For Willow Creek To Survive . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heather Larson and the elders must resign now!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Great Healer

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

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

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

May the abused not lose heart.

Willow Creek Must Put Bill Hybels Behind Them

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

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

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

So Willow must move on without Bill’s confession.

Willow Creek Must Evaluate Every Ministry

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

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

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

The Willow Creek Association Must Go Back To Its Roots

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

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

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

Are you taking regular contemplative looks in the mirror?

Are you inviting others to bravely speak into your life?

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * *


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22 thoughts on “For Willow Creek To Survive . . .

  1. Heather and all elders must go along with everyone at the WCA I worked there for 9 years and Billy boy called all the shots and if Jim Mellado and his team did not like it they did what they wanted to behind the churches back Bill has put a black mark on the church and it can be fixed but it’s going to be a lot of work

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    1. Could not some sort of lawsuit be made, demanding return of tithes and perhaps payment for the emotional/spiritual trauma of discovering that the ‘leader’ of this organization built his own reputation, wealth and kingdom on lies, controlling the narrative with secretive NDA’s, severance packages and his own gestapo team to ‘put out the fires’ as Hillary’s squad put out another Billy boy’s fires?

      NDA’s are intended to protect intellectual property, not to hide lawlessness and evil. It is one thing to require individuals to not disclose personal information concerning those they may have ministered to or counseled while in a position of leadership. Quite another to assert ‘And don’t tell stories about Bill’s (and others’) abuses and misbehavior’. Willow Creek was so proud of its success that it created the WCA to tell everyone else how to do ‘leadership’. That leaves little argument for asserting that their ‘leadership’methods’ are private intellectual property. It it time for ALL to be revealed in order to truly honor the God this organization (Can you still call it a church?) claims to have been serving.

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  2. Thank you, Rob. Truly. I continue to love this church. Praying that Christ will return to being the focus and will be the one to receive the glory, even in this.

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  3. My heart is so sad over Willow. I’ve been a part of Willow for 27 years… giving of time, money and prayer…serving faithfully.
    Now…. I do not want to give up on Willow…….but….?
    After much thought, I agree with Rob….we need to wipe the slate clean, start afresh with new leadership. There are too many secrets and unknown truths.
    This has been handled wrong by the elders, starting many many years ago.
    I ask Willow to get it right now!!
    Start with new elders and leadership!
    I continue to pray for Willow and God’s guidance….

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  4. Interestingly, during Jesus’ earthly ministry, two of His disciples, James and John, wanted to call down fire from heaven in judgment of a Samaritan village that did not welcome the Lord. Jesus, however, “turned and rebuked them” (Luke 9:55). He had not come “to condemn the world, but to save the world” (John 3:17). James and John wanted what they thought was justice, but their idea went against God’s plan of mercy. God’s justice will come, but on His terms, not ours.

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    1. GS, please look closer at this passage in context. Jesus rebukes the disciples for judging those who did not want to welcome Him into their village. These were those who needed to know the Savior’s redemption. It was NOT the prerogative of the disciples to judge them. Jesus wanted to save them! He has quite another approach when speaking to arrogant, powerful self-serving religious leaders. See Matthew 23:27-28.

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  5. I remember when Bill had a degree of genuine humility. I got to know him and spoke with Lynn a few times and he brought his daughter to my house to celebrate my daughter’s birthday. I remember when he would talk about being accountable and at times he would talk of how the Elders would call him to task. I saw a change when he became Bill Clinton’s “pastor”. Hybels even had to confess from the front that he was “taken in” by Clinton’s “repentence”. I recall Hybels saying how he had to guard himself from being drawn to the rich, famous and powerful. I was dismayed when he became close with Obama and Lynn would go on trips to Africa with Michelle. Hybels’ messages had changed to bring in the “social” message and at times ignored the Scriptural admonitions to eradicate unbelief. Hybel’s messages began to accept and find commonalities with false religions. Rather than saying to repent from those religions he began to tell us that we had to accept them. Unfortunately he lost his way and became like Clinton in the sexual arena. It appears that his pride will prevent his confession. His annointed successors were opposites. One faced truth. The woman is an angry woman who should not lead. The board of elders and she must immediately resign and never again be involved in any role in Willow Creek or the Association.

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  6. Concerning GLS: I have been very disappointed with the last several years as more and more secular leaders have been lifted up that are VERY antagonistic to the Gospel message and much less emphasis on Christian leaders and Christian leadership. Our church dropped out as a host site due to this. I have attended since 2006 and if there is no change next year, it will be my last. My agency hosts a site in a foreign country and we will get out of hosting this if the trend is not reversed right away. I trust the new leadership of GLS will see this and take us back to our roots. I loved GLS when it was much more spiritually driven.

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  7. re: your critique of the worship in the services – The fact is in the 80’s & 90’s there was only 1 congregational song in the weekend services; worship was reserved for Wed. nights. And actually the shift after 2000 was that MORE worship singing entered into the weekend services.
    Do you really intend to throw the other faithful worship leaders who served since 2000 under the bus? That is a very harsh judgement.
    Are you merely swapping out who is on the pedestal, by mentioning Joe and Don?
    I find your judgements throughout this post to be wide of the mark.
    Now, I suspect you may not hear this and I’m typing this in vain, …since you tend to be quick to adopt a defensive posture towards any challenger, (as I see you’ve demonstrated on other comments posted on your blog and my twitter feed)… but honestly, your wording and positioning has taken on an arrogance that undermines any morsel of wisdom one might glean from you.

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    1. Jimmy, thanks for your comments. I wrote in general terms. There are always exceptions. My reference to Joe Horness and Don Cousins was simply illustrative, names that would resonate especially for those of us who have been around Willow for decades. Oh, how did their exits from Willow go? Not real great, did they? Shall I enumerate others? I could have brought up the fact that New Community was on two nights of the week, because the entire Lakeside Auditorium of 4,000+ seats could not accommodate everyone on just one night. Lots has changed, Jimmy. My opinion: we need to get back to the basics.

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  8. It is such a sad business. I was a long-time member (almost 20 years before we left) and am not of the mind to immediately dismiss Larson and the Elder Board–but more out of my concern for the many, many staff members who make their living faithfully carrying out the work of the gospel at WCCC. Sadder to me was the conversation I had with my M-I-L yesterday, having to explain to her the Times article. She and my F-I-L were very faithful members of WCCC, and she served in the business end of the bookstore for many, many, many years. Watching her hold her head in her hands, shaking over all these new allegations just broke my heart.

    Lord have mercy,
    Christ have mercy,
    Lord have mercy.

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  9. Why do you feel compelled to send this directly to these people?? Be careful with your sword…

    Begin forwarded message:

    From: robsp82
    Date: August 5, 2018 at 1:23:49 AM HST
    To: John C Ortberg , Nancy , Nancy Ortberg , Betty Schmidt , Leanne Mellado , james bedell , Vonda Dyer , Scott Dyer
    Subject: Pat speaks

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    1. Robb, as a point of clarification, I did not “send” it to anyone. I posted the NYT article on my Facebook page and tagged those individuals. Why? Because I know that all of the tagged individuals have been thoroughly personally invested in the pursuit of truth on behalf of the women for the past 4.5 years. I hope that you and Jimmy would want the truth to be revealed too.

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  10. I’m not a facebook user and apologize for my ignorance. However, I am a email user and this looks pretty much like a email to me. Let me post it again for better clarification. Let me see a show of hands. is this a facebook post or email? Jimmy and I just want the truth to be revealed about this email. Sorry in advance, Jimmy, for speaking on your behalf.

    From: robsp82
    Date: August 5, 2018 at 1:23:49 AM HST
    To: John C Ortberg , Nancy , Nancy Ortberg , Betty Schmidt , Leanne Mellado , james bedell , Vonda Dyer , Scott Dyer
    Subject: Pat speaks

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  11. Funny how the actual email addresses dont appear when I post this, but if anyone wants them I can get them for you.

    From: robsp82
    Date: August 5, 2018 at 1:23:49 AM HST
    To: John C Ortberg , Nancy , Nancy Ortberg , Betty Schmidt , Leanne Mellado , james bedell , Vonda Dyer , Scott Dyer
    Subject: Pat speaks

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    1. Guys, you are absolutely right. My bad. I’m pretty sure that I posted the same on Facebook after emailing them. Can’t locate at the moment. My main point still stands whether I emailed or tagged.

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  12. okay, so now we all know you lied and discredited yourself and your blog. I give you credit for admitting you lied. I know one other person who hasn’t come clean. However, that other person has changed the world, hearts, living conditions, attitudes, relationships and Christianity for generations. Enough hurt has been done. You should try living the Bible instead of sighting and preaching it. BIG difference in the person who attends Church on Sunday and the person who practices it the other 6 days.

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    1. Robb, the 8/5/18 NYT article is fully public and pertinent to the ongoing scandal at Willow Creek… and robsp82 chose to forward the article to others. Whether he remembered doing this via email or facebook is not a point worth making or being angry about.

      If you passionately believe Bill Hybels to be innocent of all misconduct, and/or the WCC leadership to be unimpeachable, then persuade us of your reasons for believing that.

      However I don’t believe that this sad situation “has changed the world, hearts, living conditions, attitudes, relationships and Christianity for generations.” Only Jesus Christ has the power to do all that, and perhaps He is doing it, for the good of the living church.

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