Thinking Out Loud

March 24, 2018

Bill Hybels, John Ortberg: Why This Scandal Strikes Close to Home

John Ortberg (left) and Bill Hybels (right) – surprising combatants in a war of accusations.

Over the years, when a noted Christian leader has been accused or charged with any type of impropriety, it has usually taken place at a distance from what I would consider my circle. Typically these stories concern:

  • a Catholic priest
  • a member of the Reformed/New Calvinist community
  • a Pentecostal/Charismatic fringe church
  • a smaller African-American church
  • a story taking place overseas

This time it’s personal.

Bill Hybels was the subject of a Chicago Tribune story this week which rocked my world. (The term being used is sexual misconduct.) Part of the reason this hits closer to home is that he’s one of a select list of pastors whose sermons I listen to weekly. I’ve been onboard with Willow since a friend gave me a cassette entitled “Philosophy of Ministry” back in the early 1980s. I’ve championed the concept of seeker-friendly churches (most churches are seeker-hostile) and applauded them when they realized in 2007 that the spiritual needs of seekers had changed and that on their current course they were not producing long-term disciples. I’ve attended services at Willow; my wife attended a conference at the Northwest Chicago campus.

But John Ortberg, who is bringing the charges against Hybels is also on that list of pastors whose teaching has influenced me and I continue to enjoy. I tracked with Ortberg when he was on staff at Willow and have followed his sermons at Menlo Park Presbyterian. I’ve read and reviewed his books. When I started a church plant in my town, for six weeks we did the videos for If You Want to Walk on Water You Have to Get Out of the Boat.

I have had great respect for both men…

…As I’ve written before, my father was involved with Charles Templeton before and during the time when Templeton abandoned the faith (paving the way for Billy Graham, who once said he was only continuing the mandate which Templeton started and never finished.) This has taught me one very important principle:

In times like this we need to keep our eyes on Christ, not people.

We need to focus on Jesus, not Christian leaders or Christian institutions.

We need to not be surprised when stories circulate (a type of  ‘wars and rumors of war’ if you think about it) and continue to make Christ our focus.

For now, that’s all I have to say about this story. We’ll see how it plays out over the next days and weeks.  


Other coverage: See Christianity Today.


Update: A Chicago Daily Herald report on the 2-hour congregational meeting which took place Friday night at Willow. And the Chicago Tribune itself, where this week’s bombshell was dropped, also sent a reporter to the congregational meeting.

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March 6, 2014

John Ortberg’s Congregation Votes to Exit US Presbyterian Denom

John OrtbergZondervan author and former Willow Creek teaching pastor John Ortberg is about to lead his congregation, Menlo Park Presbyterian, out of the Presbyterian Church USA, but the church will have to buy its way out of the affiliation. Religion News Service reports,

Members of one of the largest congregations in the Presbyterian Church (USA) have voted to leave the denomination, despite facing an $8.89 million cost for leaving…

…The motion to leave the PCUSA was approved by 93 percent of the church’s members who voted, with 2,024 ballots in favor of the motion and 158 ballots opposed, according to a letter posted by Ortberg. Menlo Park determined that to keep its property and leave the denomination would cost $8.89 million, based on a summary for dismissal agreement.

[…continue reading at Religion News Service…]

But the Presbyterian name will stay with the congregation as it affiliates with ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, making it the second 4,000-member sized church to do so.  A five page Rationale for Change gives reasons for both exiting the PCUSA and joining the ECO. The document does not directly address issues of sexuality and thereby makes clear that this is not the central issue. Menlo Park also operates satellite campuses using a video feed, a rarity in PCUSA churches. (A Canadian two-campus church, Connexus, is a former Presbyterian church now part of the North Point ministry family.) 

Prior to the vote, Ortberg led his congregation through a message titled “Immeasurably More” based on Ephesians 3: 20-21

Eph 3:20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ortberg’s bio on Wikipedia notes:

Ortberg has published many books including the 2008 ECPA Christian Book Award winner When the Game is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box, and the 2002 Christianity Today Book Award winner If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. Another of his publications, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, has sold more than 500,000 copies as of 2008…

…Ortberg earned his undergraduate degree from Wheaton College, and his M.Div. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary.

His latest book Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You releases April 22nd with Zondervan.

Menlo Park Presbyterian

Update: Christianity Today reported on this one day later with some helpful background links.

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