Those were my words when the first accusations against Bill Hybels, founder and senior pastor of Willow Creek, came out in the Chicago Tribune and Christianity Today last spring. My words were in response to a group of men who asked how it felt for me, knowing I had served on staff at the church for four years in the 1990’s.

Those words still hold true for me today; they are just stronger. As weeks have gone by more women have courageously stepped forward to reveal shocking stories of harassment, intimidation and inappropriate behavior they say they experienced from Hybels. He still denies the accusations and the elders are now re-investigating the claims, after months of their own denials and unkind characterizations against the women.

From the perspective of 20 years of distance following four years of immersion in the Willow Creek soil I pray for the following:

  1. That all the truth finally comes out. The scope and breadth of harmful behavior, crude touching or worse that Hybels apparently directed toward numerous women must come to light. As long as patterns remain hidden or denied they will remain festering and unhealed. For the sake of the women, for the church and for Hybels’ own emotional and spiritual health all of the truth needs to come out.

 

  1. For full confession and repentance from Hybels and the elders for their actions and words. Those who have harmed others privately and publicly must confess and repent privately and publicly. This means Hybels admits what he has done. This also means the elders and pastoral staff at the church, and leaders at the Willow Creek Association, many of whom have resigned and have begun to admit their previous errors, take personal responsibility for assumptions they made in defense of Hybels, as well as conclusions they reached and publicized against the women.

 

  1. For forgiveness when the time is right—for the women. I disagree with the apology approach that includes the words, “Will you forgive me?’ Those are not the words an offender has a right to say to those he has harmed, let alone a response he has a right to insist from them. The offender’s responsibility is to apologize and repent. It is up to the wounded one to determine when and how she will respond. For her sake choosing eventual forgiveness can bring her peace. But she has every right to decide when and how her heart is be prepared to do that.

 

  1. For the names and reputations of Willow Creek and the Association to be eventually restored. The global impact of Willow Creek can hardly be exaggerated. Certainly there will be hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who will spend eternity with the Lord because of the vision and message of the church. It’s my hope that some day, through genuine self-examination, apology and repentance, Willow will be held in high esteem once again.

 

  1. That the honor and reputation of the Church at large will be defended. Let those of us who claim to be brothers and sisters of those who have made terrible mistakes of judgment, as well as of those courageous women who have stood up and spoken up, make a commitment to examine our own areas of weakness, selfishness and condescension that harms other Believers, our families, neighbors, co-workers and others who trust us.

 

  1. That there might be a time when the women who have been harmed would see a spirit of contrition and humility in Hybels, a spirit already demonstrated by the elders and former pastors, that would cause them to welcome a restored relationship on whatever level is safe, healthy and right for them.

 

  1. That I would cease any arrogant spirit that might cause me to think I am incapable of the hiddenness, defensiveness and deceit that Hybels appears to have carried out. May I turn my eyes toward my own wounded story, healing, and repentance, and allow God to build in me a deeper spirit of humility and compassion toward others.

 

  1. That God’s name will eventually be magnified and honored because of how those in the center of this profoundly tragic story carry themselves as his followers. And because of how we who call him Lord conduct ourselves.

 

The challenges we encounter in life have the potential to destroy us. They also carry the equal potential to be defining and transformational steps in increased Christ-likeness. The impact depends on our attitudes and actions in the face of those challenges. I pray this deeply tragic episode causes Willow Creek, the Church at large, you and me to more deeply reflect the Spirit of Christ.

31 Comments

  1. Craig,
    I am always amazed at your insight and wisdom. This is tragic but Genesis 50:20 sums it up. God will prevail.

    • That verse is a great reminder, Pat. In the end God is sovereign and He redeems.

  2. Thank you for reminding me of my own pride, redemption and the glory of God. There IS hope for everyone in this fallen world!

    • Man, do I believe in Hope!!

  3. Thank you Craig, you’ve offered all of us a fitting and prayerful response.

  4. Well said, Craig. That is my prayer as well.

  5. “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” Jeremiah 17:9. No man is above the battle – “every man’s battle”. Forsake pride, seek humility, guard your heart, establish hedges, and join the fight!

    • We see the truth of that verse in the news every day, Bruce.

  6. Brother Craig – You know I love you and would always want to spare you unnecessary pain. I hope you will remember that as you experience this reply. And please remain mindful of my huge respect for your loving heart and vital ministry.

    Bill Hybels looked like a fraud to me, two decades ago. I liked his message, but I knew him to be full of everyday shortcomings. He is a fine businessman, but never convinced me that he was spiritually authentic. So while part of me is deeply saddened by current events and revelations, I am not surprised. But more importantly, I see a huge blessing unfolding in all organized Christian religion: These events at Willow, as well as the world-wide Catholic Church, do not pass the test of truth. The denial and dishonesty must end.

    Organized religion has been selling and justifying a belief system that requires faith, and old world thinking processes, in order to survive. So this may be an opportunity for everyone to: A) Learn to think for themselves, B) Stop taking “the word” of men who profess they are chosen by God, C) Realize that faith is actually the activity of choosing to believe in things that one does not know or does not understand, which is often an intellectually dishonest process that has been passed on down through the ages. Since there is often pain involved in coming to terms with truth, the current pain may be necessary! Ponder.

    So there my friend is my positive spin. A new dawn may be awakening, and for that, man will raise his consciousness and his own sense of self-responsibility! I view that as a huge learning experience, which can only help man and women carry themselves toward truth and away from man-made corrupt cultures like the one Bill built. (After all, if that is what one seeks, one could simply go into politics.)

    PS To move forward, I think we must grow. I think it is time for Church goers to grow, which is in harmony with the progress of man. They too have responsibility. Many continued with Willow, but in their heart, they knew better. Fortunately, you and I were able to move on. I conclude that there is much to be grateful for, but only if we can look deeply into the mirror. Please forgive my flawed writing skills and my abundance of human error.

    • So, Chris, what do you really think? More seriously, I love you too and welcome your honest opinion. I don’t take any personal offense at anything you say here.

      While I believe in the Church as Jesus anointed it, and built it, I think many Christians have become disenchanted with it or have even lost hope in it. The Willow story is, like I said, utterly tragic. I cannot imagine what faithful followers of Catholic Churches carry in light of the horrific revelations that regularly come to light of the harm it has done.

      Human-made and human-run organizations are always succeptible to human flaws and sin. But, regardless of the struggles many Christians have with the current state of the Church, while it may be human-run, it isn’t human-made. At its best it’s still the bride of Christ. For me, there’s hope in that.

  7. Craig, hard subject to have to write about. I had not heard anything of the Willow Creek struggles – moving to a new place isolated you. My first thought was how terrible, how wrong, how so corporate of them. Then I thought, how me. Thank you brother for helping me speak truth to myself. Father, help me to truly learn humility through your forgiveness, and love, of everyone through your grace.

    Love you my brother,

    Frank

    • Frank, you’ve said it well.

    • “How Me”. Beautifully written brother! If our heart is beating we have issues in this world. If we are not one second from falling we are not in the fight much; and we are not causing much harm to evil. The Spiritual warfare that comes with walking in the Power and the Light is a deadly warfare.

  8. Craig, I totally agree with your discussion in item #3. “the apology approach” very well expressed. So do I try to absolve myself for the guilt of harming or hurting someone by putting a burden on them by asking them to forgive me? The guilt of my sin toward that person I must give to the Lord and keep it with Him regardless of whether they ever forgive me or not. It is He that is the forgiver and healer if we allow Him to be, for both the sinner and the one affected by the sin.

    • Yes, Jim. Humility prompts me to trust the offended one with their own response; faith prompts me to trust God, whatever their response. Not that I have this mastered…

    • Well, Craig….you are a good man made in the image of God who gave you great gifts, talents and abilities to be used for Him and others and that’s what I see you doing! We all are works in progress aren’t we? You’re one of the best!

  9. Craig, a well-stated and wise response to the sad situation at Willow Creek–and in many other churches we don’t hear about. God has given you His spirit of wisdom and understanding. It is a sad how prone we are to justify a distorted view of redemption with pleas for forgiveness without a contrite spirit of apology and repentance–“I was wrong. I have sinned against God and you. I do not deserve your forgiveness. Pray for my own heart to be softened to the truth and a righteous response to my own failings.” What a powerful way to show the world true contrition in stark contrast to the world typical response. There is hope, if we do not stand in the way. A good time for me to search my own heart.

    • Cavin. Yes! Well said.

  10. Oh man – I didn’t know about Willow Creek but we’re going thru an (albeit dissimilar) issue at our church. Our pastor just resigned, having been charged with arranging to meet a minor . Whether he was planning to ‘rescue’ her (which is totally in his character) or truly had immoral intents, his truth hasn’t come out yet either. God help us all and purify His Church!

    • Bonnie, so sorry to hear of similar challenges and pain in your church. The Lord is capable of redeeming that story. Thanks for contributing.

  11. Very well spoken as usual!

  12. Craig, as always, you model humility and grace. My takeaway from this tragic situation is “take heed, lest you fall too!” It would be easy to cast stones, but I fear that any attitude of arrogance or self-righteousness would be dishonoring to the Lord and therefore, let this be a warning to all of us to guard our hearts. I miss you brother!

    • Thank you, Doug. I entirely agree with your comments and spirit.

  13. Craig,

    Thanks for your thoughtful and insightful analysis of the tragedy that has visited Willow Creek. As you may remember around the time of your departure I stepped away for a number of reasons one of which was how I judged you were treated so unfairly at that time. So, I was surprised and disappointed to read about the sad news around Bill Hybels. When I read the account in the Tribune which quoted Nancy Beach I was amazed that her disclosures had been so summarily dismissed. I knew Nancy Beach and if ever there was a woman of integrity it is Nancy. I remember saying to myself, Bill must have missed the points about a man’s character when no one is looking from his own writings. I was sad that the elders did not step up to their responsibilities or use their gifts of discernment in the moment. I was also angry that the disclosures of Bill’s behavior were never reported in the moment. How different it could have been. I pray for all involved that the light of truth shines brightly and great learning, great grace and great faithfulness follows. Thanks for providing a forum for thoughts and reflections around the recent events at Willow. Much appreciated.

    • Lew, thank you for contributing your insights, my friend. I strongly agree with your opinion of Nancy; she is a person of such high integrity. To their credit it’s clear that the elders now see the error of their approach in the past. I hope that they might still have a role in healing the wounds that have been caused. And I echo your prayer that “the light of truth shines brightly and great learning, great grace and great faithfulness follows.” That’s a terrific benediction!

  14. Craig, Thanks for your wise insights and counsel. My prayer is that Bill would be convicted to fully confess, humbly repent, and seek reconciliation with those he hurt. How amazing it would be to see him stand up in a future Global Leadership Summit to publicly admit all of this and use that platform to urge others to avoid his mistakes and the drastic consequences of his actions. The cleansing of the church is going to continue. Bill could have an important role in that effort if he could cast off his pride and fall on his face in humility before the Lord.

    • I totally agree, Bruce. May it be so. Thanks for contributing.

  15. Brilliant…thanks for sharing!!!

    • Thank you, Heather.

  16. I so appreciate your approach: framing your commentary within the bounds of prayer. It’s a good reminder for me to take these kinds of sickening and saddening revelations to the Lord rather than simply shake my head in mournful disappointment. I would love to see your commentary picked up and echoed by others. It’s the right approach.

    • I appreciate your observation, Robb. Honestly it’s a good reminder to me, too.

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