Its really disheartening to learn of what happened at Willow Creek. One would think that a church culture which has an egalitarian approach to the scriptures would not run into trouble as much as a highly partriarchal/complementarian one. Sadly Willow Creek crashed and burned. And granted, any given individual, pastor, lay person, Christian, or not can have moral failings… but what is so surprising, is that Willow Creek followed the all too typical #churchfail model, and started judging the situation favorably to their leader and mission prior to a serious investigation.
As Scott Mcknight writes:
” “My guess is that three things will happen soon.” First, Hybels and Willow would deny the accusations. Second, more stories would likely to come to the surface. Third, Hybels and Willow would admit improprieties and Willow would have a huge challenge on how to support as well as either defend or discipline their incomparable founder and pastor.
I also said my biggest fear was that Willow’s leadership and Hybels would handle it in the worst possible way and make life difficult for Willow Creek Community Church, for the women, and for all of us.”
Granted, no one wants to believe that a beloved and respected leader just shy of retirement has had moral failings. Likewise, no church wants to compromise its mission, and thus when situations come about where one must protect the victim or protect the mission, far too often the victim is the one that suffers.
I’ve seen that mission first mentality play out in a whole ton of ways over the years… with many a church, or group of church people working as hard as possible to keep things in the shadows, such that the light could not directly illuminate #churchfail. The problem of course is that activities to eliminate or redirect the light, often bring additional pain onto the victims, to say nothing of said activities tendency to spiral out of control, thus making a damaging situation even worse.
The mission first model isn’t just a protect the institutions bank account or protect the leaders jobs thing either. When #churchfail occurs, it often times throws a major wrench into the lifes of those initially seeking or those young in their faith. It can also send any number of folks from the young to the old into the realms of spiritual crisis… which is a very sad deal. Otoh, light has a tendency to eventually shine into pretty much all dark corners… which I’ll argue can present an even greater spiritual risk to folks, then to let light shine where it may and roll with the punches, even if it means a given church or ministry may fall into the no longer a viable concern category.
The reason? Ministries and churches have finite lifespans, it could be a change in leadership, demographics, natural disaster, or plain and simple human nature, that the grass is always greener elsewhere. Bottom line, just because a ministry or church ceases to function, doesn’t mean the Gospel goes by the wayside. Jesus will always be there, and the church / ministry gap will be filled with new wine, for which it too will present a finite lifespan and the circle of ministry continues.
I saw this first hand as a young guy, a 300 kid youth ministry I worked with was destroyed… and folks scattered. It was a pretty painful experience, I remember thinking, how could God let this happen, when I should have been thinking, what safeguards were missed, what did the elders and church leadership miss that could have prevented this. What about all the kids new in their faith, or who were seekers, who just walked away? And yet, in decades of hindsight, the elders made the right, albeit painful call at the time. It would have been way too easy to slide things under the carpet to go for success and growth, rather than pretty much killing it.