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IS THIS THE NEXT WILLOW CREEK ELDER UPDATE? HOPEFULLY!

 

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.  

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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 FAILED THE WOMEN VICTIMS OF BILL HYBELS

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 FAILED BILL HYBELS

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 FAILED THE CONGREGATION OF WILLOW CREEK

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 FAILED THE STAFF OF WILLOW CREEK

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 FAILED THE GLN CHURCHES AROUND THE WORLD

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 FAILED THE WATCHING WORLD AND ULTIMATELY OUR SAVIOR

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.

HAVING RECOGNIZED OUR ABOVE FAILURES, WE WILL:

  1. CEASE BEING THE CONDUIT FOR WOMEN’S COMPLAINTS AGAINST BILL HYBELS,  DR. B., AND POTENTIALLY OTHERS IN THE CHURCH

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.

  1. WE WILL HIRE AN INTERIM PASTOR THAT WILL WORK WITH GRACE

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.

  1. WE ARE TEMPORARILY SUSPENDING OUR SEARCH FOR A PERMANENT SENIOR PASTOR 

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. 

  1. WE ARE DIRECTING THE GLN TO ADDRESS CERTAIN TOPICS AT GLS 2020 

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 Live “Acknowledgement” at the Global Leadership Summit

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

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

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

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

The Summit is God’s Event

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

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

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

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

○ That one person originated the GLS.

○ That one person traveled the world representing the GLS.

○ That one person was the face of the GLS.

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

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

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

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

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

Transparency and Criticism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As a former staff person from Willow Creek has communicated:

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

The House of Cards Narrative Continues

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

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

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

  • Identifying Narcissism in the Pulpit

  • The Almost Impossible Task of Holding a Narcissist Accountable

  • A workshop for elder boards dealing with a narcissistic leader

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

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

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

Who will be led astray?

What global consequences will result?

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

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