A Sad, Sad Day for Christian Leaders Everywhere

How the Mighty Fall.

That is the name of a book by Jim Collins on what pride does to leaders and their organizations. It is a tagline for what is going on with Willow Creek and Bill Hybels, the founding and former senior pastor.

This is a longer post. It is not one I wanted to write. But it is on a subject that many people are and will be talking about. Because it is exactly the theme of next Sunday’s message on bad leadership (Not the Way It’s Supposed To Be), I decided to share my thoughts about the latest on Willow Creek and Bill Hybels. Also, if you are reading this in your email browser, the links at the end of the article may not be live for you. If you want to check them out, they are live on the church blogsite.

Monday was a sad day for me. It began Sunday evening when Becky told me there were more news reports coming forth about Willow Creek and its former founding pastor, Bill Hybels. I spent an hour or so reading new and old reports.

In the summer, Hybels was accused by a number of different women who alleged inappropriate conduct on his part. As a few women spoke out, others did so as well. A number of key and well-known leaders who had once been part of Willow Creek added their voices of concern.

Hybels and the leadership team quickly and strongly denounced those women as fabricating things that never happened. Nevertheless, Hybels resigned as lead pastor and stepped down from work with the Willow Creek Association. The allegations and accusations didn’t go away.

Sunday saw the release of even more incriminating statements. It also brought the resignation of Hybels’ successor, teaching pastor Steve Carter. Carter had major differences with and concerns about how Willow Creek handled the Hybels situation, especially the women victims. He felt he could no longer represent the leadership team as their teaching pastor. This is what I found out Sunday evening.

If all that was not bad enough, Monday morning, there it was – front page news of the New York Times. In ugly detail.

I have thought about and lamented this, all day long. An old quote from theologian Karl Barth came to mind: “Pastors and preachers read with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” Apologist Peter Kreeft says we read the times and we read the eternities. We read the times in light of the eternities. I felt like I was reading these times of bad leadership in light of the Bible’s teaching about broken, fallen, sinful abuses of power and authority. Sobering. And sad.

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Yes, I am sad. Sad for the women who were hurt by Hybels. Sad for their families. Sad for Willow Creek. Sad for the global movement that trains leaders and accomplished so much. Sad for the evangelical church. Sad for the name of Jesus Christ being dishonored in all of this. Sad about those who will use this as one more reason to avoid Christ.

All of this because of another evangelical leader not finishing well. He is finishing POORLY. I know many leaders finish poorly. Leaders from all groups, all theologies, all persuasions, all ideologies … I just happen to have very high expectations for leaders in my tribe doing better than we are doing.

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I am sure it is not coincidental that these more substantial allegations and evidence came out when they did. This week is the world famous Willow Creek Summit (the 23rd) that exists to train leaders. Hybels was the founder and driving energy behind this movement. He was the host, the emcee, the lead teacher. He is now the “elephant in the room.”

I hope there is a radical shift in the teaching that will take place. This year’s summit has more non-Christian presenters then Christian teachers. In principle, I have nothing against that. I read a good deal of secular leadership and learn a lot. But, I hope the presenters who are Christians will have the courage to address what will surely be on everyone’s mind. I hope they do not gloss over Hybels’ failure and fall, or have politically correct things to say about it. Or worse, say something trivial that lacks substance.

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This Sunday is week two of our Lead, Love, Serve – the Jesus Way series. We will have a conversation on the theme of bad leadership. Bad leadership happens whenever leaders misuse and abuse their power and authority. People get hurt. When the abuse of power involves sexuality, it gets real ugly real fast.

The Bible is critically realistic about what sin has done to humanity and what it does to leadership. The Bible is also vitally optimistic and hopeful about the redemption that Christ is bringing to all that is broken and bad. That must be spoken clearly and powerfully. But we cannot gloss over, rush past, or try to ignore the tragedies of fallen, broken, bad leadership.

For all leaders, it is surely good to remember, “There but for the grace of God any one of us could go.”’

And to remember that unless we are without sin, throwing stones is always a risky endeavor. Speak truth, pray for grace, do not lower the standard, do justice, labor for healing, and walk in accountable relationships, the long obedience in the same direction.

Grace and Shalom to each of you,
Pastor Brian

If you want to read Steve Carter’s resignation, click here.

If you want to read a long but wise assessment of the original problems by Scott McKnight, click here.

If you want to read one of the latest responses to this situation from the woman lead pastor of Willow Creek, as well as the Willow Creek Association, click here.

 

Brian Rice

Brian Rice

What I love most about my job:

Having the ability to empower and resource leaders to bear much fruit that lasts. Being a part of a team of friends and missional servants committed to changing the world.
Brian Rice