To The Move-On Crowd Who Want A Controversy Free GLS at Willow Creek


An email was sent by someone at a host site for the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) to one of the advocates for truth telling at Willow Creek Community Church. It basically admonishes those of us who are personally affected, and have deep sorrow for, the unresolved patterns of sin at Willow to “move on”. As a family systems oriented Christian psychologist, I would liken what is happening at Willow to a family that has been ravaged by the sinful sexual behavior of a parent. The family is in trauma mode, people are in deep pain, and the perpetrator is not owning his or her behavior. But, if the counsel of people who, like this emailer, from afar, just say forgive the perpetrator and move on, the family would be left in chaos. This essentially is what a host and attender to the GLS is saying in his or her email. Forgive and forget. But if the real pain is not identified and worked with, the family will not survive. The real damage that has been inflicted on women and multiple congregants and staff  at Willow Creek will be minimized, almost assuring  that similar behaviors will emerge down the road at the church. The admonishment of this individual does not feel like a brother or sister who really cares about the pain at Willow. Rather, they may believe that prolonging the need to process the pain, and seek real repentance and restoration, is an impediment to a smooth experience at the GLS. In bold and italics, I will share the email and then my response. 

“I received your emailed “blog” and find it very interesting that you want to perpetuate and continue to bring up the bill hybels controversy…especially at less than a week before GLS.  Is the harm done to the victims profound, yes, but continuing to bring it up and demand answers and demand that the GLS be riddled with more apologies and focus on the scandals quite honestly gives the devil a foothold. “

This is typical of the “move-on” crowd. They love the GLS. It is a glossy, hip, gathering of the leadership of today’s church. It makes them feel warm that they can come and listen to a cadre of professional experts on leadership. It is a “sacred cow” of this crowd, who of course as leaders themselves, would be biased towards quick resolution of a leadership “controversy”. These individuals may buy into the elitist mentality of leadership, and have little comprehension for how leadership failure affects the flock. Move on, let us have our controversy free summit to learn more about what leaders are supposed to do. The ironic part of all of this is that Biblically, leaders represented the people of God, and when failure occured in the midst of the church, leaders were supposed to “lead” them into repentance and seeking forgiveness.

But this person, probably representative of many leaders who go to the GLS, do not want to talk about this vital responsibility of leadership as a believer. They just want to go learn concepts of effective leadership, many from secular guru’s in the field. They want to move forward and are unconcerned about the fact that this leadership summit presents itself as  a cutting edge platform for leader effectiveness, while it cannot even honestly address the obvious hypocrisy of having been led by a broken leader. 

The problem with this leader’s perspective is that he or she is viewing the “controversy” from afar, while we who are immersed in the Willow culture, understand the deep dysfunction that exists from an organization that has followed Bill Hybels entitlement-driven vision, has left a church in broken disarray, and has sailed off into the sunset completely disconnected from the people that he claimed to love.  This email comes from a person outside the reality of pain that the people of Willow have experienced. He just wants nothing to impede the movement of this “cool” gathering of leaders. He is not demanding that the GLS address head on the questions of how a leader can be so out front and popular at a leadership summit, all the while living a duplicitous life that led to damage to so many people. He does not want to deal with this because he is not affected by any of its destructive consequences. He just wants to have a good experience, a dose of “cheap grace”, and a little reprieve from the experience of his own leadership responsibility. He shows little empathy for the level of pain this has inflicted on so many people at Willow. His trite and dismissive statements do not reflect the level of empathy and understanding that a true leader would seek to develop.

For attendees that heard nothing of the scandal to walk in to the summit last year and be barraged with all of the talks focused on the abused, they left feeling like “that was all about #metoo and not a leadership conference”.

Please stop with your messages and attempts to bring down the gls and willow creek.  The entire focus of each cannot be on the victims and not on Christ. Forgiveness takes one person, reconciliation takes both parties.  Romans 12:18 tells us as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. I challenge you with that. We can only do our part in forgiving when the other party has removed itself from the conversation.

The fact that this individual does not get the absolute connection between leadership character and the #metoo movement shows a shallow comprehension of what the vital issues of leadership are in this day and age. The sexual integrity of a leader is the top concern among Christians currently. There is nothing more destructive in the body of Christ than the sexual predatory behavior of a leader, who is supposed to be trustworthy. The damage to trust and the uncalculated cost to people who are disillusioned and have left the church with cynical beliefs about the hypocrisy of the church, should be of urgent concern. Maybe, since this is one of the greatest issues of followers in churches, it should occupy a huge place in the curriculum of this leadership summit. The fact that this emailer minimizes, and seeks to have this “controversy” left behind, shows that they lack a deeper understanding of the endemic nature of this blight on the Christian church. He, along with many, view this in a simplistic way.  This individual’s suggestion seems to be that Bill Hybels sinned, it was a hurt-full thing that he did, but let’s move on to less important concerns with leadership. The truth is, Bill Hybels’ behavior as a reflection of the crisis in leadership,  should be the center focus of the GLS. 

The GLS should concentrate on the incredible reality of how Bill Hybels, the visionary and primary influencer, historically, of the summit, was able to live a duplicitous public life, while in the shadows, he took advantage of women. How about topics exploring what makes a Christian leader vulnerable to sexual infidelity? How about looking at how easily leadership and entitlement oriented behaviors can be linked? How about dealing with how easy it is to create an elitist view of leadership that allows for a lack of empathy towards followers? How about exploring how a leaders shadow-needs drive their agenda for the church in self centered ways? How about exploring how a leaders psychopathology influences them to design and guide a church in ways that are self serving? How about a topic relating to the devastating damage that sexual assaults have on women in a church? How about a topic related to how the powerful, but Biblically inconsistent, influence of a charismatic leader, can infect and infuse the sinful behaviors of other leaders under the senior leaders direction? All the other topics are academic, but do not really touch the most important issues of how unruly leaders’ behaviors can damage the lives of followers in churches. 

“Remember, When the people came up to Christ and demanded that he stone the woman caught in adultery, He wrote in the sand and told the people that the person among you with no sin, cast the first stone.  It seems like you as the writer of this email want to cast huge stones, and don’t recall these words of Christ. Are the allegations deplorable, yes, but no amount of emails or continued “reporting” will turn back time.  No amount of #metoo or #churchtoo will take away the pain of these victims, likely the continued talks is being used by Satan to further victimize them and further victimize other women that have been hurt by leadership in church and other sectors who are trying to move on with their lives. Many people everyday are trying to make their life not focus on one horrible event or set of circumstances that they cannot change.”

Aside from the inconsistent, and  ironic, fact that this writer is, from his/her perspective, casting stones on those of us who believe that truth should prevail, it reveals the lack of big picture focus on sin in the church. This email defender of the GLS is confused about the difference between individual sin and corporate sin. If we are not to hold leaders and churches accountable, who will? Paul confronted sin in the churches that he ministered to on his journeys. If he believed we should just forgive and not address the systemic institutional sin, he never would have written what were often letters that reproved the churches. We can forgive individual sin, but we can call individuals to change. Jesus said “your sins are forgiven” but he also said “go and sin no more”. Churches who have created a culture that has allowed for the sin of a leader, must be reproved and challenged to do some deep surgery in the culture that created this sin. Paul admonished the church in Corinthians who had discovered sexual sin in its midst. He did not just say forgive the ones involved and move on. The systemic sin of the church had to be identified and radically changed. 

I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish other than cause a church to go under and the GLS to fail.  It seems that is the only thing that will placate you is this. If you are ACTUALLY a Christ follower, why not leave the judgement to God?  Why not let God make things right rather than continuing to harass host sites? YOU ARE NOT GOD AND YOUR CONTINUED EFFORTS ARE NOT BRINGING GLORY TO GOD.

This defender of the GLS and Willow again shows a shallow understanding of the systemic nature of sin in a church. Should we passively leave the judgement to God?  Of course God is the one that judges, but we are called to discern and call out sin. Read Galatians 6. It clearly calls for believers to come alongside Christians who are caught up in sin. It is, of course, necessary to have humility in the desire for restoration, but if you love someone, or a church that is sinning, you call it to repentance. I and my fellow advocates for truth,  are not God, but neither were the prophets nor Paul, and yet God used them to point out sin and call for repentance and change. You, emailer, do not have the sense of awareness, nor concern, for Willow Creek that I and many others have who have witnessed first hand the destruction that sin brings. It seems to me that calling out the messiness of sin and the need for repentance and change is just an impediment to your ability to enjoy the positive aspects of the GLS. If you cared for your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, who are standing up for what it right, you might realize that the bigger thing is doing what it takes to restore the reputation of Christ that has been severely marred by the scandal and sin at Willow Creek. If that is not important, enjoy the GLS!

I’m so thankful that God did not bring all the families of Paul’s victims when he was Saul to the table and force reconciliation before God used and changed Paul.  I’m glad God didn’t bring every person I’ve sinned against to stand in front of me and tell my sins to the world before He chose to use me. And I’m glad He didn’t do the same for you.  I’m glad I serve a God who detests sin, but loves me who sins every day. I’m so thankful that Christ paid the debt of my sin. That is what I will continue to proclaim. I pray your focus shifts to that rather than where it currently is.  No matter the circumstances of life and our culture that continues to push different #agendas, #Christ and His work on the cross are what we really should be proclaiming. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (even Bill Hybels).

Your focus is on past sins, which God can forgive, if one is humble and admits to them. But Willow Creek is dealing with current sin, as well as past sin, and the task of believers is to call it out and push for change. If you had ongoing sin in your family, do you not think that God would want that challenged and changed? If you loved your family, would you not want to see it become healthy? My agenda is not to bring down Willow Creek or the GLS. It is to push for healing, and that does not occur quickly,or by seeking to minimize or ignore real patterns of sin just so you can have a “controversy free” GLS experience. 

3 thoughts on “To The Move-On Crowd Who Want A Controversy Free GLS at Willow Creek

  1. Jim, you are brave and saying the truth, the truth that would save the future of Willow, if only leadership would turn around and listen.
    Please don’t stop your writing!

    1. Your wisdom is amazing. It’s refreshing that you can bring to light a current church culture and how it effects the congregation today just like Paul did in the New Testament. Thank you.

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