My Response to the Willow Creek Church Situation
"In such a fearful world, we need a fearless church."
– C.S. Lewis
A lead pastor accused of sexually abusing women, an entire church staff stepping down, and the world left watching. How does one process this? How do we find ourselves here, yet again, watching a pastor fall from grace and those around him left clinging to the wreckage? How do we answer a watching world?
In it's entirety, this situation is full of different problems, sitautions and things that need to be addressed. It's full, and thick, and heart-wrenching at the least. There are several issues in this situation that I won't speak to - namely the #metoo movement, better treatment of women, etc - because many others, more qualified than I, already are.
But my heart aches for those within the 4 walls of the chruch. So I want to answer this question: How do we address this personally? And below I give 3 quick thoughts to how we personally and corporately address this tragedy and on-going situation.
bear with one another in love and humility
In Ephesians 4, Paul outlines the instructions for Christian living and concludes it with "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." In his letter to the Colossians, Paul does the same thing - telling the church to rid themselves of sin and then says, "Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity." Paul clearly addresses that we are to run from sin and chase holiness in the verses preceeding the two above, but his end note is that of being willing to address those in sin, doing so with love, grace and truth.
If we know if people close to us in sin, our job is to confront them in love, humility, kindness and gentleness, but confront nonetheless.
I would personally submit that a root of this situation lies within the way our Church culture lives by extremes when it comes to sin. At the present, we tend to either preach cheap grace and unending love without correction, or we respond to sin with such verasity, anger and recompense that we drive those who would seek healing away. Make no mistake, sin must be dealt with. Jesus, himself, goes to the extent of instructing us "if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell." But as in all of life, it's not as much what is done, but how it is done. And both Jesus and the writers of scripture are quick to walk us through how we address sin in ourselves and inside others.
"On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." - Mark 2:17
"If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted." - Galatians 6:1
"My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, 20 you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins." - James 5:19-20
"When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” - John 8:1-11
Confess our sin OFTEN
In his letter intended for instruction on Christian living, James begins to inform us of the power of prayer, and then makes a this important note: “Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed.” By way of doctrinal division or simply spiritual laziness, we've mostly lost this idea within the modern church. When was the last time you sat down with someone and laid it all out? Who are the people in your life that know it all? The truth is, sin thrives in the darkness. Unaddressed it will feed on secrecy, and grow larger than we ever imagined.
But let's not give it more credit than it's due. We're promised freedom, healing, salvation and complete transformation in Christ. The battle is won, the victory is ours.
Now, it's our job to bring to light anything that seeks to prowl in the darkness. Victory is ours through Christ, and we abide in that victory by bringing all sin into the light and seeking to confess our struggles often.
In Colossians 1, Paul addresses the local church of Colosse because there was a congregation-wide problem at hand. It was known as "The Colossian Heresy" in which people were adding other religious beliefs, rules, regulations, taking from this one and that one, and adapting Christ's instructions. But Paul's way of dealing with a divisive and difficult situation gives us incredible insight into how to deal with this present circumstance.
He preached Jesus.
Paul spent a considerable amount of his letter outlining, underlining, highlighting, magnifying and exalting the character and personhood of Christ.
"We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment.
And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body. He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross." - Colossian 1:15-20
Paul's response to any problem within the church was simple: Jesus is our answer. He is our answer to the sin we cannot escape. He is our answer to the hurt and pain of being betrayed by a leader. He is our answer to an unhealthy church culture in which sin is either ignored or judged harshly. He is our answer to walking in the light.
So may we proclaim Jesus - He who weeps with those who weep, He who disciplines those whom He loves, He who leads us out of sin and into glorious freedom, He who transforms us from the inside out and gave himself for the Church.
The current situation at Willow Creek is heart-breaking, nauseating and hard to fathom on many levels. It is leaving several women broken and struggling recover in its wake. It is also working to destabilize an entire church congregation, and now leaves the world to question how this continues to happen inside a culture that is supposed to be different from the rest.
It's not a situation that allows for any simple 3-step process to fixing it, understanding it or healing from it. The women involved, Bill Hybels, the church staff, and the congregation will spends months and years having to work through the mire, and there is no easy way through this kind of hardship.
But even the darkest of moments and hardest of circumstances, the truth remains that the Church is the Bride of Christ. Jesus promised us that the gates of Hell would not be able to prevail against it. He didn't say we wouldn't suffer the setbacks of people's actions in sin, or incur wounds by way of those actions. And to be sure, we need to spend time praying for, supporting and lifting up all those affected. We also need to personally apply the lessons to be learned from this tragedy to ensure that these things cannot so easily take place within our 4 walls.
But rest assured, there is hope, and His name is Jesus.