Church Culture Audit-Part 2


Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ  (Corinthians 11:1 NIV)

As a follow up to my first blog on auditing a culture, the above verse came to mind as a perfect introduction to the basis of auditing the culture of a church. Paul basically said that he only qualified as a leader to be followed to the extent that his life mirrored or copied the life of Jesus. This foundation is the truly unique and exclusive basis for a metric of evaluation inside the Church of Jesus. Anyone who would become a leader must be measured by the extent to which he or she lives in a way consistent with the character and behavior of Jesus. The life and model of Jesus is he only authority upon which the life of the believer can be judged.

The church, unlike a corporation, has as it’s bottom line, the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Essential to this formulation is the systematic goal of bringing every person into conformity to the example of Christ. To this extent we can measure others behavior as “Christ-like” or not. We can ask the question of another’s behavior “does it measure up to the characteristics of the life of Jesus?”.

The Willow Creek Association, which sponsors a leadership summit, should adopt as its credo the above verse, which clearly establishes that the basis of all good leadership is the degree to which leaders model their lives around the characteristics of Jesus. Corporations, which have different bottom lines, can adopt different measures for the health of leaders.

Bill Hybels Measured Against The Life of Christ

As more and more stories are compiled about the behavior of the senior pastor and founder of Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) the question that comes to mind is “how did he get away with this?”. Clearly his bullying style of leadership consistently violated the standard of how Christ lived. Did WCCC, who holds itself out as a church, fail to use the metric of Christ-like behavior to evaluate, confront, and challenge Bill’s behavior as inconsistent with a leader who submits to the Lordship of Christ? Were we all mesmerized?

Oprah Winfrey, in discussing Michael Jackson’s alleged sexual abuse of boys, said something profound about celebrities. She said that when we make Icons out of celebrities, we fail to see the con dimension that they may possess. She said it is like looking into the sun. We get so blinded by the celebrity that we cannot clearly see the brokenness. We all want heroes and idealize those that we place on pedestals. In doing this we suspend our capacity to see them as having significant broken parts. We then give them a pass when it comes to their destructive behaviors.

Does The End Justify The Means?

It seems clear in looking at Jesus that He was more concerned about character than about numbers. He cared more about the process than the product. When the product is more important than the process, people get hurt. Focusing on the product mesmerizes us and causes us to suspend our judgement as to the process of how the product gets created. We make the erroneous conclusion that because the product looks so good, it must have been created by a good process. But that is clearly an error in our judgement and focuses more on results than righteousness. Jesus would never have glorified something that came at the expense of the mistreatment of people. All of us who allowed this to happen at WCCC hold some responsibility for allowing Bill to delude us into the assumption that the end justified the means.

As we look at the “product” of WCCC, it is evident that many people suspended the use of the metric of the example of Christ in giving Bill Hybels and others a pass when it came to the behaviors utilized to produce the product. Significant sinful manipulation was utilized by BH and others to force their agenda on the growth of the church. Bullying to get his way, threats of employment retaliation, belittling and destructive criticism, cleaning house of any who resisted his “vision” of the development of the church, were just a few of the tactics utilized.

Bullies and Abuse

Bullies, and BH fits this category, do not get their power by accident or out of a vacuum. They groom  their victims in various and complicated ways. Grooming is a systematic process that over time alters the perception of victims to convince themselves that the abuser is not doing something to hurt them. Bill groomed people of WCCC by presenting himself as confident, as possessing the gift of visionary leadership, by pulling off a substantial number of “successful” programs and building projects. All of this groomed, or manipulated, the perception of him by others so that en masse we gave over our critical evaluation abilities to his seemingly confident leadership. As a result, we were bullied and groomed to give him a pass when he powered up on others to get his way, when he threatened to leave if his agenda was not endorsed, or when his sexual advances occurred.

The Life of Jesus As the Only True Metric To Measure Leadership Success By

So many people were duped, mesmerized, seduced, groomed, and overwhelmed by the power of this charismatic leader. We looked at him as if we were gazing into the sun, so that the broken parts of him did not stand out as in radical contrast to the life and character of Jesus. Many levels of leadership at WCCC conspired, if unconsciously, to sustain the inappropriate power of this leader. Many, besides Bill, need to repent and acknowledge their role in sustaining a destructive culture of Bill worship. He created the culture that remains to a large extent at WCCC. Deceiving, hiding information, getting rid of people who may have called him on his behavior, etc. The worst and most culpable were those who adored him and wanted to be in his presence, and so did not have the guts to call him out. In truth, as we evaluate the culture in hind sight, it would have taken the equivalent of a “palace coup” to force him to change. Instead, he would isolate and eliminate any who challenged him. His sexual shadow is the only thing that would bring him down, coupled with the courage of brave women who finally found a collective voice.

A New Commitment to The Metric of Christ-like Behavior

As WCCC seeks to recover from the trauma of building its’ foundation around a “house of cards broken man”, a new bottom line must be established. It cannot be numbers or programs or  buildings or money, but instead, a clear formulation of the behaviors and character modeled by the life of Jesus. As believers, we are all on solid ground to call our leaders to task when their behaviors and character do not measure up to the example of Jesus. We must not follow anyone whose life does not closely follow the example of Jesus. We must not get caught up in the hypnotic appeal of celebrity or human measures of success. We must hold out clearly and confidently those behaviors and characteristics of Jesus as we are measuring the right of others to lead. We must not allow our leaders to hide in the sunlight of their own celebrity so that they are not available to the real scrutiny of any or all believers.

Absolute Bottom Line Qualities of Leaders Who Measure Up To The Character of Christ


Humility– do leaders respectfully listen to the ideas of others and incorporate their needs or views in decision making?

Gentleness- do leaders come across as harsh and belittling of those that oppose them or gentle and confident?

Patient- do leaders take time to listen or get annoyed when others do not fall lock step in line with their agenda?

Confidence- do leaders exude confidence or cockiness? Cockiness is connected to arrogance and a condescending view of others.

Respect- do leaders come across as listening with intent to understand and value the input or others or do they manipulate and produce fear in others to get their way?

Honest and Transparent- do leaders regularly open up about their sins and ask for accountability or do they hide behind a veil of perfection?

Character- do leaders use as their measuring stick for their personal success the qualities and character of Jesus?

Fruit of the Spirit- do leaders exude growth and evidence of the fruits of the Spirit?


Priesthood of Believers

In the fellowship of believers in the Kingdom of Christ we are equal in value. We have different gifts but are one in worth. Leadership is but one of the many equal gifts, and should not be given an elite status. As such every believer, using the metric of the behaviors and character of Christ, should measure any believer, leader or not, against this standard. If WCCC learns anything it should be to remove leaders from any elite and unapproachable standard, and should, like all other believers, be held accountable to the authority of the behaviors and character of Jesus. The church janitor who is spiritually mature should be able to call out the lead teaching pastor when behaviors are exhibited that are clearly inconsistent with the metric of Jesus.

Elders As The Culture Auditors

It seems clear that in the church the elders should be those whose lives most reflect the maturity of Christ-like behavior and should be on the forefront of auditing the spiritual condition of members of the body of Christ. Leaders need to truly subject themselves to accountability around behaviors and character consistent with the life of Jesus. Elders must be confident and courageous in holding any member of the body of Christ to the high standard of living consistent with Jesus. Anything less is a breach of their Biblical responsibility.