According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Of the Failure of Church Leadership in the Age of Man: Willow Creek Pastors and Elder Board Step Down

Sad, but true. And to think I had just used Bill Hybels in a constructive illustration to a senior fellowship group not more than two weeks ago. That illustration is no less true today than it was then but the reality of the life events of a very respected personage I've been reading about this week saddens me beyond measure.

Here was a pastoral life filled with unexpressed agony hidden behind the ministerial cowl of leadership needing help while adding to the grief of others in unloving, unChristlike ways. But rather than casting stones we pray for healing for all who are suffering and for the church, Willow Creek, which has blessed so many, while reminding ourselves once again to beware looking down upon the broken lives of others when our own live's may be just as broken.

From all appearances, Mr. Hybels needed a trustworthy inner-circle of counselors, but this was the one thing he could not have as he doubted if his honest self-revelations might be compromised by untruthful, gossiping, or immature counselors. And so, with skeptical (or self-protective) reasoning, he held back losing any opportunity for personal healing and growth from a tortured life while adding in the grief and harm of many over his long years of ministry.

I think we must always remember, the church is a flawed thing. We all know this. Or should know this. And we shouldn't be surprised when the church spectacularly fails, as it has been doing recently across America's borders in supporting unrighteous government, corrupt officials, and abusive federal policies cloaked under the cloth of patriotic nationalism.

If anything, it is a wonderment that God's chosen instrument, the church, which is to share the Gospel of His Love and Salvation through Christ Jesus, has managed to continue through the centuries against its continuing legacies of failure, sin, lies, and betrayals.

Because of this legacy, many a congregant has turned away from the (institutionalized or secularized) church grieved by the harm they have experienced in the fellowship of God's people preaching one thing but doing-and-being another.

Or, become those who are dismayed to the point of leaving even their own faith, such as it was. Which is a very sad thing indeed. And to those precious few filled with the hope and promise which Christ's salvation has brought into their lives - the church can shatter even these precious souls to the point of silence... an awful silence so deafening that God's people's failure is insurmountable to the shattered lives requiring healing.

In the Gospels these illustrations are borne up by the teaching of Jesus regarding the kind of "soil" a faith may, or may not, thrive in. And as any farmer knows, to bear a good crop requires constant tending against the rains, the birds of the air, rocky soils, and weeds (tares).

Even so must the church of God hold true to Jesus - not to a religion nor to a dogma. But to Jesus who is our ever present help and personal Savior. That in Jesus is where the Spirit of God resides - and so must the children of God who are advised to be as wise as serpents but as harmless as doves (Matthew 10.16).

We come to church not only to receive but also to give. And when we give we must understand how a thriving faith may be derailed even within the fellowship of God - by a stray tongue, an unloving gesture, or a failed leadership.

When this happens we do not leave our Lord but remind ourselves to minister-in-place until the Lord calls us out and there is no longer any ministry therein to witness or give to. And when this happens, to remember, the church lives on in the hearts and souls of God's faithful ones - not in an institution, or an organization, or a class of beliefs. But by the Spirit of God Himself within the beating breast of every man, woman, and child.

R.E. Slater
August 9, 2018

Names of the Twelve

1And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease. 2Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphæus, and Lebbæus, whose surname was Thaddæus; 4Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.

Their Work Outlined

5These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. 8Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. 9Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, 10nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat. 11And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, enquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence. 12And when ye come into an house, salute it. 13And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. 15Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.

16Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. 17But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; 18and ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. 19But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. 20For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. 21And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. 22And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. 23But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come. 24The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. 25It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?

26Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known. 27What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. 28And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. 30But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. 32Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. 33But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

34Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. 35For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. 36And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. 37He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. 39He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

40He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. 41He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. 42And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.


* * * * * * * *



Willow Creek Community Church Elder Missy Rasmussen
announces the resignation of the elders leadership on Aug. 8, 2018,
in South Barrington following allegations against founding
Pastor Bill Hybels. (Willow Creek Community Church).


Willow Creek pastor, elders step down,
admit mishandling allegations against Bill Hybels
Manya Brachear Pashman
Chicago Tribune

Answering critics' calls to let new leaders shepherd northwest suburban Willow Creek Community Church, lead pastor Heather Larson and other church elders resigned Wednesday and apologized for mishandling allegations that church founder Bill Hybels engaged in improper behavior with women.

Larson and the elders announced their resignations Wednesday evening during a packed congregational meeting at the church’s South Barrington campus. Audience members applauded the elders’ decision. But some people audibly groaned over Larson’s announcement, and one even approached the stage in protest.

“It has become clear to me that this church needs a fresh start,” Larson said.

“This is really important,” she said. “Trust has been broken by leadership, and it doesn’t return quickly. There is urgency to move us in a better direction.”

Hbels stepped down from the helm of the megachurch in April following a Tribune investigation that revealed allegations of misconduct with women — including church employees — that spanned decades. Women have continued to come forward with allegations, among them Hybels’ former executive assistant, who told The New York Times that she was sexually harassed and fondled by the pastor for over two years in the 1980s. Hybels denied those allegations.

The alleged behavior detailed by the Tribune included suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss and invitations to hotel rooms. It also included an allegation of a prolonged consensual affair with a married woman who reversed herself and said her claim about the affair was not true when confronted by an elder in 2014. Hybels has denied the allegations against him but apologized to the congregation for taking a defensive stance “instead of one that invited conversation and learning.”

On Wednesday, church elder Missy Rasmussen told the congregation that elders believe Hybels’ sins go “beyond what he previously admitted on stage.

  • “We were not aware of many of the choices he made in private and therefore did not hold him accountable in meaningful ways,” said Rasmussen, who has served on the elder board for seven years.

Hybels was the subject of a series of inquiries overseen by Willow Creek’s elders, including one conducted by an outside law firm. He was cleared of any wrongdoing in those inquires. With the elders’ knowledge, he continued to counsel the woman who alleged, then retracted, her story of having a 14-year affair with Hybels. When members of the Willow Creek Association board questioned that conflict of interest, elders said he was fulfilling his pastoral duty because the woman was suicidal and had kept them informed every time the woman reached out to him.

On Wednesday, elders conceded that letting Hybels counsel the woman was wrong. They expressed regret for conducting their inquiries with the goal of finding definitive evidence of an affair, not with a goal of ensuring the pastor’s behavior was “above reproach.”

“We also weren’t as objective as we should have been,” Rasmussen said. “We viewed the allegations through a lens of trust we had in Bill that clouded our judgment and caused us to not act quickly enough.”

Hybels had named Larson and teaching pastor Steve Carter as his successors last October, before the allegations became public, but planned to stay another year to ready them for their roles. Since stepping down in April, he has had no role with the church that he founded in a rented movie theater nearly 43 years ago and built into one of the nation’s most iconic and influential megachurches.

Larson had served as executive pastor of Willow Creek for five years, overseeing the church’s $77 million budget and 350 employees. Her role as lead pastor, or essentially CEO, included oversight of the church’s main campus in South Barrington and the seven satellite campuses in the city and suburbs.

Carter stepped into the pulpit long dominated by Hybels but did not appear on stage Sunday. He announced his resignation later that day, citing “a fundamental difference in judgment between what I believe is necessary for Willow Creek to move in a positive direction, and what they think is best.”

Scot McKnight, a Christian author and professor at Northern Seminary in Lombard who has preached at Willow Creek in past years, called for the resignation of Willow’s leadership Monday and the creation of an independent council to guide Willow Creek out of the controversy.

“The leaders are complicit,” he wrote. “The leaders — Heather Larson, elders — supported that narrative and maligned the women. They, both (church elders) and (the Willow Creek Association), refused an independent investigation. They chose not to be transparent. Their time is up.”

Wednesday’s announcement seemed to heed that call.

Steve Gillen, pastor of Willow Creek’s North Shore regional campus, will serve as Willow Creek’s interim leader.

Rasmussen said all the elders would leave in waves, starting next Wednesday until the end of the year. She said there will be an external review of the church’s governance to help future leaders.

Vonda Dyer, a former director of the church’s vocal ministry, was one of Hybels’ accusers. She told the Tribune that Hybels called her to his hotel suite on a trip to Sweden in 1998, unexpectedly kissed her and suggested they could lead Willow Creek together.

“I’m grieved for Willow Creek tonight. Many of them are my friends. This is not the outcome I would have hoped for,” Dyer said Wednesday. “I hoped that Bill Hybels could have come to repentance, honoring the church, the generations of people who built Willow Creek over the last 40 years. If Bill and the leadership had come clean 2013, or any time from then until tonight, these tragic events could have been avoided.”

Amy Staska of Schaumburg has been part of Willow Creek for 24 years. She has chosen to continue worshipping at Willow Creek, but decided to withhold her contribution until the elder board was gone. She believes their resignations signal sincere repentance.

“I love the church and its work, and wanted to continue to be present and pray for its healing,” she said. “But I had made the hard decision to divert my tithe until the current elders were all off the board. I didn’t expect what happened tonight. I’m grateful for the church, and that I can continue to financially support this ministry in good conscience — and so so sad.”


* * * * * * * *



Teaching pastor Steve Carter speaks in 2017 at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington. Carter, who took over as lead teaching pastor in April when Bill Hybels stepped down from the helm of the church, announced his resignation Sunday. (Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune)


Teaching pastor resigns over Willow Creek’s handling
of allegations against Bill Hybels

Manya Brachear Pashman
Chicago Tribune

The lead teaching pastor of Willow Creek Community Church announced his resignation from the South Barrington megachurch Sunday, saying he could no longer serve there with integrity.

Steve Carter, who took over as lead teaching pastor in April when Bill Hybels stepped down from the helm of the church he founded 42 years ago, said he was “horrified” by allegations reported Sunday by The New York Times that Hybels had sexually harassed his former executive assistant for two years.

Carter also said he did not agree with the way elders had handled the first reports by the Chicago Tribune in March that revealed allegations of misconduct by Hybels with women — including church employees — spanning decades.

The alleged behavior detailed by the Tribune included suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss and invitations to hotel rooms. It also included an allegation of a prolonged consensual affair with a married woman who later said her claim about the affair was not true, the newspaper found.

Hybels had been the subject of a series of inquiries by Willow Creek’s elders, including one conducted by an outside law firm, but the pastor had been cleared of any wrongdoing in the allegations they examined, the Tribune reported.

“Since the first women came forward with their stories, I have been gravely concerned about our church’s official response, and its ongoing approach to these painful issues,” Carter wrote Sunday on his personal blog. “After many frank conversations with our elders, it became clear that there is a fundamental difference in judgment between what I believe is necessary for Willow Creek to move in a positive direction, and what they think is best. That is not to say that I am right and they are wrong. But I must follow the path that I believe God has laid out for me to live with integrity, and that path now diverges from Willow Creek.”

Carter led the charge in a series of public apologies issued by church leaders in July. He wrote on his personal blog that he told church elders he believed the church had mishandled allegations against Hybels and the subsequent investigation of those claims. He said he had personally apologized to “several of the victims” for the way they and their families have been treated.

Lead pastor Heather Larson followed suit and delivered a separate apology from the pulpit. Willow Creek’s elders later posted a written statement on the church’s website.

Hybels no longer has any role with the church that he founded in a rented movie theater 42 years ago and built into one of the nation’s most iconic and influential megachurches.

During Sunday services, Larson said nothing to the congregation about Carter’s departure, but wrote to members late Sunday night after meeting with regional campus pastors to express her sorrow.

“We had been processing together with Steve for a few weeks, and our team was hoping and working towards a different outcome,” she wrote. “Ideally, we know this update would have been given to you directly as the church family.”

But many church observers and congregants praised Carter for making the bold move, saying it sent a clear message that despite the evolving public response over the past four months, the powers-that-be have not corrected course or properly addressed the allegations against the church’s founder.

“I think Steve Carter’s words and actions are very brave and shed greater light upon the leadership dysfunction that exists among the staff culture at Willow Creek,” said Vonda Dyer, a former director of the church’s vocal ministry who told the Tribune that Hybels called her to his hotel suite on a trip to Sweden in 1998, unexpectedly kissed her and suggested they could lead Willow Creek together. “The continued allegations of abuse of power and sexual misconduct by Bill Hybels for many decades, must be fully addressed.”

On Sunday, The New York Times reported allegations that Hybels repeatedly groped his former executive assistant Pat Baranowski in the 1980s, beginning with a back rub in 1986. In her administrative role, she also was instructed to procure pornographic videos for research and watch them with the pastor while he was dressed in a bathrobe, the newspaper reported.

Hybels denied the allegations.

Carter said he tendered his resignation weeks ago but obliged when church leaders asked him to continue leading until they figured out how to make the decision public. On Saturday night, he interviewed public radio personality Ira Glass onstage in front of the congregation. Two repeat performances were expected Sunday morning, but a worship leader stepped in, telling congregants that Carter was throwing up backstage. Carter posted his resignation later that day.

“At this point, however, I cannot, in good conscience, appear before you as your Lead Teaching Pastor,” Carter wrote, “when my soul is so at odds with the institution.”



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