An Open Letter to The Willow Creek Congregation.

“The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.”    Proverbs 18:15

This blog post is addressed to you, my fellow members and attenders of Willow Creek Community Church.  

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Before you read this post, allow me to introduce myself.  After graduating from seminary I was a college chaplain and then a senior pastor.  I have been a member of Willow Creek for more than 25 years. During my tenure at Willow, I served as an intern.  I assisted teaching the spiritual gifts assessment classes. I have served as a marrying pastor, funeral pastor, small group leader, section leader and response pastor.  I have attended the GLS numerous times. Over the years, my wife and I have hosted GLS attendees from the U.S., the Netherlands (2x), and Namibia (2x). I have invited co-workers and family members to attend the GLS and attended with them.

I am jealous for Willow Creek Church!    

I have written emails to the elders, the WCA, and the Elder Response Team throughout this crisis beseeching them to be forthcoming.  I have had 2 phone conversations with elders. I spoke to one elder face to face after the last elder update. And I have had a face to face meeting with members from the Elder Response Team.

As the days marched on with no apparent resolution in sight, I have felt compelled to share more publicly.  

Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts with you.

Your brother in Christ,
Rob Speight (Sp8)

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Willow Sheep In The Storm 2

Since late March, much has been said and written about the players in the tragedy we are going through:  Bill Hybels, the accusing women, the former leaders at Willow, the elders, and the WCA.  There is one very important group of people who have been almost entirely left out of the conversation:  you, the congregation of Willow Creek.  You play an immensely important role in this crisis.  And that is why I am addressing you in this post.

B1BA453985F9473FB83C4A74AF54859CAs you are well aware, very soon after the accusations against Bill Hybels by several women were revealed by the Chicago Tribune in late March of 2018,  the elders held a family meeting for you so that they could address the allegations against Bill. 

You responded scripturally to your pastor and elders at that meeting.

  • “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account…”  Hebrews 13:17

It is a rare congregation that responds as well to its leaders’ words and place themselves under their authority as well as you do!  Throughout our church’s 42 year history, the congregation has trusted and responded to its leadership.  As a result, God has performed spectacular works that could have only come from His hands.

One would  assume the family meeting would have put an end to any discussion on the topic of Bill Hybels being inappropriate in his conduct with various women.  The elders explained that they had performed multiple investigations over the previous 4+ years, and Bill was found innocent.  Plus, Bill vehemently denied any wrongdoing.  

THE INITIAL PROBLEM AFTER THE FAMILY MEETING

The beloved former leaders of Willow sought to have an investigation into the allegations against Bill Hybels for 4 years.  They would not take the denial of any wrongdoing by Bill as the final word. They believed that the search for the truth in this matter was not complete.  

Plus, a few of the offended women continued to seek justice for themselves and others.

What did they know that we in the congregation did not?

THE QUEST FOR THE TRUTH

1 — These former leaders continued to press for a more diligent effort to discover the truth.

Let me encourage you to read the blogs of these former leaders of Willow who we all loved and respected.  Click on their highlighted names below to find out their perspective.

2 — In addition, I felt compelled to email the elders as well as the Willow Creek Association during April, May, and June because I felt there were too many unanswered questions hanging out there.  My purpose was to be an additional voice that would seek to hold Heather Larson and the elders accountable.

Let me encourage you to click here for my communications with the elders, WCA, and the Elder Response Team.  They are in chronological order.

3 — There were stories being published of additional women coming forward to tell their stories of troubling interactions with Bill.  The links to those stories are below:

4 — Vonda Dyer has been relentless in her Twitter feed to advocate for the women, to link with pertinent experts on the topic of clergy abuse and to repeatedly call for a totally independent third party investigation to reveal the truth of what really happened with the women and Bill Hybels.  Let me encourage you to follow Vonda @Chelseaker

5 — Others have felt compelled to address this sad chapter in Willow’s history:

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PROBLEMS THAT PERSIST

1 — Gradually, baby step by baby step, over the last 3+ months, Heather and the elders have altered their narrative.  It has gone from:

  • Bill is totally innocent and the women are liars … to
  • Not all of the women are liars, and not everything they reported are lies … to
  • They have expressed apologies of sorts to the women.  And they for the first time ever said that “Bill entered into areas of sin.”

This migration of narrative is very troublesome for several reasons:

  • It implies that there is some truth to the women’s stories, but we don’t know what it is.
  • It implies that Bill’s declaration that all accusations against him are lies — is not true.
  • It indicates that the conclusions of the investigations of the past (Bill is innocent of all charges) differ from the most recent attestations by the elders that “Bill entered into areas of sin.”
  • There continues to be obfuscation in the elders’ statements, because we don’t know what the phrase “Bill entered into areas of sin,” means.

2 — The affected women do not trust the elders.  And they do not trust the outside groups that the elders have chosen to engage them,  But the elders continue to put the responsibility of engagement solely on the women. This is not fair.

3 — Ever since this sad issue was brought to the elders, the women and the women’s advocates (both personal and in social media) have requested a totally independent investigation to be performed so that the truth can be discovered.  Yet the elders have denied this request at every turn. To claim otherwise is to be disingenuous. Every investigation so far has had fatal flaws in it.

A totally independent third party investigator with expertise in identifying clergy abuse is absolutely essential to discover the truth of this horrible chapter in Willow’s history.

4 — Willow Creek has been a champion of women ever since its origin.  The leadership’s treatment of the women who have come forward is a black eye to the church’s reputation and insulting and hurtful to the women.

MY REQUESTS OF YOU, THE CONGREGATION OF WILLOW CREEK

  • Please choose to engage with the insight and wisdom contained in the links in this post.
  • Share this post with all of your friends at Willow.  Remember, the heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out — Proverbs 18:15
  • Ask God to give you clarity of thought and understanding.
  • Ask God to show you what action He wants you to take.  Then be courageous and take it.  After all, this is YOUR church.
  • Finally, pray that the truth will be revealed and set everyone involved in this tragedy free.  This freedom may look different for each of the parties concerned.

Dark storm clouds have hovered over Willow Creek for far too long.  May God clear the ominous skies and cause the Son to shine more brightly than ever before over the ministry of Willow Creek.  Amen.

Willow Sheep In The Rising Light


Please be Advised:
Comments have been turned on to allow for respectful dialogue between readers on both sides of the issue. Comments may or may not be responded to by the author of such blog but will be moderated in such a way to provide a safe place for open and honest dialogue. Any comment that would hinder an open, honest, and respectful dialogue will be removed. Thank You for your cooperation.

 

Trouble At The Global Leadership Summit

An Open Letter to Tom DeVries

Before you read my first ever Blog post, I need to introduce myself.  After graduating from seminary I was a college chaplain and then a senior pastor — both on the east coast.  I have been a member of Willow Creek for more than 25 years. During my tenure at Willow, I served as an intern.  I assisted teaching the spiritual gifts assessment classes. I have served as a marrying pastor, funeral pastor, small group leader, section leader and response pastor.  I have attended the GLS numerous times.  Over the years, my wife and I have hosted GLS attendees from the U.S., the Netherlands (2x), and Namibia (2x).  I have invited co-workers and family members to attend the GLS and attended with them.

I am jealous for Willow Creek Church!  

I do not personally have a dog in this race.  

I have written emails to the elders, the WCA, and the Elder Response Team throughout this crisis beseeching them to be forthcoming.  I have had 2 phone conversations with elders. I spoke to one elder face to face after the last elder update.  And I have had a face to face meeting with members from the Elder Response Team.

But as the days march on with no apparent resolution in sight, and considering the events of this past weekend at church and now the article in the Daily Herald about the GLS, I am compelled to share more publicly.  Let me encourage you to click on the link here which contains my emails in chronological order throughout April, May, and June 2018 so that you may understand my efforts to goad the leadership of Willow Creek toward resolving this crisis.  I have tried privately, and now I am trying more publicly.

Thank you.

 

WC Elephant in the Room

Tom DeVries, President and CEO of the Willow Creek Association, was interviewed by The Daily Herald newspaper July 2, 2018.  After giving accolades to Bill Hybels and expressing how he will be missed at the GLS this year, he states that they’re going to address the “elephant in the room,” at the GLS.  

What is the elephant in the room, Mr. DeVries, President and CEO of the Willow Creek Association?

Mr. DeVries identifies the “elephant in the room” to be:  how men and women work together in professional environments.   

So that is the monster issue everyone from around the country and world is dying for the GLS to address?  That’s the elephant?

That is the elephant that is causing
                                           a cloud of malaise
                                                                and division
                                                                                    and heartbreak
                                                                                                        and confusion
                                                                                                                 at Willow Creek Church?

That is the big issue that leaders from all over the world are eagerly anticipating the GLS to tackle?  Mr. DeVries, it pains me to say that you calling that topic “the elephant in the room” lacks wisdom and discernment and is not an example of exemplary leadership.  

That statement is a deflection.  It unfortunately accurately reflects how the elders have handled the last 100 days since the Willow tragedy has gone public.  

Willow Creek Community Church and the Willow Creek Association have not earned the right to address hundreds of thousands of leaders from around the world on this topic.  

Mr. DeVries, we are willing to listen to you address your elephant because it actually does have value.  But there are dozens of elephants in the room bigger and more formidable that need to be addressed FIRST.

There are BILL HYBELS elephants.
There are ELDERS elephants.
There are WCA elephants.

Below I will list four elephants in each of the above categories.  There are many more, but I will limit it to four. First address these, and then you will have the credibility to address your elephant.

elephant-transparent-background BILL HYBELS

  • The elephant of Bill lying when he declared that all the women lied? And that they were all lies that they spoke.
  • The elephant of Bill lying when he declared that Nancy Beach, John Ortberg, Nancy Ortberg, Vonda Dyer, Jimmy and Leanne Mellado, and Betty Schmidt all colluded against him?  He was the victim? (This is the example of leadership that you want to extol?)
  • How about the elephant of Bill refusing to confess his sin and ask for forgiveness from:

Each of the women?
Each of the beloved former Willow leaders?
The congregation of Willow Creek Community Church?
The global partners of the WCA?

  • And what about the elephants of the missing emails and texts and his abuse of power and … ?

elephant-transparent-background THE ELDERS OF WILLOW CREEK

  • The elephant of the first family meeting when they explained away all allegations against Bill and declared him innocent of all charges.  The elders deceived and fractured the entire Willow family that night.
  • The elephant of refusing to hire a totally independent third-party clergy abuse investigator to listen to the women’s stories.  Mr. DeVries, what are the elders afraid of? What might that investigation uncover that the elders want to remain hidden?
  • The elephant of refusing to say Bill had sinned until they were forced to by the courageous voice of Steve Carter, Lead Teaching Pastor of Willow, when he came forward on behalf of the women utilizing his own blog this past Friday evening 6/29/18.
  • The elephant of how poorly the elders have led and cared for the congregation through this crisis.  They have disqualified themselves. They are no longer trusted to lead. Yet they have not been humble enough to resign and thus retain at least a shred of dignity and honor.  

elephant-transparent-background THE WCA

  • The elephant of being a global megaphone for the elders’ narrative of this crisis despite boasting of the WCA’s independence from Willow Creek Community Church.
  • The elephant of obfuscation in the WCA’s communications with its global family and partners (I address this issue directly in my email number 6 to the WCA)
  • The elephant of deflection in the Daily Herald article which has spurred the writing of this blog post
  • The elephant of a WCA staff member slandering Vonda Dyer to a church in Texas to keep them from pulling out as a GLS host site and the WCA refusing to correct that staff member’s slander and offer a public apology to Vonda.

Tom, addressing “how men and women can work together in professional environments” does indeed have value.  But it is not addressing the real elephants in the room.

I am sorry, Tom.  This is not good leadership.  It continues the obfuscation that has defined the way the people involved have been treated for the last 100 days … and before, by the leaders of Willow Creek Community Church and the Willow Creek Association.  

Tackle some of the elephants I named above, Tom, and then it will be worthy of being called The Global Leadership Summit.

*****


Please be Advised:
Comments have been turned on to allow for respectful dialogue between readers on both sides of the issue. Comments may or may not be responded to by the author of such blog but will be moderated in such a way to provide a safe place for open and honest dialogue. Any comment that would hinder an open, honest, and respectful dialogue will be removed. Thank You for your cooperation.

The First 100 Days of the Bill Hybels Crisis

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Date: Thursday, April 5, 2018 at 3:54 PM
Subject: Laner Muchin

Continue reading “The First 100 Days of the Bill Hybels Crisis”