(2/3)Willow Creek Elder Board Releases Their Last Public Statement Addressing the Annus Horribilis (2018)

In the aftermath of any war or genocide, healing and reconciliation are ultimate aspirations. -Janine di Giovanni


July 19, 2019

Dear Willow Family:

As we consider the future of our church, we are humbled and encouraged by the truth that the gospel is unchanging. In our time of devotion, we have been challenged to consider the good news as explained by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17–21:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

The good news God commissioned the church to share is the gospel of reconciliation through Jesus Christ, first to God and then to one another. In this season, we believe God has given Willow Creek Community Church the opportunity to live out the ministry of reconciliation. And so, as a church, we take a step into the future as Christ’s ambassadors, with the appeal to reconcile to God and to one another.

In the aftermath of the events made public in March 2018, we experienced a fracture in our church marked by disbelief, confusion, fear, and hurt. After such a traumatic experience, what does it look like to enter into a gospel-centered season of reconciliation? Because reconciliation is from God, we prayerfully entered into His work with humility and grace, undertaking a systematic approach to actively listen, learn, and apologize. Over the past six months, we, as an Elder Board, have reached out to and listened to people involved in the events that came to light in 2018.

We have intentionally talked with former Elders, former staff, and the individuals who raised concerns regarding our senior pastor starting in 2014 and went public in 2018. We have also sought to listen to church attenders and current staff who have come forward. We have reached out to Bill Hybels; however, he has chosen not to engage in dialogue at this time. We welcome the opportunity to meet with him to aid in healing and reconciliation. We are issuing this statement because in listening, we recognize that there are some specific harms that must be named.

To the women and their advocates: In the days and months following the March 2018 Chicago Tribune article, the church’s response led to verbal and written attacks. We have heard about the impact this has had on you, your families, and your professional standing within the Christian community. We learned that the narrative persists in identifying you as liars and colluders despite the apology released by the lead pastors in June 2018 and the former Elders in August 2018. In early 2019, the IAG report found your allegations to be credible, and we unequivocally support their findings. We believe your allegations about Bill. We ask anyone who participated in verbal and written attacks to prayerfully examine their actions, apologize for wrongdoing, and seek to mend the relationship.

To Compassion International and Menlo Church: Your leaders spoke up for the women who were harmed. We have learned of mail and email messages threatening these advocates and their ministries. We again ask anyone who participated in sending threatening messages to prayerfully examine their actions, and seek to reconcile with those who have been harmed.

To the Elder Board of 2018: We acknowledge that there was an unfair assumption that you acted with malice. We have seen the public anger and judgment directed toward you. We acknowledge the harmful impact on you and your families. We believe that Bill’s denials and failure to acknowledge sinful, intimidating, and overly controlling behavior led leaders to make statements that were misinformed and incomplete. The former Elders, along with the former lead pastors, apologized, expressed remorse, and resigned in 2018. We extend God’s grace just as we have freely received grace. We invite our fellow believers to join us in extending God’s grace.

To the staff of Willow Creek Community Church, both past and present, and to those who have called Willow their church home: We acknowledge your service and sacrifice for the kingdom of God. We recognize that you too have suffered harm in broken relationships, trust, and sense of community. We believe that the God who heals will help restore us all. We affirm the words in Hebrews 6:10: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

God has blessed Willow Creek Community Church to have a profound impact for His kingdom. Bill Hybels served and contributed to Willow for more than 40 years. Simultaneously, unchecked sin and intimidating behavior resulted in harm that is still felt in this present day. Christ died to free us from the power of sin. It is in that spirit that we appeal to Bill to reflect on his years in ministry, repent where necessary, and seek to live out the ministry of reconciliation.

Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:14 that it is the love of Christ within that compels us toward reconciliation. Our path forward must include the ministry of reconciliation. Therefore, we encourage all Christ followers from Willow Creek, past and present, to consider the words from Ephesians 4:4–6, “there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  May we grow in compassion, grace, forgiveness, and unity on the path of reconciliation that we now walk.

This is our last public statement intended to directly address the events of 2018. However, we will continue to work privately with individuals seeking renewed relationships and reconciliation.

As we look ahead to the future, we trust God will guide our steps. We invite all past and present Willow family to join the Elders for a worship and reflection service. This service will be Elder-led, and we will share more on reconciliation, our vision for the future, and the gospel-centered hope that anchors our church. Join us on Tuesday, July 23 at 7 p.m. in the Lakeside auditorium of the South Barrington campus.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.” —Ephesians 3:20–21

In His service,

The Willow Creek Elder Board

Shoji Boldt
Barb Butz
Jeff Choh
Silvia Escobar
Steve Kang
Jeff Mason, Chief Governance Officer
Michael Roth
John Sleeting, Secretary
Mary Square


Comments

(2/3)Willow Creek Elder Board Releases Their Last Public Statement Addressing the Annus Horribilis (2018) — 42 Comments

  1. To “somewhere in time “: I respectfully disagree with your statement. It seems to me that a true and complete apology would not have much of the text spent in enumerating the ways in which they oh so spiritually suffered and spend paragraphs recounting their Gospel intentionality to use every sanctified buzz word in the Calvinista lectionary. Must we be reassured that their actions were “intentional”?….. I also mistrust that they opened with assurances that the Gospel is still true….it sets the stage for claiming that any disagreement might be Un-Gospelly….Seems to me that true repentance would focus far more on their abject sorrow at the pain they caused the victims.

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  2. Tell the congregation from the stage that the women told the truth. Call Bill Hybels a liar from the same stage he used to shame the women. Call the congregation to repentance for their vitriol aimed at the women. Have the women on stage and give them a standing ovation. Or, just send an email.

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  3. There are a few good things in this letter, but I’d like to more attention to serving the needs of the “victims” and their families. Acknowledging and apologizing for their pain — and feeling remorse — is great as far as it goes, but what about providing counselling, legal assistance, and so on. And then, what if any thing is being to prevent this kind of thing happening again? True repentance includes both “turning away” and also walking in a different direction. How is that being carried out?

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  4. Molly245: I also mistrust that they opened with assurances that the Gospel is still true….it sets the stage for claiming that any disagreement might be Un-Gospelly….Seems to me that true repentance would focus far more on their abject sorrow at the pain they caused the victims.

    I feel the same. I also feel like the repeated use of the word “reconciliation” is telling and the “last letter” bit is a sign of pressuring people to “move on”. If anything, I feel like this letter is a step backward.

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  5. I don’t understand how you’re all so bitter and angry. The leaders are all godly people who can only have become wealthy and influential because God was so pleased with them.

    Zacchaeus presents us with a truly beautiful picture of a repentance in a rich man. I quote directly from Luke 19:8 –

    Look, Lord, here and now I express my profound sympathy for the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone, I will be speaking at a conference next week promoting my latest book in which I explain how the only person I really defrauded was myself.

    I pray that you will all find healing in those beautiful words.

    God bless,

    Arnold Dummarse

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  6. Not a good sign that the new and improved WC elder board are in tune with “Thus saith the Lord.” They provided a poor exegesis of 2 Corinthians 5:17–21 to justify their efforts to move forward. This is not what Paul meant by old vs. new or reconciliation. But what can you expect from Christianity Lite? The Willow Creek movement should have never moved into the American church – it has produced millions of shallow followers of Christ.

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  7. ishy: a sign of pressuring people to “move on”

    As ole Abe said “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time” … unless you are dealing with church folk in the Christianity Lite movement.

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  8. Does Willow Creek ever administer public church discipline? Should Pastor Hybels be publicly disciplined and excommunicated?

    I think so, but I know other people think there shouldn’t be public comment on sin. If you’re one of those, do you think this statement is too specific in calling him out, or would you make an exception for the discipline of church leaders?

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  9. Too much of this long letter looks like it was written by an unrepentant narcissist. An apology is very simple. It says, “I was wrong. I totally messed up. We lied. We respected persons. We encouraged you, the congregation, to slander those who brought credible allegations. We did not follow biblical principles. We served Mammon instead of Jesus. We helped a two-faced narcissist build his own kingdom. We insisted that man’s will was done instead of God’s. We made Jesus look like the Devil. We are heartbroken about our own sin towards our loving savior and that towards those that the man we idolized attempted to seduce. There is no excuse for any of this, nor do we attempt to make any. We pray that our congregation will also repent for their idolatry, but we are in no place to demand that until we have fully removed the specs from our own eyes. Again we are sorry that we participated in and built this mess. It is not “The Gospel” now or ever. Please forgive all of your fallen leaders.”

    Instead it looks like we sinned, but so did everyone else, so who cares! They are still praising themselves for their wonderful promotion of “the Gospel” and the whole thing looks like it was written by a lawyer for a PR firm. There is no admission of building a kingdom that wasn’t God’s. Just the opposite, they claim the messed they made is the Gospel. I call that heresy!

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  10. Much of this letter is good, but the greatest shortcoming in my opinion is this:

    *”This is our last public statement intended to directly address the events of 2018. However, we will continue to work privately with individuals seeking renewed relationships and reconciliation.”*

    I think it’s premature and unfair to everyone involved (victims, advocates, Willow members) to draw a hard line in the sand and say they (the elders) are never going to speak publicly on this subject again.

    Decades of clergy misconduct by Bill Hybels has been alleged by a number of people. If or when additional information, evidence or further testimony is forthcoming, the elders should be ready to address it publicly. To try and put a lid on further elder statements doesn’t seem right. It’s comes across as trying to escape responsibility for weighing in on any future negative revelations regarding Bill Hybels and his “legacy” at Willow.

    Besides that, I commend the elders for stating “to the women and their advocates…We believe your allegations about Bill. We ask anyone who participated in verbal and written attacks to prayerfully examine their actions, apologize for wrongdoing, and seek to mend the relationship.”

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  11. The statement seems to me to be filled with corporate America business “Christian” speak.
    “[Bill] has chosen not to engage in dialogue at this time.”
    What the heck??
    How about a plain, “Bill refuses to own up to his actions, sins, etc”?
    Maybe this corporate gobbledygook is too engrained in Willow Creeks DNA after so many years of their Global Summit.
    Also, the current elders are making it clear that they are through talking about this publicly from now on, except their in-house meetings. This move struck me as kinda controlling.

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  12. ishy: the repeated use of the word “reconciliation” is telling and the “last letter” bit is a sign of pressuring people to “move on”.

    The people of Willow Creek deserve to think, pray, and talk their way toward reconciliation in their own good time. This could take years or decades. Reconciliation is one of the best principles in Christianity. It does not come packaged with an egg timer.

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  13. Eric Rasmusen: Does Willow Creek ever administer public church discipline? Should Pastor Hybels be publicly disciplined and excommunicated?

    I think so, but I know other people think there shouldn’t be public comment on sin. If you’re one of those, do you think this statement is too specific in calling him out, or would you make an exception for the discipline of church leaders?

    I don’t believe in the concept of “excommunication” – the Lord knows those who are his, and that is enough. I don’t believe he handed the authority over to anyone else to proclaim who is in and who is out with him. I do think those who would be pastors and leaders should be held to the standard spelled out in the new testament.

    I think we should all just tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may.

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  14. elastigirl: huh…. it *sounds* good. (even though i gagged on every cute christianese nothingism)

    Ugh. Why do Christians speak and write like this.

    why do i feel as i did when i first smelled formaldehyde in 7th grade biology class?

    I think you nailed it right down there.

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  15. Nick Bulbeck,

    I agree. Sometimes I think it’s like “Mad Libs” if you’ve ever seen those? They have a story with words missing and you have to choose ‘noun’ ‘verb’ ‘adverb’ etc without knowing what the story is, then you read it back and see how funny it is. There needs to be Christianese Mad Libs with lists of word choices.

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  16. SiteSeer: I don’t believe in the concept of “excommunication” – the Lord knows those who are his, and that is enough.

    Neither do I. I know a godly man in my community, who has faithfully served the Lord for 50+ years, teaching Sunday School, ministering to widows, driving the church bus to pick up kids, leading prayer meetings, building homes for the poor, serving in multiple short-term foreign mission trips, and many more expressions of his faith. When the New Calvinists took over his non-Calvinist church, he expressed opposition to it and began to attend another church. He was excommunicated from the church he faithfully supported for decades by the young reformed pastor and his band of yes-men young elders.

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  17. Song of Joy: Much of this letter is good, but the greatest shortcoming in my opinion is this:

    *”This is our last public statement intended to directly address the events of 2018. However, we will continue to work privately with individuals seeking renewed relationships and reconciliation.”*

    Sandra: The statement seems to me to be filled with corporate America business “Christian” speak.

    So many good comments. This letter is simply an attempt to control the narrative and avoid any further negative impact. That’s not how one handles a truly horrible situation like this. They do not have the right to simply decide, ‘We’re not going to talk about this anymore’. As was mentioned, what about when the truly ugly stuff finally comes out? How about their duty to respond to the many who were devastated by the destruction of their christian mythology?

    I do not see anything positive or helpful in this statement.

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  18. I’d be more impressed if we saw sackcloth and ashes on the part of all who were so wrong and sinful and hateful toward those who were so deeply wronged. And restitution for the victims. Real, tangible actions. Words alone are not enough, especially Christianese words like a lot of the letter. I recognize it’s an attempt to do the right thing, and maybe even a genuine one. But that is not sufficient. Until those in places of power and privilege recognize this fact, we will see abuse continue.

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  19. ___

    “Technology is transforming the way we do Jesus’ church, perhaps?”

    hmmm…

    The main WCC/Hybills distressing information came from the Chicago Tribune and Christianity Today articles:

    [MARCH 22, 2018] https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/march/bill-hybels-misconduct-willow-creek-john-nancy-ortberg.html

    [MAR 23, 2018] https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/breaking/ct-met-willow-creek-pastor-20171220-story.html

    [APR 11, 2018] https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/breaking/ct-met-hybels-willow-creek-resigns-20180410-story.html

    [AUG 21, 2018] https://www.chicagotribune.com/opinion/commentary/ct-perspec-bill-clinton-bill-hybels-improper-conduct-20180822-story.html

    [FEB 28, 2019] https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/breaking/ct-met-willow-creek-church-bill-hybels-report-20190228-story.html

    Why is this so?

    huh?

    What the new WCC board apparently does not comprehend at this point, is the vast quantity of online social media services that are NOW available for kind folks to visit and share information.

    Documents like the one found at the WCC main page:
    https://www.willowcreek.org/en/blogs/south-barrington/elder-update-july-19-201 Displays a blatant disregard and disrespect for WCC church members sensibilities. They now know that WCC problems and coverups extend for a multitude of decades.

    Current WCC members are being given no confidence that this highest levels abuse and coverup stuff won’t continue unabated.

    A callousness goes in when the church brand name goes on must now seen a little nauseous.

    The WCC church must now demonstrate the ‘right’ to present Jesus’ good news of eternal salvation to all those who would simply believe in God’s dear Son, Jesus Christ. 501c3 church ‘business as usual’ ™ is long gone. All others will now be considered religious thieves and robbers scaling the walls just like the Bible says.

    “The whole world is watching.”
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=wQbxs9FZqRk

    “Do you know what I mean?”

    (sadface)

    Sòpwith

    Bonus:
    Piotr Rogucki – “Whole World is Watching”
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Nyk3a5uyo7w

    ;~)§

    – –

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  20. TS00: an attempt to control the narrative

    Mega-church and assorted church movements would not exist if their leaders couldn’t control the narrative. Their pulpits depend on an ability to manipulate, intimidate, and dominate the pew. They do this by a careful control of message and method, and through deception if necessary.

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  21. Just praying for the word “season” to finally fall out of the American Christian lexicon. It’s a season of this, and a season of that, and I’m over here going, “What happened to the Fab Four: Spring, Summer, Winter, and Fall?”

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  22. *”This is our last public statement intended to directly address the events of 2018. However, we will continue to work privately with individuals seeking renewed relationships and reconciliation.”*

    I think this part of the statement is straight out of the spiritual abuse handbook. Here’s what our abusive elders said when they finally graced us congregants with the permission to hold a mtg and ask questions about our 12 yrs of employing a convicted child molester as our pastor and preschool superintendent: “This is the last chance for public answering of remaining questions for the leadership. Private answers will continue until all are resolved.” Hilariously, this wasn’t our “last chance”…it was our FIRST chance…and it was scheduled for a day AFTER we were to vote on an $11,000 severance package for the convicted child molester pastor. Also hilariously, any of my follow-up questions that I asked privately were never acknowledged or answered. Eventually I was slandered from the pulpit for seeking answers as to whether or not my daughter was abused by this child molester pastor.

    It’s similar to the words of the new leadership, too. The abusive leadership all resigned, and an interim pastor came in. He rightly identified the spiritual abuse of the former elders. Then he held a congregational mtg in which he vaguely referred to the wrongs of the former elders, asked the congregation to grieve it, and that same night, to “put a tombstone on it.” What did that lead to? Current congregants being unwilling to engage in conversation about the hundreds of lies that were told, because they promised Jesus they were moving on.

    It’s definitely not just a megachurch problem. Our average attendance was 80. Looks to me like megachurches know how to word their statements more eloquently, but they all follow the same script.

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  23. I have a dear friend who has been a Creeker since the church first started. My heart is sick over what has happened. I have been drawn to the Pastoral Epistles recently to try to clarify what our churches are supposed to be doing. From what my simple brain can gather, I see the following requirements for pastors and leadership: Preach the Gospel that Jesus is the only way to God and that he intercedes for us (I Tim 2)
    We are to pray for all people to come to the knowledge of Truth (I Tim 2) and not be sidetracked (I Tim 4). We are to conduct ourselves as living examples in our actions, thoughts and words toward believers and unbelievers (I Tim 4,5). We are to call out a pattern of sin without favoritism (I Tim 5). We are to avoid lengthy philosophical distractions, interest in exterior show, and continually teach Scripture (I Tim 6). We are not to fear negative public opinion, lack of worldly popularity or persecution (II Tim 1). We are to expect such and plan for it (II Tim 2)
    We are not to get caught up in worldliness, but we are to treat everyone with kindness while at the same time not overlooking their lack of repentance (II Tim 2). We need to understand that there are churches that do not follow these guidelines (II Tim 3) and avoid them. All Scripture is profitable for rebuking, exhorting and reproving. If a church is not doing that we need to examine ourselves (II Tim 4). A church leader must be solidly in the Word, apply it to daily life, and rebuke teaching that is contrary. (Titus 1). A church leader must live a life of good works so as to be above all criticism, and if the leader is following these mandates but is criticized, the criticism will be proven to be baseless. We are not to live worldly lives (Titus 2). As the flock, we are responsible for where we choose to attend church. The best series of sermons I ever heard was the seven months our church spent examining the book of Romans. Was it tough stuff? Yes. Did it cause me to gain a better understanding of my true human condition and why I need a Savior? Yes. My prayer for all our churches is that we continually ask God to guide us and correct us when needed. Being humans, we all need God’s guidance and correction. Let us not be too proud to repent sincerely when we should.

    I apologize for any typing errors. These aging eyes aren’t as sharp as they once were.

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  24. Eric Rasmusen:
    Does Willow Creek ever administer public church discipline?Should Pastor Hybels be publicly disciplined and excommunicated?

    I think so, but I know other people think there shouldn’t be public comment on sin. If you’re one of those, do you think this statement is too specific in calling him out, or would you make an exception for the discipline of church leaders?

    I am wondering if the verses in I Corinthians 5:9-12 are applicable. It would seem so, but maybe I am misinterpreting the meaning of those verses.
    The reference earlier in 5:6 suggests that leaven is leaven, and it will infect the entire lump.

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