The question is if the whole board of of elders of Willow Creek should not resign? Bill Hybels took early retirement as a result of numerous stories that surfaced recently. Was he alone at fault? What lessons could we learn from this? How should we as community of christians treat this incident? How could we assist Willow Creek?
(THE BOARD DID RESIGN BEGINNING OF AUGUST 2018 – THIS POST WAS WRITTEN IN MAY 2018 AND FINALISED AND PUBLISHED 14 AUGUST 2018)
The founding pastor of a mega church stepped down six months before his normal retirement date after allegations of misconduct in relationships with the opposite sex surfaced again. The purpose of this blog is not to go into the details of what happened and who said what and who replied or refuted or tried to refute what was said. The fact of the matter is that the incident has left a scar in the christian community. I am sure that this has also shaken the house and family of the pastor to its foundations. How can such a brilliant and gifted leader do this or just be accused of what has happened?
Some of the allegations go back more than 20 years and it seems that the church board of elders did investigate the matters raised. At all times they have exonerated Bill Hybels of any possible wrongdoing or wrong “talking” for that matter.
Church boards need to set up guidelines for travelling of senior leaders and staff of their church. It is more easy for someone who is alone to stray from the straight and narrow. Someone with the wrong intention to cause trouble could get an opening. They could accuse another person of a remark or a gesture or even an outright immoral approach or comment. It is easy when there ar no other witnesses around. When there is always another member of the church present to guide against this, it is a major move forward. A family member travelling together will help the situation even more.
I am not sure if Willow Creek did have arrangements like this in place. If they did have and it was not followed by the senior leaders then the church board failed by not confronting the offending parties. On the other hand if they did not have this in place, it is a shortcoming.
Of course we all want to believe that our pastor or leader is beyond reproach and that he or she does no need anything like a “set of rules”, but it is time to be careful. Our approach should be that the enemy is out to get us and that we need to avoid the possible risks and pitfalls out there. Another one of the pitfalls is the one of meeting with members of the opposite sex in a one on one situation.
Church board says that one on one is in order
“Willow Creek told CT (CT= Christianity Today) that the church was aware that Bill Hybels and his wife Lynne held one-on-one meetings at their home. The church did not have a policy banning or approving of such meetings. They called such meetings “rare.” This was reported in end April 2018.
The church also allowed Hybels to book suites while traveling, so that he could hold private meetings with staff. He admitted in a church meeting that he’d often have staff members stay behind to talk” (- https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/april/bill-hybels-willow-creek-promises-investigation-allegations.html)
So the church leadership did not have a policy about the one-on-one meetings – that of course was and still is a mistake. Of course if this is not a principle adopted in the church it could lead to all sort of problems in the church.
I also thought it was fine … what could go wrong?
Up to about nine or ten years ago I also did not think that there was anything wrong with this type of interaction and/or counseling. I have come to realise and accept that it is a no-no in the light of all of the challenges that we face or could face today. The church board was totally naive to not see this as a challenge and they ar partly to blame for what transpired in the interaction between their founder pastor and people or then in particular women as has happened here.
When we have a friend or family member in a meeting – social or other – and we know that he or she is a recovering alcoholic there would be no alcohol around. The church board failed here. They heard about certain allegations and then they did not make a plan to change the environment where these type of interactions could be minimized. Just think what the role of another male could have played that was present at all these meetings or another mature female or church elder. The leadership failed the church here and they failed their pastor.
The board who did not want to hear …
The board of elders is quoted, as saying..
“Willow Creek Community Church is committed to listening to and addressing all accusations against a pastor or leader brought to our attention,” the church told CT in a statement prior to Friday’s congregational letter (21 April 2018) . “We believe it is appropriate to address these matters directly with those voicing the concerns, rather than doing so in the media or other public forums.”
The church also said it has investigated all past claims it has received—and will try to meet with those who have made allegations.
“In recent weeks, many of us have persistently requested meetings with people mentioned or quoted in media accounts, but our efforts have been unsuccessful,” the church told CT in its earlier statement.
The senior pastor should stay
“The church will listen,” said Mark DeMoss, a spokesman for Willow. “All I can say is, try us and see.”
It is interesting that not one of the people wanted to meet with the church board. The board did not want to hear in the past and there is very little reason for the people concerned to meet with the board. In their mind they could in fact be tainted with the same “misdeeds” that Hybels is accused of.
I do not think that the church board could or should remain in office. For continuity the senior pastor should remain in place, but the board should all resign. If they are cleared before a subsequent re-election they would be able to take up a position again. People should be able to ask them why they did not investigate the claims more thoroughly. Some of them might have been torn in two – they loved the church, but the pastor did some things that they were not comfortable with…
Torn in two – interaction with Bill Hybels
“It changed their lives, Williams says. She’d never been in a Bible study group before, and met a group of new friends there. There was an excitement at the church, with new people showing up all the time and great ministry being done.
“It was such a fantastic place,” she said.
Williams felt torn. She loved the church. And she knew something was wrong with the way Bill Hybels interacted with her.”
This is the account of one of the woman that experienced this new excitement of a new church and new friends and the inappropriate conduct and or words of the senior pastor.
We all acknowledge that we are daily in the battle. The good and the bad is waging war. We may love God with all our heart and we are trying our best to reflect that love for God everywhere, but then there is that little dark corner of our lives where there has not been a breakthrough yet. When we get to that dark place without the power of the Holy Spirit it is easy to lean over to the wrong side, to say the wrong thing to do the unacceptable. It is when our thoughts become words and deeds.
Like all of us our pastors and leaders also have blind spots, areas where they are not strong. For one it could be an absolute craving for power so you should not differ from him or her. For another it could be addiction to TV or social media. All of that could have an impact on our lives and an impact on the Kingdom. If it is a leader in church or christian circles, the fall out is enormous. Firstly people think (not all of them of course) that if the leader can do it, then they can do it too. Others could turn away from the faith completely by saying or believing that his leader was living a lie all along and that everything that he taught or believed in is of no value.
You do not have to take the “bad with the good”
The challenge is that you may be in a church of group where you have received tremendous growth and blessings and that you may think that you have to take “the bad with the good”. Then you rationalise that you should forgive the leader as he or she is not perfect like we are not perfect. Forgiveness of course is vital for the faith, but there is accountability as well. If there is no accountability then sin could abound. The challenge is that you may be so blessed that you think that you should not address aspects that clearly is not right. Of course we are also taught that we should respect that man in authority, especially if he is the “voice of God.”
Again it is an area where the church board did not make room for a channel where people could be heard. They wanted to protect “His Master’s Voice” at all costs whether that was out of respect or fear. The church board should change this mechanism so that people could be heard safely and without fear of reprisal. The typical response of certain leaders would be to cut the person out or to move him or her out of the ministry/church or to make that person a perpetrator. This does not only apply to the type of misconduct implied here, but it could be when a pastor perceives that his authority is undermined.
Exco no power, but God at work
I remember in one church where I pointed out that the Exco (that would equate to church board here) actually had no power or say at all. They were not even asked input on decisions of direction and oversight. I was not very popular and especially not when I pointed out that the senior pastor was not applying the constitution of the church in certain areas, but made his own new rules. This was considered “high treason” against the leadership where I viewed it as a complete lack of integrity. There was no transparent channel to discuss this and to make changes.
This does not say that the church did not save my life spiritually. It gave me healing and something to hang onto when I was drifting in a sea wondering where God was. I had this same challenge as many at Willow – God worked through the church and the leaders, but in certain respects they did not honour the church constitution and guidelines. They “loved”, they said provided that you do not challenge anything the senior pastor was doing. This is the same challenge that many people in Willow Creek must have experienced – a deep fulfillment on the one side against a deep disappointment on the other.
Where a church does not provide for a voice to be heard, the church board is ultimately responsible. You cannot blame one person alone for this mistake. It is the responsibility of the board. If they did not look after the “sheep” they cannot continue to feed the sheep. They should resign.
We have failed …. the church board acknowledged this
As quoted from the article above, this is what was reported:
Yesterday, the elders similarly expressed regret in the way the church handled the allegations.
“We have at times communicated without a posture of deep listening and understanding,” they wrote. “We are sorry that at times our process appeared to diminish the deep compassion we have for all those involved in these matters.”
Likewise, the elders said they would work on “strengthening the relationship of accountability with our church leaders.”
“Bill acknowledged that he placed himself in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid,” the elders wrote. “We agree, and now recognize that we didn’t hold him accountable to specific boundaries.”
The elders also said they wished they had worked harder “to collaborate with all parties,” and promised to “methodically examine our church culture, enhancing policies and informal practices that support healthy and valuable working relationships between men and women.”
Within the next 45 days, the elders will be examining reports that Hybels made unwanted sexual comments and advances to several women, including “allegations that have not been previously investigated by the Elder Board.” The elders said they would “seek wise counsel and work with experts, developing a collaborative process.”
“We commit that each woman willing to speak with us will be heard, and that we will respect her story,” they wrote.
The elders also said they would “walk alongside Bill in stewarding his season of reflection well and [we] are committed to working together on appropriate next steps with him.”
Enough has been written about this. The church board should, however, resign. They cannot and should not preside over these matters. There should also be an investigation trying to uncover why the church board did nothing to address the issues they have now seemed fit to address and change the culture in the church.
The board cannot be trusted. You cannot just say you are sorry and then move on. The church must make sure that this does nor happen again.
The remark of “walking alongside Bill” deserves a word or two. I am not sure exactly what is meant here. It would have been more appropriate to add that they would walk alongside the seven (or more ladies) that were offended, shocked and deeply affected by the advances or remarks of the senior pastor. That is if this is meant as support for Bill (walking alongside). As it is written here it almost seems as support for Bill. Of course you must support him like we must support any person who has done wrong and has admitted it and want to bring closure and restitution.
At the moment the pastor has not admitted to any wrongdoing. That is a challenge especially if there are seven similar stories surfacing.
Please go, but please keep on loving
Of course I believe that the church board should go. It is the least that they should do. They have failed in their duty and they need to demonstrate their sorrow about this.
As a community we should keep on loving and assisting. It is not the time to ditch the founder pastor or to sever ties with Willow Creek. It is the time to reach out and to say, “what can I/we do to assist?” So we should keep on praying for the family and that God in his wisdom will give insight and restoration.
As churches we need to consider our own cultures and rules. It must not be a hindrance to the Kingdom. We also need to consider what leaders in our leadership structure could cause havoc if left unchecked and put the necessary checks and balances in place . Our ear(s) must be close to the ground so that if we hear that a marriage of a leader is not happy that we can begin a process of intervention.
Then we need to keep on loving and trusting the at Holy Spirit will guide us every day that we could confess when we miss the mark for a particular day and make the next day better.
May God bless Willow Creek and his leaders and bless and comfort everyone touched by this episode. Let us learn as a body of Christ to respond to it like Jesus would have done – “go and sin no more”.
I am sure I have made many more mistakes than Bill Hybels did. I am also sure that he has touched many lives over decades. Let us always remember this and build it better next time where ever we are. Keep on praying for his healing and that of his family. Pray for everybody affected us a result of the lack of oversight of the board of elders.