Another Revelation Rocks Willow Creek

August 13, 2018 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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This year was one unlike any other for the Willow Creek Association’s Global Leadership Summit, which was held last week.  The annual event, which began in 1995 at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, has drawn some of the biggest names in the world as its speakers – from U2’s Bono to President Bill Clinton to Prime Minister Tony Blair.  The Summit is broadcast all over the world, including at over 600 locations in the U.S. alone.  But when the Chicago Tribune published an expose last March accusing the Summit’s founder and former Senior Pastor at Willow Creek, Bill Hybels, of making sexually inappropriate advances toward multiple women over a period of decades, the event found itself facing an unprecedented crisis.  Over 100 congregations withdrew as satellite host sites.  Speakers who were scheduled to teach at the Summit, including Denzel Washington, cancelled their appearances.

This past week, the Summit and Willow Creek suffered yet another blow as the New York Times published its own bombshell report chronicling a new story of another woman accusing Mr. Hybels of making sexually illicit advances toward her.  The revelations were so shocking that the church’s lead teaching pastor, Steve Carter, resigned his position the next day, citing his grave concern about the:

…church’s official response, and its ongoing approach to these painful issues. After many frank conversations with our elders, it became clear that there is a fundamental difference in judgment between what I believe is necessary for Willow Creek to move in a positive direction, and what they think is best.

This past Wednesday, the congregation’s other lead pastor, Heather Larson, along with the elder board, resigned their positions after apologizing for not more sensitively and thoroughly addressing and investigating the accusations leveled against Mr. Hybels.  A church that was once the gold standard for leadership, witness, teaching, and worship has been laid low in a matter of months.

As I have written before, Willow Creek has had a formative influence on me in my ministry.  I am thankful for all the congregation has given the worldwide Church.  Unfortunately, it is now offering the Church a lesson it certainly never planned or wanted to – a first-hand warning of what happens when hypocrisy and secrecy overtakes integrity and transparency.  The results speak for themselves.

Several years ago, Bill Hybels wrote a book titled, Who You Are When No One’s Looking.  In it, he extolled the value of character, which he defined as “what we do when no one is looking.”  Character is being the same person in private as you present yourself to be in public.  He was right in what he wrote.  It appears he was very wrong in how he lived.  And now, not only are he and his legacy left in tatters, the church and Summit he founded, the staff he led, and the family who thought they knew him are paying an inestimably steep price.  Lapses in integrity never affect only the perpetrator.

Because we are all sinful, none of us live with full integrity.  We are all, to one extent or another, hypocrites.  The best way to deal with inevitable lapses in integrity is to tell the truth about them fully and immediately.  Sin is killed by confession.  Unfortunately, our reflex is not to confess our sin, but to cover it up.  When Adam and Eve committed history’s first sin by eating fruit from a tree of which God had commanded they should not, Genesis 3:8 says, “They hid from the LORD.”  Adam and Eve thought it would be better to keep the secret of their sin than to tell the truth about their sin.  They were wrong – a fact to which all of history is still testifying as we endure the effects of their first sin and cover-up.

Secrets, especially when they cover shameful realities, can be awfully easy to keep.  And the truth, when it is embarrassing and damaging, can be awfully hard to tell.  But secrets come with a steep price, as Willow Creek is painfully learning.  The truth, however, even when it is tough to tell, comes with a blessed return of freedom.  Which, in the long run, do you think is better?

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. jon trautman  |  August 13, 2018 at 7:38 am

    a sad sad message…pray for healing

    Reply

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