Willow Creek Update: On Apologies, Bad Leadership and Trouble at The Global Leadership Summit

“Never ruin an apology with an excuse.”– Unknown

Well, the summer is hot here in Raleigh and things are also heating up in the area of abuse and churches. In the next week, we will be dropping a bombshell that will include proof of our claims. Some of you have been following things on Twitter and have an idea of what might be coming. However, the proof of what we will claim is what is important. I would ask that you pray for us and also pray for the victim in this story. I can’t comment on anything until we post the story.

In the meantime, there are some stories were need to catch up on. There are all kinds of things happening in the Willow Creek world.

The apologies from Willow Creek

Scot McKnight posted Elders Acknowledge Bill Hybels’ Sin; Heather Larson Apologizes. You can read the apology from the elders and Heather Larson. It appears that they are beginning to use the *S* word…sin on the part of Hybels. Here is part of that apology.

The women showed courage in coming forward. In full transparency of what was going on in me, one of the hardest parts for me was that I did not agree with how the information came out in the media, and I allowed that to get in the way of focusing on the pain of these women. I am sorry. I should have listened more to why the women felt like they were forced to take that path.

It was wrong to host those first family meetings and to release those initial posted statements in the way we did. We should have started by listening. As I walked out on stage that first night, I realized that the humility and tone were not right, and I have deep regrets about even holding those meetings. I said things that hurt people, and I am deeply sorry.

Steve Carter, lead teaching pastor, released his own apology on his website: An Apology. Here is part of the apology.

I recognize that I am not blameless in this. I take full responsibility for my actions that contributed to the injustice that was done to these women. I should not have been on stage for any of the family meetings, to pray or lead any part of those nights. I believe now that what our church needed initially was to practice transparency and repentance, to grieve, and to reflect on what Jesus was inviting us into and to listen to the Holy Spirit. I wish I had done more to prevent the hurtful statements that were made, and to advocate more forcefully for what I believe would have been a more humble and Biblical approach.

For this, I am deeply sorry and ask your forgiveness.

Scot McKnight then wrote Willow: Why The Women Went Public? and referred to the apologies when he said:

By any account, these apologies and admissions at least call into question the counter-accusations by Bill Hybels (of women lying, of collusion) and these apologies get close to admitting complicity of Willow (Elders and WCA Board) as an institution in the public statements about the women.

Top-down management and autonomous leadership

McKnight hit the nail on the head when he targeted top-down management and autonomous leadership as contributing WCCC’s problems.

…top-down management promotes a lack of responsibility on the part of the people, often a lack of accountability for both leader and people, a clear absence of ownership by the people, a lethargic passivity by the people, and it creates spectators of the people and performers of the leaders. The leaders develop a persona made visible by public appearances. One does not know the genuine article; one knows the personapresented on stage. For most people there is no way to find the truth of the leader’s character. Many people are marked by allegiance to the leader rather than free-flowing giftedness set free to do the work God has called them to.

…The problem of autonomous churches is autonomy at the top: too much authority in the inner circle at the top and voicelessness for too many.

Autonomy at the top breeds powermongering, and that always leads to sharing authority with like-minded who think alike and behave alike and reinforce what is alike. Many of the “not likes” then are excluded, silenced, and even afraid to speak up.

The evidence of powermongering is silencing and bullying

He believes that this sort of power structure forced the women to go outside to the Chicago Tribune and various blogs in order to be heard. McKnight uses a term I haven’t heard before. He claims what the women did was *public prophetic speech.* I agree. He believes that the initial responses by WCCC made this response inevitable and necessary.

We would not know any of the truth of this problem at Willow (Association and Elders) had they not gone public. Four years of silence, four years of nothing being known, four years when others may have spoken up. We know what we know only because the women had the courage to go public.

Notice that they did not go public right away. Rather, following the guidelines of Matthew 18, Bill was first approached by at least two women (Julia Williams, Vonda Dyer); then a few went to both Bill and the Elders – for four long years of patient attempts to get Willow to admit what had happened, what the Elders have now described as Bill “entering into areas of sin.”

A new blog

On July 4, a new blog, Rob Sp8’s Blog, began. He focused on the trouble surrounding WCCC’s well known Global Leadership Summit. He has given me permission to post it here.

I hope this post helps to get our readers up to speed on all things Willow Creek. I know there will be more stories to come.


Trouble At The Global Leadership Summit

An Open Letter to Tom DeVries

Before you read my first ever Blog post, I need to introduce myself.  After graduating from seminary I was a college chaplain and then a senior pastor — both on the east coast.  I have been a member of Willow Creek for more than 25 years. During my tenure at Willow, I served as an intern.  I assisted teaching the spiritual gifts assessment classes. I have served as a marrying pastor, funeral pastor, small group leader, section leader and response pastor.  I have attended the GLS numerous times.  Over the years, my wife and I have hosted GLS attendees from the U.S., the Netherlands (2x), and Namibia (2x).  I have invited co-workers and family members to attend the GLS and attended with them.

I am jealous for Willow Creek Church!

I do not personally have a dog in this race.

I have written emails to the elders, the WCA, and the Elder Response Team throughout this crisis beseeching them to be forthcoming.  I have had 2 phone conversations with elders. I spoke to one elder face to face after the last elder update.  And I have had a face to face meeting with members from the Elder Response Team.

But as the days march on with no apparent resolution in sight, and considering the events of this past weekend at church and now the article in the Daily Herald about the GLS, I am compelled to share more publicly.  Let me encourage you to click on the link here which contains my emails in chronological order throughout April, May, and June 2018 so that you may understand my efforts to goad the leadership of Willow Creek toward resolving this crisis.  I have tried privately, and now I am trying more publicly.

Thank you.

 

WC Elephant in the Room

Tom DeVries, President and CEO of the Willow Creek Association, was interviewed by The Daily Herald newspaper July 2, 2018.  After giving accolades to Bill Hybels and expressing how he will be missed at the GLS this year, he states that they’re going to address the “elephant in the room,” at the GLS.

What is the elephant in the room, Mr. DeVries, President and CEO of the Willow Creek Association?

Mr. DeVries identifies the “elephant in the room” to be:  how men and women work together in professional environments.

So that is the monster issue everyone from around the country and world is dying for the GLS to address?  That’s the elephant?

That is the elephant that is causing
a cloud of malaise
and division
and heartbreak
and confusion
at Willow Creek Church?

That is the big issue that leaders from all over the world are eagerly anticipating the GLS to tackle?  Mr. DeVries, it pains me to say that you calling that topic “the elephant in the room” lacks wisdom and discernment and is not an example of exemplary leadership.

That statement is a deflection.  It unfortunately accurately reflects how the elders have handled the last 100 days since the Willow tragedy has gone public.

Willow Creek Community Church and the Willow Creek Association have not earned the right to address hundreds of thousands of leaders from around the world on this topic.

Mr. DeVries, we are willing to listen to you address your elephant because it actually does have value.  But there are dozens of elephants in the room bigger and more formidable that need to be addressed FIRST.

There are BILL HYBELS elephants.
There are ELDERS elephants.
There are WCA elephants.

Below I will list four elephants in each of the above categories.  There are many more, but I will limit it to four. First address these, and then you will have the credibility to address your elephant.

elephant-transparent-background BILL HYBELS

  • The elephant of Bill lying when he declared that all the women lied? And that they were all lies that they spoke.
  • The elephant of Bill lying when he declared that Nancy Beach, John Ortberg, Nancy Ortberg, Vonda Dyer, Jimmy and Leanne Mellado, and Betty Schmidt all colluded against him?  He was the victim? (This is the example of leadership that you want to extol?)
  • How about the elephant of Bill refusing to confess his sin and ask for forgiveness from:

Each of the women?
Each of the beloved former Willow leaders?
The congregation of Willow Creek Community Church?
The global partners of the WCA?

  • And what about the elephants of the missing emails and texts and his abuse of power and … ?

elephant-transparent-background THE ELDERS OF WILLOW CREEK

  • The elephant of the first family meeting when they explained away all allegations against Bill and declared him innocent of all charges.  The elders deceived and fractured the entire Willow family that night.
  • The elephant of refusing to hire a totally independent third-party clergy abuse investigator to listen to the women’s stories.  Mr. DeVries, what are the elders afraid of? What might that investigation uncover that the elders want to remain hidden?
  • The elephant of refusing to say Bill had sinned until they were forced to by the courageous voice of Steve Carter, Lead Teaching Pastor of Willow, when he came forward on behalf of the women utilizing his own blog this past Friday evening 6/29/18.
  • The elephant of how poorly the elders have led and cared for the congregation through this crisis.  They have disqualified themselves. They are no longer trusted to lead. Yet they have not been humble enough to resign and thus retain at least a shred of dignity and honor.

elephant-transparent-background THE WCA

  • The elephant of being a global megaphone for the elders’ narrative of this crisis despite boasting of the WCA’s independence from Willow Creek Community Church.
  • The elephant of obfuscation in the WCA’s communications with its global family and partners (I address this issue directly in my email number 6 to the WCA)
  • The elephant of deflection in the Daily Herald article which has spurred the writing of this blog post
  • The elephant of a WCA staff member slandering Vonda Dyer to a church in Texas to keep them from pulling out as a GLS host site and the WCA refusing to correct that staff member’s slander and offer a public apology to Vonda.

Tom, addressing “how men and women can work together in professional environments” does indeed have value.  But it is not addressing the real elephants in the room.

I am sorry, Tom.  This is not good leadership.  It continues the obfuscation that has defined the way the people involved have been treated for the last 100 days … and before, by the leaders of Willow Creek Community Church and the Willow Creek Association.

Tackle some of the elephants I named above, Tom, and then it will be worthy of being called The Global Leadership Summit.


Comments

Willow Creek Update: On Apologies, Bad Leadership and Trouble at The Global Leadership Summit — 90 Comments

  1. Breaking newsL:

    Chris Conlee just resigned (and the trustees wanted him to resign) as pastor of Highpoint Church.More to follow.

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  2. Oops, I had only read the attached post (earlier).

    At the Restoration church I attended, I was definitely waiting passively for God to empower me for ministry and for the leadership to give a position while I watched the show. (Never mind that I allegedly never would have been ready in their eyes, eg I was not a personal fit with the pastor and his enablers.)

    Deborah (Linda Berg) Davis, in her expose of the Children of God cult founded by her father observed a mutual affirmation. Followers reinforced “Moses David’s” claim to be God’s End Time Prophet while they were told that they were a special people, specially dedicated. Mutual stroking went on at my former church. Davis observed that, when people rely on leadership’s evaluation instead of God’s, they were far from Him. I too wanted my leadership’s endorsement and would have equated it with God’s.

    Thomas Jefferson paraphrased the First Amendment of the Constitution with “a wall of separation between church and state”, opining that “…religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship….” While not denying the right and responsibility of church leaders to identify and if need be discipline heresy (rejecting historic essentials of belief and practice), there has been a tendency of abusive leaders to take on the role of priests and mediators between God and those under them, an approach that shows up in various ways, undermining one’s relationship to God and Christ in a practical sense.

    I used to wonder what the problem was with the Divine Right of Kings (aren’t authorities appointed by God?). I later read that, while the Bible was supposed to be the final authority on faith and practice, these kings made themselves the final interpreter and arbiter of God’s Word.

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  3. David,

    Read the article, watched the videos, and more (links upon links).

    He now resigns claiming that as a Youth Pastor, his chosen sexual tools (victims he preyed upon – but “no intercourse”) were over 18. According to police reports being filed, they were younger: 15, 16, 17, at the time. He places himself with the father of lies.

    “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” John 8:44

    So, neither murder nor intercourse, but the death of innocence accompanied by deceit, shame, and lies to this day, for the victims. Serious contradiction for a “man of God”, church “leader”.

    His wife, like Dottie Sandusky, stands by her predator-man, questioning why the victims aren’t over it, and why they are ruining her husband’s life. (As if he didn’t ruin his victims’ lives while they paid for his indiscretions for a l-o-n-g time, no fault of their own.)

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  4. B Badger: there has been a tendency of abusive leaders to take on the role of priests and mediators between God and those under them,

    Overreach and a red flag, from the get-go.

    Note to self: is this “teaching” supplanting or supplemental to my personal relationship with God? Static or accompaniment/harmony to the overriding melody of God Himself? Jesus went into the wilderness, led by the Spirit, nothing else to hear, to listen to God His Father. And then Satan shows up, out there in the middle of nowhere.

    2nd Note to self: Be ever watchful, everywhere, with everyone, and even with apparently no one, as someone may show up anyway. Ever watchful.

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  5. jyjames,

    Yes. Ever since I adjusted my thinking to essentially orthodox Christianity

    jyjames: Overreach and a red flag, from the get-go.

    Note to self: is this “teaching” supplanting or supplemental to my personal relationship with God? Static or accompaniment/harmony to the overriding melody of God Himself? Jesus went into the wilderness, led by the Spirit, nothing else to hear, to listen to God His Father. And then Satan shows up, out there in the middle of nowhere.

    2nd Note to self: Be ever watchful, everywhere, with everyone, and even with apparently no one, as someone may show up anyway. Ever watchful.

    Yes. Ever since I adjusted my thinking to essentially orthodox Christianity, I have been resistant to cults in the sense of heresy. I have, however, been vulnerable to abusive religious authority (what I would call cultic): Navigators during my second and final year at university and their following summer program, an abusive Alliance pastor, the Restoration church, Bill Gothard and IBLP (I was never involved with their homeschooling program [ATI], nor was I ever employed by them, but I let them have too much influence over me.) I can’t blame them in a final sense: my vulnerability is a direct reflection on me, ie what made me receptive to such abuse?

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  6. The statments by Tom Devries is classical corporate “ spin control”… try to minimize the problem and DO NOT be truely transparent (i.e. honest)…. and these mega churches claim to teach the gospel??

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  7. Is the woman who did / didn’t have a 14-year affair with Bill doing ok? Anyone know?

    I remember when Bill and the staff initially referred to her as suicidal.

    What kind of pastor reveals what was said in a counseling session?

    How about an apology to her?

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  8. Mike,

    The only thing that is being thought about by leadership is the institution “Willow Creek.” Individuals harmed have been on the back burner since day one of accusations.

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  9. “top-down management promotes a lack of responsibility”
    I recall a prominent figure in Christianity forcefully saying “it shall not be so with you”.
    With all the “leadership” twaddle in Christianity, just replace the “p” at the end of the word with a “t”.

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  10. B Badger: my vulnerability is a direct reflection on me, ie what made me receptive to such abuse?

    By the grace of God, we wander through these spiritual swamps of a cast of characters, and end up with – God Himself holding us true to Him and finding others who want to be true to Him, too. Thank God. Ever grateful.

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  11. B Badger:
    At the Restoration church I attended, I was definitely waiting passively for God to empower me for ministry and for the leadership to give a position while I watched the show. (Never mind that I allegedly never would have been ready in their eyes, eg I was not a personal fit with the pastor and his enablers.)

    When I was a member of a large SBC church, I was dying to use my gifts somewhere. But as one pastor said to me, “Well, we hire people to do those things.” They favored large classes under just a few teachers, hired professional musicians, and wanted members to mostly act as greeters and parking attendants. The very large, and well-paid, pastoral staff did the rest. They were constantly advertising for greeters and parking attendants.

    Some people are gifted as greeters, I will say that. There was one person I know that clearly had a gift for it. But it just left me frustrated and feeling like I didn’t have a purpose.

    So I think a lot of churches not only have a lot of passive members, but they want that passivity so it doesn’t get in the way of their “vision”.

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  12. Thersites,

    I’ve watched pastoral staff that were indoctrinated into Willow Creek’s leadership model totally focus on developing potential leaders and completely miss the fact that they were not ministering to the entire body, particularly “the least of these”. Seems they were so intent on mentoring that they forget to be ministering.

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  13. “Yes. Ever since I adjusted my thinking to essentially orthodox Christianity, I have been resistant to cults in the sense of heresy. I have, however, been vulnerable to abusive religious authority (what I would call cultic):”

    Same here.

    “I can’t blame them in a final sense: my vulnerability is a direct reflection on me, ie what made me receptive to such abuse?”

    This is something I’ve internally gone round and round over multiple times during the past few years. I can blame some of it on my youth, being in my mid to late 20s at the time. False teachers are quite good at drawing in those with a dearth of life experience, and a zeal to do the right thing.

    My skepticism grew throughout my 30s as life experience (others’ as well as our own), plus (apparently) God’s providence didn’t match some of what we were taught.

    I no longer believe in complementarianism, and I reserve the ultimate right to interpret the Bible for myself.

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  14. Thersites: I recall a prominent figure in Christianity forcefully saying “it shall not be so with you”.

    I know, bless him. It’s a good job he was followed up by some proper scholars who could ground his flyaway idealism in solid truth.

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  15. ION: Tennis</strong

    The Ladies’ Singles final at Wimbledon this year will be between Angelique Kerber and Serena.

    ‘Serena who?’ – said no tennis fan ever.

    #GOAT

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  16. ishy: So I think a lot of churches not only have a lot of passive members, but they want that passivity so it doesn’t get in the way of their “vision”.

    Boom. This is no doubt contributing to church membership decline. There’s nothing there. Whole lotta feathers and not much chicken.

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  17. jyjames: He now resigns claiming that as a Youth Pastor, his chosen sexual tools (victims he preyed upon – but “no intercourse”)

    “I did not know than woman in a Biblical Sense!” (“LOOPHOLE! LOOPHOLE!”)
    — Doug Phillips ESQUIRE

    And didn’t John (“Jack the Whipper”) Smyth NOT get erections while whipping same-sex teens bloody, then pressing his naked body against theirs to whisper in their ear? So it wasn’t REALLY homosexual? (“LOOPHOLE! LOOPHOLE!”)

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  18. NJ: “Yes. Ever since I adjusted my thinking to essentially orthodox Christianity, I have been resistant to cults in the sense of heresy. I have, however, been vulnerable to abusive religious authority (what I would call cultic):”

    Problem is, Christian Cult-Sniffer groups always defined “Cult(TM)” in terms of Theology, Not Repeat NOT is terms of abusive control-freak behavior.

    While the Cult-Sniffers were parsing Theology letter-by-letter, abusive Not-a-Cult “Fellowships” (coincidentally with the same “Born-Again Bible-Believing” theology as the Cult-Sniffers) slipped right under their radar. And used their clean bill of Theological Health from these Christian Cult Experts as a further weapon to abuse their people.

    “If you question what I say or do
    YOU REBEL AGAINST THE FATHER, TOO!”
    — Steve Taylor, “I Manipulate”

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  19. FW Rez: I’ve watched pastoral staff that were indoctrinated into Willow Creek’s leadership model totally focus on developing potential leaders

    There is an unhealthy focus on developing leaders. Develop people in their capabilities and competence and a hierarchy will just naturally arise, for good or ill. These people instead focus on the hierarchy as if it were the main goal and then end up with those most determined to grasp for the top honors. The side effect is their “leaders” exhibit few redeeming qualities.

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  20. FW Rez: Willow Creek’s leadership model totally focus on developing potential leaders and completely miss the fact that they were not ministering to the entire body, particularly “the least of these”

    Telling. And with eternal consequences to boot.

    “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

    “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’” – from Matt. 25.

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  21. jyjames,

    Yes.

    Now, please permit me some sarcasm.

    How can the quote from Jesus which you have included in your comment be of any significance when we all know that there is no such thing as ‘the devil and his angels’, and no such thing as ‘eternal fire’ however understood, and certainly not ‘depart from me’ and no ‘you who are cursed’? Surely that is just an ethnic poetry style or imagery for that era which has been not only misunderstood but also mistranslated.

    Maybe ‘you’ really need to ‘study this subject’ and ‘inform yourself’, which obviously you have not, and perhaps even ‘get counseling’ preferably from a secular atheist which it looks like you may need. If that does not work there are meds available.

    End of sarcasm

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  22. jyjames: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’” –

    Sounds like works-based salvation to me…

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  23. Muff Potter,

    Could be.

    – A parent cares for a child’s needs (food, drink, clothing, hospitality) as an expression of a loving a relationship.

    or

    – A parent cares for a child’s needs (same) as a means of manipulation and control.

    Which is probably why Jesus further adds in Luke 14:

    – humility in faith work: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

    – without expectation of earthly compensation/recognition: “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

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  24. jyjames,

    My comment was pure sarcasm and snark, because I believe in salvation by deeds.
    Pure heresy for some of you here, so let me explain:

    Goodness is its own reward simply because goodness is the right thing to do.
    Rightness exists completely independent of religion, creed, or the teachings of any holy book.

    That’s why you’ll see atheists like a certain elderly couple hiding a woman and her two little ones from Guatemala in their home and keeping them safe from the ICE patrols.

    In general, Christianity’s faith and works paradigm is one directional, that is, it’s an ‘if faith, then good deeds’, otherwise your (generic your) good deeds count for nothing, because they’ll always be sullied by ‘sin’.

    I no longer subscribe to this. I now believe that faith and works are bi-directional (if and only if), and that one is a sufficient condition for the other to exist.

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  25. Muff Potter: I now believe that faith and works are bi-directional (if and only if), and that one is a sufficient condition for the other to exist.

    Jesus seems to allude to this regarding those who are not against, are for, indeed, in deed.
    Mark 9, Luke 9.

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  26. ___

    The [gospel] preached at Willow Creek Church has NOT been reduced to —“A Sovereign determination to love certain people” ™ . All are welcome to believe upon Christ, unto eternal life.

    – –

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  27. Thersites: There is an unhealthy focus on developing leaders. Develop people in their capabilities and competence and a hierarchy will just naturally arise, for good or ill. These people instead focus on the hierarchy as if it were the main goal and then end up with those most determined to grasp for the top honors. The side effect is their “leaders” exhibit few redeeming qualities.

    Great comment! Hierarchy will arise naturally and is in some sense in inevitable. When it becomes the the point rather than something that just happens, watch out!

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  28. Headless Unicorn Guy: “If you question what I say or do
    YOU REBEL AGAINST THE FATHER, TOO!”
    — Steve Taylor, “I Manipulate”

    Strictly speaking, the lyrics (certainly on the On the Fritz version) are:

    Yes I know that parable
    That’s the story of the Prodigal
    If you question what I’m teaching you
    You rebel against the father too

    But I’m being picky. It’s nice to see another Steve Taylor fan! I saw him live at the Cambridge Corn Exchange while I was studying there – really good.

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  29. ___

    There will be no lucky charm riding the unicorn here.

    hmmm…

    In order for this long standing 501c3 religious organization to save their brand, Willow Creek will simply have to give up the culprits, eat crow, most important, uphold the integrity of Christ’s gospel, and press on since the fields are even still white with harvest. The harvest is great, the laborers few…

    ATB

    Sòpy

    ;~)

    – –

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  30. Anyway, on the topic of “training leaders”. Some great comments on this, and it’s invidious to single anybody out; at the same time, too many links in one comment is bad netiquette.

    It strikes me that, if the four canonical Gospel accounts are to be believed, Jesus of Nazareth did not train leaders – at least not in the sense that is currently so much in vogue today. He trained servants. Jesus could have washed his disciples’ feet at any point during three years (maybe he did, unrecorded) but he made a point of doing it the night before his public humiliation and death.

    There’s a world of difference between

     I “serve” by leading everyone and setting the agenda
     I “lead” by serving everyone and setting the example

    Given the number of arguments among the twelve about who was the greatest – several are mentioned explicitly and there were probably more – I think we can say that they at least started out with leadership aspirations. I wonder whether they ever quite fully absorbed what he taught them about serving. And that’s The_Twelve – never mind today’s celebrity, stage-dwelling gurus.

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  31. Nick Bulbeck:
    It strikes me that, if the four canonical Gospel accounts are to be believed, Jesus of Nazareth did not train leaders – at least not in the sense that is currently so much in vogue today. He trained servants. Jesus could have washed his disciples’ feet at any point during three years (maybe he did, unrecorded) but he made a point of doing it the night before his public humiliation and death.

    He also tended to pick the people that were the total opposite of what modern leadership models might call “leadership potential”. They were the disliked (Matthew), the blue collar workers (Peter, James, John, Simon, and Andrew), and the disenfranchised (Simon the Canaanite).

    The apostles were chosen for their hearts, not their charisma, popularity, or potential to draw in crowds.

    I used to go to several churches that had a “Training of the 12” discipleship model (book by AB Bruce). The basic philosophy was that mature Christians and pastors were always discipling a small group of people to maturity and ministry. However, there was a consistent flaw with that model, one that I don’t think Bruce anticipated enough, which is the human natural tendency to pick other people just like them.

    This model was followed in a youth group I worked with and I ever overheard several of the leaders talking about how they didn’t want certain kids to drag down their groups because they didn’t fit in and didn’t have potential.

    But I’m pretty sure it’s exactly those kids Jesus would have picked.

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  32. ishy,

    I was going to quote a bit of your comment, then I realised I needed to quote more of it, then I realised I actually needed to quote all of it, then I realised this sentence was kind of outstaying its welcome…

    Anyway, there’s a lot of food for thought there. I don’t pretend to understand in practice what makes one person “called” and another person not. I was never “called” – the problem was that I was compellingly drawn to something I was never “called” to. A bit like falling in love with a painting or statue (cf Pygmalion from Greek mythology) that’s never going to love you back.

    By coincidence, I was never “cool” either; I neither understood, much less met, the unwritten (and unwritable) rules about what is, and is not, “cool”.

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  33. The entire ‘seeker’ (celebrity pastor + rock band) model is a disaster in the making, as was its precursor of celebrity youth pastor yucking it up with kids too young to know right from wrong. I’ll even go all the way to condemning the ‘pastor’ concept altogether, of one person standing in authority over all, receiving endless adoration and limitless trust.

    Anyone ever read the New Testament? How those with a word, limited to a reasonable number, were to speak, one at a time, in an orderly fashion to the rest? No celebrity leader giving his weekly ‘sermon’, no ruling elders, just individuals, led by the Spirit of God, seeking to share their personal insights for the encouragement of all.

    My heart is heavy. I will soon be going to the memorial service for a close family member who was once a youth pastor. The talk will be of all he did all these years, how many he reached, how he loved everyone. In reality, he was a pathological narcissist. Everything was about him. Every event, every relationship was an opportunity to grab attention, receive praise and stroke his ego. When I was approached, years and years ago, by someone who had been hurt by this person, I didn’t believe it. How could someone so positive, so giving and so on fire for God possibly be at fault? Everyone sings his praises. Must be a misunderstanding. But she was his new daughter-in-law, and she knew of what she spoke.

    I do not believe that this is a unique incident, but fairly typical of what happens repeatedly in modern churches, in which pastors and youth pastors are treated like rock stars. Do you think predators do not see the advantages of such a setting? I have seen decent men have their heads turned by all the jazz, and their personal lives ruined as they were sucked into the deception of religious ‘authority’. My own world has been rocked, and sometimes it seems that it will never again be stable. These accusations arise, out of the woodwork, from decades ago, and all are ‘stunned’. On and on it goes, and the Institutional Church chases shadow elephants.

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  34. Nick Bulbeck: By coincidence, I was never “cool” either; I neither understood, much less met, the unwritten (and unwritable) rules about what is, and is not, “cool”.

    Funny you mention that. I have noticed that many of those who become spiritual abusers in The Church were men who were ‘not cool’. They found the adoration and praise denied to them in their youth in the celebrity culture of The Church. I have seen repeatedly that the ruling elders of spiritually abusive churches tend to be this type of ‘uncool’ person, in need of ego stroking. Needy people feeding off of other needy people, rather than humbly surrendering the lifelong desire to ‘be cool’ and embracing a self sacrificial life of feeding the hungry and loving the unlovable.

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  35. Nick Bulbeck: I don’t pretend to understand in practice what makes one person “called” and another person not.

    Vocabulary.

    If you want to sound religious the word is ‘called’. If you want to sound emotional or sensitive or perceptive you say ‘compellingly drawn to’. If you want to sound practical you say ‘gifted in’, which causes ‘the world’ to understand where you are coming from but drives the religious into indignation and opposition because ‘selfish motivation’.

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  36. truthseeker00,

    There is no such thing as ordination to the pastorate in the NT. Everyone is a priest – some are teachers, some administrators etc etc. The obsession with ‘leadership’ has made a hierarchy and a differentiation between believers more possible, with all the conseqyent dangers.

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  37. okrapod: Vocabulary.

    If you want to sound religious the word is ‘called’.

    There is also he “God card” aspect of it. If God “calls” this person, who am I to argue?

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  38. So I think a lot of churches not only have a lot of passive members, but they want that passivity so it doesn’t get in the way of their “vision”.

    Interesting point. Bullies are at bottom weak and insecure. Differences, giftedness, competence may leave them feeling threatened (think of Saul at first favouring David until his growing stature with the people made Saul afraid of being supplanted).

    As that church grew, it acquired more full and part time staff, ending up with a large number relative to the size of the congregation (at one point 22 for about 300 people). As you can imagine, they and those sent to plant churches had to be clones essentially, yes people.

    I read that once upon a time multiple staff, even for a large city church, meant pastor, secretary, custodian, and perhaps a part time music minister. There was also an army of stay-at-home wives and mothers, presumably only too happy to get out of the house and do something different. When they entered the work force en masse, staff became multiple: pastoral, administrative, maintenance. (I may be belabouring the obvious here; I came up with this earlier to address the accusation that pastors are lazy and do little work, eg two hours on Sunday. Yes, lazy people are drawn to seemingly easy jobs that pay decently while conferring prestige, including ministry. Some full time Christian workers are workaholics on the other hand, and only the diligent can do well at it.)

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  39. Grainne:
    truthseeker00,

    There is no such thing as ordination to the pastorate in the NT. Everyone is a priest – some are teachers, some administrators etc etc. The obsession with ‘leadership’ has made a hierarchy and a differentiation between believers more possible, with all the conseqyent dangers.

    Such a succinct comment! (Like button up vote!)

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  40. B Badger: Interesting point. Bullies are at bottom weak and insecure. Differences, giftedness, competence may leave them feeling threatened (think of Saul at first favouring David until his growing stature with the people made Saul afraid of being supplanted).

    I remember the “Chin Dynasty” channel on YouTube — a couple siblings named Chin doing short videos on Chinese history. Over and over, a general or hero saves the Empire, only to get chopped by the Emperor out of jealousy for the Throne. Chinese history is full of Ned Stark after Ned Stark after Ned Stark.

    Similar to Korean history — during the Imjin War (a genocidal invasion by Japan in the late 16th Century), Korea was saved by its greatest Admiral of all time, Yi Sun-Shin (who over and over defeated Japanese at sea and cut their invading army’s supply lines). Yi’s biography is full of the King denouncing Yi as a traitor (on the urging of his courtiers), having him imprisoned and tortured, then letting him out (on the urging of Yi’s one or two friends at court) and reinstating him as the war situation deteriorated without him in command.

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  41. Thersites: There is also he “God card” aspect of it.If God “calls” this person, who am I to argue?

    “TOUCH NOT MINE ANOINTED!”
    — Benny Hinn’s favorite go-to Verse when he comes under scrutiny

    “If you question what I say or do
    YOU REBEL AGAINST THE FATHER, TOO!!!!!!”
    — Steve Taylor, “I Manipulate”

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  42. truthseeker00: I have noticed that many of those who become spiritual abusers in The Church were men who were ‘not cool’. They found the adoration and praise denied to them in their youth in the celebrity culture of The Church. I have seen repeatedly that the ruling elders of spiritually abusive churches tend to be this type of ‘uncool’ person, in need of ego stroking.

    Type example:” “Womb Tomb” Swanson.
    The guy has always come across as a High School Dork who found a way to become God’s Anointed Alpha Male and has been throwing his weigh around HARD ever since. “GOD SAITH!”

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  43. Thanks for posting the blog by Rob Speight (Sp8). He doesn’t allow comments at his blog so there is no way to tell him that his name is not listed on his own site (as it should be).
    Thanks – Dave

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  44. NJ,

    That church began in 1972 with a small group of counterculture people (Jesus People) which then shifted to Charismatic. Another, smaller, Jesus People church that I had once attended in the evenings (their only service) decided to join forces. They merged with us, their pastor joining the staff and at least some former leaders given leadership positions.

    Whether this is correct or not, I have read that rebellion against authority (prompts such people to seek another, harsher authority), drugs, sexual immorality, and divorce enable cults. Were there people drawn to the group who had one or more of these issues? (Yes)

    I have read that some parents who bought into the ultra-conservative Christian homeschooling movement had been involved with the counterculture. Becoming Christians and regretting their past drug and illicit sexual involvement, they wanted to protect their children from the same mistakes. They were naturally to the sales pitch that promised certain results: virtuous and effective children.

    I had been quite curious how an Alliance pastor (actually an evangelist) had become the leader of The Children of God. According to his older daughter, he despised authority and was sexually immoral. Increasing pressure of intense guilt left him with the choice of repenting and turning to God or compensating for it by becoming God’s End Time Prophet. She herself lacked self-acceptance. At home with three small children and wanting to be a missionary, she resented her situation instead of seeing it as a character school. When her father came to her and told her she could come and take part in “what God was doing” or stay with her “selfish little life, marriage, and home, she took the bait.

    I was certainly rebellious when I was younger (only when younger?). Mom allegedly thought that I might get involved in drugs but that I got involved in religion instead (religious addiction, particularly to witnessing).

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  45. jyjames: Jesus seems to allude to this regarding those who are not against, are for, indeed, in deed.
    Mark 9, Luke 9.

    James’s Epistle (which I like to call the Missouri Epistle) cuts right to the chase with “show me”…
    Luther wanted the Book of James removed from the Canon at one time because it was at odds with his theology…

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  46. “If you question what I say or do
    YOU REBEL AGAINST THE FATHER, TOO!”
    — Steve Taylor, “I Manipulate”

    “Rebellion against the leadership is rebellion against God!” “You are in greater danger than you have ever been in before because you don’t believe what the leadership is saying!” I heard these words from the bully re my problem with the “restoration”. (I later heard through the grapevine that he didn’t believe what he was saying.)

    The specific last straw was at or near the climax of that session: “You have to believe our counsel!” “Wha-a-at?!” “That’s the teaching of this house!” (I later heard that he was lying, and I had heard the opposite from the pastor during that church life class). “If that’s what you believe, you have serious problems!”, I said furiously. (His boss had a habit of describing people that way, presumably because he himself had serious problems.) “You are in rebellion against the leadership and in rebellion against God! (I’m so glad that he wasn’t in rebellion against authority and God!) “Leave this office; you are through with this church!”

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  47. ishy: When I was a member of a large SBC church, I was dying to use my gifts somewhere. But as one pastor said to me, “Well, we hire people to do those things.”

    “A man’s gift maketh room for him” (Prov 18:16). If church leadership doesn’t have enough spiritual sense to make room for your gifts, time to look for a church that will. Whose job is the ministry? Every believer has a part! (in a healthy church, i.e.) The distinct division between clergy and laity is the scheme of men, not the divine plan for the Kingdom of God.

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  48. Headless Unicorn Guy: I remember the “Chin Dynasty” channel on YouTube — a couple siblings named Chin doing short videos on Chinese history. Over and over, a general or hero saves the Empire, only to get chopped by the Emperor out of jealousy for the Throne. Chinese history is full of Ned Stark after Ned Stark after Ned Stark.

    Similar to Korean history — during the Imjin War (a genocidal invasion by Japan in the late 16th Century), Korea was saved by its greatest Admiral of all time, Yi Sun-Shin (who over and over defeated Japanese at sea and cut their invading army’s supply lines). Yi’s biography is full of the King denouncing Yi as a traitor (on the urging of his courtiers), having him imprisoned and tortured, then letting him out (on the urgingof Yi’s one or two friends at court) and reinstating him as the war situation deteriorated without him in command.

    Also like the successful late Roman general Stilicho. Yes, his most recent efforts had been failures, but his execution and its aftermath led to the invasion of Italy and the sack of Rome by Alaric the Visigoth, eg the Emperor, lacking a strong general, was unable to break the siege.

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  49. Dee Parsons: Chris Conlee just resigned (and the trustees wanted him to resign) as pastor of Highpoint Church.

    “Conlee is expected to address the congregation Sunday morning.”
    https://www.commercialappeal.com/story/news/2018/07/11/highpoint-church-lead-pastor-chris-conlee-resigns/777146002/

    I suppose church trustees are allowing Mr. Conlee one last standing ovation. They need to be careful – the last standing ovation there was heard around the world.

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  50. Max: “A man’s gift maketh room for him” (Prov 18:16).If church leadership doesn’t have enough spiritual sense to make room for your gifts, time to look for a church that will.Whose job is the ministry?Every believer has a part! (in a healthy church, i.e.)The distinct division between clergy and laity is the scheme of men, not the divine plan for the Kingdom of God.

    That’s harder than it sounds in a metro area full of megachurches. I spent two years looking for a church that would allow me to do that. I also think men have it much easier. Even the egalitarian churches in the area were staffed mostly by married men and sought married male volunteers when a woman was just as qualified (or more).

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  51. ishy: That’s harder than it sounds in a metro area full of megachurches. I spent two years looking for a church that would allow me to do that. I also think men have it much easier. Even the egalitarian churches in the area were staffed mostly by married men and sought married male volunteers when a woman was just as qualified (or more).

    Can’t have single men either. What if he turned out to be like the apostle Paul?

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  52. Thersites: There is also he “God card” aspect of [calling]. If God “calls” this person, who am I to argue?

    I know what you mean, but in a sense, it’s actually true – at least insofar as if God has indeed appointed someone to a definable role, then I suppose I would indeed make sure I allowed them to fulfil it. (That doesn’t mean, of course, that no-one is allowed to challenge how they fulfil it, or otherwise to make sure they fulfil it well.)

    But if that’s the case, I’d expect to see some consistent evidence other than their own assertion. I’d expect God to be willing to demonstrate that he is with them in it, in some manner that they couldn’t fake or manipulate themselves and that wasn’t best explained by “god” just being a sock-puppet of their own creation.

    Then again, if that happened, I wouldn’t expect them to be unique. I’d expect them to be surrounded by peers from all walks of life with all kinds of complementary “callings”, each itself backed up by the same kind of evidence that pointed to this actually being a community in which this god of theirs was actively involved.

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  53. Nick Bulbeck,

    Wandering into the realms of nonsense, Nick.

    “By your fruits ye shall know them”

    Oh , and who are you to expect anything of God?

    You’re trying too hard to be a deist. (too many ifs and buts in your argument).

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  54. ishy: Even the egalitarian churches in the area were staffed mostly by married men and sought married male volunteers when a woman was just as qualified (or more).

    The churches touting egalitarian in my area are really soft-complementarian when it gets around to it. Female believers encounter “yeah buts” in what they are allowed to do (seems that every church leader I know these days has a big “but”)

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  55. B Badger: I have read that some parents who bought into the ultra-conservative Christian homeschooling movement had been involved with the counterculture. Becoming Christians and regretting their past drug and illicit sexual involvement, they wanted to protect their children from the same mistakes. They were naturally to the sales pitch that promised certain results: virtuous and effective children.

    In my case it had more to do with exposure to a new church culture (heavily Federal Vision) with a strong homeschooling contingent, plus going to the conventions. Add an obviously gifted firstborn, plus concern about the Cincinnati public schools, and we were gradually drawn toward not just superior academics, but this whole weird patriarchal subculture. It took years of online research plus things we were hearing at church, and putting two and two together, before we became uncomfortable enough to finally cut ties and move on.

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  56. Nick Bulbeck: But if that’s the case, I’d expect to see some consistent evidence other than their own assertion. I’d expect God to be willing to demonstrate that he is with them in it

    Consistent evidence requires time so I would argue the “called by God” should not be evoked till the end of someone’s life. We have seen far too many cases where the contrary evidence only makes its way public till late in life, examples being many public personalities discussed here. Then again God uses many highly flawed individuals and whether they used God it can still be said they might be used for God’s purposes. I will still cringe at the “called” feature as it squelches debate.

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  57. NJ: It took years of online research plus things we were hearing at church, and putting two and two together, before we became uncomfortable enough to finally cut ties and move on.

    Mindful churching. Always good. (The Bereans.)

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  58. Max: The churches touting egalitarian in my area are really soft-complementarian when it gets around to it.Female believers encounter “yeah buts” in what they are allowed to do (seems that every church leader I know these days has a big “but”)
    Interesting observation and probably common, so a writer could put together an anthology plus analysis. But then, who would publish? Not the Christian publishers, nor the NYC world publishers (disinterest). Createspace for an independent writer.

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  59. Thersites,

    And sometimes, one who is truly “called by God” is only called for a certain season, but outlast their usefulness for whatever purpose he/she was “called”.

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  60. Nancy2(aka Kevlar): And sometimes, one who is truly “called by God” is only called for a certain season, but outlast their usefulness

    Good point, King Saul as an example. But then kings usually seem to outlive their usefulness.

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  61. Lowlandseer: Wandering into the realms of nonsense, Nick.

    Thankyou for your thoughtful comment, Lowlandseer, and I hope you won’t feel too out of place in this discussion.

    Fruit is evidence. So, glad to see we’re actually on the same page there.

    And I don’t “expect anything” of God on my own initiative; the Christian faith is based on (inter alia) the belief that God stated some things about himself on his initiative. It would be appropriate – indeed, necessary – to expect those things of him, unless he were a liar. (Though, if God were a liar, who would I be to object, and so on, ad infinitum.) But that particular bait-and-switch is what props up the dark side of religion the world over.

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  62. Thersites: Good point, King Saul as an example.But then kings usually seem to outlive their usefulness.

    Both good points. Or, indeed, John (“he must grow greater, and I must grow less”).

    I’ve often wondered if a lot of, broadly speaking, worthy ventures – christian and otherwise – would benefit from a built-in expiration date.

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  63. NJ: In my case it had more to do with exposure to a new church culture (heavily Federal Vision) with a strong homeschooling contingent, plus going to the conventions.Add an obviously gifted firstborn, plus concern about the Cincinnati public schools, and we were gradually drawn toward not just superior academics, but this whole weird patriarchal subculture.It took years of online research plus things we were hearing at church, and putting two and two together, before we became uncomfortable enough to finally cut ties and move on.

    Yes, we do need to beware of catch-all diagnoses and solutions, especially, in the latter case, when they are quick and easy. In the realm of medicine, any diagnosis that is purported to explain all or most diseases and any treatment that is purported to cure all or most diseases is quackery. This is true of all areas in life.

    Cults are in my mind a type of swindle. There is no easy solution (guarding oneself against them). Swindles come in so many forms, and new ones constantly appear. Not all cults are religious; some are political or commercial (eg many multi-level marketing businesses and some others with orthodox structure. At most they may throw out an occasional religious reference to reassure Christians, but that is not what they are about.

    After working as a custodian for over five years, the work was contracted out, and I was invited to work under them. (There was concern over my lack of productivity, and the company had been chosen because of its claim to train me in efficiency. It helps, though, to first come up with a correct diagnosis: my eye-hand coordination is slow-accurate, my need to express the latter [even when it’s overkill] slows me down further. One description of workplace conflicts I read is expecting people to work in manner that is not natural or comfortable for them. It is neither natural nor comfortable to do more or less than what one is good for. Needless to say, the training only helped me a little, and guess who got blamed for the failure.) Early on I listened to the senior partner’s sales pitch for the company, and noted cult-like characteristics, and they both were proved to be narcissistic abusers. They were Pentecostals who did throw out the occasional religious reference, and the senior partner had my job earlier: five years at that church.

    Is experience with being taken advantage of a guaranteed solution. Is there no such thing as people leaving a bad group and then going back to it or getting involved in another one (Law Prof and myself in the latter case). I have read that swindles are so effective because they exploit certain character weaknesses: lack of self-acceptance (quack cures), reacting to authority (“be your own boss” frauds), lack of a clear conscience (“profit from misfortune” schemes), not seeking God’s direction in expenditures (“new invention” sham), improper response to irritations (“equipment repair” claims), lust (sensual pleasure trap [predatory seduction,eg blackmail]).

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  64. NJ,

    Given the amount of bullying that I experienced at that church as well as from my new employers (in retrospect, especially in the former case), perhaps they deserved each other!

    Based on what I heard once, in essence, an idea or practice may seem right because we have nothing better to compare it with. If we are aware of truth (or something closer to it) and cling to what we have, wouldn’t we be rejecting truth? In your case you seem to have come to new wisdom.

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  65. NJ,

    Deborah Davis, in her chapter on brainwashing, distinguished between external brainwashing (response to relieve painful circumstances and usually short lived) and internal brainwashing (response to relieve internal pain and may last some time). She wrote, with emphasis, “Rejection of truth usually begins long before someone joins a cult”.

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  66. NJ,

    Those who stay, at least. She herself kept rationalizing away anything that occasionally pricked her conscience. (One time her father publicly denounced and humiliated her mother because she objected to his bringing his mistress into bed with them. Even the mother, having a stake in the group, justified his behavior, blaming herself.) If she acknowledged the truth about her father, what did it say about her for following and supporting him? She and her husband only left when they were kicked out, and it took 3 more years before the mental shackles were broken.

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  67. Where is Bill Hybels? Isn’t it amazing that there has been no follow-up comments from him given the size of Willow and he being the lead creator of this church? In the midst of his vacancy, the church and members/participants are struggling. The foundation of Jesus teachings is repentance and forgiveness. BH has made a choice so far to remain silent. Isn’t that ‘crippling’ to him, Willow as a church, and to the attenders and volunteers? Repentance births hope and growth. Step up, Bill and live your faith in Jesus.

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