Peace In Anxious Times

cascade creek environment fern

The Mindful Christian
Has there ever been a period when we as a people have been more influenced by the uncertainty of events in our lives? I cannot remember a time like this. We are assaulted on a physical level by the possibility of a virus entering our bodies, while on an emotional level we are experiencing a developing angst about the future. We feel vulnerable, and in some ways defenseless, about our safety.
Our brains, sensing this powerlessness and insecurity, does what God created it to do, kick in the fight or flight response. When that happens, massive stress hormones are released into our bloodstreams as an attempt to fight the impending doom. But the things we are scared of are not tigers or snakes, but rather the “what ifs” of our lives. What if I get the virus, what if I never get my job back, what if I go bankrupt, etc.? Since the body cannot fight this vague enemy, nor can it run from it, it instead freezes and feels the sense of anxiety that is created.

The question that all of us that call ourselves Christians have to answer is, do we have in our faith anything that differentiates us from non-believers? We are called to (John 15:19) recognize that we in the world but not of the world. What does that mean? It means that in our values and beliefs, we are to be different from the mindset of the world. So if the world gets caught up in the belief that we are vulnerable and susceptible to the “what ifs”, we are called to stand apart from this and think differently.

This does not mean that we should avoid the measures in place to reasonably protect ourselves. It just is true that we have resources to cope with the things that are out of our control. Humans like to be in control. Christians lean into the reality that God is in control.

A River Runs Through It

2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth is transformed and the mountains are toppled into the depths of the seas, 3though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake in the surge. Selah 4There is a river whose streams delight the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.… Psalms 46
This Psalm, one of my favorites, points us away from catastrophic thinking, and back to the Truth that God is at the center of all things. God is like a steady river that can be the quiet place of dwelling, when the external world seems as if it is fracturing. It is this resource, above all else, that gives to a believer a focus and resource that those who rely only on themselves or the government, do not have.

Peace That Passes Human Understanding

You will keep him in perfect peace,Whose mind is stayed on You,Because he trusts in You. Isaiah 26:3

Peace is the opposite of anxiety. It comes from a steady confidence that as we remember who God is, in all of His power and might, that we can shelter in the comfort of His wings. This verse points us to the fact that God will give us a peace that is hard to explain by the events of the world unfolding around us. This is because, the mindful Christian, stays mentally focused on the Truth that God is in control. Our minds stray, and get distracted, by the events going on around us. Peace does not come easily or naturally, but rather when we intentionally pursue a posture of keeping our mind stayed and settled on the Truth. The mindful Christian stays in the eye of the storm, where turmoil surrounds, but does not inhabit our inner confidence in God as our comfort and strong place of refuge.

Sanctified Souls
There has rarely been a time when we as believers have the opportunity to show an anxious world what it is like to experience peace in uncertain times. To be sanctified is to be set apart, to be different. In the herd mentality of contagious anxiety, part of the experience of “mass hysteria”, we as believers have the ability to stand apart.

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,.. I Peter 3

When the world is in turmoil, we have the opportunity to show peace. It of course is counter-intuitive in a social phenomenon such as a pandemic. But it is the gift that comes from our daily and moment by moment mindful awareness of the river of trust that is offered to those who have placed their faith in God.

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14

The Discipline of Staying

The idea of peace that comes from letting our minds be stayed on God does not come easy. The mindful Christian develops an intentional process of focusing away from the anxious state of world affairs, and towards a full awareness of who God is and what he has promised. Mindful Christians remember who God is and when they stray mentally they keep coming back to what they know.

8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4

Drawing near is the discipline of the believer. We are like sheep that go astray, even in our mind focus. We must keep going back, learn to stay with the Truth, and God will honor this with the peace that passes human understanding (Phillipians 4:7)

A suggestion for a book that focuses on being a more mindful Christian is “Holy Noticing” by Charles Stone.

Male Isolation And The Church’s Vulnerability To The Sexual Abuse Of Women

man wearing white shirt brown shorts and green backpack standing on hill
Photo by Archie Binamira on Pexels.com

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. I John 1:7

 
It would be hard to challenge the notion that sexual abuse issues appear to be on the rise in the Church of Jesus Christ. In fact, some churches have been labeled by wise leaders (Don Cousins, Discovery Church, Orlando Florida) to have a culture that is vulnerable to immorality. Churches today need to recognize that a spiritual war is going on that must be met by humility and prayer. Pastors, elders, church leaders, and volunteers have been guilty of inappropriate sexual behavior, resulting in a predatory climate, unsafe to women. There is no greater assault to the name and reputation of Jesus Christ and His Church than the headlines of sexual acting out in the church. When this happens, it is easy to see how those outside of Christ dismiss the church as hypocritical, and not any different than the secular world.

 
The Church, the Body of Christ, is supposed to be a community set apart from the ways of the world. The Church is to be a new community, reflecting the Kingdom of God, a family of loved and loving children of the Father. Interestingly, when sexual acting out happens in the context of the Church, the family of God, it is akin to incest- sex among family members. Just like in a real family, the violation of trust is powerful, because the assumption is that the spiritual maturity of believers should serve as a hedge against sexual acting out inside the family of God.

 
The Church, as an alternative family for many who have come out of the sexually abusive context of their own family of origins, should be the safe and trustworthy context in which abused people can feel secure and protected. But when the Church has sexual acting out going on within its family, it violates the foundational trust that abused persons are seeking as an alternative to their experience. If sexual acting out occurs, even within the context of the Church, where, really, can anyone go to truly feel safe? If pastors and church leaders, who are often seen as spiritual parental figures, can be predatory, where do God’s children, particularly women, go to feel safe?

 
The Church, reflective of Jesus, is to be the context in which women are elevated to a status of equal value with men. In my church, Willow Creek Community Church, two advocates of the egalitarian position on the role of women in the church, Bill Hybels and Gil Bilzekian, have themselves been accused of inappropriate sexual abuse of women. The core belief of the egalitarian position on women, you would think, should result in a high regard for women as other than sexual objects for exploitation by men. If men who claim to honor women and elevate their status, instead exploit them, how can women trust men in the church? Men in the Church should be safe to women, seen as co-heirs to the Kingdom. The problem, however, is that often men, who are formed in the context of a hyper-sexual secular society, simply bring their unhealthy needs and assumptions about women into the Church. They may be as likely as men outside the Church to approach their sexual needs in broken and predatory ways. So what is the problem, how has it been created, and what is the solution?

The Problem
As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17
Historically men were part of a Band of Brothers, not the isolated and lonely state of most men today. There was a hierarchy of male leaders, with elders at the highest place of respect, who governed the behaviors of the male members. In most cultures, boys were given the soft love of their mothers until they reached the time of what we now call early adolescence (13,14). At that point boys entered what has been called a “liminal” space, a time of training, a time called initiation, that starts with the “calling out” of boys to enter the beginning of manhood.
The best example of this in our day is a man that enters the Marines. He is initially a recruit, not yet a Marine, called into training. After the rigors of training, if he succeeds, he graduates and becomes a real Marine. In the Marines, he begins at the lowest level, based on his experience and training, and then over time graduates up the ranks.The training he receives helps him to internalize the values and behaviors of a Marine. He learns to discipline his own self-centered tendencies, respects a hierarchy of leadership, and slow but sure moves from being an individual to being a co-warrior.

 
With the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the fabric of this male connectedness started to unravel. Rugged individualism was propagated as the new male ideal. Dependence on other men was shamed, leaving men isolated and emotionally lonely. The rules and containment of the group broke down, and men, who crave structure and belonging, began to live separately from one another. Rather than collaborating with fellow men to accomplish shared goals, men began to feel competitive, further alienating them from one another. When men are competitive with one another, they are wary of trusting other men.

 
Feelings, the foundation of social connectedness, were frowned upon and even laughed about. In earlier cultures of male brotherhood, sexual behaviors that broke the rules were contained and even punished. The community could not afford to allow rogue men to pursue sexual gratification for their own selfish purposes. Women needed to feel safe, and it was one of the functions of the male brotherhood to provide and protect the culture, so women could feel secure. Men who were in connected communities knew each other, were accountable to each other, and could rely on each other to stay disciplined. The acting out behavior of any man would be quickly recognized and responded to in swift and strong ways. Women could trust this process, because all of the men shared the same cultural set of values and behaviors.

How Has The Church Perpetuated The Problem?

 
The Church should be the path back to the way that things were for men. The Church should have constructed rituals of initiation, structures of hierarchy, values of collaboration, and connections for lonely isolated men. But, in many ways, the Church has not been strong in going back to the way that I believe God intended for men to have community. The average guy who goes to church does not feel connected in any meaningful way. The church has not really addressed the break down of male community and its devastating effects. The accountability structures that were natural and normal in healthy male communities do not exist in the modern day church. Men, who struggle with emotional isolation and fear, do not feel a sense of safety to move towards other brothers in Christ. Instead, they suffer in silence, often using tried and true addictive behaviors to cope with their feelings. All too often these are sexual in nature. The catastrophic rise of online sexual sites has become a simple solution for a man to go from sad and lonely, to a sudden surge of sexual intensity. Sadly, the aftermath of this behavior is a growing sense of further isolation and shame. And so the cycle continues.

No Real Accountability

 
A leader at Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) shared with me that he had gone to the senior leader of the church and proposed that the church develop accountability structures for the men of the church to stay on top of potential sexual acting out behaviors. He was met with a response that basically said no, we do not need that, and then implied that maybe the leader that proposed this had a problem.

 
WCCC is a church that, in my opinion, is structurally set up for vulnerability to adulterous acting out. Its leader lived a non-accountable life. I have not found one person who said that they had a sense of knowing the insides of the senior leader. The senior leader was isolated, hyper-competitive, unwilling to be governed, showed little empathy, and did not share his struggles or emotional pain. By his behavior he set the template for the average male leader at WCCC. The average male leader at WCCC had to look good, stay in shape, use Willow speak, and endorse the vision and values of Bill Hybels. They often lived in fear of failure, and had no real place to go to get comfort or reassurance for their feelings, and felt a fear of being looked at as weak if they admitted to emotional struggles or even anger at their spouses or fellow employees. This is a culture where all forms of sexual adultery can be a rife alternative to healthy coping.
In healthy cultures it is normative to share struggles and get help. In toxic cultures of competition and fear, it is viewed as weak and dependent to seek help.

Cultures like WCCC, with high perfectionistic demands and lots of emotional isolation, can easily become the “cultures of immorality”, where the evil one proposes sexual sins as the solution to the painful pressure and isolation of many men.

Catch 22

 
In some ways, the modern church culture has created a “Catch 22” for church leaders, particularly pastors of smaller churches. We pay them to be icons of spiritual health, place them on idealized pedestals, and place a perfectionistic demand on them to be holy and righteous. Pastors pick up the signal that they could be punished somehow for admitting their weaknesses and emotional struggles. They may feel anger towards their parishioners or their spouses, but do not believe that it would be acceptable if they shared these struggles. Since churches do not give pastors healthy options for dealing with their intense feelings, why are we so surprised that they often resort to unhealthy, sinful solutions?

 

Pornography viewing is on the rise among pastors. Acting out sexually is growing. Why? Because we place so much pressure on spiritual leaders to be so perfect, that they cannot bear that kind of burden. They are set up to fail. If we do not normalize structural ways to allow pastors to be simply members of the community of men and women, we are creating conditions for sexual failure. We have created an elitist view of leadership, that becomes a barrier for leaders to simply be one of us, broken and in need of community.

 
My son, pay attention to my wisdom,
and listen closely to my insight,
2 so you may carefully practice discretion and your lips preserve knowledge.
3 For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil.
4 But in the end she is as bitter as wormwood, and as sharp as a double-edged sword. Proverbs 5

 

What Is The Solution?

 
7 For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, 8 but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. Titus 1

 

When a church is vetting a male leader for employment, the first question that should be asked is “How have you been intensively involved in a male community that is honest and transparent about feelings and sexual impulses?”.

 

Ask these questions: 1. Who do you share with related to anger feelings regarding your wife or children or fellow employees? 2. How is your sex life and are you struggling with fantasies of sexual gratification? 3. Is there a women in your life that you have become enamored with. either sexually or emotionally? 4. With whom, besides your partner, do you share your feelings? 5. What impulses do you experience and who do you share these with to hold you accountable? 6. How aware are you of tendencies to be prideful or to be critical of others, and who do you share this with? Etc.
If the candidate is offended by these questions, cross him off the list.

 

No leader is too great or important to not have down to earth accountability. Any church that does not demand this is culpable in the potential acting out behavior of its leaders. There is no reasonable justification, in the current climate of sexual acting out, for any leader to not be intimately connected to a community of men who will ask tough questions and hold leaders accountable. The safety needs of women in the Church are dependent upon this strong position. Mega-churches, like WCCC, may tend to attract somewhat narcissistic leaders, who, by virtue of their successes elsewhere, may be offended by a demand for their accountability. Too Bad! The painful consequences of the WCCC narcissistic leaders, who were unaccountable, should support the absolutely essential requirement of a leader’s willingness to enter the crucible of personal vulnerability!

Diminished Value Of Men’s Ministries In The Church

 
In most churches women’s ministries are far more active and vibrant than men’s ministries. WCCC abolished formal paid staff for men’s ministries years ago. It is my belief that the senior pastor did not value a strong men’s ministry because, at some level, strong, aware, mature Christian men could potentially confront his unhealthy isolation. I was annoyed that Bill Hybels would not just be another guy at a men’s ministry event. He allowed the hierarchical and elitist mentality to exist whereby he did not see himself as an equal to other men. That elitist mentality, driven by competitive and hierarchical values, is the absolute opposite of the collaborative and horizontal ideas of a body of men. Any church that allows a pastor to not have deep and accountable relations with other men is going down a path to potential destruction.

 

The real solution to the sexual acting out behaviors in the church is a return to the initiation and containment structures of the past. The culture of male isolation and hidden sin has resulted in a true spiritual and emotional emasculation of healthy male strength. We must understand the fact that the Evil One, the great divider, is thrilled with the current state of men who are weakened by living in isolation. When men do not understand healthy strength, the kind that is used for Godly good, they default to the counterfeit forms of strength, such as sexual aggression, which can lead to toxic masculinity. Men need a path to transition to manhood in a healthy way. Our culture and churches allow secular structures to initiate boys. These are primarily the media, internet, sports, gangs, fraternities, video games, or the military. The Church must provide healthy alternatives.

 
The exposure of sexual sin at WCCC and other churches simply reveals the symptoms of a toxic culture for men. How many women must be assaulted and damaged by the unwanted intrusion of male sexual aggression before the church wakes up to its complicity in supporting a model of male isolation. The church has vacated its role as the primary socializers of boys becoming men that existed for many years in the past. Men’s ministries should be one of the most essential ministries in the church. Most women, if asked, are thrilled when men create community that helps them to stay accountable to Godly ways of living. They know that healthy men, who are initiated by wise Godly men, are going to have a deep respect for women and are going to be sexually safe in the community of men and women that is the Church. And mothers, who pass off their sons to a community of wise Godly men, feel confident that the wisdom of God will be the foundation of how their boys/men will grow to maturity.

 

Years ago I, along with some other leaders at WCCC, developed a ministry called “Passage To Manhood”, which created the kind of ritual structures that allowed for a formal process of helping boys move across the threshold from boyhood to manhood. It was a low incidence program at WCCC, and so was not supported. This needs to be pursued again in the church so that the church becomes a haven of safety for women, rather than a place of vulnerability.

Willow Creek Community Church: A Culture Vulnerable To Immorality?

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18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Romans 1 

Hiding And Vulnerability To Immorality

Although the above passage is usually thought of in the context of unbelievers, it can also apply to believers, who move away from the Wisdom and Truth of Scripture. When a church suppresses the Truth, verse 18, they open themselves to all forms of immorality. Truth is like light, it seeks to be revealed. All attempts to suppress it will fail and the efforts used to keep it secret will be exposed in time. 

Sin festers in the darkness, in the hidden things of this world. Organizations like Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) have created a culture of hiding. This church is one of the most secretive organizations with which I have personally been associated.  Even today, after two years of the traumatic revelation of sinful sexual behaviors, that were suppressed until the church was forced to acknowledge them, the church culture is still one of hiding. You would think that after years of hidden immoral behavior on the part of the senior pastor and others, the church would go overboard in the opposite direction, revealing things to the congregation in real time. But no. Even as recently as a few months ago, at least three immoral sexual behaviors on the part of former staff members and the visionary co-founder of the church, have been revealed. One of these was forced by the coming forward of a victim, the others have not been publicly acknowledged by the leadership of the church. 

A former senior staff member of WCCC, in assessing the situation at the church, came up with the concept that a “culture of immorality” may exist that has not been addressed and changed. From his perspective, this is a spiritual battle, in that the church may be captive to the deceiving spirit of the Evil one. After all, scripture clearly states that Satan is the father of lies and operates in the currency of deceit and truth suppression. He is in fact a thief and a liar. So only his influence could guide an organization into suppressing the truth. God  wants authenticity and transparency, so His grace can abound. Satan’s goal is division and secrecy, because he in fact knows that this is the fertile soil where sin breeds best. So when the siren sound that beckons to protect flaws and sins by deception and suppression is listened to, hiding becomes the fabric of life. Any organization that shows such a high focus on external image and suppression of truth is not following the guidelines of scripture. Satan’s great lie is that of promoting looking good, but not being good. At an organizational level, this in fact is what WCCC’s culture has created. It is in this kind of vulnerable culture, of secrecy and darkness, that immorality flourishes. 

Truth Suppression Strategies (TSS)

WCCC has for years operated on the assumption that a few elite leaders and managers are the ones that control the flow of information to the rest of the congregation. And, as has been developed elsewhere, the church operates on a high degree of control of information that threatens the perfectionistic image of the church. Any problems that risk breaking through to the congregants or the outside public’s awareness of sin or flaws must be met with  Truth Suppression Strategies (TSS). TSS are implemented when there is a red alert to the possibility of negative information getting out to the public. It reminds me of the storm troopers of Star Wars that come to attack whatever is a threat to the rule of the dark forces. 

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Pexels.com

As a 30 year attender at WCCC, I have witnessed the church going from looking so outwardly good, to slowly but surely peeling back the veneer to reveal years of TSS that operated in the deep state of the organization. What is incredible is the fact that for so long WCCC was able to prevent the revelation of multiple sinful problems due to  well orchestrated TSS. The most prominent forms of the TSS range from the heavy handed power consolidation at the top of WCCC, whereby the ruler, Bill Hybels, had such control over the elders and leadership structure that he, by force of personality, could prevent anything negative about the church or himself, from seeping out. Bill Hybels is the architect of the TSS at WCCC. As has been identified in earlier blogs, it is the dualistic pathology of his inner life that laid down the blueprint for the organizational suppression of truth. He has such an intense need to look good that he built a church structure around this model of perfection. Anything that threatened this outward facade had to be met with the TSS storm troopers. 

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TSS are a collection of approaches with the same objective- to get around potential negative information and either prevent them from seeing the light of day, or destroy the sources of potential bad press. Kill the messengers and victims. Kill their reputations, kill their legitimacy, and never allow the potential image destroying reality of their message to surface! These approaches are pretty standard ways of controlling the narrative of a person or organization. See the NBC, Fox News, and Harvey Weinstein, stories. 

As I have analyzed the TSS that WCCC has used in responding to the revelation of sinful immorality on the part of Bill Hybels and other leaders, specific approaches have been uncovered. One of the primary TSS has been that of discrediting the very realities of the experience of victims. Elders supported the attacks on victims by colluding with the perpetrator to call the women liars and  colluders. Although the elders later gave a tepid apology, they never entered into accepting the level of pain they had inflicted on these women victims or one of the elders, Betty Schmidt. That approach worked initially. The elders themselves lied when they presented a rationalization that they had gotten in front of information about Bill Hybels’s sexual immorality by hiring a bogus attorney connected to the church and biased in favor of finding Bill innocent. A weak foundation was then laid to justify saying they had done their due diligence, and could confidently support Bill Hybels’s innocence. They used TSS by not going outside the church to find a truly objective and unbiased investigator of Bill’s behavior. But this Truth Suppression Strategy is so clever! Find a biased investigator who concludes in favor of the perpetrator, so elders can get behind the conclusions of this prejudiced person, and seek to steer, like a red herring, the focus of the congregation away from the truth. See everyone, the Emperor does have clothes! 

Another TSS is to gaslight the victims. In short, gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse “in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.” Essentially, gaslighting is a tactic used to destabilize your understanding of reality, making you constantly doubt your own experiences.

Most of the time, this tactic is used to further uneven power balances with abusive partners, making you second guess yourself when you feel as if you are being abused or attacked. (from everyday feminism).

There have been multiple stories of victims being labeled as psychologically unstable or even ill (ie. Pat Baranowski), thereby discrediting their realities about how they were abused. Another gaslighting technique used was to reverse the culpability from the perpetrator to the victim, by suggesting that the victim was angry at the rejection of the perpetrator and so decided to accuse him or her. Incredibly, at WCCC, a church that supposedly has an egalitarian view of women, female elders entered into this process. The goal of this TSS is to annihilate the credibility of the victim by attacking their legitimacy. This form of the TSS is particularly cruel, since it has no regard for the traumatic damage inflicted on the victims who are not believed. It’s’ only objective is to PROTECT PROTECT PROTECT the church! Protect its founder. 

A clear motivation for the level of protection of the senior leader is the concept of the Key Man. Bill Hybels, at WCCC, was  the Key Man in the insurance structure of the church. When a church is covered for liability or other forms of insurability, a Key Man is identified who is so important that they must be treated in a different way. That is why, I believe, that Bill Hybels was restricted from high risk activities such as piloting his own plane.  The assumption in a mega-church of WCCC’s size is that if the Key Man goes down, the financial implications are huge. Therefore, at all costs, the Key Man must be protected against culpability. The attendants to the Emperor must create a veil of impenetrability around the Key Man. As a result any threat to the image and power of the Key Man must be eliminated at all costs! Anyone that threatens the power or prestige of the Key Man must be neutralized in some way.

As an aside, although the policy of the Key Man concept is to limit risk, the reality is that Bill Hybels engaged in the high risk behavior of sexual behaviors toward women in the church and elsewhere.  This can only be explained by the fact that individuals like him, who believe in their own celebrity, become so entitled that they believe they can control risky situations. He made a calculated decision that he could control and suppress the truth getting out. In this sense, he not only put himself at risk but the whole church as well. I have always said that entitled people hold within themselves the seeds of their own self destruction. They combine being risk prone with entitlement. At some point, they make decisions that they cannot completely control and so get exposed.

 

Can any real Christian imagine that Jesus would endorse the Key Man concept of the current mega-church model? The very concept bakes in a motivation to protect the financial value that the key man represents. It therefore adds an incentive to suppressing information that could damage his ability to keep the church functioning at the financial level that it has attained. Would Jesus endorse the concept that any man or woman is so financially important that we should give him or her a pass on morality? The ends do not justify the means. I attended a service at Discovery Church in Orlando last Sunday and was refreshed by hearing its pastor, Don Cousins, former pastor at WCCC, say emphatically that there are no celebrities in the church except Jesus. He is the only Key Man!

Then there is the concept of the “key men or women” to the Key Man. Enter the Elder Response Team (ERT). The task of the ERT in the structure of TSS is to get around negative information and do whatever is necessary to eradicate its potential damage to the Key Man and therefore the church. Discrediting the stories of victims continues in this process. As I have blogged elsewhere, the ERT created a “Star Chamber”  court that stacked the power imbalance clearly in favor of the ERT over any potentially harmed individual. Multiple stories of intimidation exist about how the ERT used TSS to catch and minimize the damage to the church’s reputation. The head of the ERT, who was a clone of Bill Hybels, was the “key man” for the Key Man. He helped clean the messes. Things from destroying evidence (ie. shredding evidence of a relationship shared by victim Ann Lindberg), to powering up on vulnerable individuals in intimidating ways was the MO of the ERT. 

Current TSS

The question at this time in the history of WCCC is have the TSS been eliminated? The reason that immorality flourishes in organizations that hide and suppress the revelation of sin is that at some level, individuals who sin in the organization will not be exposed. So the underlying message is that one can sin, or act out sexually, and  they will either get by with it, because of their power, or if found out, will not be exposed publicly.  WCCC should publicly call out Bill Hybels for his sin and call him to repentance. Why? As a signal to others that sin will be exposed. But because the culture of WCCC was formed and is still sustained around the TSS of the past, there is still a commitment to protecting the truth in ways that the leadership believes will not do damage to the image. The current elders, in many ways, are no different from previous elders and leaders. They do not share the truth in real time. There have been affairs among high profile leadership staff, some as recent as a few months ago, that have not been exposed to the people of the church. WCCC is like a dysfunctional family that looks good on the outside but works hard to suppress damaging truth. 

 

Transparency Supports Healthy Moral Choices

Going back to my opening thoughts about immorality, I believe that even the current culture of limited sharing of truth keeps WCCC vulnerable to continued immorality. When secrecy is endorsed at an institutional level, as it is at WCCC, then, by implication, the message to individuals is that secrecy is acceptable. But every sinful behavior is sustained by secrecy. Every affair that occurs is done in secrecy. Every sexual acting out behavior that exists in an organization is supported by threats to victims to maintain secrecy. Secrecy is the petri dish in which the cancer of sin is free to metastasize. The current elders have just replaced the former elders by being the gatekeepers of truth. They have resisted, by mainly passive aggressive efforts to look like they are addressing the secrecy issues, becoming a transparent organization. And because of this they are culpable in sustaining a culture that is vulnerable to ongoing immorality. All the behind the scenes decisions they are currently making, without sharing openly with the congregation, are simply a continuation of the elitist view of leadership, that a select number of people can know or suppress the truth. Elder updates are so bland and so insufficient as a source of real information, that they are offensive. 

Luke 8:17 For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. 

 

Willow Creek Community Church: The Little Dutch Boy Is Running Out Of Fingers

 

 

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“Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, because they are hypocrites. Everything that is hidden will be shown, and everything that is secret will be made known.” Luke 12:2

 

The fable of the Dutch boy (no irony intended- on second thought, irony intended!) who had to work frantically to plug with his fingers the leaks of a dyke on the verge of collapse, seems relevant to Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) at this time. The truth is leaking out in spite of systemic efforts to keep it contained. It is like new wine in old wine skins, bursting out of the container as it seeks the freedom of truth.  It is inevitable, as the above verse describes. There is no holding it back. Truth is like water that will persistently search for a way of escape.  

So why do foolish men and women instead try to hide it? They fear that the dam will break, the foundation will collapse, and what was a shiny, though infected, church, will be no more. And maybe it should, if those who lead it are unwilling to do a course correction and focus the church on a path of honesty. You cannot build your house on sand. You cannot ignore the infrastructure of hiding while you seek to hold forth a public image that is like a white-washed tomb. 

Rocked Again

The Willow Creek Community Church world was rocked again by new revelations of sexual abuse allegations against Dr. Gilbert Bilzekian, the inspirational founder of the church and mentor to Bill Hybels. These abuse allegations were brought to the leadership of the church 10 years ago, and the repression/suppression machinery went into overdrive, going so far as destroying the evidence that it had been presented with by Ann Lindberg, the victim of this abuse. The Elder Response Team, who dealt with the allegations, acted like they were going to do something to limit Dr. Bilzekian’s ability to teach or lead, but he continued to be used in various ministries. Real evidence of Dr. Bilzekians’s inappropriate relationship with Ann was destroyed by Scott Vaudrey, the head of the ERT. In a criminal court this would be equivalent to tampering with evidence and obstruction of justice. But the lame excuse used was that this was SOP at Willow. 

Ann Lindberg experienced a number of tactics, consistent with other victims at WCCC,  whereby she was treated poorly, excluded from ministry opportunities, as well as being  essentially labeled as a racist by a staff member because she proposed a response to a hypothetical question about prejudice that the staff member decided was an indication of racist tendencies. She was told that until she could free herself of her racism she would not qualify for ministry opportunities. This staff member was a rabid disciple of Bill Hybels’s focus on racism, and apparently could see racism in others.These and other tactics were used to abuse Ann at WCCC. She went from loving the church and growing as a believer, to living in fear and hyper-vigilance, as all sense of safety evaporated for her. She continued to come as she loved the church and wanted to continue with involvement. She believed that she was being monitored when she was at the church. All of this added a sense of traumatic anxiety to her experience at WCCC. 

Only Admit Sins When You Are Being Forced To Do So

This week’s revelation is a continuation of the pattern and practice of the church to keep secrets about any past sinful behaviors of leaders in the church. The image driven leadership of WCCC has been forced to deal with sin because people who have been abused, and should have been able to trust the leadership of the church to do something about their trauma, instead were forced to use outside media to make the church acknowledge what it was hiding. WCCC has been a cesspool of secrecy, going back to the early years of the church.

The church has hidden multiple staff problems, from sexual indiscretions to theft of church money, all because of a culture of wanting to look good at the expense of the church’s corporate integrity. The church has created a culture of adultery, whereby the very dynamics of the church’s fear driven emphasis on perfection leads to the frequent acting out behaviors of its leadership and staff. I will blog more on this “culture of adultery” concept in another blog.

No Confidence Vote

If WCCC had a parliamentary government structure, we could call for a no confidence vote as it relates to the Elders and the leadership. The leadership has always been secretive, following some undisclosed strategy to guide the church, but not letting anyone know what is guiding their decisions. I talked to the Elders back in November of 2019 and they were going to get back to me with a clear Biblical rationale for how they are handling the failure to call out the sin of Bill Hybels and not treating the victimization of multiple women with a deep sense of brokenness and confession. I am still waiting their reply.  They have been spending money on investigative reports, and a senior search organization, as well as expert consultants. They have not been able to identify a senior pastor, essentially going back to the drawing board now looking at 6 new candidates. 

Many people have lost trust in the Elders ability to lead. There literally is no oversight body to investigate what the Elders are doing and why. WCCC has gone from the autocratic leadership style of Bill Hybels to a group of Elders who have been tasked with leading the church out of the swamp of sin. How does anyone know if they have the expertise to lead at this point? There is no one to look at what they are doing and why.  It is back to the mantra of the past. “Just trust us!” I do not know about others, but I do not trust a blind driver to not drive me over the cliff.

 Why do they not, in intimate detail, share their strategies and methods of leading? As has been stated elsewhere, they are cut out of the same cultural cloth that has existed at WCCC for years, where the congregants are supposed to assume that the leadership knows what they are doing. Is is time for the people to stand up and demand accountability from the Elders? I believe so. They are stewarding the tithes and offerings of attenders. I and others have offered to come alongside the leadership as consultants but have been ignored. Many who have asked for feedback from the Elders have been ignored. WCCC looks like a ship that has lost its rudder. Steve Gillen is leaving. The two final candidates, after a long period of vetting, are not acceptable and the Elders will not tell why. It would be informative of what the Elders are looking for if they would share what made the final candidates unacceptable. But the leadership has the arrogant belief that the commoners, the attenders of WCCC, cannot handle the truth. Someone has to step up and provide oversight of what these Elders are doing and why. 

Confess Your Sins So You Can Be Healed (James 5:16)

The clear admonition to confess, repent, and seek the healing of forgiveness has been stubbornly ignored by WCCC leadership. There is a rationale for why confession is essential before healing can occur. The very fact that one confesses shows that they have turned from a pattern of hiding and denying sin to admitting to it and seeking forgiveness. Sin is like moss. It multiplies in the dark cold places of our heart. Confession indicates that we are committed to living in the light of full exposure, so that the shame of hidden sin cannot have its power over our lives and the life of our church. To confess, we need to fully embrace grace, knowing that when we are honest before God he will cover us with His grace and forgiveness. God calls for a broken and contrite heart, in order for full healing to start. WCCC style of letting truth come out in drips and drabs, and only when forced to, is never going to allow full healing.  

Trust The Truth

WCCC’s strategy is not working. Failing to have a deep corporate cleaning of a culture of secrecy and protection of image is resulting in a continual decline of the church. It is like the saying “Nero fiddled while Rome burned”. Only it seems like at WCCC it is more like the Elders continue to gather information and strategise in secret while Willow erodes. What about a “novel” radical strategy like commitment to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth! Trust the truth, because unlike the dark secret cellar of suppression that WCCC finds itself in right now, the truth sets us free. 

 

Willow Creek Community Church- “It’s The Culture, Stupid!” (Sorry, Too Harsh)

 

“So every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produces good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Matthew 7:17-19

The concept of the “Fruit of The Poisonous Tree” , which the above verse refers to, began as a legal principle that stipulated that any evidence that came from a compromised source could not have legal validity, and so could not be used against a defendant. The idea has expanded to include the notion that anything that is produced from an unhealthy environment will be tainted. Unhealthy environments are the cultural context from which sickly things are produced. Culture can be healthy or corrupt, and the fruits of this context will follow suit. The tree, in this verse, represents the culture.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” A quip attributed to Peter Drucker.

As I look at months of my (and others) blogging about the dysfunction of my church, Willow Creek Community Church, and its founding pastor Bill Hybels, the question that comes to mind is “has it made much difference?”. Truthfully, my conclusion is that it has not had a substantial impact on anything going forward in terms of real organizational reform. The same hiding of truth exists even now post-Hybels-crisis. The same elitist mentality of leadership seems unaltered. The same failure to let people know what is going on financially at the church is intact. The same image management strategy remains the intact modus operandi of the church. The same failure to admit sin and compensate victims of its nefarious ways continues unabated. 

Why does this seem to be the case? As I write this, I know the answer. I knew it all along, but hoped against hope that it was not true. But it is. And what is it? Culture. Culture is the answer to why there has been no substantial change. Culture operates like a boa-constrictor to squeeze out and kill anything that opposes its need to dominate whatever organization that it controls.

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Photo by Gabriel P on Pexels.com

Boy to his talking goldfish: “How do you like the water you’re swimming in?”

Goldfish: “What is water?”

This is the crux of what it is to understand culture. It is something that we swim in, surround ourselves with, operate and direct our behaviors from. If you asked the average person to describe the culture he/she lives in, he/she would not be able to articulate what a culture is, what it is composed of, and how it influences one’s life. It is in fact like a fish in water. It is the unconscious and invisible, while at the same time powerful medium, in which we move and live and have our being. Cultures can be understood at a micro, all the way up to a macro level. Marriage and families are the clearest microlevel of culture, while being a member of the global earth community would be the highest macro culture. There are many cultures in between and we are all nested in multiple cultures.

What Creates A Culture?

Cultures are the glue that holds any kind of organizational system together. Chaotic cultures do not last long. Cultures must have a predictable process based on a number of underlying structure-creating elements. Every culture contains at least the following components:

            Public Mission/Vision-  The mission of any organizational culture defines the goals and objectives of that entity. These are large general descriptors of the organization, such as what we will create and what we will look like. Using a family culture as an example, the overt mission of the family might be “we will look like a perfectly put together family to the world”.

             Shadow Mission/Vision- This is often the non-articulated driving force behind an organization that operates at a deep and unconscious level. It can live in opposition to the public mission of an organization. This is where a competing set of needs are in conflict with the stated public mission/vision. In the family example, the shadow mission might be the “we will not let anyone on the outside see the out of control, raging tyrant father who dominates his household”. This is where the public mission is that as a family we will look good, but the deeper shadow mission of not revealing the brokenness on the inside is what informs the culture with its shadow mission supporting values and strategies. 

              Values-This defines what the organization will value and promote. These are sub-components of the larger mission/vision. In a family, for instance, one of the underlying values supported may be the “we value privacy”.

                Strategies- These are the active elements of a culture and define the behaviors and problem solving processes that are active in implementing the larger mission/vision of the organization. These are often culture protecting and perpetuating actions that do not let the organization deviate from the deep mission values.  Rules provide the sub-structure that inform strategies. Rules, mostly unwritten, in the above shared family example, could be codified as “in this family we do not share private information.” The family exercises a powerful influence and will punish any deviance from the cultural mission, values, rules, or strategies of the family. Anyone in the family that shares family secrets will be systematically shamed and punished for breaking the rules and potentially exposing the shadow core of the family. 

Healthy Vs. Unhealthy Cultures

Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) reflects the dualistic split of an organization that promotes a public mission, while it  has been dominated by a shadow mission agenda for a long time. This is because the architect of the culture is driven by a shadow mission of brokenness that unfolded the church culture around his results oriented focus on numbers, programs, looking good, building income and buildings. Its public mission may be about inclusive involvement of all members of the body of Christ, while its shadow mission culture values top-aligned concentration of power and the exclusion of any true ownership by the common laity. 

Although I could go into a detailed analysis of the culture of WCCC, one specific area that is clear to me,and has resulted in the frustration of any attempt at change, is the strategy of hiding truth. Many people have appealed to the elders and leaders to reveal a long history of treating anyone that threatened the exterior image of WCCC with expulsion and shame based rejection. Although it is clear in scripture (I Timothy 5:20) that there is a redemptive value in publicly exposing sin, and particularly the sin of those who have a greater influence in the church (pastors/elders), the culture of repression has trumped every effort. In a culture of truth and transparency, sin gets exposed, not to shame individuals, but to purify the church of all the hidden works of evil.

A Jesus-based culture would have a profoundly different true mission, with Biblically validated values and strategies that are loving, redemptive, and restorative. A Biblical culture lives in the light of Truth and exposes the works of darkness. The culture of WCCC has been more about staying in the darkness and protecting the image. Calling those who have been so immersed in the culture of WCCC to see the unhealthiness of the “tree” seems to elicit the response “what tree?”. Culture is so powerful and self-sustaining. 

The Self-perpetuating Nature of Culture

The disappointment that I have felt with WCCC’s response to the revelation of sin by Bill Hybels and the wounding of multiple people in the service of maintaining a culture of image management, has slowly evolved into  reality. WCCC is not going to alter its way of presenting itself to the world because the core change agents are disciples of the culture, and therefor do not appear to be concerned about the years of behind the scenes purging through repression and expulsion of any threat to the image of the church.  Here is how the culture of WCCC has perpetuated and stubbornly resisted any effort to change its fundamental core strategies. 

If WCCC comprehended that the problems at the church are not just a “one off” crisis of one man’s pattern of sexual predation, but in fact are a reflection of a broken culture, they would have focused on this first. Because they do not comprehend the powerful way that culture shapes behavior, WCCC has gone about things in the reverse of what would be appropriate. The people that remain at WCCC have been groomed to accept the culture as the normal way that the church should operate.

If the leadership had recognized that Bill Hybels behavior was the rotten fruit of a sick tree, they would have focused first on the culture. They would have done a deep dive into how the culture of WCCC exists as a significant departure from the culture of Jesus. They would have focused first on cultural transformation, so that the tree gets healed and can start to produce good fruit. The elders would then be selected out of this new healthy culture, and finally the search for a senior pastor would be guided by finding someone who is in synch with this new, Jesus-centered culture. 

Instead, this was the progression. First, after the exposure of Hybels behavior, the executive pastor, who was groomed, and like the fish metaphor, probably thought that the culture she swam in was healthy, put an interim head pastor in place. That person, who as well had been swimming in the murky waters of the WCCC culture, then served essentially as a game manager, to preserve the essential elements of the culture. He worked to minimize the losses of the core shadow mission culture of WCCC. Then, a long time disciple of the Hybels-generated culture, was instrumental in selecting a selection committee who were themselves fish that had been swimming in the polluted culture of WCCC. These people then were key to selecting elders who had also been swimming in the culture for years. It is like an inbred system.

To be fair, all of these individuals probably believed that they were doing the right thing. They just did not comprehend that the rules and the strategies of a broken culture were the abnormal “normal”. No one  recognized the need to stand outside the systemic culture to critique it, so naturally, the actions of the leaders were confirmatory of the mission and values of the culture. Of course, the elders are not going to call out Bill Hybels in any meaningful way. They endorse, in the marrow of their souls, the vision, values, strategies, and rules of the culture that he created. And they may have signed a non-disparagement agreement as part of his retirement package. This would be a strategy consistent with the value of hiding truth. I could be wrong, but how do you find out the truth in a culture that hides the truth so tenaciously?

Voices Crying In The Wilderness

It may be that WCCC will not fundamentally turn from its ways. The elders and leaders may not have ears to hear. The take away for the rest of the church world is that of seeing what has happened as a cautionary tale. Return to Jesus. There can be no other foundation to build the church upon than Christ. The culture of the church must be reflective of the vision and values and behaviors of Jesus. Grow a healthy tree first, and the fruit will naturally flow out in righteousness and love. A big and shiny megachurch may be impressive to the outside world, but as Jesus said, if it is a big white-washed tomb, it cannot survive because it is not Christ’s church. 

“Woke” Christians: The Willows and the Harvests of the World Take Heed!

 

“Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when aroused, You will despise their form.” Psalm 73:20 

For this reason it says, “Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.” Ephesians 5:14 

“so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.” 1 Thessalonians 5:6 

“Woke” 

This term has entered our cultural lexicon as a political rallying cry for all those who, from an identity politics perspective, are becoming aware of their sense of being disenfranchised. The dictionary definition of this term is: 

Woke – alert to injustice in society, especially racism. “We need to stay angry, and stay woke.” 

The word implies that for a long time people have been asleep to some kind of  injustice that exists, but are now wide awake to it, or -”woke”.

It seems to me that  this term is just as applicable to those followers of Jesus, who have been in a sleep-like trance, mesmerized in a state of perpetual wonder by those big, sprawling entities that have come to be called mega-churches. As the curtains are pulled back to expose the ugly underbelly of such mega-churches as Willow Creek Community Church and Harvest Bible Chapel, those Christians are becoming “woke” from their spell. The scales that have clouded their  understanding are falling from their eyes. More and more, they are able to clearly see the contrast between these huge man-made organizations, the mega-churches, and the original God-instituted organism, the church.

They can increasingly see that where mega-churches were built on the sand of celebrity pastors and organizational greatness, they do not reflect the blueprint of God’s true church. And, to the degree that they were not built according to the Master Architect’s blueprint, they were always in danger of crashing.     

Organization Over Organism 

The mega-church is heavy on organization and light on the organic nature of the church. As the mega-church grows, it becomes unwieldy, and so organizational structures are created. While the organism, which is the church, is a horizontal entity, featuring the priesthood of the believers with radical equality between all parts of the body, the organization is inherently vertical and hierarchical. The church of the Bible is only vertical in one dimension. All members of the body of Christ, who are equal and equally important, all look to the absolute Headship of Christ. 

“And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, in everything he might be preeminent” I Colossians 1:18 

Mega-churches often are started and developed by individuals with a core narcissistic brokenness. Their personalities self-select becoming the head of a mega church organization. Self-selection is a concept in organizational psychology. Peoples’ personalities influence them to select certain jobs. The somewhat compulsive nature of some individuals, coupled with their high level of introversion, causes them to gravitate to jobs such as accountant. So it is, that narcissistic personalities move toward jobs that allow them to actualize their inner shadow need for importance, power, authority, and adulation. They do not have the Biblical qualifications for leadership demonstrated by John the Baptist, who said: 

“After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” Mark 1:7 

And

“He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” John 3:30

 A Necessary Revolution 

A revolution is underway occurring as God has begun a winnowing process within His church. God is jealous for His church, His bride. His reputation is most publicly lifted up by the example and behavior of His church. An inevitable crashing is occurring in those mega-forms of church that do not reflect his blueprint for the church. Those churches were built on the sand of celebrity pastors and organizational greatness. God is removing, and must remove, the mega-church caricatures of His true church, because they fundamentally misrepresent who He is — , and He is jealous for the integrity of His reputation. This revolution is occurring because, as in the political arena, whenever there is a disproportionate inequity between a governing elite and the governed, it cannot and should not survive. 

Modern Day Prophets, True and False 

Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. Ephesians 5:11 

Courageous Christian investigative reporters such as Julie Roys (julieroys.com), are pursuing and exposing elements of the church that are trying to masquerade as legitimate, while at the same time acting against the will of God. These true prophets are “woke”. They are revealing those who Jesus warned against: 

“For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” Matthew 24:24 

True prophets, of course, have always been hated by those whom they exposed. They have always spoken truth into the dark recesses of deceit, shining light onto the self-dealing corruption of those in power.  But false prophets who reside in the darkness of their own evil deeds hate the light, because the light reveals their true nature (John 3:19). And if there’s one thing that false prophets do not want, it’s to be exposed for the self-loving narcissistic people that they are.  By refusing to come into the light, they show that they do not love the One who saved them, or serve the One who they claim to honor. By trying to prevent the truth from being known, they show that they are bent on serving only themselves. 

 These self-serving individuals want to preserve their petty treasures of ill-gotten gain, so they lash back fiercely at what they view as attacks and criticism.  It’s no wonder they react in anger. They’re angry because their deeds of darkness are being obliterated by the brilliant light of Truth. They’re angry because their power, prestige, and prosperity are being threatened.  Their goal: kill the messenger. 

 

“Woke” Christians Must Take Back The Church For Christ 

The modern mega-church movement is so often not the church. But since they call themselves the church, many naive and immature new Christians believe it is the church. The mega-church movement is almost always created and governed, as mentioned before, by people with character flaws, who use the celebrity of their position to satisfy some hollow emptiness in their soul. They allow, and even promote, a culture of adulation. They consolidate their power at the top, and disenfranchise all believers who should be part of the priesthood of the believers. They create a ruling class of elites, and they systematically cultivate a pattern of absolute loyalty to the leader. They do not consistently step aside whenever it is evident that people see them as greater than Jesus. They may use “God words” to deceive their followers that they are following and are obedient to Jesus, . But their deeper shadow soul is revealed when their agenda, their ideas, their power, and their self-serving vision is challenged. It is then, with their caustic belittling and ruthless bullying, that the truth emerges; that this is not Christ’s church, but theirs. 

In mega-churches, the person who cleans the bathrooms is not considered  equal to the persons on stage. Organizational hierarchy inevitably places more importance on people at the top. They get paid more, they are given more power, and they get more respect. This is not the church. I believe it was C.S. Lewis who suggested that God’s Hall of Fame, when it is revealed, will likely be populated by Christians such as the humble washer woman who faithfully prayed in secret for the needs of people in the church. The true church is built on organismic equality, not organizational hierarchy. Rank?  Title? Status? These are not found in God’s true church where we are, after all, members one of the other. 

Those churches and those leaders that concentrate importance and power at the top cannot survive. It is no accident  that Willow Creek and Harvest have fallen. God is jealous for His reputation, and His reputation is most fully seen and expressed in the life of the Body, the church.  It is Christ’s church, and the gates of Hell itself cannot prevail against His church. He will never allow a church to survive that is not fully about His headship and the expression of His righteousness. This, above all else, is why Bill Hybels and James McDonald are no longer the heads of their churches. As the Old Testament says, Kings will rise and fall, but the Lord endures forever. Celebrity pastors will rise and fall, but if they do not display the humility necessary to sustain the pre-eminence of Jesus as the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, they will erode into the dust bowl of history. 

Are we “woke” enough to shake off the mesmerizing twilight of mega-church celebrity personalities, and submit ourselves to Jesus, the true Head of the true church?  Will we allow God’s light and truth to have its full effect in our lives? 

And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.  Romans 13: 11-14

Casualty of Conscience: Out of Integrity A Pastor/Leader at Willow Creek Community Church Is Leaving

 

They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Acts 15:39

Collateral Damage

One of the campus pastors at Willow Creek Community Church, (WCCC), announced that he was resigning his position. He explained it as consistent with the Acts 15 passage above, indicating that he had a fundamental disagreement with how the church leadership has handled the sin by Bill Hybels of sexually abusing women and the need for healing and reconciliation with many who have been wounded by past actions of Bill and his governing style. He followed his convictions, and because of this, he is collateral damage from the way that this whole sad situation has been dealt with. His church, because they had a leader with integrity, is the victim of the widespread failure of the WCCC leadership to align their principles with a Biblical model of accountability to sin. 

A Long Slide from Illusion to Disillusionment to Reality

For over 18 months, I have written about the scandal of sexual abuse that occured at Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC), perpetrated by its founder, Bill Hybels. I acted on the underlying assumption, (dare I say illusion)that WCCC was a true church, grounded on the biblical design for a church. As such, WCCC would be dedicated to a thoroughly authentic commitment to truth-telling and integrity. My assumption was that when WCCC was presented with the truth that they would hold Bill Hybels’ publicly accountable for his taking sexual advantage of women who were under his employ as the senior pastor.  Most secular corporations would have to act to protect its workforce if a senior employee took this kind of sexual advantage. Look at Matt Lauer, who was condemned and fired for his misuse of power and position to exploit women. I believed, that as a church, and even more so than a corporation like NBC, they would see the light, and do the right thing. I hoped that the leadership of WCCC would strongly and publicly declare that the actions of Bill Hybels were sinful, extremely harmful to women in the church, and behavior like his would not be tolerated. 

Disillusionment

But the truth is that the current leadership of WCCC has been confronted by many with their duty to protect the internal integrity of the body of Christ, and they have largely minimized or ignored the truth. It has become apparent to me and others who have attempted to hold WCCC accountable, that they have engaged in a strategy that can be characterized as “weathering the storm”. They are essentially ignoring all challenges brought to them that have asked them to deal with the sin in the church in an honest and forthright way. They are using  an atritional strategy, that involves the leadership “sort of” listening, acting like they agree, but then essentially ignoring and not addressing the truth in any real way. It is a passive resistant organizational strategy. The underlying goal, it appears, is that with time, the intensity of the concerns of those critics that are trying to hold WCCC to a truly Biblical standard of accountability, will wither and die. The critics in time will start to realize that they fundamentally are ignored, and will lose energy to continue the fight for truth. (Disillusionment)

The  confusion that we critics feel is due to the fact  that we assume that we are sharing a common view with the leadership of WCCC of what the church is and what it should do . That is not true. The current elders were immersed in the culture of WCCC, and so for them, focusing on the image and programmatic elements of the church is more important than focusing on the deep integrity issues of those in leadership. There is a lack of congruity between the concerns of the critics, and the values of the WCCC leadership. That is why it appears that  they are ignoring the concerns of the critics, and why there seems to be a lack of a serious and broken response by WCCC leadership to what has happened. 

It dawned on me that the real problem is that I am comparing the behavior of WCCC to my understanding of the church. I grew up the son of a pastor, where the responsibilities of a pastor/elder were drilled into my understanding. My father was mentored by A.W. Tozer, who taught him the deep and sacred oath that pastors must abide by to live a life above reproach and to care for the safety and well being of his congregants. I witnessed several pastor’s situations where sexual immorality by a pastor was dealt with swiftly and condemned publically. I studied theology at a seminary, so I also had that grounding in understanding the church. 

The leadership of WCCC, on the other hand, appear to have a whole different frame of reference for what the church at its core should look like. The trigger for me to recognize this was a statement in the description of what the church is looking for in its search for a new senior pastor. It indicated that the candidate does not necessarily have to have a seminary education. This, in some way made it very clear that the church is not concerned about having someone who has a thorough grounding in Biblical theology, particularly the theology of what a Biblical church should look like. It occurred to me that this is like seeking to hire a person to do work as a physician who does not necessarily have to go to medical school. It is because the WCCC culture has been created around a different model than what a Biblical blueprint would require. They can ignore what is true about a Biblically-grounded idea of the church and the handling of discipline of a pastor/elder.

An analogy comes from family systems thinking. If one grew up in a family that was abusive in multiple ways but had no other frame of reference for what a healthy family is supposed to look like, it is understandable why they would conclude that  their family is the way families are supposed to act. That is their normal. The critical description is what compromises the word “family”. So it is, I believe, that at WCCC, the word “church” has been defined by what WCCC is and presents to the world. Those who grew up in it, and have no clear alternative Biblical definition of what the church is supposed to look like, believe that the word “church”, as expressed by WCCC, is normal. 

This is an explanation for why so many at WCCC want to “move on” and get this all behind them. They were immersed in the culture of WCCC, and for them, the church as it is experienced at Willow is normal. This is one of the advantages of when you are a seeker oriented church. WCCC has not emphasized a deep Biblical awareness of what the church is supposed to look like, and so for the theologically nieve followers of WCCC, what they experience is normal. Therefor, there is no outcry for Biblical justice and truth telling.

Corporate Church

WCCC has been created  with a corporate framework. A psycho-historical  analysis of Bill Hybels and what drove his DNA and blueprint for the church, is critical to understanding how WCCC was formulated in a way that lacked a meaningful grounding in Biblical theology. From my gathering of information about his childhood experience, mostly from his sermons, it is clear that he grew up with a father who was demanding and hard to please. Although Bill has tended to idealize his father, in areas that he believed motivated him towards success, it is also evident that he did not experience a sense of unconditional love and acceptance from his father. As many who have experienced this lack of affirmational worth from a parent, Bill probably drew the conclusion that acceptance from his father would only be the result of his commitment to hard work and visible success. Then, the experience he had of understanding God’s love and acceptance when he experienced salvation,  influenced him to move out of the secular world of business, and into the spiritual world of building the church. Unfortunately, and I am sure away from his conscious awareness, he incorporated the metrics of the business world into the church world.

 

 It became obvious that as WCCC pursued a “seeker” model for church growth, the goal was an increase in numbers. Numbers would become a far more important measuring stick for success at WCCC than would the harder to quantify qualitative measure of discipleship and spiritual maturity. This “hit home” for me as one of my friends, who I was involved with in the men’s ministry, was let go for essentially not getting enough coaches and small group leaders. He was viewed as more of a pastor (what?!!) than, apparently, a recruiter. 

Corporate and Humanistic Creep

WCCC, instead of building on the foundation of what a true Biblical church would look like, began to build around the presuppositions of a corporate-looking church. In time, words like “McChurch” and “God’s Corporate Headquarters”, would be joked about as descriptive of WCCC. The internal metric for success focused on numbers, size of programming, number of attendees, size of buildings, number of serving areas, and income. Many on staff felt the pressure of being evaluated on the basis of a numbers-oriented criterion, and not the less-measurable quality of the believers’ internal life of faith. Staff reviews felt like they were based more on sales force criterion than pastoral goals. A REVEAL survey done a number of years ago substantiated that WCCC was good at everything, except for the maturing of the faith of believers. 

As WCCC grew into the behemoth it became, the thing that people always mentioned was its bigness. It became what it did because of the person, Bill Hybels, who was steering the ship. I believe he was guided by an unconscious need to succeed in a hybrid of corporation and church, with a lighter emphasis on church. BH envisioned his role as more of a CEO, than as a pastor whose responsibility was the spiritual shepherding of the flock. Although Bill’s father died in the infancy of the church, it appeared obvious that Bill was striving to live up to the legacy of success that his father had demanded of him. 

The Elitism of Leadership

As the corporate model of WCCC grew, BH focused more and more on leadership. But, the model of leadership was not that of what a Biblical view  would be of leadership. It was not the servant-leader style that Jesus encouraged. Instead, it became an evolving corporate understanding of what leaders should know and do. Bill Hybels championed the development of what was called the Global Leadership Summit. This somewhat elitist, over-emphasis on the leader roles in churches, which the summit focused on,  reflected the corporate model of WCCC.. The “experts” brought in to leadership summits were increasingly secular titans of the business and academic world. This emphasis allowed many to drift into a belief that the WCCC/BH endorsed model of leadership was somehow consistent with a Biblical model of pastoring or eldering. As the Global Leadership Summit grew, this became in and of itself another quantitative measure of Bill’s success. 

Although WCCC started with a great deal of passion and vision, as Bill Hybels consolidated his power and control over its direction, a shift away from the Biblical model of church started to take shape. Please, for a moment, indulge my background in studying philosophy in college, in order to illustrate what happened at WCCC. Historically Christians looked to Scripture to find the blueprint for what a church should look like and how it should be governed.  With the widespread growth of humanism, the ideas of human beings started to influence the concept of the church. Where as before, the church unfolded around the blueprint of Scripture, with the creep of humanism, the ideas of man started to edge out what a Biblical church should look like and how it should function. 

This concept of humanism creeped into WCCC, as a model of the church was developed around corporate, or man-generated ideas. I believe that WCCC depended on the humanistic influence of its broken leader and visionary guide, Bill Hybels. He created an ad-mixture of spiritual and humanistic ideas, which informed his vision of the church. If you add in some of Bill’s family of origin issues, how WCCC was formed can be explained. If you look at why a family develops the way it does, you have to understand the primary architects of the family, the parents. So it is with WCCC. The architect was Bill Hybels.

It Depends on What the Meaning of the Word “Church” Is

Seekers, who crossed the threshold of faith, and started attending WCCC, had to assume that the true church is what they were experiencing at WCCC. They had no other frame of reference. If you presume that WCCC is a healthy church, then what they do must be good and virtuous. The truth is that many who attend WCCC were indoctrinated with a flawed understanding of what the church is, but do not have any way to judge it against another standard. This, coupled with the fact that WCCC has looked so externally successful, is why multitudes that attend Willow are happy with it and want it to continue much like it has for many years. The flawed logic is that it is big, does great things, so it must be healthy and normal for what a church looks like.

WCCC as a corporate church is not so dependent on Biblical theology to determine what its blueprint should look like. That is why its requirements for a new incoming senior pastor/CEO would allow a non-theologically trained candidate to be eligible. The reason  WCCC leadership has not come out strong in its condemnation of Bill Hybels’ behavior is because they use a corporate, not a Biblical standard for how they hold a senior leader accountable. Every elder that is currently in a position of leadership, has been immersed in the culture of the corporate church. As a result they do not have a burning need to see the sin of Bill Hybels’ bullying style or sexual predation as something that needs to be condemned strongly. This is why, no matter how much critics from the outside, who may be presuming that WCCC is on the same theological page when it comes to understanding the church and the accountability of the pastor, are largely dismissed. Their words are falling on deaf ears. Corporations do damage control to restore their brand and bottom line. The bottom line of WCCC leadership is to make some cosmetic changes, but essentially continue the metrics of large programs, people, money, and serving opportunities. 

Some Elements of A Biblical View of The Church

The blueprint for the Biblical church is clear in scripture. If it was the foundation of how WCCC saw the church, it would be hard to understand how they have failed to hold the church to the standards articulated in Scripture. For instance, Bill Hybels has acted for many years with a lack of respect for those he oversees. Multiple stories of verbal abuse have come out from many staff members. One of my sources of information for this is multiple employees of WCCC who have come to my counseling practice over the years. He has led with a bullying style, and has been quarrelsome with many. But he got away with this because he was treated as the founding CEO, and not as a pastor who should have been held accountable to a Christ-like approach to those he led. 

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. I Timothy 3:2-3

If WCCC was focused on its Biblical mission, it would have emphasized not only seeker -oriented evangelism, which built the metrics of attendance, but also the qualitative part of the great commision, which is to make disciples of all men. 

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13

If WCCC was following a Biblical standard for leaders, it would have confronted the arrogance and inconsistencies of Bill’s behavior. They would have held him to a standard of humility and servanthood. The Biblical standard for leadership was set by the Apostle Paul who said that leaders should not be followed if they themselves were not following the example of Christ. (I Corinthians 11:1)

It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave. Matthew 20:26

For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. Titus 1:7-8

If the current elders at WCCC followed a Biblical model of the church, they would seriously recognize their responsibility to identify, call out, and protect against, anyone who represents a predatory threat to the women of the church. The incredibly anemic approach and lack of calling out what Bill Hybels did as sin, shows a lack of concern about the safe environment of the church for women. They also would be giving clear information about how they are seeking to guarantee that this does not happen again. 

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. Acts 20:28

Conclusions To Critics

I have been one who has been seeking to call the WCCC leadership to hold Bill Hybels accountable, and to strongly condemn the sexual abuse of women. I have concluded that until a Biblical model of church is created at Willow, my criticism rings hollow in the WCCC corporate model of the church. My dilemma is whether or not to continue to speak what I believe to be true. I am convinced that without a change from the humanistic conceptualization of the church at WCCC, Bill Hybels behaviors are nothing more than history. The strategy of WCCC leadership is simply to clean the church of all symbols of Bill’s presence and move on (as if the very culture and fabric of the church created by Bill Hybels can be scrubbed). From the perspective of the current leadership, the corporate church called WCCC must regain its brand and its metrics of success.  (Reality)

Sadly, the collateral damage to all of this is the dignity of women, the silencing of truth, and the over-focus on a corporate bottom line. And, for me, the loss of my truly courageous and integrity based campus pastor. He is, indeed, a casualty of conscience. 

 

Willow Creek Community Church-Do No Harm!

First Do No Harm

Into whatsoever houses I enter, I will enter to help the sick, and I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm, especially from abusing the bodies of man or woman, bond or free. (Phrase from the Hippocratic Oath) 

The Hippocratic Oath, which every physician must swear by, is put in place to remind caregivers to be certain that their interventions do not exacerbate the condition that the patient is already experiencing. It is a sober reminder that caregivers have a duty to make sure that their treatments are appropriate. It is based on well established protocols that have a track record of being effective in curing an illness.In turn, the interventions will not make the illness even more grave. Patients are given a statement of informed consent, whereby the physician helps the individual to become aware of any known potential side effects or outcomes that might result from the procedure or treatment. 

What is the relevance of this to the Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) situation? Multiple women have been harmed due to the sexual abuse by Bill Hybels, the former senior pastor. The way that these women have been treated by the care-giver leadership of WCCC has  resulted in further abuse, or re-traumatization. Instead of doing no harm, the leadership of WCCC has in fact, potentially intensified the distress of these women. 

Sexual Traumatization 

Sexual abuse by a man towards a female (I will use this term since it encompasses both girls and women) results in characteristic patterns of harm. Most young girls, and even full grown women, have a sense of innocence and trust as it pertains to the males in their world. Trust translates into a sense of safety, which allows females to experience a kind of freedom to be care-free or spontaneous in their interactions with males. When the male has a role of authority, such as a pastor, the assumption is that the male will be respectful of the needs and boundaries of the female. The belief is that a pastor should be mature and grounded  in the Biblical understanding of the spiritual dignity of a female. This should serve as an extra level of restraint against any self-centered behavior that would take advantage of the female. It is this unspoken, but known, assumption that gets shattered when sexual abuse occurs. 

Suddenly, with the sexual advancements of a previously trusted perpetrator, the walls of safety are breached, and the female must make some kind of sense of this intrusion. Where they may have previously  believed that they had control of their bodies, they suddenly realize that a more powerful and sinister person can exploit them against their will. There is a tectonic shift from a sense of safety and peace, to a vigilant need for detection of any possible re-intrusion of the boundaries of their body. An area of the brain called the amygdala begins to dominate their responsiveness to events in their lives. This area is often called the “smoke detector”, because it seeks to recognize and protect them from dangerous potential intruders. Many victims of sexual abuse describe how they go from a sense of freedom and carefreeness, to a preoccupation with their personal safety. In a brutal way, their innocence is lost, and with it the ability to focus and concentrate on areas of growth and goals as they mature. The fear and hyper-vigilance victims experience effectively hijacks their lives as they figure out how to cope. 

The harm done to victims of sexual abuse can vary due to a number of factors. These include how intrusive the actions are, how old the female is at the time, and how healthy a female is emotionally. But all victims of abuse are harmed  in various ways , and should be responded to respectfully and appropriately. 

Re-Traumatization 

When sexual trauma has occurred, the memories of the experience become attached to intense emotions and body associations. Recounting the trauma tends to activate the emotions and body experience felt in the original trauma. That is why it is especially important to know how to get a victim to share their experience in a way that is safe and will reduce the impact of the original trauma, rather than intensify the symptoms. The retelling of the story of trauma has to be done with some kind of redemptive purpose, such as allowing the victim to be affirmed and supported and believed. It should be done in the context of a skilled therapeutic context, where safety is paramount to rewiring the brain in healthy ways. 

When the current elders of WCCC listened to the stories of multiple women who had been abused by Bill Hybels, they should have been aware of the fact that these women were being asked to retell stories that had a traumatic attachment to the original events. This means that the sharing of the stories themselves had the capacity to re-traumatize these individuals. The women came forward to the elders because they had the  assumption that the elders would use the stories to come out with a strong condemnation of the sins of Bill Hybels, and, to some extent, the complicity of the church in supporting someone who had clearly shown entitlement tendencies that fueled his abusive behavior. After originally, courageously, coming out with their stories, they  were publicly maligned and called liars as the church’s spin machine went into overdrive to squelch their stories and protect a narcissistic pastor. These victims had shown great strength in coming forward, and they did so only in the hope that WCCC would take them seriously,  They hoped that WCCC leadership would condemn the actions of the senior pastor. Instead, they were re-traumatized by being labeled as seditious and colluders in some vaguely defined strategy to ruin the reputation and ministry of Bill Hybels. 

The women victims of Bill Hybels then subjected themselves to another retelling of their stories to a four member investigative team. This resulted in another bland affirmation that their stories were credible. Finally they re-submitted themselves to the process of sharing their stories with the current elders. They did this with the understanding that this would finally result in a clear and public condemnation of the actions of Bill Hybels and an honest recognition of the sin and failures of the church in handling this situation. Since, as has been discussed, the retelling of their traumatic stories carried the risk of retraumatization, they did this only with the hope of some kind of redemptive outcome. It was the responsibility of the elders to do no further harm to these women. 

Used and Re-abused 

What happened instead was the “reconciliation” final statement on the Bill Hybels situation meeting that occurred in July of this year. Contrary to what the abuse victims believed would happen, the elders used this meeting to give a minimal recognition of the harm done to the victims, and then sprinted forward to the future of the church. The women that shared their stories had  felt that the current elders appeared sensitive and compassionate. This fueled their belief that finally the abuse would be taken seriously, and a sincere confession by the elders would occur, both for Bill Hybels’ sins and the sins of the church, in maligning these courageous women. The redemptive outcome that they hoped for, and for which they risked retelling their stories, was that WCCC would take seriously the sin of sexual abuse of women and that it would no longer protect the reputation of Bill Hybels at their expense. They experienced instead a massive sense of betrayal. They felt that they had been used so the elders could check off the task of  having listening to their stories in order to declare that “we have listened to the stories, and now we can move on to the future of the church”. No real contrition, repentance, confession, sorrow, or tears on behalf of the abused women. The concluding consensus of many is that they satisfied the minimal requirements necessary so as not to risk exposure of the church to potential lawsuits, at the behest of the lawyers and the liability insurance people. They were used in the most callous way to satisfy the deeper agenda of WCCC leadership to not risk legal actions. They asked vulnerable women to risk the retelling of traumatic stories and used these stories to reduce the church’s risk. 

These women risked, maybe without their understanding, the potential for retraumatization. They believed that the retelling of their stories would have a redemptive outcome and would in some way give purpose to their trauma.  Instead, they felt massive betrayal, which replicated the betrayal that occurred when they were originally abused. If I was one of these women I would conclude that I had been used and re-abused just to satisfy some check-list given to the elders in the form of the guidance of Bishop Tutu. The elders are culpable for inviting the women victims to risk the trauma of retelling their stories and then, by their response, exacerbating or adding to the pain of the original trauma with the betrayal of trust, by not coming out with a strong statement of condemnation against Bill Hybels and the church. Bill Hybels name was not even mentioned by the elders at the “reconciliation” meeting! Do they think that the congregants are stupid? Why, at this point, would these women risk sharing their stories ever again? And, why should any woman in the church believe that sexual abuse of women by pastors is a serious matter? The caution to the caregivers of the church, the elders, to DO NO HARM to the victims of Bill Hybels, was severely violated. 

Continue reading “Willow Creek Community Church-Do No Harm!”

To The Move-On Crowd Who Want A Controversy Free GLS at Willow Creek

 

An email was sent by someone at a host site for the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) to one of the advocates for truth telling at Willow Creek Community Church. It basically admonishes those of us who are personally affected, and have deep sorrow for, the unresolved patterns of sin at Willow to “move on”. As a family systems oriented Christian psychologist, I would liken what is happening at Willow to a family that has been ravaged by the sinful sexual behavior of a parent. The family is in trauma mode, people are in deep pain, and the perpetrator is not owning his or her behavior. But, if the counsel of people who, like this emailer, from afar, just say forgive the perpetrator and move on, the family would be left in chaos. This essentially is what a host and attender to the GLS is saying in his or her email. Forgive and forget. But if the real pain is not identified and worked with, the family will not survive. The real damage that has been inflicted on women and multiple congregants and staff  at Willow Creek will be minimized, almost assuring  that similar behaviors will emerge down the road at the church. The admonishment of this individual does not feel like a brother or sister who really cares about the pain at Willow. Rather, they may believe that prolonging the need to process the pain, and seek real repentance and restoration, is an impediment to a smooth experience at the GLS. In bold and italics, I will share the email and then my response. 

“I received your emailed “blog” and find it very interesting that you want to perpetuate and continue to bring up the bill hybels controversy…especially at less than a week before GLS.  Is the harm done to the victims profound, yes, but continuing to bring it up and demand answers and demand that the GLS be riddled with more apologies and focus on the scandals quite honestly gives the devil a foothold. “

This is typical of the “move-on” crowd. They love the GLS. It is a glossy, hip, gathering of the leadership of today’s church. It makes them feel warm that they can come and listen to a cadre of professional experts on leadership. It is a “sacred cow” of this crowd, who of course as leaders themselves, would be biased towards quick resolution of a leadership “controversy”. These individuals may buy into the elitist mentality of leadership, and have little comprehension for how leadership failure affects the flock. Move on, let us have our controversy free summit to learn more about what leaders are supposed to do. The ironic part of all of this is that Biblically, leaders represented the people of God, and when failure occured in the midst of the church, leaders were supposed to “lead” them into repentance and seeking forgiveness.

But this person, probably representative of many leaders who go to the GLS, do not want to talk about this vital responsibility of leadership as a believer. They just want to go learn concepts of effective leadership, many from secular guru’s in the field. They want to move forward and are unconcerned about the fact that this leadership summit presents itself as  a cutting edge platform for leader effectiveness, while it cannot even honestly address the obvious hypocrisy of having been led by a broken leader. 

The problem with this leader’s perspective is that he or she is viewing the “controversy” from afar, while we who are immersed in the Willow culture, understand the deep dysfunction that exists from an organization that has followed Bill Hybels entitlement-driven vision, has left a church in broken disarray, and has sailed off into the sunset completely disconnected from the people that he claimed to love.  This email comes from a person outside the reality of pain that the people of Willow have experienced. He just wants nothing to impede the movement of this “cool” gathering of leaders. He is not demanding that the GLS address head on the questions of how a leader can be so out front and popular at a leadership summit, all the while living a duplicitous life that led to damage to so many people. He does not want to deal with this because he is not affected by any of its destructive consequences. He just wants to have a good experience, a dose of “cheap grace”, and a little reprieve from the experience of his own leadership responsibility. He shows little empathy for the level of pain this has inflicted on so many people at Willow. His trite and dismissive statements do not reflect the level of empathy and understanding that a true leader would seek to develop.

For attendees that heard nothing of the scandal to walk in to the summit last year and be barraged with all of the talks focused on the abused, they left feeling like “that was all about #metoo and not a leadership conference”.

Please stop with your messages and attempts to bring down the gls and willow creek.  The entire focus of each cannot be on the victims and not on Christ. Forgiveness takes one person, reconciliation takes both parties.  Romans 12:18 tells us as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. I challenge you with that. We can only do our part in forgiving when the other party has removed itself from the conversation.

The fact that this individual does not get the absolute connection between leadership character and the #metoo movement shows a shallow comprehension of what the vital issues of leadership are in this day and age. The sexual integrity of a leader is the top concern among Christians currently. There is nothing more destructive in the body of Christ than the sexual predatory behavior of a leader, who is supposed to be trustworthy. The damage to trust and the uncalculated cost to people who are disillusioned and have left the church with cynical beliefs about the hypocrisy of the church, should be of urgent concern. Maybe, since this is one of the greatest issues of followers in churches, it should occupy a huge place in the curriculum of this leadership summit. The fact that this emailer minimizes, and seeks to have this “controversy” left behind, shows that they lack a deeper understanding of the endemic nature of this blight on the Christian church. He, along with many, view this in a simplistic way.  This individual’s suggestion seems to be that Bill Hybels sinned, it was a hurt-full thing that he did, but let’s move on to less important concerns with leadership. The truth is, Bill Hybels’ behavior as a reflection of the crisis in leadership,  should be the center focus of the GLS. 

The GLS should concentrate on the incredible reality of how Bill Hybels, the visionary and primary influencer, historically, of the summit, was able to live a duplicitous public life, while in the shadows, he took advantage of women. How about topics exploring what makes a Christian leader vulnerable to sexual infidelity? How about looking at how easily leadership and entitlement oriented behaviors can be linked? How about dealing with how easy it is to create an elitist view of leadership that allows for a lack of empathy towards followers? How about exploring how a leaders shadow-needs drive their agenda for the church in self centered ways? How about exploring how a leaders psychopathology influences them to design and guide a church in ways that are self serving? How about a topic relating to the devastating damage that sexual assaults have on women in a church? How about a topic related to how the powerful, but Biblically inconsistent, influence of a charismatic leader, can infect and infuse the sinful behaviors of other leaders under the senior leaders direction? All the other topics are academic, but do not really touch the most important issues of how unruly leaders’ behaviors can damage the lives of followers in churches. 

“Remember, When the people came up to Christ and demanded that he stone the woman caught in adultery, He wrote in the sand and told the people that the person among you with no sin, cast the first stone.  It seems like you as the writer of this email want to cast huge stones, and don’t recall these words of Christ. Are the allegations deplorable, yes, but no amount of emails or continued “reporting” will turn back time.  No amount of #metoo or #churchtoo will take away the pain of these victims, likely the continued talks is being used by Satan to further victimize them and further victimize other women that have been hurt by leadership in church and other sectors who are trying to move on with their lives. Many people everyday are trying to make their life not focus on one horrible event or set of circumstances that they cannot change.”

Aside from the inconsistent, and  ironic, fact that this writer is, from his/her perspective, casting stones on those of us who believe that truth should prevail, it reveals the lack of big picture focus on sin in the church. This email defender of the GLS is confused about the difference between individual sin and corporate sin. If we are not to hold leaders and churches accountable, who will? Paul confronted sin in the churches that he ministered to on his journeys. If he believed we should just forgive and not address the systemic institutional sin, he never would have written what were often letters that reproved the churches. We can forgive individual sin, but we can call individuals to change. Jesus said “your sins are forgiven” but he also said “go and sin no more”. Churches who have created a culture that has allowed for the sin of a leader, must be reproved and challenged to do some deep surgery in the culture that created this sin. Paul admonished the church in Corinthians who had discovered sexual sin in its midst. He did not just say forgive the ones involved and move on. The systemic sin of the church had to be identified and radically changed. 

I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish other than cause a church to go under and the GLS to fail.  It seems that is the only thing that will placate you is this. If you are ACTUALLY a Christ follower, why not leave the judgement to God?  Why not let God make things right rather than continuing to harass host sites? YOU ARE NOT GOD AND YOUR CONTINUED EFFORTS ARE NOT BRINGING GLORY TO GOD.

This defender of the GLS and Willow again shows a shallow understanding of the systemic nature of sin in a church. Should we passively leave the judgement to God?  Of course God is the one that judges, but we are called to discern and call out sin. Read Galatians 6. It clearly calls for believers to come alongside Christians who are caught up in sin. It is, of course, necessary to have humility in the desire for restoration, but if you love someone, or a church that is sinning, you call it to repentance. I and my fellow advocates for truth,  are not God, but neither were the prophets nor Paul, and yet God used them to point out sin and call for repentance and change. You, emailer, do not have the sense of awareness, nor concern, for Willow Creek that I and many others have who have witnessed first hand the destruction that sin brings. It seems to me that calling out the messiness of sin and the need for repentance and change is just an impediment to your ability to enjoy the positive aspects of the GLS. If you cared for your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, who are standing up for what it right, you might realize that the bigger thing is doing what it takes to restore the reputation of Christ that has been severely marred by the scandal and sin at Willow Creek. If that is not important, enjoy the GLS!

I’m so thankful that God did not bring all the families of Paul’s victims when he was Saul to the table and force reconciliation before God used and changed Paul.  I’m glad God didn’t bring every person I’ve sinned against to stand in front of me and tell my sins to the world before He chose to use me. And I’m glad He didn’t do the same for you.  I’m glad I serve a God who detests sin, but loves me who sins every day. I’m so thankful that Christ paid the debt of my sin. That is what I will continue to proclaim. I pray your focus shifts to that rather than where it currently is.  No matter the circumstances of life and our culture that continues to push different #agendas, #Christ and His work on the cross are what we really should be proclaiming. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (even Bill Hybels).

Your focus is on past sins, which God can forgive, if one is humble and admits to them. But Willow Creek is dealing with current sin, as well as past sin, and the task of believers is to call it out and push for change. If you had ongoing sin in your family, do you not think that God would want that challenged and changed? If you loved your family, would you not want to see it become healthy? My agenda is not to bring down Willow Creek or the GLS. It is to push for healing, and that does not occur quickly,or by seeking to minimize or ignore real patterns of sin just so you can have a “controversy free” GLS experience. 

Willow-Gate: The Cover-Up

Willow-Gate: The Cover Up
“And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” John 3:19

Everywhere in scripture the idea of darkness suppressing the truth is evident. Light is clearly identified as exposing truth. Those who have an interest in squelching the truth are motivated by human, not Godly, desires. Those who do not want the truth known work diligently to hide, minimize, and attack those who would seek to reveal the truth that can allow healing.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. James 5:16
Sin represents all human efforts to meet our needs in our way, with disregard for the will of God. It therefore represents a rebellion towards God and the path for which we are called. Sin generates shame for people with a conscience. And shame calls for some type of cover. In fact a root meaning of the word shame is “to cover”. Covering is the way that we hide or suppress the truth about our sin, for fear of further shame, or, because we all follow the path articulated in scripture which states:
There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. Proverbs 16:25
So we all have a tendency to cover up and follow our own path.

Institutional Cover Up

“He who covers his transgressions shall not prosper…” (Prov. 28:13)
The most memorable concept of a cover up at an institutional level is Watergate. A crime occurred and a deliberate strategy was implemented to cover up what had been done. No one in the inner core of the White House would speak truth about what had happened. Only a persistent deep mole, “Deepthroat”, and a couple of tenacious reporters pushed for disclosure.
This is what is happening at Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC). I would name the current situation Willow-Gate. If it were not for a number of individuals who courageously and with perseverance are pushing for full disclosure, the cover up would succeed. There is a cost to seeking and speaking truth. Institutions hate whistleblowers, and will often seek to discredit them, ignore them, or intimidate them. They hope they will die by attrition. Clearly, WCCC does not want the truth to be known, and that cannot be for Biblical reasons. If the leadership stood before God to account for their current strategy, they would be hard pressed to compile a rationalization that would satisfy a righteous God.
God would not endorse the strategy of protecting an image or a brand. In the world of counseling, we often identify what are called defense mechanisms. Denial, suppression, and minimization are powerful ways that people avoid and cover up the truth about themselves. They are primitive (child-like) because they force one to ignore what may be obvious to others. Willow is using these institutional defense mechanisms. Here is the absolute worst. Pretend that if they strip the church of all of Bill Hybels books, sermons, pictures, or references, maybe people will somehow disassociate Willow Creek from Bill Hybels. This is like a young child who believes that if he closes his eyes and cannot see someone they will disappear. So if we never mention the name Bill Hybels in a service, maybe people, at best, will forget that he was here. Maybe he will be scrubbed from peoples memory and we can pretend nothing happened and simply follow his game plan for the church without connecting his name.
But, we have to understand sin as both an individual problem and an institutional one. It is another primitive defensive move to believe that Bill Hybels sinned, he is gone, so the sin in the church is gone with his departure. His vision, values, and methods permeated and still are operative in the culture of WCCC. Everyone who allowed the idolatrous image of the perfect church is a participant in the sin. The church needs to confess not only Bill’s sin but the multiple ways that we followed after an unbiblical view of the church. We cannot just scapegoat Bill Hybels. After all, nobody put a gun to our head and said we had to follow his flawed vision. So the uncovering of sin must be both individual and corporate.
People in the Old Testament produced graven images that were false and idolatrous symbols of what they wanted God to look like. A church that creates a graven image that is a false representation of God is practicing idolatry. WCCC, by never mentioning the name of the idol, is not taking seriously the reality that the face of the image of Willow reflects the quality and character of Bill Hybels. Maybe everyone will not notice that we are continuing the core culture of WCCC if its founder and architect is never mentioned by name again.

Confession Heals
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5:16
Confession is the reversal of cover up. Instead of suppressing the truth, a confessor reveals the truth. It brings out what is hidden into the bright light of truth. All manner of sicknesses, psychological as well as physical, are the result of a persistent effort to hide the truth about ones sin.

When I kept silent,my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. Psalm 32:3-5
It is only a believer, who trusts the grace of God, that risks full disclosure. Christians who desire health, know that it takes more effort to suppress the truth than to contain it in the fig leaves of denial. Fear is the enemy of transparency. These include the fear of the judgement of others, and fear of having to make amends and reparations.

Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. Psalm 51:6
Hiding truth will always lead to destructive outcomes. Hiding is a short term strategy to prevent some kind of loss that we do not want to experience. But listen, GOD desires truth in the innermost parts of us and of our church! There is no rationalization that supports the hiding of truth from a Biblical perspective. Many of us who are calling for this feel like the prophets who basically felt like they were crying in the wilderness. The cry in its most basic form is that of “return to God, turn from false idols, and let the Truth of God reign”. God designed us, created us, calls us to Himself, and knows what brings healing, so why are we not following His admonition to reveal the truth in the innermost parts of WCCC? According to scripture, if WCCC persists in lies, denials, suppression of the truth, and pushing for a way that seems right to them, they are not going to move from a sick culture to one of spiritual and emotional health. There is no Biblical basis for a cover up.

Cover Of Grace vs. Cover-Up
Here is the deepest level of hypocrisy at WCCC. They preached grace. Bill Hybels consistently uttered the challenge to those who felt that they were beyond the reach of God’s love, to trust grace. But did he really believe in grace, and does the church now trust grace? It is an indicator of how much one trusts God’s grace as to whether they boldly bring their sin to the balm of His grace. People who do not share very transparently likely do not trust grace.

A very real question can be asked, based on the lack of transparent willingness to reveal the sin and brokenness in WCCC. Does Bill, and the leadership of WCCC, trust grace? I would say no. Instead of being honest, because they know that God’s grace is sufficient to heal the sin of the church, they are hiding in the cover of darkness. In effect they are saying we will control the narrative, we will cover up what needs to be revealed, because we do not believe that the church can be forgiven or will survive if it is honest about the amount of sin that has been committed.
It is important to say that the current elders at WCCC appear to be Godly people who have worked tirelessly and have shown a measure of compassion towards the victims. But the current strategy of institutional cover-up that is being followed came from somewhere, and is not Biblical. Is it, in fact, lawyers who are guiding the suppression of truth? Is it the deep enmeshment of the Willow culture that simply is continuing the cover up strategy that they have used to try to keep the public image of the church scrubbed from flaws? Is it a lack of wisdom by the elders and leadership? Who knows? The current elders are not being transparent about who is informing their approach to minimize calling sin out publicly. Apparently the elders are following their predecessor’s script of not informing the congregants. Why? I have attempted to access the elders to ask them where they are getting their direction, but they have stonewalled my efforts. If scripture was used as the guiding template for how to heal this crisis, we would not be seeing the level of cover up that is evident.

Tent of Meeting: When The True Church Shows Up For Cleansing
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will heal their land. II Chronicles 7:14
Unlike the “final” elders meeting of Tuesday, July 23, 2019, a true contrition meeting might look something like the following:

  1. Those who are true elders, and represent the spiritual condition of the culture of WCCC, would stand before the whole congregation to express the deep contrition and sorrow over the years of sin that existed in the church. Those elders would symbolize, possibly by an outward sign of sack-cloth and ashes, that the church is coming with contrition before a Holy God to confess its sin and the sin of its leader. They would read Jeremiah 14:20 20 We have sinned against you, Lord; we confess our own sins and the sins of our ancestors. …
  2. The leaders and people would cry out and seek the grace of God in the same way that the tax collector called out to Jesus “Have mercy on me, a sinner” Luke 18:13
  3. The leaders would acknowledge that the church is complicit in the sin, in that we lacked the discernment and courage to call out and root out this leader’s entitlement and the deep sin that it generated in the body of the church. Sin was dealt with in both an individual and corporate way with the children of Israel. It showed the seriousness of sin and how it permeates the very systemic core of a body of people.
  4. The leaders would enumerate the sins of both Bill Hybels and other leaders in the church who followed his leadership and abused people.
  5. The sin, one by one, would be named, detailed, and confessed. The leaders would say (a.) “On behalf of the whole congregation we acknowledge that Bill Hybels sinned in his sexual abuse of multiple women in our church. His actions have caused deep pain in the lives of women who thought that they could trust him. They experienced emotional wounding that we can only imagine. To the extent that we did not confront and demand change in the entitled behavior that drove his abuse of women, we repent and seek forgiveness. Many of us sought to protect the idolatrous celebrity status of Bill Hybels, and therefore, did not want to believe that he was capable of such sin. Because of this we repent and seek forgiveness. Also, to the extent that we participated in a cover up, by believing the narrative that these women were liars and colluders, we repent and seek forgiveness and restitution for these victims. We are deeply grieved by the awareness of how we let down courageous women (and they should be named and celebrated and compensated) who came forth, at their own peril, to stand up against Bill and his sin and for their own dignity. That we did not support them, and all who gave them credibility, (like Betty Schmidt, the long serving, highly respected ex-elder, whose story was falsely represented to support the false innocence of Bill) we repent and seek forgiveness. Lord have mercy. (b.) For the damage that has been done to your reputation by our failure to come clean and share the truth about the sin in our congregation, we repent and seek your mercy and forgiveness. (c.) For the people who have left our church in despair, due to a sense of disillusionment or belief that we have covered up and protected a sexual aggressor, we repent and seek your mercy. (d.) For thousands of women who are survivors of sexual abuse, and who, upon learning that a trusted pastor was in fact a sexual aggressor, experienced trauma and disillusionment, we repent and seek your mercy and forgiveness. (e.)For many staff that experienced the bullying tactics of Bill Hybels and other leadership staff who were groomed by him, and may have been forced to leave under the cover up of the lie that “God was leading them away”, we repent and seek your mercy and forgiveness. For allowing non-disclosure agreements to be used as a means of suppressing the truth about what was really going on in the culture of the church, we repent and seek your mercy and forgiveness. (f.) For many congregants at our church who were assessed to be a threat to the image or assets of our church, who were labeled dangerous with little real evidence backing this up, who were subjected to an elder response team that lacked compassion and a pastoral approach to problems, and used such strong arm repression tactics as threatening arrest for trespassing, and sending scary and intimidating letters, we repent and seek your mercy and forgiveness. For trauma this created and the lack of pastoral follow through with the people who were kicked out and are left with a bitter sense of injustice, we repent, and will seek them out to pursue forgiveness and restitution(g.) For allowing Bill Hybels to manipulate the leadership of the church to create a governance model that gave him near absolute power to push his personal agenda on the church, and for failing to detect that he had character defects that resulted in him acting in ways that were absolutely in contrast to the fruits of the spirit and the life of Christ, we repent and seek your mercy and forgiveness. (h.) For the leadership not being transparent, even in this post-March 2018 period in the church, and creating a cover up approach that is in absolute rebellion to Your call to uncover the truth and sin, we repent and seek your mercy and forgiveness. (i.) For allowing a culture of perfection and image to be the underlying strategy of the church, and for all the behind the scenes ways that we intimidated, bullied, or eliminated people who were a threat to this goal, and for all that was covered up, we repent and seek your mercy and forgiveness. (10) For our multi-year support and identification with a leadership summit and association that professed to be focused on healthy leadership, even though its founder and teacher violated multiple qualities of Biblical leadership, we repent and seek your mercy and forgiveness. That we have allowed the leadership of the summit to get by without addressing the obvious hypocrisy of how the summit is going along, and acting like nothing happened, we ask for your mercy and forgiveness. (j.) Finally, and certainly not complete, we repent of the fact that we allowed our church to be built on a person, on the charisma of a leader who, on many levels, seemed so competent that we continued to support his behavior even though we should have clearly called it out as sinful. Your name has been defamed as the result of our church’s sins. We seek restoration of your name through the cleansing of our transgressions. We commit to protecting Your reputation by establishing the only real path of leadership in our church, and that is that we will follow leaders only as they follow Christ. Amen

“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psa. 32:1)

 

NO MORE COVER UP! RISE UP PEOPLE OF WCCC AND DEMAND THE TRUTH!