During the last 23 months since the Bill Hybels / Willow Creek scandal went public, the elders of Willow Creek have sought to communicate on a regular basis both from the main stage at Willow Creek and through written communications to the Willow congregation called Elder Updates.

Unfortunately, none of these Elder Updates have caused Willow Creek to move any closer towards healing. Wishing that the past 23 months of scandal would be in the rear view mirror does not make it so. If anything, the scandals keep coming. Though carefully-tailored messaging would seek to portray that the worst is over and church conditions are returning to normal, a spiritual PET scan would actually show that the cancer cells have spread.

Directly below, I have created a potential update for the elders to use in their next communication.  I believe that messaging of this kind would be an honest and essential next step towards true healing for Willow Creek.  

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

We, the elders and senior leaders of Willow Creek, are truly sorry.  We thought we could control the damage at Willow, but we admit now that we can’t.  We placed Willow Creek’s future above all other priorities. In so doing, we have failed … utterly.  We failed the women victims of Bill Hybels. We failed Bill Hybels. We failed the congregation of Willow Creek.  We failed the Willow Creek staff. We failed the churches around the world that trusted our church and looked to the Global Leadership Network to be an example of godly Biblical leadership.  We failed the watching world that points at us, shaking its head with confusion, dismay, and even derision. Ultimately, we have failed our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We are sorry.


We are so sorry that we did not believe you and your advocates.  We are sorry for calling you liars and colluders against Bill Hybels.  You told the truth about Bill Hybels. We are the ones that lied and colluded against you to the Willow Creek congregation and the thousands of churches in the Global Leadership Network (previously:  Willow Creek Association). We confess that we have never fully made this right, no matter how much we have tried to convince ourselves that we did.

We are sorry that we did not hire a reputable third party clergy abuse investigatory organization that are experts in this field, such as GRACE.  We acknowledge that you and your advocates requested a thoroughly independent third party clergy abuse investigation repeatedly for the last six years.  We confess that we accused the advocates of trying to “control” the investigation, making “demands” and setting unreasonable parameters. We confess that we sought to control the narrative as well as limit the damage of this scandal.  We confess that we have not trusted God enough to tell the truth regarding your abuse at the hands of Bill Hybels.  

You are heroes.  You are brave and courageous.  We will be forever indebted to you for sounding the alarm to potential future victims.  May there be no more.

We recognize that if ten women have come forward, there DEFINITELY must be other women victims of Bill Hybels … many that have suffered in private agony, some for years, some for decades.  Whether from embarrassment, humiliation, and / or incalculable personal cost, they have not stepped forward. We confess that our actions toward the women who have come forward have only made it that much more difficult for others to find personal resolution and freedom from the nightmares that plague them due to the cruel interactions they endured from Bill Hybels.  We confess that we did not create a safe harbor for other women victims to come forward. We confess that we wanted to control the damage that the women’s stories would cause to Bill and the church. We placed Bill’s and Willow Creek’s reputation above your healing. We are truly sorry.

We confess that we have not presented victims of abuse at Willow Creek a safe conduit to share their stories.  We confess that we made a mistake to offer the following instructions to abuse victims in our January 30, 2020 Elder Update: 

“If you have experienced abuse from leadership at Willow, past or present, please contact us at 630-682-9797, ext. 1291.”

We confess that this phone number is to an organization called Capin Crouse.  Their website describes themselves as:

 “… a national CPA and consulting services firm, … providing support in the key areas of financial integrity and security,” 

We have had a 30+ year financial relationship with Capin Crouse.  We confess this is not a good first step towards sharing your stories of abuse with the elders.


We confess that our interactions with Bill Hybels have been cowardly.  We did not hold him accountable. We confess that we chose to believe and defend him rather than the women victims and their advocates, even when there was a preponderance of evidence against him.  

We confess that we have continued to treat Bill Hybels with misplaced deference, meekly asking him to meet with us and when rebuffed by him, concluding that we can’t force him to talk with us.  

We confess that we failed in the handling of his severance / retirement package.  We failed by not including a morality clause in that package. In fact, we failed him by not withholding his severance payments, even though there was not a morality clause. We could have been brave enough to refuse payment and then force him to take us to court where he would have had to justify being paid millions of dollars despite the accusations against him. We know in our heart of hearts that he would not have taken us to court because he does not want to face any cross-examination.

We confess that we feared Bill Hybels more than we feared God.  We confess that we should have declared to Bill Hybels, “You are that man,” just as Nathan confronted David in II Samuel 12:7.  We confess that we ought to have removed his ordination and stated that he was no longer fit to be a minister of the gospel due to his unrepentant and arrogant heart.  We confess that we also failed to excommunicate him from membership at Willow Creek Community Church for the same reasons. 


We have failed you, the congregation of Willow Creek, by not leading you well through this scandal.  We have allowed you, even encouraged you towards faulty thinking and conclusions regarding the women victims.  We have not given you a Biblical reason for how we handled Bill Hybels’ sin. And when asked repeatedly to Scripturally justify our responses to the scandal, we confess that we do not have a Biblical foundation to stand on.  We have not corrected you when some of you have expressed, “What more do these women want?” We did not correct you when so many of you expressed that you wanted to “move on.” We confess now that we can’t move on until we deal with the sin in our own house.

We have not taught you what the impact of sexual abuse and the abuse of power, especially by clergy, has on women.  We failed to explain the insidious nature of Bill Hybels’ grooming and sexual abuse. We have not revealed to you how these women felt utterly confused and alone when they tried to process the sexual advances by their world renowned pastor.  We did not teach you that women sexual trauma victims can suffer from PTSD. We failed to teach you that a woman does not have to be raped to suffer excruciating trauma. We failed to teach you that victims can block out the memory of sexual trauma for years in order to cope with the pain, only to be triggered later and have its ugliness recalled. We sought to minimize what Bill Hybels did to the women, and we are sorry for not telling you the truth.

We also hid the truth from you about Dr. B’s sexual harassment and worse.  We did not hold him accountable. Instead, we permitted him to minister as though  nothing had happened. We’re sorry for the pattern of dishonesty we persisted in creating.  And honestly, we don’t know how to correct all of these grievous errors. We have betrayed your trust.  

We confess that we, the elders of Willow Creek, have perpetuated the protection of the Willow Creek image and brand over the terrible truth of sexual and power abuse.  We have failed to be appropriately transparent with you.

We confess that we have terminated other staff for affairs, and we have been silent.  We have allowed them to simply … disappear. 

We confess that we have not been forthcoming to you regarding other staff departures of individuals who were a part of the abusive culture.  We confess that we wanted to hide how deep the abuse ran in our church.  

We confess that we did not hold accountable the leaders that so publicly lied, disparaged and slandered the women victims and their advocates, some of whom are still on staff.

We confess that we have hidden from you the financial terms of Bill Hybels’ and Heather Larson’s severance packages.  We have not been forthcoming regarding the financial costs to the church of attorneys, skyrocketing insurance premiums, and legal settlement costs out of fear that you would stop giving.  We confess that we have not been financially transparent with you.


We have failed the staff by making the wrongheaded decision to not have  the senior pastor be a member of the elder board. Rather than holding the senior pastor accountable, which we did not do with Bill Hybels, we decided to eliminate such a problem from happening again by not having the senior pastor on the board.  We are part time volunteers, and we confess that we are in way over our heads. 

We confess that we have not kept the staff informed of our deliberations, and as a result, they feel like they are doing their jobs (ministries) in the dark.  We know that we have lost their trust, and in many ways we have caused them to lose yours  And we are truly sorry.


We confess that WCCC and the GLN are inseparably linked, no matter how much we publicly deny it.  We confess that we have minimized Bill Hybels’ influence and impact on the GLN and GLS.  

We confess that we have never made right the damage we did to the reputations of the women victims who stepped forward.  

We confess that we have avoided any topics at the GLS that could possibly cast a bad light on Bill Hybels regarding his sexual abuse of women or his abusive leadership.  We confess that we sought to avoid the optics of the obvious hypocrisy of teaching churches around the world how to lift up women and be better leaders when the founder of the the GLN and GLS abused women and often led by bullying.  

We confess that we decided that the ends justify the means.  We confess that the ends of helping others around the world justified lying about who Bill Hybels really is.


We confess that we have been a poor example to those whom we say we want to reach with the good news of forgiveness from Christ.  The very mission of WCCC, upon which the church was founded, has been sullied by its founder and its leaders. We are sorry.

Ultimately, Father, we have sinned against you.  All of the above transgressions against others are ultimately sins against You.  We are ashamed, and we are sorry for damaging Your Name. We agree with David when he confessed that his sins against others were ultimately “sins against the Lord,” II Samuel 12:13.



We must take this action because we recognize that we have irretrievably lost the trust of victims.  

  1. HIRE GRACE (Godly Response To Abuse In The Christian Environment) — netgrace.org

We are sorry that we did not hire GRACE  years ago when it was suggested by the beloved former Willow staff when they first learned of troubling indications (still unresolved) regarding Bill Hybels’ alleged 14-year affair.  

We must take this action because we admit that we do not have the expertise to deal with clergy and church abuse.  GRACE does.


We confess that it has been a mistake to try to lead our church out of our scandals towards healing utilizing our own long-term staff.  We confess that the temptation to protect the church’s image rather than reveal the ugly truths that we discovered has been too great.

In fact, we insist that the interim pastor must agree to work with GRACE to lead Willow Creek towards healing.


We have concluded that it would be unfair to hire a new senior pastor when we have failed to address our scandals and take significant steps toward healing first. 


These topics will include:

      • The painful truths contained in this update
      • How to identify narcissistic and abusive leaders
      • How does a church board hold its senior leaders accountable
      • How to create a safe conduit for sexual abuse, power abuse, and grooming allegations to be heard 
      • Honest discussion regarding narcissists being attracted to the GLS

We will strongly recommend to the GLN board that these topics be included in their advance messaging to GLS 2020 host churches, that host pastors will be afforded ample time and opportunity to understand and process the information, and that these topics will not be treated as optional messaging in-between sessions, but as part of the sessions themselves. 

We want to say again how sorry we are for the pain that we have caused so many.  We cannot say it enough. We are appealing to God for His help to carry these commitments through to their conclusion, mindful of  the wisdom of Solomon when he taught in Proverbs 28:13, “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”  

May our confessions and resolutions above finally begin to bring healing to our church.


A Must For Willow Creek: To Regain Trust

How important is trust in a relationship? It is ALL important. Are you drawn to people you don’t trust? Silly question. I want to run away from people I don’t trust. It’s for my own safety. Whom are you drawn to, and whom do you respect? I’m attracted to people who are appropriately transparent, who don’t put a spin on their speech to save face. I am drawn to people who tell the truth, even if (especially if) the truth is something that I don’t want to hear, but need to. In fact, I’m more than just attracted to such people — I seek them out and respect them.

In August of 2018, why did Heather Larson and the entire Willow Creek elder board resign?  Simply stated: they failed to be transparent, and they failed to tell the truth. As a result, they lost the trust of the congregation they were leading.  

Are we approaching such a moment in time … again?

Willow Creek Is In A World Of Hurt

As painful as it is to recall, consider Willow Creek’s most recent 22 month history:


  • Allegations of  sexual misconduct against Bill Hybels
  • Hybels’ “early retirement”
  • Hybels’ disappearance
  • Hybels’ refusal to be accountable to ANYONE
  • The resignation by Steve Carter that forced Heather Larson and the then elders to resign


  • The appointment of Steve Gillen as the interim lead pastor
  • The choosing of an entirely new elder board
  • The IAG report stating that the women’s claims against Hybels were credible
  • The new elders’ invitation to Hybels’ women victims and advocates to share their stories of abuse with them.
  • The hope of the women victims and their advocates that the elders were finally going to be TRANSPARENT and TELL THE TRUTH of Hybels’ abuse


  • The elders’ “last public statement” and the “reconciliation service” that followed, both of which were met with utter disappointment and a thorough lack of affirmation by Hybels’ victims and their advocates for their lack of transparency and truth
  • The majority of the remaining Willow congregation being so glad that the church was “moving on.”
  • The bewilderment of many in the congregation exclaiming that “these women will never be satisfied.”
  • ZERO teaching by Willow Creek’s leadership on the topic of clergy sexual abuse, clergy power abuse, and zero admission  that Bill Hybels is guilty of both.
  • ZERO correction by the leaders of Willow Creek of wrong-headed congregational thinking about the women victims.


  • Resignations of many staff, some who were lieutenants of Hybels’ inner circle of abuse of power.
  • Resignation by the one regional pastor that stood up to the current elders’ handling of the Bill Hybels’ scandal.
  • The continued erosion of attendance and giving.
  • The cancellation of 500+ host sites to the Global Leadership Summit since Hybels’ abuses were made public.

We must NOT FORGET what has brought Willow Creek to February 2020.  Winston Churchill said, ”Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”  

The Revelations At Willow Creek In the Past 10 Days

This brings us to the last 10 days and the recent revelations of abuse by Willow Creek’s co-founder, Dr. Gilbert Bilezekian (Dr. B).


  • Ann Lindberg posts her experiences of abuse at the hands of Dr. B.
  • Julie Roys, investigative reporter, writes several articles on her website, julieroys.com, regarding Ann Lindberg.  The latest offering is a 41 minute podcast of Ann telling her story.


  • Steve Gillen writes an email to Willow Creek staff stating that he believes Ann’s story.
  • The elders write an email to the entire congregation affirming Ann’s story of abuse at the hands of Dr. B and that he was supposed to be no longer permitted to teach at Willow Creek … but … somehow … that discipline was not adequately communicated.
  • Dr. B. writes to the Willow Creek leadership denying the allegations of abuse and questioning Willow Creek leadership about why they have publicly condemned him without first approaching him as Matthew 18 instructs.


  • An ALL staff meeting is scheduled to discuss the Dr. B situation and the status of the senior pastor search.
  • At the staff meeting:
    • There is no discussion of the Dr. B situation.  Staff are bewildered at the lack of communication regarding Dr. B.
    • Steve Gillen shares that he is resigning as Interim Senior Pastor as of March 17.  
    • The elders are back to square one in their search for a senior pastor because they have “released” the two final candidates from consideration.
    • The elders admit they knew that they did not have any viable Senior Pastor candidates before Christmas 2019, but they neglected to say anything to the staff or congregation until the final days of January 2020..
  • Many on staff express their distrust of the elders and senior leaders.


  • The weekend services of February 1 & 2, 2020 at Willow Creek are altered for prayer and reflection.
    • Jeff Mason, an elder, announces at the Saturday service, “This week the elders released two important updates which are at the website and the app.  And we invite you to read them completely. We are in the process of working through the complexities of the issues we addressed in our updates.”  He … never … once … mentions … the … sexual … abuse … perpetrated … by … Dr. B.
    • Regarding Steve Gillen’s resignation, Jeff Mason stated, “Steve has decided to fulfill his contract which ends on March 17th, conclude his time on the Willow staff and seek out what God has next for him and his family.”  Wait, wait, WAIT!  Steve’s contract does not end on March 17th.  Steve IS ENDING his contract on March 17th. Big Difference.  Steve is done. He’s spent. He’s had enough. Without a job to go to, he’s still through.  And no one can blame him.  
    • Matt Wright follows with reflections on several Psalms allowing for times of congregational reflection and prayer.  But something was missing.  It reminded me of the “reconciliation service.”  No mention of the Dr. B sexual abuse revelations.  No mention of how or why the senior pastor search is back to the starting gate.  It was an amorphous time of reflecting on life being hard and God will see us through.

What Has Gone Wrong?  

  1.  The Appeal For Telling The Truth Has Gone Unheeded

I wrote an email to the elders on April 13, 2018, 2 days after Hybels abruptly “retired early.” I repeatedly asked the elders to humble themselves and to tell the truth. Salient excerpts from that email almost 2 years ago are just as relevant 22 months later.


  • I appeal to you, the protectors of the flock, to be the catalysts that begin the healing.  You must start it.
  • Willow’s ministry cannot move forward until the truth is revealed and acted upon accordingly.
  • Please, humble yourselves …
  • Be courageous!  Tell the truth, so true healing can begin for everyone involved.
  • Please, humble yourselves …
  • Please, humble yourselves and tearfully confess …


  • As difficult as it is, coming clean now is a much better option than waiting …
  • The 800 pound gorilla in the room is, “What is the truth?”  Only you can tell us.
  • Bill is off the stage.  You are the leaders and focus of attention on this tragedy now.
  • … you are the representatives of what is true behind this whole sordid affair.
  • 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.
  • Everyone wants to know the truth.  And only you, the elders of Willow Creek, can confirm it to the rest of the watching world.  And it is only then when healing can begin.
  • Willow’s future is in your hands.  Do the right thing. 

I received no response from the elders to my email.

I had been serving as a volunteer Response Pastor at Willow for several years and shared the email with my ministry leader.  I was told that I sounded angry in my email and that I was not humble. I was then asked to “go on sabbatical.” I agreed to do so.  Scott Vaudrey was the head of that department, Pastoral Ministries. Apparently, I’m still on sabbatical.

On August 12 , 2018 I stated in my blog, “Resignations At Willow Creek:  It’s A Start”:

“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.’”

All that the women victims of Bill Hybels have wanted is for the leadership of Willow Creek to tell the truth of what Hybels did.  Instead, the elders gave the congregation what they wanted: They moved on. And the truth was left behind.

  1.  The Appeal For Transparency Has Gone Unheeded

It appears the only time the leadership and elders are transparent is when they are forced to be.  They get caught in a leadership blunder and they are compelled to make some form of admission.

  • A distraught Willow woman confesses to a female friend that she has been having a 14 year affair with Bill Hybels.  The woman states that she will deny the affair if she is asked about it. Respected former senior leaders approach the Willow Creek elders and WCA (now GLN) Board in 2014 and ask that these serious allegations be investigated.  The appeal to hire an expert independent third party investigator with expertise in clergy abuse was rebuffed at every turn. The woman, true to her word, writes an email to the elders denying that she ever had an affair with Bill Hybels.  A law firm that exclusively represents employers concluded that there was nothing to the charges against Hybels. That was good enough for the elders. That was good enough for the remaining members of the WCA Board. Case closed (whew!). There was absolutely no reason to say anything to the congregation, the elders concluded, because Bill Hybels was found to be innocent.  

But then that pesky article in the Chicago Tribune came out in March 2018, followed by more articles and blogs by Hybels’ victims and advocates.  And then … the NY Times article interviewing Pat Baranowski, Bill Hybels’ administrative assistant for several years in the late 80’s and early 90’s, came out on August 5, 2018.  The efforts to hide the truth, to obfuscate, and to outright lie about the women and their stories could not overcome the ugly appalling truth of Hybels’ hellacious treatment of many women.  So Heather Larson and the elders were forced to admit that Hybels had sinned.

Only when the ugly sinful underbelly of Willow Creek is made public does Willow leadership admit to it.

How To Regain Trust

Vonda Dyer, one of the earliest victims of Bill Hybels to come forward, tweeted the following on January 31, 2020 regarding Ann Lindberg’s testimony of grooming and abuse at the hands of Dr. Gilbert Bilezekian: 

“I believe this woman. Every organization has a culture & this culture is still bleeding stories of abuse, misconduct, abuse of power and legal silencing mixed with veiled apologies but lacking in total contrition, transparency & truthfulness.” 

Vonda’s tweet is true TRUE TRUE !!  The culture is broken, because the trust that was broken has never been restored. Without telling the truth, and without the appropriate transparency that leads to total contrition, there is no reason to trust Willow Creek’s leadership, and the trail of mistrust that has marked the past many years will inevitably continue.   

Here’s where it appears to stand now :  the elders are searching for a senior pastor that will agree with how they have handled Hybels’ scandals: how they treated the women,  and how they decided to move on. And now there’s the Dr. B scandal that they knew about for years and never disclosed — yet another scandal that a new senior pastor will inherit and be forced to deal with.  

Any candidate that believes Willow Creek leadership has handled and is handling these scandals Biblically and has done right by the women victims is disqualified from being pastor.  And any candidate that wants to clean up the mess that the past and current Willow Creek leaders continue to muck up will not be picked by the elders.  

Is that the stark reality?  I don’t actually know. Nobody knows really.  The elders don’t say. They really don’t say much unless they are forced to.  I would love to be proven wrong, but until there is more transparency, we’re all left in the dark.  

One thing I do know: if the elders and senior leaders do not regain the trust of the staff and congregation by being appropriately transparent, telling the truth, and being genuinely contrite, then they will be leading Willow Creek Community Church to yet another great train wreck.  

May it not be so.  May Willow Creek once again become a place where the truth is acknowledged instead of avoided. Where transparency is modelled instead of masked.  Where doing the right thing, instead of doing damage control, becomes the cornerstone of Willow culture, and sets the stage for trust and respect to once again be restored.


Powerful Personal Video Testimony by Victims of Bill Hybels and Willow Creek

For almost two years since the Bill Hybels / Willow Creek scandal became public, the world has read different versions of the whole sordid affair.  Now, firsthand video testimony by two of Hybels’ victims provides a powerful and frank personal account of the tragedy. In the link below, Vonda Dyer and her husband, Scott, give details about Hybels’ efforts to groom and seduce Vonda. They share how the situation impacts their lives and their family — and how the responses of the leadership at Willow Creek and the GLN only adds to their turmoil. It is evident that Vonda and Scott are paying a high price for telling the truth publicly.

In addition, also below, a third video by Mitch Little, gives a top shelf primer on sexual abuse in the church. From his unique perspective as both an attorney and a church elder in Dallas, TX, Mitch outlines typical missteps by church leadership. He also gives “best practice” recommendations for church elders to lead their congregations through such a crisis.

Watching these videos is a must for those who care about what happened at Willow Creek and/or care about protecting victims. After you watch and learn the truth, let me invite any of you who know people involved in Willow Creek leadership (the executive team, elders, GLN leadership) to share this post and these talks with them. ASK FOR THEIR RESPONSE TO THE CONTENT.  I encourage you not to give up until you receive a response that satisfies you.

Vonda Dyer shares her story of being labeled a liar after coming forward with accusations of sexual misconduct against former Willow Creek Community Church Senior Pastor Bill Hybels. Dyer gave this message at the No More Silence conference, sponsored by the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary.
Scott Dyer, a worship pastor and husband of Vonda Dyer, tells his moving story of how watching his wife being vilified for exposing abuse by former celebrity pastor, Bill Hybels, traumatised their family. And from that experience, he offers advice for church leaders on how to handle allegations of sexual abuse.
Attorney Mitch Little, an attorney who’s represented several women who accused former Willow Creek Community Church Senior Pastor Bill Hybels of sexual misconduct, talks about how church leaders should handle sex abuse allegations. Little argues that the reason churches have responded worse to the #MeToo crisis than corporate world is because “corporations are more afraid of their shareholders than churches are.” He adds, “The church has one shareholder. And it’s a fear of God problem.” Though Little offers solid advice on how church boards should respond to sex abuse crises, he admits, “If your leadership lacks the requisite character and experience, no manual will help you. If you have the appropriate level of character and experience, no manual is necessary.”

I am grateful to Julie Roys, a Christian investigative reporter, for posting these videos and  for all of her efforts exploring important issues facing Christians and spiritual seekers.

The full talks of Vonda, Scott, Mitch, Q & A sessions, and other speakers at the No More Silence conference can be obtained by contacting the Dallas Theological Seminary Bookstore at (214) 887-5110 or online on the bookstore’s website.  They are a most valuable resource for any church / Christian organization that is serious about being prepared to address sexual and power abuse within their midst.

Many thanks to the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary for making these resources available.


Willow Creek’s Leadership Strategy — Is It Working?


The leadership at Willow Creek conducted a reconciliation service earlier this year in an effort to move on from the tumult of its recent past.  Leadership insists that they will no longer speak publicly about the Bill Hybels scandal.  So, what has been the result of this approach?  Has the church overcome?  Is the situation at Willow Creek getting better?

The answer to that question is a resounding … No!

Willow Creek’s problems continue to persist and even get worse.  Here are the facts:

  • Weekend attendance in the main auditorium continues to go down.  There are three weekend services.  The auditorium seats 7,200.  Total weekend attendance for all three services COMBINED is in the low 6,000’s.  That is less than an average 30% “fill rate,” as Bill Hybels used to call it.  If a church holds three weekend services and averages less than a third full at each service, does it make sense to rethink holding three services?
  • Giving continues to go down.  Despite South Barrington’s drastically reduced 2019 budget, receipts are now running consistently 20% below target.  Does that portend even more staff reductions and budget cuts for 2020?
  • The voluntary departure of long-term staff continues.  The latest is Marcus Bieschke, beloved lead pastor at Willow Crystal Lake.  His departure is not sitting well with the 1300+ regular adult attenders at WCL.  Marcus’ departure is due to fundamental differences that he has with the eight elders that “lead” all of Willow Creek’s campuses.  He especially disagrees with how the elders have dealt with the Bill Hybels scandal and their treatment of Hybels’ women victims.
  • The Culture Building Team, a special task force for staff that was established at the South Barrington campus is getting an earful.  This group’s primary purpose:  to ask employees what it’s truly like to work at Willow Creek.  During the Bill Hybels’ regime, it was widely reported that staff had better rate their employment experience really well if they wanted to keep their jobs.  The good news:  staff feels that they can be more honest rating their workplace satisfaction.
  • Participation and enthusiasm for GLS activities continues to decrease.  There was widespread disappointment in the lack of integration of Scripture and worship as well as Christ-followers speaking at GLS 2019.  Some GLS host churches said that if the continued secularization of the event is the future direction for the GLS then they’re “out.”
  • Most recently, there is the announcement that Seeds, Willow Creek’s on-campus Bible and Christian bookstore will be closing at the end of the year due to a lack of interest and sales.  Sounds like a good business decision — but not a good decision if you are committed to making fully devoted followers of Christ.

Why isn’t Willow Creek healing?

John 8:32 gives us the answer.  As Jesus declares in this verse it is truth that sets us free.  Willow Creek has not been able to free itself from the continuing fallout of past sin because it has not heeded those words of Jesus.  I have repeatedly encouraged the elders to traffic in truth.  In my second email  to them in April of 2018, I exhorted them to tell the truth, no matter how dark and difficult, and to do it sooner rather than later.  The longer they wait to tell the truth, the worse it will be for the congregation when the truth finally comes out.   In my blog immediately following the resignation of Heather Larson and the elders and the naming of Steve Gillen as Acting Senior Pastor, I encouraged Steve to make his top priority to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help him God.

Unfortunately, 15 months into the tenure of Willow Creek’s new regime, obfuscation continues to be the order of the day.  The elders’ communications continue to be comprised of spiritual platitudes that lack clarity, coherence and self-evident application.  Instead, there are as many interpretations of the elders’ communications as there are readers.

The truth of Bill Hybels’ abuses of his women victims has never been told.  Neither has the truth about his leadership abuses toward numerous staff; some of whom have yet to recover years after experiencing his bullying leadership style toward them.  To this day, some still suffer both physically and psychologically from Bill Hybels’ demeaning leadership style.

Proverbs 28:13 makes it clear, “People who conceal their sins will not prosper,
    but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy.”

Willow Creek could be well on the road to healing if leadership had only told the truth and not tried to cover for Hybels, themselves, and the image of Willow Creek Church.

The current elders have heard in painstaking detail from Hybels’ women victims of how they were groomed and were the victims of his inappropriate sexual advances.  The elders were shocked and forlorn at hearing the real stories — yet they proceeded to communicate only very minimized, sanitized and vague versions of Hybels’ conduct in their last public address on the Hybels scandal.  Most people in the congregation do not know the extent of Bill Hybels’ abuse because the leadership of Willow Creek has refused to tell them.   That is why there are many within Willow that see the women victims and their advocates as complainers who will “never be satisfied.”  In this way, the cover-up has led to the re-victimizing of Hybels’ women victims.  They are now cast as ingrates for all of the elders’ supposed efforts on their behalf.

As long as their true stories remain untold, they seem to be isolated frowny-faces in Willow Creek’s otherwise beaming, camera-ready congregation — the only squeaky wheels in an otherwise well-oiled machine that banked on its reputation as the world’s most publicized well-led church to carry them into the future.

Up until now, the leadership of Willow Creek has in effect deceived the congregation … and the world … by not coming clean and confessing the sins of the founding senior pastor and the senior leaders who protected him.  As a leadership strategy, this approach has clearly not brought healing, as indicated by the trends described above.

Willow Creek’s Unanswered Questions

$$$$$$$$ — Financial Accountability — $$$$$$$

  • Bill Hybels “golden parachute”
    • How much money in the form of tithes and offerings has WCCC committed to paying Bill Hybels after he resigned amid scandal in April of 2018?
    • Who constructed his golden parachute retirement agreement, and when?  Why was there no morality clause in it?  Was it written before or after the elders were confronted with his alleged sexual abuse?  If before, why was it not amended accordingly when multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct?  What is the execution date of that contract?
    • Bill’s golden parachute document should be made public for the congregation to see.  After all, it is their tithes and offerings that are paying him.
  • Insurance, Settlements, and Attorneys
    • How much were the church insurance liability premiums before the scandal broke?  What are the insurance premiums now?
    • How much money has been paid out in settlements because of the Hybels scandal?  I know of one settlement that has occurred and the church has never disclosed it.  Church members have a right to know.
    • How much money has been paid to attorneys since early 2014, the time period when accusations against Bill Hybels were initially brought to the board of elders?
    • How much money is required from weekly offerings to continue to pay Bill Hybels, insurance premiums, and attorneys?
  • Church Debt
    • Willow Creek South Barrington would consistently boast that it does not have any debt, but there is significant debt that has been incurred by the regional campuses.  How much is that debt and how is it structured?

Why would any person in their right mind give another penny to the church without a transparent accounting of the above issues?

Governance Abuses

  • Human Resources and Elder Response Team
    • Over the years, these two departments generated a number of non-disclosure agreements (NDA’s) and “banishment letters” (warnings against coming on any Willow Creek campuses accompanied by the threat to involve police).  Those individuals who were especially responsible for these actions are no longer employed at Willow Creek, but they were lauded for their good service as they were exiting their church employment (Huh?!?!).  The extent of these abuses at the direction of Bill Hybels has never been revealed.

Others Are Leading.  Willow Creek Is Not.

  1. The Billy Graham Center held a one day summit in November 2018 calling the church to address sexual violence, harassment, and abuse.  Nancy Beach, a Hybels’ victim, was one of the speakers at this conference.

2. Dallas Theological Seminary held a one day conference in September 2019, entitled, “No More Silence, Hearing and Addressing Sexual Charges in the Church.” Vonda and Scott Dyer addressed the subject of working under the leadership of Bill Hybels, which included his purposeful seductive grooming of Vonda and the demeaning caricatures he made of Scott in an effort to turn Vonda away from her husband.

3. On November 2, 2019, Judson University in Chicagoland will be sponsoring “Restore Chicago, A One Day Conference Restoring Faith In God and the Church.”  Nancy Beach will be speaking.  So will Wade Mullen, an expert on church abuse and cover up.  The third keynote speaker is Julie Roys.  Julie is a Christian investigative reporter known for seeking and uncovering the truth.  Julie is the most recent writer who is shedding necessary light on the Willow Creek scandal through her podcasts and articles.  You can benefit from Julie’s insight at julieroys.com.  By the way, how many Willow Creek elders and senior leaders will be attending this conference which is just minutes from the Willow Creek campus?  Every one of them should be there to learn how to restore faith in God and in their church.

4. And then there is Willow Creek.  What do we hear from Willow Creek leadership on the subject of their own clergy and church abuse?  Crickets.  Zip.  Nada.  That goes for the GLN and GLS too.  No admission of sin.  No confession.  No repentance.  Just marginalization, self-justification, and silence … except for the “can’t we all just get along and move on” pablum.  It is a disgrace.  They know they have blown it.  Otherwise they would be telling the church around the world the “how to’s” of going through such a scandal.  “How To Overcome Bad Leadership” might be the most crucial lesson that Willow, and the Global Leadership Summit, could ever deliver.  But first they have to learn how to do it themselves.

Due Diligence Done BY the WCCC Senior Pastor Candidates?

Lastly, as the Willow community looks to move forward, there is much talk about the vetting of senior pastor candidates.  I believe the two remaining candidates should vet Willow Creek as much or more than they themselves are being vetted.  If the candidates ONLY know and believe what WC leadership tell them regarding the Bill Hybels scandal, then they only know a very sanitized and incomplete version.

The women victims and their advocates are not “going away.”  If the two candidates do not speak with the victims and their advocates (including the bloggers who have written on the subject), they will be making career decisions based on thoroughly incomplete information.  That would be utter foolishness on their part.  Will they listen to the siren of Willow Creek to “come hither” while disregarding any other input other than that of Willow Creek leadership?  If so, they risk being dashed upon the rocks as many who have answered the Willow Creek call before them.

Telling the truth would be so much more productive for everyone concerned.  Then healing can begin.



The Leadership Dilemma at Willow Creek


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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?


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.


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.


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.


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?


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,



A Deep Divide Remains At Willow Creek. How Come?

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[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?!?!?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


  • 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.


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.


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.


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


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.  


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.


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.


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.