To get you up to speed without all the details, Bill Hybels, who started Willow Creek Community Church and led it to become one of the biggest mega-churches in the United States, retired “early” a few months ago following growing allegations of sexual misconduct, affairs, and mistreatment of women.
When reports initially surfaced several months ago, the leadership at Willow protected Hybels (and themselves) while discounting the accounts of several women who accused Hybels of inappropriate actions.
Over the past week in the wake of a tenth woman coming forward with specific details of Hybels’ misconduct the elders and lead pastors at Willow resigned finally apologizing to the women who had been hurt by Hybels (and the board’s previous discredit of their testimony) and to the congregation for poor leadership and even misleading. And they called on Hybels to apologize and state the truth about the accusations.
While we were on vacation, we ran into a couple who go to Willow Creek Community Church. When we spoke to them early in the week, the elder board resignation had not yet happened. It was interesting for me to listen to them as they blamed the women (Nancy Beach and Nancy Ortberg in particular) for the recent problems at Willow. They seemed to have the same mindset of the board prior to their resignation. (We did not see them again, so I don’t know if their perspective changed following Wednesday night’s resignations.)
On the way home from Arizona yesterday, we “ran” into famous baseball pitcher, Randy Johnson, at the Phoenix airport. (I actually spotted him from across the security check-in area. I’m pretty sure he didn’t see me.) It’s easy to get excited when we run into someone we consider famous like Randy Johnson, Lynn Swan, and even Bill Hybels (these are some of the “famous” people with whom I’ve crossed paths).
I’ve had the opportunity to hear Bill Hybels preach and speak in person, and I’ve been to Willow Creek several times for small group leadership conferences. I’ve also read a couple of books by Bill Hybels. Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Community Church have had a profound impact on many, many people. Thousands of people have been introduced to Jesus as a result of Hybels and Willow. And Willow Creek as been a model for many, many churches across the country and around the world.
This is good on one hand, but it is also scary on the other hand.
I don’t write about these kinds of topics very often. I honestly am afraid to say something stupid (maybe I already have in this post). But I’m supposed to be stretching myself and others, so I think it’s important for me to explore my thoughts on topics like this from time to time.
Here are a few things that scare me and/or stretch me about the Bill Hybels/Willow Creek Community Church situation:
I’m not an expert by any “stretch”. I don’t know the intimate details surrounding the Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Community Church situation. I’ve read some of the news articles and opinion pieces (New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Relevant Magazine). I’d encourage you to read for yourself and STRETCH yourself to think about how you can and should respond. I’d also encourage you to watch this video of Willow Creek Elder Missy Rasmussen: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/100031181-132.html.
Stretching is not just about growing our brains by filling them with more information. Stretching is about challenging our minds and hearts and about taking actions that take us out of our comfort zones. Stretching also happens when we pray. I’d encourage you to pray for Bill Hybels, Hybels’ family, Willow Creek Community Church, and the women and their families who have been impacted by this situation. I believe God works in the midst of our messiness, and I believe God will work in this situation.
If you are a pastor or are in church leadership, I’d encourage you to talk about this. Even if your church or ministry is in a healthy place right now, you can learn and grow.
I certainly don’t have all the answers related to this situation. I’d love to read your thoughts. I’d encourage you in your thoughts and comments to seek to be productive and healing. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.