A Live “Acknowledgement” at the Global Leadership Summit

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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15 thoughts on “A Live “Acknowledgement” at the Global Leadership Summit

  1. Thank you Rob. Is it possible to see the webinar that described this announcement and was directed to the host site producers and tech staff of the GLS?


  2. I agree with all you have written and as a victim/survivor of this type of appalling treatment myself I appreciate you standing up for them/is! My deepest thanks


  3. thanks Rob… appreciate the insights… the narcissism in the pulpit is a huge aspect that has been kept quiet it seems, by the leaders, keeping the flock in the dark for how they are being exploited… so I’ve been thinking about the celebrity cult like personaltiy/pastor aka narcissistic type pastor… it’s like people are addicted to the pastor’s charisma and have to get their weekly fix, and they will do whatever to protect the person so they can get their fix…


  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and being one that seems to care deeply about the local church (Willow Creek) in word and in action. I’m privileged to be a small group leader at a large church in Canada. The church is one of the Canadian host sites for the Global Leadership Summit, and we might have the highest # of attendees (in one location), in the country. I don’t say that brag/out of conceit, but rather pointing to an opportunity for raising awareness, building understanding, and hopefully generating action-oriented steps.

    As you are doing in the church you are part of, I feel compelled to add my voice to the conversation at my local church. In your “Open Letter to the Willow Creek Congregation” you point to a few actions steps (engagement with others, seeking wisdom, spirit-led action, etc). What are your thoughts on what a local church can possibly do to publicly address the claimed actions of Bill Hybels and the missteps/mishandling of the Elder Board. Supposedly, Danielle Strickland will speak on professionalism in the work environment and maybe touch on the broader issue of power inequities and sexual harassment/misconduct in the church, and then there is the 10 minutes of acknowledgement. Can there be more from the local host sites?

    Thanks for your time. Blessings.



    1. Luke, thanks for your thoughtful comments as well as the service you render at your church. Regarding your question concerning what a local church can possibly do to publicly address the claimed actions of Bill Hybels and the missteps/mishandling of the Elder Board: The very FIRST thing before you take any action is to understand the issues as fully as possible. You don’t want to take action based on a cursory understanding of this scandal. Let me state one exception here: there are 200+ GLS host sites that have hit the pause button this year because of the unresolved allegations against the WCA’s and GLS’ founder. He has been accused of abusing his power and systematically grooming a number of women over the years with the understood purpose to seduce them. I believe these 200+ host sites have rightfully concluded that the accused, Bill Hybels, is inextricably linked to the WCA and GLS, and therefore they cannot in good conscience support the GLS this year. They believe the unresolved allegations outweigh the perceived good that the GLS does. It is a matter of principle for them.

      Most people’s and churches’ understanding is based almost solely on the initial Chicago Tribune article back in March and the statements put out by the WC elders and WCA. In my opinion, it is a simplistic narrative that could be summarized: there’s not a whole lot to see here. The elders are beefing up their policies on men and women working together at WCCC — not the issue at hand. The elders hired Crossroads Resolution Group to mediate the relationships between Bill Hybels and the women — not requested by the women, nor is it advised for the abused to renew relationships with the abuser (if this ends up being proven by the preponderance of evidence since it appears that Bill Hybels will not be coming forward voluntarily to defend himself, given his almost 4 months of silence since his resignation).

      I refer you again to Scot McKnight (New Testament Scholar) and Jim Bedell (clinical psychologist) and all that they have written on the subject of Willow Creek and Bill Hybels. Let me encourage you as well to follow Vonda Dyer on TWITTER. She tweets daily on the subject of clergy abuse and links her followers to the most relevant and helpful material. And I would also encourage you to read / reread / and engage with all of my posts. I pose statements and questions that should not be glossed over or ignored. They need to be addressed by Willow Creek leadership, both church and WCA, but unfortunately they have not done so. Demand answers from the WCA, Luke. After all, you are their customer.

      It appears that the strategy of WCCC and the WCA is to hope that all of us who are writing on this subject get tired and go away. But as long as WC leadership continues to make statements like they have been, there will be lots of material for us to write about.

      I am confident that God will guide you, Luke, and the 13,000 churches that are members of the WCA as you and they pursue the discovery of the truth behind the Bill Hybels and WC scandal.


    2. Luke:

      An organization which when confronted with a crisis and utterly fails to display any kind of leadership to resolve the problem is not in a position to teach leadership to others. One could argue that WCA is a separate entity but that argument rings of untruth at a practical level. I have no viable advice to give other than to hope that the Willow Creek leadership actually shows some leadership in the first 10 minutes of the conference.


  5. Very well written Rob. It takes guts and courage to take a stand and be heard. That’s the only way change can take place. It is beyond frightening that people are complicit and able to overlook behaviors that are defacing our morals.


  6. I’m not sure that I fully understand your statement: “Since you cannot prove Bill’s innocence, show immediate concern and compassion for the women as secular corporations have done.”

    Are you saying that leadership should accept all allegations as true, since they cannot disprove them? Or, are you just saying that they should care for the women (from a ministry, rather than legal, perspective) as though they are the the victims that they claim to be, until and unless there is certainty that they are not? Or, is this about previously proclaiming Bill’s innocence, without proof?


    1. Paul, thanks for your comment. Bill claimed innocence. He called all the women liars. Their stories follow a similar pattern of grooming and seduction. Several of the women are nationally known Christian leaders. There are others who have come forward and not been named. These women are worthy of being shown the utmost care and respect while further investigation is done. I have never once in my writing referred to legal ramifications of these offenses since I am not an attorney. Rather than care and respect, we have heard the following from the elders, “not all the women are liars.” That tells us next to nothing, and it is insulting to the women, as well as insulting to our intelligence. Words of care are hollow without action backing up the words.

      I have never said anywhere that we should accept all allegations as true. I have continually appealed for a third party independent investigation to determine what allegations are true. Unfortunately, WC leadership has feigned attempts at discovering the truth. To date: it appears that WC leadership has communicated that Bill Hybels is more the victim than the women.

      Liked by 1 person

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