transparently, depending fully on the Savior who redeemed us and desires to heal our church beyond what we can ask or think (Ephesians 3:20).  We can only hope.

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Please be Advised:
Comments have been turned on to allow for respectful dialogue between readers on both sides of the issue. Comments may or may not be responded to by the author of such blog but will be moderated in such a way to provide a safe place for open and honest dialogue. Any comment that would hinder an open, honest, and respectful dialogue will be removed. Thank You for your cooperation.

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For Willow Creek To Survive . . .

The tragedy of Willow Creek continues to unfold before our very eyes.  And it is beyond tragic.  But there is hope!  Can it survive?  I believe it can.   Here is how:

Remember, Bill Hybels’ sin does not negate God’s work in and through Willow Creek.

Some wrongfully conclude that because the dark underbelly of Bill Hybels has come to light, the entire 42 year ministry of Willow Creek has been negated and its foundation was built on sand.  I don’t believe that is true.  The gospel has been preached over the years at Willow.  Thousands have responded by faith to the redemption that Christ offers.  Thousands at Willow Creek serve one another and the community weekly in Christ’s name.  My opinion:  gradually over time, as Bill’s stature increased nationally and on the global stage so did his propensity towards narcissism and his abuse of power.

Gradually, the worship of the ‘80’s and 90’s was replaced with the stage performances of the 2000’s and beyond.  Willow needs worship leaders that will usher us into the presence of God, worship leaders that know where we live in our daily lives and who have spent time in God’s presence themselves.  Think:  Joe Horness.

Additionally, Willow has always struggled with the proper emphasis of Scripture in weekend services.  I thought this issue was on its way to being solved with the REVEAL study 10 years ago when it was clearly revealed that Creekers wanted to be taught more Bible!  There was an improvement made, but gradually over time there has been a digression back to giving talks with only verses interspersed to support the talk’s topic. We need to first and foremost teach Scripture from the pulpit and show how it applies to our daily lives.  Scripture can be trusted to impact us.  “For the Word of God is alive and powerful.  It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow.  It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” Hebrews 4:12 — Think:  Don Cousins

The message of forgiveness through Christ has always been true, no matter the messenger.  The revelation of Bill’s corruption does NOT negate God’s work in and through those who call Willow Creek their church home.  

Heather Larson and the elders must resign now!

It is incomprehensible that the elders of the past 5 years allowed / encouraged / charged Bill Hybels to pick his own successor while he was under investigation for sexual misconduct.  What organization does that?  No organization, unless it is one that is run by an exceedingly powerful narcissist who has hand-picked his own lieutenants to do his bidding.  If secular companies would avoid such a grievous error, how much more a Christian church that is charged with reflecting the person of Christ?  Bill Hybels picked a woman to be the lead pastor who worked alongside him as executive pastor for years, Heather Larson.

Heather Larson has betrayed herself continually since the very first “Family Meeting” on Friday evening, March 23, 2018 after the first Chicago Tribune article alleging misconduct on the part of Bill Hybels.  In her introduction that evening, Heather alluded to a time some five years previous when she was warned to “get out of Willow Creek.” My first immediate thought: that statement was not vetted by Mr. Hybels! 

What did those people know that was so nefarious that Heather Larson should get out of Willow Creek?

She proceeded to say that God had given her peace about remaining at Willow.  And she went on to describe that the evening was designed not to attempt to change people’s minds.  They simply wanted to give information from the perspectives of the elders and Bill Hybels.

I was surprised that the elders called another Family Meeting to be held on Monday, March 26, 2018 … that meeting was videotaped and posted.  I watched Heather’s Monday introduction with great interest.  Would she mention the warning that she received some 5 years previous that she did not heed?  Nope.  No mention of the warning.  And gone was the unbiased introduction.  Rather she staunchly stated that she supported the elders’ investigatory conclusions.

She has continued the narrative of defending the elders and Bill … until she no longer did.  I will not recount her missteps here.  Others have done so repeatedly.  I don’t know how many ways and times I and others can call for Heather’s and the elders’ resignations for the good of the church.  

I must insert an update here:  While completing the writing of this post, an “Investigation Update” arrived via email from Heather Larson [8/6/2018 1:40PM], explaining the latest quest by Heather and the elders to investigate the women’s claims of abuse. The first thing I noticed was the lack of any mention of collaboration and/or approval by the women regarding this 5th investigation.  I checked to see if the women were aware of these new investigation plans?

Answer:  No.  They had told the elders that they had botched the last four investigations and while the private investigator came up with no victims nor evidence, Christianity Today, The Chicago Tribune and New York Times had no problem finding both.  The women have asked the elders to do the right thing and apologize immediately to all of the women and their advocates for slander, lies, and collusion.

My call for Heather’s and the elders’ resignations stands.

If . . . IF . . . she and the elders are more interested in the church’s future than their own, they would confess their miserable performance and resign.  

I have heard from many many Creekers who privately state that Heather and the elders ought resign.  Would that they now share their voices publicly.  

Our Great Healer

Creekers, Heather and the elders will listen to you, but you must speak up.  They equate your silence to agreement with them.  Speak up for your church’s future.

To Scot McKnight’s point, a transitionary leadership team could be assembled to provide the necessary guidance to move Willow into the future without Heather and the current elders — a little more on this below.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” – Psalms 34: 18 

May the abused not lose heart.

Willow Creek Must Put Bill Hybels Behind Them

Everyone agrees that so much pain and shame and confusion could be / could have been avoided if Bill Hybels humbled himself, confessed his wrongdoings and repented.  Unfortunately, as Dr. Jim Bedell has expertly explained, narcissism is one of the most difficult psychological disorders to overcome.  The narcissist’s narcissism keeps him from admitting wrongdoing.

To wait and hope for Bill’s confession is most likely a vain wish.  It is probably not going to happen.  How many women have to come forward?  How many psychologically damaged and bullied ex-staff of Willow have to reopen old wounds for Bill to confess his power-mongering?  The number is irrelevant.  Odds are … he ain’t confessing.

As is true for Heather Larson and the elders, if Bill cared so deeply for the church, he would see the damage he is causing and come clean, for the good of the church.  Unfortunately, he has only expressed care for himself and his own self-protection.

So Willow must move on without Bill’s confession.

Willow Creek Must Evaluate Every Ministry

Before Willow secures another senior pastor, EVERY ministry needs to be reevaluated. Does it reflect the heart and mandates of Christ in Scripture?  Or does it reflect the person of Bill Hybels and his personal interests?  This must be done honestly and without bias.  This evaluation cannot be administered by the faint of heart.  It must be ruthlessly performed.

Are there ministries that should receive less emphasis, more emphasis, eliminated, added?  Example: for 42 years, Willow has needed a ministry to effectively follow up and nurse the hundreds of new Christians that are born into the family of God each year. Should such a ministry be a priority in Willow’s future?  My opinion: Absolutely!

Only when these questions are answered is it wise to choose a new senior pastor. Willow must find a senior pastor that aligns with the church’s future vision.

The Willow Creek Association Must Go Back To Its Roots

In the beginning, the WCA sought primarily to reinvigorate church leaders with Scriptural principles along with Christian business people who lived out their faith in the marketplace.  But it has migrated over time to primarily hear from business people and their secular leadership practices that church leaders should take back to their churches.

The WCA is getting it backwards.  The church is intended to influence business with Christian principles for the glory of Christ, rather than business to primarily influence the Christian church with marketplace ideas.  We want the church to look more like Christ rather than Facebook or Ford.

Another recommendation for the GLS:  church and ministry leaders need to be honest with themselves.  Bigger and bigger can be intoxicating and seductive.  It is not difficult to claim that it is all for God’s glory, but in our private honest moments we would have to admit it is for our own glory.  The necessity for ruthless honesty and accountability within our ranks has never been greater. 

Are you taking regular contemplative looks in the mirror?

Are you inviting others to bravely speak into your life?

We have seen where neglecting these necessary personal evaluations can lead.  These are not optional. They are necessities going forward.

A Transitionary Leadership Team Must Be Put Into Place that also includes a Governance Policy Overhaul with Outside Accountability

Scot McKnight has called for this multiple times.  I am confident that there are national Christian leaders who would lend their wisdom and expertise in aiding a sister church in its quest to corporately repent of its sin and to move forward to reflect Christ to a world that desperately needs Him.

Additionally, a governance policy for independent Willow Creek Community Church must be put into place that would include outside accountability so that the tragedy we are experiencing will never again be repeated.

Don’t give up on Willow Creek, everyone.  I haven’t.

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Please be Advised:
Comments have been turned on to allow for respectful dialogue between readers on both sides of the issue. Comments may or may not be responded to by the author of such blog but will be moderated in such a way to provide a safe place for open and honest dialogue. Any comment that would hinder an open, honest, and respectful dialogue will be removed. Thank You for your cooperation.

A Live “Acknowledgement” at the Global Leadership Summit

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WC Elephant in the RoomP.S.  DON’T FORGET THE ELEPHANTS  

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“He who heeds discipline shows the way of life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray.”   Proverbs 10:17

I have become aware of some disturbing news about the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) 2018, and how it will be kicked off.

The WCA has made the decision to make a “live acknowledgement” approximately 10 minutes prior to Session #1 on August 9, 2018.  The webinar that described this announcement was directed to the host site producers and tech staff of the GLS.

The Summit is God’s Event

By way of introduction, the following statement was made on the webinar:

“First off, the Summit is God’s event.  It’s always been God’s event, not about one person.  So it’s not something that we felt the ministry had to pause for a year.”

This statement is fraught with troublesome issues.  Several inferences are obvious:

  • The WCA is reassuring the host sites that remain that they are participating in an event that belongs to God.
  • At the same time, the WCA implies that the host sites that have pulled out of the GLS have made a mistake by choosing to not participate in this event because it belongs to God.
  • By ascribing God’s name to and ownership of the GLS, one is not permitted to argue against it.  It compares to the age old dilemma posed by “that” friend who would say to you, “God told me . . . (and then fill in the blank).“  If God told that person something, then the conversation ends.  One can’t debate or question that which is of God.
  • The WCA falsely concludes that because the GLS belongs to God, they must automatically hold the event this year.
  • It could well be argued that if indeed the GLS is God’s event, the WCA ought to hit the pause button this year!  After all, God is the Defender of the oppressed.  The women have been oppressed at the hands of the powerful.  First, by Bill Hybels, and more recently by the leadership of Willow Creek.  Until the truth is revealed regarding the women’s claims, would it not be wise for the WCA to err on the side of caution and on behalf of the women who claim personal violation?
  • It is technically true that the GLS is “not about one person.”  But:

○ That one person originated the GLS.

○ That one person traveled the world representing the GLS.

○ That one person was the face of the GLS.

○ That one person was looked to by all other WCA senior leadership to give them their marching orders.

○ That one person raised untold millions of dollars for the WCA and GLS.

○ That one person’s own star power attracted other stars to participate in the GLS.

○ It is this same one person’s inappropriate conduct (while traveling globally on behalf of the WCA & GLS) with women (not his wife) that is at the center of the biggest scandal in the 26 year history of this iconic ministry.

No one but no one would ever say, “Michael Jordan was just one player on the Chicago Bulls.”  Technically true, but it would be disingenuous.  Michael Jordan was the Chicago Bulls.  And so it is also true:  Bill Hybels was Willow Creek Community Church and the Willow Creek Association and the GLS.  His fingerprints cover, and his DNA permeates every aspect of these ministries.

Transparency and Criticism

The WCA communicated to host site leaders that they have valued transparency, but they feel that transparency has resulted in them being criticized.  So, to avoid more criticism, they are keeping this “live acknowledgement” secret right up until the last possible minute.

First, this conviction that the WCA has been transparent, as stated in the webinar, contradicts what I have heard from the women.  I have spoken to the women and I believe their testimonies that the WCA’s claims to previous transparency are not true.

I wrote an entire email to the WCA pleading for clear (transparent) communication (Email 6).  When something is transparent, it is clearly seen. When words are transparent, the meaning behind those words are clearly understood. The WCA has not communicated clearly.  They have not been transparent.

Second, the WCA feels that they have been criticized.  I submit that the WCA has not been criticized.  Criticism has no redeeming value.  Criticism is a put down.  Criticism makes the recipient feel smaller.  What I and several others have sought to do in communicating with the WCA (and elders) is to instruct, give advice, admonish, correct. Correction has great redeeming value . . . if received and acted upon.  When words of correction and admonishment are NOT received humbly and processed by those to whom they are directed, those same words are often viewed as criticism by the receivers of those words.

“Instruct the wise, and they will be even wiser.
Teach the righteous, and they will learn even more.”   Proverbs 9:9 (NLT)

“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
but a wise man listens to advice.”  Proverbs 12:15 (RSV)

Third, it appears the WCA thinks they will again be “criticized.”  This time, for their “live acknowledgement.”  May I assure the WCA that:

  • There is no time like the present to announce their sorrow over how the women have been treated.
    • Apologize specifically to the women for each of the false accusations uttered against them.
    • Since you cannot prove Bill’s innocence, show immediate concern and compassion for the women as secular corporations have done.  Note:  you can only do this if the WCA and GLS have truly separated themselves from Bill Hybels’ influence as well as devotion to and communication with him.
  • They do not have to wait until August 9 to apologize to the women for any communications that have gone to other parts of the world supporting the elders’ initial narratives of Bill’s innocence and the women’s lies, and the former leaders’ collusion.  
    • Apologize in full for exporting Bill’s and Willow Creek’s narrative as truth to your global leaders.
    • Apologize for sending sales teams into the field to reassure WCA partners with that same false narrative.
  • They do not have to wait to announce they agree that a totally independent third party investigator with expertise in clergy abuse is needed to find out the truth behind this sordid affair.  
    • STAND UP AND DEMAND a gold standard investigation into all of Bill Hybels’ actions OUTSIDE of any construct from the WCA or Willow elders or Willow attorneys.  
    • Then let the outcome stand on its own merit.

These announcements could be made TODAY.  And there would not be a word of “criticism” from those who want to know the truth.

But it does not appear the “acknowledgement” will include any such thing.  If it did, it would be wise and advisable to make the acknowledgement NOW.  

As a former staff person from Willow Creek has communicated:

Willow’s leaders need a total commitment to discover truth and then do what’s right. They can do that anytime.  If they think the women are obstructing or lying, they should say it.  This can’t be (and shouldn’t be portrayed as — tho’ it will) a ‘negotiation’ between two ‘sides.’  It’s not about a ‘list.’  It’s about a will-to-truth that will be unmistakable should it ever make it to the forefront of this sorry story.  The women’s stories are already on record!

The House of Cards Narrative Continues

I have been struck as of late, how much great insight and wisdom and advice and admonitions, etc. have been offered to the WCA and elders since late March 2018.  These truths, many times difficult to read, difficult to admit, difficult to face, appear to have been largely ignored.  I have been told, “We hear you, Rob.”  I suspect others have been told the same thing.  Yet the narrative from Willow Creek platforms continues largely unchanged.  And when the narrative does change … ever so slightly … it causes MORE questions because the new narrative contradicts the old.

I have not forgotten about the elephants in the room from my first post.  I want to believe that the elders and WCA have not either, but all indications point in the opposite direction.  Please heed the hard truths and difficult discipline that have come your way these last 4 months.

Rather than address the #MeToo issue which is waaaaaay premature, in my view, how about addressing the subject of narcissism in ministry at the GLS?  Some session recommendations:

  • Identifying Narcissism in the Pulpit

  • The Almost Impossible Task of Holding a Narcissist Accountable

  • A workshop for elder boards dealing with a narcissistic leader

And whatever you do, please, please, PLEASE do not follow through with the suggested segment at the GLS addressing how men are not hiring women because they don’t know how to act around them — that men don’t want to put themselves in that vulnerable* position (*my word).  Such a segment would be the ultimate slap in the face to the women who have bravely stepped forward, the same women to whom the leadership of Willow Creek has vainly expressed their deepest care and listening (sarcasm intended.)

Would that the WCA heed the instruction, advice, and correction from the many voices that have sought the ultimate good of the women, Bill Hybels, Willow Creek Church and the Willow Creek Association.  To ignore a myriad of well-intended admonitions would indicate at a minimum, a less than humble and teachable spirit.  At its worst, it would sadly reveal a direct contradiction to the event scheduled just days from now that bears its name, the Global Leadership Summit.

Who will ultimately suffer if the WCA fails to heed discipline, and responds to this “controversy” with anything less than a fierce commitment to righteousness and the truth?

Who will be led astray?

What global consequences will result?

The need for true leadership from the WCA has never been greater.  May the Global Leadership Summit choose to use their influence wisely.

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Please be Advised:
Comments have been turned on to allow for respectful dialogue between readers on both sides of the issue. Comments may or may not be responded to by the author of such blog but will be moderated in such a way to provide a safe place for open and honest dialogue. Any comment that would hinder an open, honest, and respectful dialogue will be removed. Thank You for your cooperation.

An Open Letter to The Willow Creek Congregation.

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“The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.”    Proverbs 18:15

This blog post is addressed to you, my fellow members and attenders of Willow Creek Community Church.  

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Before you read this post, allow me to introduce myself.  After graduating from seminary I was a college chaplain and then a senior pastor.  I have been a member of Willow Creek for more than 25 years. During my tenure at Willow, I served as an intern.  I assisted teaching the spiritual gifts assessment classes. I have served as a marrying pastor, funeral pastor, small group leader, section leader and response pastor.  I have attended the GLS numerous times. Over the years, my wife and I have hosted GLS attendees from the U.S., the Netherlands (2x), and Namibia (2x). I have invited co-workers and family members to attend the GLS and attended with them.

I am jealous for Willow Creek Church!    

I have written emails to the elders, the WCA, and the Elder Response Team throughout this crisis beseeching them to be forthcoming.  I have had 2 phone conversations with elders. I spoke to one elder face to face after the last elder update. And I have had a face to face meeting with members from the Elder Response Team.

As the days marched on with no apparent resolution in sight, I have felt compelled to share more publicly.  

Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts with you.

Your brother in Christ,
Rob Speight (Sp8)

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Willow Sheep In The Storm 2

Since late March, much has been said and written about the players in the tragedy we are going through:  Bill Hybels, the accusing women, the former leaders at Willow, the elders, and the WCA.  There is one very important group of people who have been almost entirely left out of the conversation:  you, the congregation of Willow Creek.  You play an immensely important role in this crisis.  And that is why I am addressing you in this post.

B1BA453985F9473FB83C4A74AF54859CAs you are well aware, very soon after the accusations against Bill Hybels by several women were revealed by the Chicago Tribune in late March of 2018,  the elders held a family meeting for you so that they could address the allegations against Bill. 

You responded scripturally to your pastor and elders at that meeting.

  • “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account…”  Hebrews 13:17

It is a rare congregation that responds as well to its leaders’ words and place themselves under their authority as well as you do!  Throughout our church’s 42 year history, the congregation has trusted and responded to its leadership.  As a result, God has performed spectacular works that could have only come from His hands.

One would  assume the family meeting would have put an end to any discussion on the topic of Bill Hybels being inappropriate in his conduct with various women.  The elders explained that they had performed multiple investigations over the previous 4+ years, and Bill was found innocent.  Plus, Bill vehemently denied any wrongdoing.  

THE INITIAL PROBLEM AFTER THE FAMILY MEETING

The beloved former leaders of Willow sought to have an investigation into the allegations against Bill Hybels for 4 years.  They would not take the denial of any wrongdoing by Bill as the final word. They believed that the search for the truth in this matter was not complete.  

Plus, a few of the offended women continued to seek justice for themselves and others.

What did they know that we in the congregation did not?

THE QUEST FOR THE TRUTH

1 — These former leaders continued to press for a more diligent effort to discover the truth.

Let me encourage you to read the blogs of these former leaders of Willow who we all loved and respected.  Click on their highlighted names below to find out their perspective.

2 — In addition, I felt compelled to email the elders as well as the Willow Creek Association during April, May, and June because I felt there were too many unanswered questions hanging out there.  My purpose was to be an additional voice that would seek to hold Heather Larson and the elders accountable.

Let me encourage you to click here for my communications with the elders, WCA, and the Elder Response Team.  They are in chronological order.

3 — There were stories being published of additional women coming forward to tell their stories of troubling interactions with Bill.  The links to those stories are below:

4 — Vonda Dyer has been relentless in her Twitter feed to advocate for the women, to link with pertinent experts on the topic of clergy abuse and to repeatedly call for a totally independent third party investigation to reveal the truth of what really happened with the women and Bill Hybels.  Let me encourage you to follow Vonda @Chelseaker

5 — Others have felt compelled to address this sad chapter in Willow’s history:

15
PROBLEMS THAT PERSIST

1 — Gradually, baby step by baby step, over the last 3+ months, Heather and the elders have altered their narrative.  It has gone from:

  • Bill is totally innocent and the women are liars … to
  • Not all of the women are liars, and not everything they reported are lies … to
  • They have expressed apologies of sorts to the women.  And they for the first time ever said that “Bill entered into areas of sin.”

This migration of narrative is very troublesome for several reasons:

  • It implies that there is some truth to the women’s stories, but we don’t know what it is.
  • It implies that Bill’s declaration that all accusations against him are lies — is not true.
  • It indicates that the conclusions of the investigations of the past (Bill is innocent of all charges) differ from the most recent attestations by the elders that “Bill entered into areas of sin.”
  • There continues to be obfuscation in the elders’ statements, because we don’t know what the phrase “Bill entered into areas of sin,” means.

2 — The affected women do not trust the elders.  And they do not trust the outside groups that the elders have chosen to engage them,  But the elders continue to put the responsibility of engagement solely on the women. This is not fair.

3 — Ever since this sad issue was brought to the elders, the women and the women’s advocates (both personal and in social media) have requested a totally independent investigation to be performed so that the truth can be discovered.  Yet the elders have denied this request at every turn. To claim otherwise is to be disingenuous. Every investigation so far has had fatal flaws in it.

A totally independent third party investigator with expertise in identifying clergy abuse is absolutely essential to discover the truth of this horrible chapter in Willow’s history.

4 — Willow Creek has been a champion of women ever since its origin.  The leadership’s treatment of the women who have come forward is a black eye to the church’s reputation and insulting and hurtful to the women.

MY REQUESTS OF YOU, THE CONGREGATION OF WILLOW CREEK

  • Please choose to engage with the insight and wisdom contained in the links in this post.
  • Share this post with all of your friends at Willow.  Remember, the heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out — Proverbs 18:15
  • Ask God to give you clarity of thought and understanding.
  • Ask God to show you what action He wants you to take.  Then be courageous and take it.  After all, this is YOUR church.
  • Finally, pray that the truth will be revealed and set everyone involved in this tragedy free.  This freedom may look different for each of the parties concerned.

Dark storm clouds have hovered over Willow Creek for far too long.  May God clear the ominous skies and cause the Son to shine more brightly than ever before over the ministry of Willow Creek.  Amen.

Willow Sheep In The Rising Light


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Comments have been turned on to allow for respectful dialogue between readers on both sides of the issue. Comments may or may not be responded to by the author of such blog but will be moderated in such a way to provide a safe place for open and honest dialogue. Any comment that would hinder an open, honest, and respectful dialogue will be removed. Thank You for your cooperation.

 

Trouble At The Global Leadership Summit

An Open Letter to Tom DeVries

Before you read my first ever Blog post, I need to introduce myself.  After graduating from seminary I was a college chaplain and then a senior pastor — both on the east coast.  I have been a member of Willow Creek for more than 25 years. During my tenure at Willow, I served as an intern.  I assisted teaching the spiritual gifts assessment classes. I have served as a marrying pastor, funeral pastor, small group leader, section leader and response pastor.  I have attended the GLS numerous times.  Over the years, my wife and I have hosted GLS attendees from the U.S., the Netherlands (2x), and Namibia (2x).  I have invited co-workers and family members to attend the GLS and attended with them.

I am jealous for Willow Creek Church!  

I do not personally have a dog in this race.  

I have written emails to the elders, the WCA, and the Elder Response Team throughout this crisis beseeching them to be forthcoming.  I have had 2 phone conversations with elders. I spoke to one elder face to face after the last elder update.  And I have had a face to face meeting with members from the Elder Response Team.

But as the days march on with no apparent resolution in sight, and considering the events of this past weekend at church and now the article in the Daily Herald about the GLS, I am compelled to share more publicly.  Let me encourage you to click on the link here which contains my emails in chronological order throughout April, May, and June 2018 so that you may understand my efforts to goad the leadership of Willow Creek toward resolving this crisis.  I have tried privately, and now I am trying more publicly.

Thank you.

 

WC Elephant in the Room

Tom DeVries, President and CEO of the Willow Creek Association, was interviewed by The Daily Herald newspaper July 2, 2018.  After giving accolades to Bill Hybels and expressing how he will be missed at the GLS this year, he states that they’re going to address the “elephant in the room,” at the GLS.  

What is the elephant in the room, Mr. DeVries, President and CEO of the Willow Creek Association?

Mr. DeVries identifies the “elephant in the room” to be:  how men and women work together in professional environments.   

So that is the monster issue everyone from around the country and world is dying for the GLS to address?  That’s the elephant?

That is the elephant that is causing
                                           a cloud of malaise
                                                                and division
                                                                                    and heartbreak
                                                                                                        and confusion
                                                                                                                 at Willow Creek Church?

That is the big issue that leaders from all over the world are eagerly anticipating the GLS to tackle?  Mr. DeVries, it pains me to say that you calling that topic “the elephant in the room” lacks wisdom and discernment and is not an example of exemplary leadership.  

That statement is a deflection.  It unfortunately accurately reflects how the elders have handled the last 100 days since the Willow tragedy has gone public.  

Willow Creek Community Church and the Willow Creek Association have not earned the right to address hundreds of thousands of leaders from around the world on this topic.  

Mr. DeVries, we are willing to listen to you address your elephant because it actually does have value.  But there are dozens of elephants in the room bigger and more formidable that need to be addressed FIRST.

There are BILL HYBELS elephants.
There are ELDERS elephants.
There are WCA elephants.

Below I will list four elephants in each of the above categories.  There are many more, but I will limit it to four. First address these, and then you will have the credibility to address your elephant.

elephant-transparent-background BILL HYBELS

  • The elephant of Bill lying when he declared that all the women lied? And that they were all lies that they spoke.
  • The elephant of Bill lying when he declared that Nancy Beach, John Ortberg, Nancy Ortberg, Vonda Dyer, Jimmy and Leanne Mellado, and Betty Schmidt all colluded against him?  He was the victim? (This is the example of leadership that you want to extol?)
  • How about the elephant of Bill refusing to confess his sin and ask for forgiveness from:

Each of the women?
Each of the beloved former Willow leaders?
The congregation of Willow Creek Community Church?
The global partners of the WCA?

  • And what about the elephants of the missing emails and texts and his abuse of power and … ?

elephant-transparent-background THE ELDERS OF WILLOW CREEK

  • The elephant of the first family meeting when they explained away all allegations against Bill and declared him innocent of all charges.  The elders deceived and fractured the entire Willow family that night.
  • The elephant of refusing to hire a totally independent third-party clergy abuse investigator to listen to the women’s stories.  Mr. DeVries, what are the elders afraid of? What might that investigation uncover that the elders want to remain hidden?
  • The elephant of refusing to say Bill had sinned until they were forced to by the courageous voice of Steve Carter, Lead Teaching Pastor of Willow, when he came forward on behalf of the women utilizing his own blog this past Friday evening 6/29/18.
  • The elephant of how poorly the elders have led and cared for the congregation through this crisis.  They have disqualified themselves. They are no longer trusted to lead. Yet they have not been humble enough to resign and thus retain at least a shred of dignity and honor.  

elephant-transparent-background THE WCA

  • The elephant of being a global megaphone for the elders’ narrative of this crisis despite boasting of the WCA’s independence from Willow Creek Community Church.
  • The elephant of obfuscation in the WCA’s communications with its global family and partners (I address this issue directly in my email number 6 to the WCA)
  • The elephant of deflection in the Daily Herald article which has spurred the writing of this blog post
  • The elephant of a WCA staff member slandering Vonda Dyer to a church in Texas to keep them from pulling out as a GLS host site and the WCA refusing to correct that staff member’s slander and offer a public apology to Vonda.

Tom, addressing “how men and women can work together in professional environments” does indeed have value.  But it is not addressing the real elephants in the room.

I am sorry, Tom.  This is not good leadership.  It continues the obfuscation that has defined the way the people involved have been treated for the last 100 days … and before, by the leaders of Willow Creek Community Church and the Willow Creek Association.  

Tackle some of the elephants I named above, Tom, and then it will be worthy of being called The Global Leadership Summit.

*****


Please be Advised:
Comments have been turned on to allow for respectful dialogue between readers on both sides of the issue. Comments may or may not be responded to by the author of such blog but will be moderated in such a way to provide a safe place for open and honest dialogue. Any comment that would hinder an open, honest, and respectful dialogue will be removed. Thank You for your cooperation.

The First 100 Days of the Bill Hybels Crisis

Email 1
Date: Thursday, April 5, 2018 at 3:54 PM
Subject: Laner Muchin

Continue reading “The First 100 Days of the Bill Hybels Crisis”