Featured

The Leadership Dilemma at Willow Creek

 

Image result for tiananmen square

I truly believe that the leaders of Willow Creek are good people.  When the elders met with Bill Hybels’ women victims over the last several months to hear their stories, I believe they were sincerely interested in supporting them.  These women and their advocates sincerely believed that the elders were at last going to tell their stories to the congregation and make things right.  After all, some of the elders wept when they heard their stories, their heads held in their hands.  But something seems to have happened to change the elders’ resolve as they wrote their last update and planned the Reconciliation Service.  

How could they give so much hope to the women victims of Bill Hybels and their advocates that they were going to set the record straight — and then fail to follow through?  What in the world happened during the time between meeting with the women and the elders’ “final public statement” and the Reconciliation Service that wasn’t?

THE NEW BOARD OF ELDERS

There is no group of people more aware of the details of Bill Hybels’ violations of the women than the new elders of Willow Creek Community Church.  If you have followed the Bill Hybels scandal and its aftermath, you know that the previous board of elders sought repeatedly to meet with the women victims.  They made many overtures to the women, and the women refused to meet with them upon every request.  Why?  Because the women and their advocates didn’t trust them.  The previous group of elders had proven themselves untrustworthy.  Some members of the previous board maligned the women and called them liars.  Some agreed with Bill Hybels, who accused their advocates of colluding against him and wanting to ruin his legacy.  Some defended the work of the first investigation into Mr. Hybels that concluded there was nothing to the allegations.  It’s easy to see why, disillusioned and disheartened, the women at the center of these character attacks wanted nothing more to do with that previous group of elders.

However, those women thought they could trust this present group of elders.  They were led to believe that they would receive a fair hearing.  There was absolutely no … good … reason for Bill Hybels’ victims to tell their stories to the new elders if they thought the elders would present their final conclusions to the congregation in the weak and tepid way that they did.  (Basically, the messaging in that meeting went like this, and I paraphrase:  Done!  Finis! We are finally moving on!  Willow can finally look to the future!)  Nor did those women victims expect the Reconciliation Service to turn into a mere “Can’t We All Just Get Along?” Service.  Their voices were ultimately stifled; the root causes of their torment were left buried under feel-good rhetoric.  No one mentioned sorrow, regret, shame, accountability, or even forgiveness, except in the most general terms.

WHO CONDUCTS THE FINAL FILTERING OF ORAL AND WRITTEN COMMUNICATION AT WILLOW CREEK?

Let me repeat the sentence with which I began this post.  “I truly believe that the leaders of Willow Creek are good people.”

So the question needs to be asked, “Why is there such a disconnect between who we know the leadership to be and what they said publicly and wrote in their updates?  We have sincere confidence in their characters and their desire to support the women We have been told that every one of them had to possess the character trait of courage to be considered to be chosen as elder in the first place.  Yet we are witnesses to a very awkward, un-courageous, and in the end an unsupportive approach on their part, as evidenced by their bland reporting and final “make nice”overture.

It takes neither a brain surgeon nor a rocket scientist to conclude that there is something else going on behind the scenes.  It has become increasingly obvious that attorneys are ultimately controlling how the Bill Hybels scandal is handled.

Who are these attorneys?  That is the million dollar question.  Up until now, I must confess that I have always thought they were just WC attorneys.  There is no doubt that those folks are engaged in providing guidance.  But I believe that the evidence alluded to above, suggests the involvement of other attorneys as well.

In addition to WC attorneys, it appears to me there are Willow Creek’s insurance company attorneys.  If that assumption is correct, it would explain a lot:

  • Both WCCC and the WCA (GLN) are insured in order to protect their assets.
  • The insurance companies’ attorneys also want to protect their own assets.  
  • The insurance companies’ attorneys do not want to pay out claims unnecessarily.  They only want to pay out claims that fall within their contractual obligations.
  • The insurance companies’ attorneys fiduciary responsibilities are to WCCC and the GLN, not the injured women, nor any other injured parties due to institutional abuse.
  • The insurance companies’ attorneys have not been tasked with “doing the right thing,” or “being transparent.”  They want this whole ugly affair to go away.
  • The insurance companies’ attorneys permit the church and GLN to communicate minimal morsels of transparency (see elders’ “last public statement” update and Reconciliation Service) with the hope that those tidbits will satisfy the women and that the Willow Creek debacle will be over and done with.
  • These insurance companies have no responsibility to protect Bill Hybels personally regarding any of his misconduct.
  • Bill Hybels has his own personal attorneys that are telling him to admit to nothing and to keep his mouth shut.

If I am wrong, I am more than willing to admit my error and apologize.  I welcome WC leaders to confirm or deny the conjecture that I am about to posit — because that would at least contribute to additional transparency on their part.

THE RE-VICTIMIZATION OF THE WOMEN

I believe the leadership of Willow Creek is feeling exceedingly conflicted.  That Reconciliation Service was intended to put the capstone on the Bill Hybels scandal.  The GLS 2019 could then carry on without the cloud of the Bill Hybels scandal over its head.  They were hoping against hope that maybe now the various injured parties would be satisfied.  Oh God, may they be satisfied with our efforts!  But it was not meant to be, and for good reason.

The women and their advocates know how forthcoming they were in telling their stories to the elders.  It was devastating for them to read the final elder update that obfuscated, sanitized, and minimized Bill Hybels’ sin.  And then to hear that the WC leaders unilaterally decided that they are done publicly addressing the scandal?!  How gut-wrenching!  In effect, the women have been re-victimized.  Here is how:

Some folks who only know what they have been told by Willow Creek and the GLN conclude:

  • What is wrong with these women?!
  • What more do they want?!
  • The elders said they were sorry … AGAIN!
  • We even had a Reconciliation Service.
  • They’re just disgruntled women!
  • Dissatisfied jerks!
  • They just want to disrupt the GLS.

I can’t make up these epithets.  They are actual quotes.  The women were victims of Bill Hybels and the Willow machine.  Now they have been labeled as ungrateful complainers that don’t appreciate what the leadership of Willow Creek has done for them.

As a result, all of the original pain felt by these women is now magnified.  

Imagine if you waited for years to speak up about a shocking and shameful injury, because you feared — maybe were even verbally threatened — that public embarrassment and/or financial retribution would be swift and sure.  Imagine that in those years, your peace of mind, your emotional balance, and your career opportunities were badly impacted by your silence. Then you finally confided in someone, who urged you to speak out for the good of others, so that the guilty could be stopped, and others would not be victimized as well.  Imagine the courage it would take for you to speak out — only to be disbelieved, scoffed at and vilified!  How you would retreat in horror as your worst fears came true!  Imagine, then, being given another chance to make your case, this time before a much more receptive power group.  You would certainly hesitate to revisit that awful chapter of your life, to open up old wounds.  Where would you ever find the courage?  But imagine that you finally, recklessly gave in to the urgings of well-meaning supporters who told you “this time it will be different.”  Imagine dredging up the degrading details once more, stating your humiliating story in a way that left you feeling spent and vulnerable all over again.  And all for… what?  For a quick, whitewashed dismissal of your pain?  A final statement that scarcely resembled any true admission of any real wrong-doing, or any acknowledgement of the depths of your personal suffering?  

This was absolutely not the desired outcome by the WC and GLN leadership, nor the insurance attorneys.  But this is what happens when the truth is not told — and the responses are dictated by attorneys in charge of protecting the organization, and not the victims.

This sad scenario appears to describe the behind-the-scenes machinations of a Willow Creek Corporation much more than the steadfast, sacrificial shepherding of the Willow Creek Church.

WILLOW’S LEADERSHIP CONUNDRUM

So what are the executive leaders of WC and the GLN to do?  What are the elders of WC to do?  What are the legal and insurance implications if the aforementioned leadership were to come clean, admit the wrongs, and communicate publicly what many of them know to be true?

The optics of what is happening now at WC are worse than a year ago.  Say what you will about the previous leadership regime and their myriad of mistakes.  At least they were early in the unveiling of this tragedy.  The current leadership of Willow Creek now seems stuck.  It knows even more details regarding this scandal than it ever imagined possible.  Those present in leadership are trying to move their organizations forward, but at the same time they are limited legally as to what they can say in order to bring authentic reconciliation (healing!) to the hurt women, the whole congregation, and the worldwide church of Jesus Christ.

I don’t doubt for a moment that this current group of leaders feel horrible, — that they are conflicted, and that they wish they could do more as the duly chosen elders of WCCC.  But what can they do as long as they feel bound to walk a legal tightrope and constrained to speak with one insipid voice?

WILLOW’S NEED OF THE HOUR:  COURAGEOUS MEN AND WOMEN

Who does each of us ultimately answer to?  There are numerous examples of courageous men and women in Scripture that risked their lives to do the right thing.  Here are a few:

  • Peter and John were brought before the religious leaders of the day and told to keep their mouths shut.  The Sanhedrin “… commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John replied,  ” Acts 4:18-20
  • There were three young men who refused to obey a king in favor of their God,  “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and He will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.  But even if He does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18
  • In order to stave off the evil plot of Haman to destroy the Jews, Mordecai conferred with Queen Esther, “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.” Esther 4:14.  Queen Esther knew the law.  She could be executed if she went before the king apart from an invitation to do so.  She made her decision, “… I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:16.  Queen Esther risked her life to tell the truth of the underhanded plot to exterminate the Jews.  She did the right thing and trusted God with the consequences of her actions.
  • Nathan the prophet did not shrink back to declare to King David, “You are the man,” II Samuel 12:7. And then Nathan proceeded to recount David’s sins … one after another after another.  Thankfully, David was humble enough to admit that he sinned against the Lord.

These scriptural examples of uncompromising truth-tellers should make each of us wonder:  what is my role when sin has gone undiagnosed and unchallenged in my local body of believers?  To what lengths should I be willing to stand up for victims, and help them gain restitution, while holding the powerful accountable?  How will my condoning silence ever serve to bless this ministry and help it to grow in the way that God intends?

Make no mistake.  There is a price to pay when you do the right thing in the face of intimidation.  Yes, you could lose your job.  Yes, you could lose a ministry.  There could be people that would be really mad at you.  You will be misunderstood by some people, no matter what.  But you will have the peace of knowing that you did the right thing.  Paul said it clearly, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10

Every one of us struggles with fear.  What if … ?  We fill in the blank with all sorts of scenarios.  God’s words to Joshua when he was faced with the monumental task of leading the people of Israel into the Promised Land are true and reassuring for each of us as well,

 

Featured

A Deep Divide Remains At Willow Creek. How Come?

Image result for a great divide

[author’s note:  I have purposely not written about Willow Creek for a year because I wanted to give its leadership room to navigate through their scandal.  It appears that they believe they are done.  Here are my initial thoughts.]

The new WCCC board of elders made their self-proclaimed “last public statement” regarding the Bill Hybels scandal on July 19, 2019.  These same elders conducted a Reconciliation and Reflection Service on Tuesday evening July 23, 2019 to put this painful chapter of the church’s history in the rear view mirror.  Bill Hybels’ name was NEVER mentioned … not once.  The women’s names … not one of them … were ever mentioned.  Bill’s sins were never mentioned.  But … there were lots of Bible verses quoted.  And there was much emotion expressed by the elders.  So what was the outcome?

Almost everyone heartily applauded and rose to their feet to affirm the efforts of these Willow Creek leaders on Tuesday night.  There was the sense of FINALITY.  We’re moving on!  In fact, the second half of the service was dedicated to Willow Creek’s future and the Global Leadership Summit on August 8-9.

The great majority of the 1100 people who attended that service were happy, satisfied, content, hopeful, and ready to move on.  Yet there was NOT ONE of the impacted women and NOT ONE of their advocates that felt the same way?  Rather, the sentiments that they expressed were:

  • beyond disappointed
  • nauseated
  • stunned
  • devastated
  • [my] hope evaporated

How in the world could there be such divergent reactions by groups of people who read the same exact elder update and experienced the same exact reconciliation service?!?!?

IT IS ALL ABOUT REPORTING

Let me illustrate.  Imagine you read a newspaper article about a guy who was caught speeding.  The article states that he was going 90mph in a 45mph zone.   In fact, this guy received a speeding ticket for $1,000, and because he hit some people while he was speeding, his license was taken away!  Most people reading that article would think, “Wow! 90 in a 45!  That’s fast!   He deserves that $1,000 fine.  He hit some people?  Yep, he probably should have had his license taken away?”  And then they move on to read the next article of interest.

But there is another group of people, those who were hit and hurt by the speeder as well as those who were witnesses to their injuries.  This group of people was disappointed because the article fell woefully short of telling the whole story.  The drunk driver’s victims told the newspaper reporter important details that were left out of the article!

Same article:  two totally different reactions.

OBFUSCATION BY INCOMPLETE REPORTING

Stick with me here.  Continuing with the illustration, the people who were hit and hurt by the speeder know more details that were not reported by the newspaper.

  • They know that he has a history of speeding.
  • They know he was drunk at the time he was caught speeding.
  • They know he had been cited several times before for driving under the influence.
  • They know that it was a hit and run accident.  This driver fled the scene of the accident.
  • They know that one person that the driver hit almost lost her life.
  • They know that others were so injured they couldn’t work and lost significant income.
  • They know that when he was caught he denied that he was drunk.
  • They know he denied that he ever hit anybody.
  • They know that he refused to take a sobriety test.
  • They know that when the police called him in to be questioned, he refused to come in and answer any questions.
  • In fact, they know he fled the state, and no one can find him.

There was NOTHING that was technically inaccurate in the newspaper article.  The offender was guilty of speeding excessively and some people were injured.  The man was fined and lost his license.  That is all true!  

Returning to the Willow Creek tragedy, the impacted women are not “disgruntled and they will never be satisfied,” as some low-information folks conclude.  No!  100x NO!  They are upset and disappointed with what was neglected to be reported because the omitted details whitewash the story!

  • They know that Bill Hybels had a history of grooming and preying upon women.
  • They know that he continued his predatory practices as late as 2017.
  • They know that it was so serious he was most recently grooming a woman many years younger than his own daughter.
  • They know that in the case of one of Bill Hybels’ victims, her life was virtually ruined because of Bill’s treatment of her.
  • They know that another of Bill’s victims lost significant income because churches believed the initial lies publicly told about her and wouldn’t hire her.
  • They know that their reputations were falsely trashed at the Family Meetings in March 2018.
  • They know that Bill destroyed evidence in order to cover his tracks.
  • They know that he had his “lieutenants” at Willow Creek carry out his abusive leadership bidding.
  • They know that non-disclosure agreements (NDA’s) and banishment letters were issued for image management purposes.
  • etc. etc. etc.

IMAGE MANAGEMENT BY SANITIZED REPORTING

The women whistle blowers and their advocates are upset, disappointed and unsatisfied because they see that the pursuit of image management by the leadership of Willow appears to be more important than accurately reporting what has transpired over these past several years with regards to the investigation of Bill Hybels.  It is sanitized reporting.  In the Elder Update — July 19, 2019, the elders refer to:

  • “the events made public in March 2018”  =   the biggest scandal in the church’s history
  • the new elders wanted to “listen, learn, and apologize”  —  Is that all that is involved in reconciliation?  No.  There is confession, repentance, restitution …
  • “individuals who raised concerns regarding our senior pastor”  =  Bill Hybels’ victims and their advocates wanted the elders to investigate and address a pattern of grievous sin on the part of the senior pastor of WCCC who was also the founder of the WCA (now GLN).
  • Regarding Bill Hybels, “he has chosen not to engage in dialogue at this time”  =  he has chosen to neither defend his actions nor to confess them to be sin and ask for forgiveness.  Instead, he has gone dark.
  • The elders called on Bill “to repent where necessary.” —  That statement could be said about every human being alive!  We don’t know where he needs to repent?  He determines where he needs to repent?

I do want to give some credit to the new board of elders for their efforts to date.  They have gone further than any of the previous investigations.  Their apologies to Menlo Church and Compassion International were definitely steps in the right direction, but these are painful baby steps they are taking.  By not telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, this sordid affair in Willow Creek’s history goes on … and on … and on.  To me, it feels like the IAG Report said that the women were right and we’re sorry.  And it feels like this latest elder update concludes that the women were really right and we’re really sorry.

Willow Creek leadership has refused to engage a third party organization with expertise in clergy abuse to investigate this scandal at every turn.  This request has been repeatedly posed by Bill Hybels’ accusers, their advocates, and many bloggers.  The answer has always come back:  No.  No.  No.  Why not?!  I am not aware of any good reason given by Willow Creek leadership for refusing this request.  Could it be that their refusal is by design?  If a truly independent third party clergy abuse expert is omitted from the process of discovering and reporting the truth, it would be much easier for WC and the GLS to control the narrative portrayed to the church and to the world.  Willow Creek is reaping the fruit of this misguided decision.

WHEN SORRY IS NOT ENOUGH

Are there NO ACTIONS that the elders can and should take against Bill Hybels?  Of course there are.  The elders should publicly:

  • Remove him from membership at WCCC due to his unwillingness to engage with the leadership of the church regarding his sinful conduct.
  • Take away his ordination as a minister of the gospel because of his unrepentant pattern of sinful conduct.

In addition,

  • The elders should have gained the approval of their written update and the content of the Reconciliation service from the women victims of Bill Hybels before proceeding.  That would have shown genuine care for their well-being.  All future public communications should have their approval.  (FYI, I have received the approval of Vonda Dyer and Betty Schmidt to publish this piece.)
  • The elders should publicly thank the women victims and their advocates for coming forward!  And the elders should publicly state and make perfectly clear that the main reason the women victims and advocates came forward in the first place was to protect potential future victims from Bill Hybels.  They recognized that Bill’s grooming and preying upon women was a pattern of sin that continued over decades.  In fact, the latest incident that came to light occurred AFTER the initial investigation back in 2015-2016 that found him innocent of all charges.
  • Willow Creek Community Church should support Pat Baranowski financially for the rest of her life.  Bill Hybels’ treatment of her in the late 80’s has negatively impacted her ability to support herself adequately since then.  The elders know all of the horrific details from their 2 1/2 hours with Pat.
  • Willow Creek Community Church should make appropriate financial restitution to Vonda Dyer for wages lost due to the spreading of lies about her and injuring her reputation by both the church and the WCA (GLN).  The elders know about all of the slander and the lengths that the WCA went to to discredit Vonda.

WHY WILLOW CREEK LEADERSHIP REFUSES TO TELL THE WHOLE STORY

There are three probable reasons for the elders’ lack of transparency regarding Bill Hybels.

First, they have decided / concluded that they can’t tell the congregation the true details of the women’s experiences with Bill because his offenses are so bad that if the congregation (and the world) knew those details, there would be even more ministry fall out from those revelations.   Their reluctance to report fully is an effort to perform damage control.

Second, it is thought by many that attorneys are behind the scenes determining what can and cannot be put in writing as well as what is said from the main stage.  There is a fear that if certain magic words are spoken or written by the leadership, it will open up the church to all kinds of lawsuits.

Third, there is the distinct impression that image management and protecting the Willow Creek brand is more important than telling the truth and making things right with the women victims.

WHERE IS BILL HYBELS?

The truth is:  nowhere near Willow Creek.  Instagram informs us that he is living the good life, enjoying sailing, fishing and sunsets on the water with family and friends.  Bill told the congregation at Willow Creek over and over how much he loved them and that Willow would always be his church home.  But he can’t be found.

Is this what a great leader does?

  • A great leader refuses to admit his own wrongdoing?
  • A great leader lies and blames whistle-blowers?
  • A great leader grooms and seduces women who are not his wife?
  • A great leader refuses to engage in conversation over a scandal of which he is the central figure?
  • A great leader slinks into luxurious obscurity while the organizations he claimed to love continue to suffer from the effects of his longstanding egregious conduct?
  • A great leader lets the organizations he founded suffer unnecessarily because he refuses to come forward and set the record straight?

WHAT YOU WILL NOT HEAR UTTERED AT THE GLS 2019 AND WHY

You will not hear the name of Bill Hybels — The Global Leadership Network wants to distance itself from its founder, creator, and its #1 driver.  Why?  Because they know how toxic that name is, and the hope is attenders and speakers will begin to disassociate the GLS from Mr. Hybels.

You will probably not hear the words: 

  • Narcissist
  • (NPD) Narcissistic Personality Disorder
  • Sexual abuse
  • Abuse of power
  • Bully
  • Scandal
  • Grooming
  • Gas-lighting
  • Victims
  • Re-victimization

There’s a good chance people would associate these words with Bill Hybels and ask themselves, “How does Willow Creek and the GLN think it is qualified to teach the world how to lead?!”  Now THAT is a very good question.

You will not hear plenary sessions or workshops on:

  • “How A Church Board Can Hold An Abusive Narcissistic Leader Accountable,”
  • “How to Identify A Narcissistic Leader,”
  • “Mistakes We Made In the Bill Hybels Scandal and How You Can Avoid Them” 
  • “How To Lead Your Church Through a Leadership Scandal”
  • A panel discussion by whistle blowers:  “What We Can Learn From Church Leaders that Uncover Hidden and Destructive Sin In The Church”

If the Global Leadership Network really wanted to help churches and organizations, these sessions would be high on their agenda.  But no such talks will be heard because again, GLN leadership can’t take the chance that people might associate those talks with the founder of the GLS.

Willow Creek and the GLN appear to have their top priority to keep up the image that they are a paragon of care and virtue and supporters of women and the premier experts on leadership.  Any mention of character, humility or integrity will never be illustrated with the person of Bill Hybels.  Way too toxic.  Nothing to see here.  Let’s move on.

WHAT YOU WILL HEAR AT THE GLS 2019

  • self-congratulatory remarks about how many people are attending
  • how many host sites that are broadcasting
  • how many countries they are in
  • how great an impact the GLS is having all around the world.

The unspoken message is that the GLN and GLS are too big to fail.  It is huge and beautiful and strong.  They will never ever again admit publicly that it has been built on the clay feet of Bill Hybels.

WHAT IF THE GLS 2019 FACULTY KNEW THE FULL TRUTH ABOUT THE BILL HYBELS SCANDAL?

Do you think that in this day and age of #MeToo and #ChurchToo that they would be so quick to lend their names to GLS 2019?  I’m not so sure.  And there lies the dilemma:  Do we continue to protect the brand or do we come fully clean with regards to our founder?  I think we have been given our answer.

BRIDGING THE DIVIDE

The great majority of people who attend Willow Creek Community Church as regular attenders only know what the elders and other senior leaders have told them.  That is a problem.

In the end, this undercurrent of unaddressed and under-reported issues is the single biggest cause of the leadership’s failure to achieve their cherished goals of reconciliation, relationship healing and the regeneration of the Willow Creek ministry.  It is not the fault of the women accusers.  It is not the fault of their advocates.  It is not the fault of bloggers.  It is not the fault of any of the peripheral participants, past or present.  It is the fault of the Willow Creek leadership which continues to fail to be transparent with the congregation.  Claiming to be transparent in emails or from the stage doesn’t make it so.  Their lack of transparency is the source of the deep divide that still exists at Willow Creek.  Hopefully the elders will realize this and rethink their proclamation that their most recent update was their last on the subject of the Bill Hybels scandal.

I end this piece with a quote from Julie Roys and an experience she had with an attender at the Reconciliation Service.

As I was leaving Willow last night, a kind woman approached me and asked what I thought of the meeting. I returned the question, and she said she thought it was wonderful and gave closure to the painful events of last year.

Then I took off my reporter hat and expressed that I was disappointed that the elders didn’t tell the women’s stories in detail. And as Beach suggested in a post in March, I told her I believed that the church should consider giving two alleged victims—Pat Baranowski (Hybels’ former assistant) and Vonda Dyer—some sort of financial compensation for the lost income they suffered as a result of Hybels’ alleged actions.

The woman expressed surprise. She said she didn’t realize the women had suffered financial loss. I encouraged her to read more blogs.

It would be wonderful … for everyone … if the leadership of Willow Creek reported thoroughly on the Bill Hybels scandal.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.

SOME HELPFUL BLOGS 

Scroll through their blogs for the posts regarding Willow Creek

  • Nancy Beach — nancylbeach.com/blog
  • Dr. Jim Bedell — drj1952.com
  • Vonda Dyer — vondadyer.weebly.com/blog
  • Dr. Scott McKnighthttp://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/
  • Julie Roys — julieroys.com
  • Betty Schmidt — veritasbetold.wixsite.com/website
  • Rob Speight — robsp82.com  — 

This list is not exhaustive.  And some of these leaders can be found on twitter.

*****


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.

 

Resignations at Willow Creek:  It’s a Start

Featured

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.  

kubler-1024x806-1-1024x806

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.

*****


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.

Featured

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.

* * * * * * *


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

Featured

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

* * * * * * *

“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.

* * * * * * *


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.

Featured

“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.  

****

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)

*  * *  *

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


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.

 

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.