Thinking Out Loud

August 13, 2018

Willow Creek: From Bad to Worse, but with Some Hope

Filed under: Christianity, Church, current events, leadership — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:07 am

Steve Gillen, interim lead pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, IL addresses the church’s weekend services.

Just six days ago I reported on the resignation of teaching co-lead pastor Steve Carter, incorrectly assuming perhaps that the worst was over. Instead, just days later co-lead Heather Larson resigned along with the entire Willow Board of Directors (in graduated steps to ensure some continuity in the very short term.)

I was greatly impacted by Willow in the 1980s, so for me, this is personal. While I’ve only attended 4 or 5 actual services — my wife attended an Arts conference as well — I’ve been a part of an extended Willow culture which preferred lost people over simply doing church for the benefit of the membership. Willow was a model for many of us attempting “seeker sensitive” churches, and when the needs of spiritual seekers was seen to have changed over a decade ago, Willow had the courage to change the model appropriately.

So for me it’s been a time of grieving the damage that has been done to one of the most significant movements of the last century, the loss of reputation for Bill Hybels, and the demise of the succession plan for Willow he worked for years to put into place.

I considered updating that story from last Tuesday but decided to revisit this again today.

Watching the Saturday night service live, new lead pastor Steve Gillen — previously at Willow Creek North Shore — was honest in his reluctance to accept the interim position at the main, South Barrington Campus. (You can read that here, or watch the service yourself.) But at the same time, as a seasoned preacher, he spoke with authority, while at the same time cautioning that the church is not out of the woods yet; more difficulties could follow.

Should they have chosen someone with a 20-year history in the organization or brought in someone completely fresh, from outside, to fill the position? Regrettably, time was not on their side, so they acted decisively and swiftly.

I tweeted that “I feel a small measure of optimism returning.”

I really do. I don’t think that all the families who have kids in Promiseland and youth programs are going to sever those relationships just yet, especially with a new school year commencing. I don’t think the people who are fixing cars and distributing food are going to just walk away from those they serve. Even in the middle of their own sorrow as a church, they rose to the occasion last week and welcomed a deluge of pastors and leaders to the annual Global Leadership Summit.

Willow isn’t the type of church where people stay away when it’s the pastor’s week off. Guest speakers have been common. That, at least, is something they built into their culture which other churches could emulate; especially those congregations in which attendance drops by 25% or more when the teaching pastor is on vacation.

Yet another investigation will commence, with Scot McKnight part of the team, though for many, what’s missing at present is an apology and confession from Bill Hybels.

Screen shot of capacity crowd at last week’s Global Leadership Summit at Willow Creek Community Church. Despite their internal challenges, church volunteers stepped up to serve pastors and leaders from around the world, and those watching by satellite in over 600 locations.

 

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1 Comment »

  1. I’m just surprised that those pastors resigned. I don’t get it. Because we assumed Bill did something we have the close the church? If your boss in the office commit a crime and fired will you resign? Not to talk about the church that christ died for and declared that the gates of hell cannot prevail against it.
    Anyway, I’m happy because surely they are not a courageous pastor but they are driven by social media and what people will say. But I welcome pastor Steve Gillen. I know it may be tough but be courageous and see what the lord will do. Long live WCA. God is not done.

    Comment by Ola — August 17, 2018 @ 12:54 am


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