Thinking Out Loud

August 7, 2018

Willow Creek: The Nightmare That Doesn’t End

Happier Days: Passing the torch, on the weekend of October 14th and 15th, (left to right) Steve Carter, Heather Larson, Bill Hybels. Click the image to read our reporting on that event.

Steve Carter, the teaching ministry heir to Bill Hybel’s position at Willow Creek has resigned. After years (literally) of developing a succession plan at Willow, things continue to unravel. Returning to a regular habit of watching Willow Creek online on Sunday afternoons a few years ago, I have greatly, greatly appreciated Steve’s preaching. As I watched yet another chapter in that church’s drama unfold yesterday, while some of it might have been continued jet-lag, and some of it might have been the heat wave, it is no exaggeration to say that I felt physically ill.

Furthermore, I feel we’re not done yet with this story. Attendance at the church seems to have been holding — I’ve tried to get more information — with the likes of David Crowder and Chris Tomlin leading worship; and guest speakers such as Henry Cloud (Boundaries), Christine Caine, Danielle Strickland, and former Willow teaching pastor Darren Whitehead. But over 200 comments on Twitter yesterday, responding to Steve Carter’s resignation letter, would indicate some might not be intending to stick around. Hence my title for this piece referencing “the nightmare that doesn’t end.”

You have to feel especially for families whose children are immersed in Promiseland and youth programs who shouldn’t have to be a casualty in all this; who should have to break up a routine and have friendships fractured.

For those not up to speed, I’m going to do something different here and share with you the top three items on tomorrow’s Wednesday Connect so you can track the story for yourselves:

♦ Author, seminary professor and veteran blogger Scot McKnight calls for sweeping restructuring at Willow Creek Community Church in the wake of new accusations concerning the personal conduct of Bill Hybels

♦ …and most of you know by now that Willow teaching pastor Steve Carter has resigned. ” I offered my resignation many weeks ago, but I was requested to delay an announcement and continue with my duties until the leadership determined how to make the decision public. At this point, however, I cannot, in good conscience, appear before you as your Lead Teaching Pastor when my soul is so at odds with the institution.”…

♦ …and in this statement from the Global Leadership Summit, don’t miss the wording of the section which forms the hyperlink: “Bill’s engagement with the Summit and Willow Creek Association was completely severed in early April. He has had no involvement in the 2018 Summit or Willow Creek Association since, and there is no path for him to return.”

That last item, the Global Leadership Summit is important. If your church’s biggest deal each year is an annual Christmas or Easter pageant, know that the GLS is Willow’s highest point on the calendar.

It’s next week. Craig Groeschel has stepped up to take a larger role, as have others, but right now the church wants to get past this — over 100 of about 700 remote location sites have pulled the event — to then focus more fully on the situation at the church itself. (The GLS is structured as a distinct organization, but intricately entwined with the church and (formerly) Bill Hybels.)

…I truly believe that the at the outset, the leadership at Willow wanted to believe in Bill’s innocence. I say that because I know I did. My first reaction was denial; in other words, mistrusting those bring the accusations forward to the Chicago Tribune (and now, the New York Times.) That turned to wanting to minimize the severity of the charges, to finally accepting the situation, and then to refocus on the leadership and the way they kept trying — possibly with some measure of sincerity — to sweep the situation under the carpet.

I can’t imagine the pain this is causing the church leadership, the church membership, the Hybels family, and now, Steve and Sarah Carter. Praying.

Steve and Sarah Carter. Steve had been mentored by Bill Hybels before coming on staff at Willow Creek.

 

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