Willow Creek Association Addresses Bill Hybels Controversy at Opening of Global Leadership Summit (VIDEO)

After the resignation of Lead Pastor Heather Larson and all Willow Creek church elders last night, President and CEO of the Willow Creek Association Tom De Vries addressed the Bill Hybels controversy at the Global Leadership Summit this morning. Watch:

He seemed sorry for something and then said the Global Leadership Summit would continue doing good work as in the past. Many would disagree with De Vries self-justification. He said there will be three commitments. One is to promote an independent investigation of allegations against Hybels. A second commitment is to explore power dynamics between men and women in the workplace at the summit and then a commitment to extend the topic after the summit.

He also addressed why the WCA didn’t cancel the GLS this year. Essentially, he said leaders have to step out and do something (as if pausing isn’t doing something). Then he said they are doing it for the women attending and used numbers of host sites that don’t match his own website’s numbers. In other words, the world can’t go on without the GLS.

Imagine a World Without

It is this attitude (the world needs us) that turns me off and strikes me as presumptuous. I am open to reasons why the show must go on. Maybe somebody’s livelihood is dependent on it. I get that. But don’t tell me that the sun won’t come up or that women around the world would be lost without you.

I think this is what gets evangelical pastors — like Bill Hybels maybe?– into trouble. I think Mr. De Vries expressed some of that too. The GLS must go on  because we need it to. No, actually we don’t. Find some other reason.

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Image fair use from GLS conference website.

Willow Creek Church Elders to Resign by the End of 2018

UPDATE: In a statement issued at Willow Creek Church tonight, three steps were outlined. All elders of the church will step down by the end of 2018, the church will hire a consultant to assist with governance, and another committee of Christian leaders will conduct an investigation of the allegations of misconduct against Bill Hybels. Also, pastor Heather Larson announced that she is stepping down as a pastor. Essentially, it appears that the entire leadership team is moving aside.

The news of the elders and Ms. Larson stepping down was greeted with loud applause from the members of Willow Creek gathered in the meeting. Also speaking was Steve Gillan who will be the interim pastor during the transition. Gillan is currently pastor of Willow Creek North Shore.

The statements from elder representative Missy Rasmussen, pastor Heather Larson and interim pastor Steve Gillan can be seen in full here.

(Original post)

There are persistent rumblings out of Willow Creek that the elders of the church will resign over their handling of the Bill Hybels situation (for more on this, click here and here) perhaps as soon as tonight.

The elders have been under tremendous pressure due to their response to public and private allegations of misconduct against the former pastor of Willow Creek, Bill Hybels. Many inside and outside the church have questioned their reluctance to initiate an independent investigation of the allegations.

The church’s troubles have come into public view recently due to the start of this year’s Global Leadership Summit tomorrow. Many churches and simulcast hosts have backed out over the allegations. Five speakers including Denzel Washington have pulled out of the conference.

I will update this post as I get new information.

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Photo: By Ianphilpot at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18726346

Amid Scandal, the Global Leadership Summit Continues to Shrink

UPDATE: Just this morning, Willow Creek has deleted two more sites. I suspect this will continue through the beginning of the conference.

As the beginning of Willow Creek Association’s Global Leadership Summit nears, the number of host sites continues to decline. Despite the promotion of 600 sites on the conference website, a count of the number of publicly available sites has now fallen to 485. According to Willow Creek Association, there are additional private sites and some in prisons. However, for people wanting to sign up for the GLS, the number of options continues to decrease as the conference draws near.

Willow Creek Association continues to say that only 111 host sites have dropped out over the sexual misconduct allegations against Bill Hybels (e.g., to Christianity Today). However, a check of the sites posted on the GLS website indicates that more sites have dropped since I last checked.  At the beginning of 2018, Willow Creek promoted the GLS with claims of 700 host sites for the conference simulcast.

Leadership Reset

Sometimes in leadership, a leader must lead by not leading. What I mean is that followers simply won’t follow under some circumstances. I believe Willow Creek leaders are now in that position. I don’t think it matters what they do, they are compromised and their best leadership move is to step down. They may not believe it is fair and they may believe they have done their best. Nonetheless, the perception is that the situation is getting worse and that a reset is needed.

The GLS will be tainted by the Hybels’ controversy and the failure to handle it properly. Much of what is presented in the sessions will be compared to what has happened at Willow Creek. Maybe I’m wrong, but I sense that a situation is being set up where it will seem that the GLS speakers will talk about leadership without actually leading.

Christianity Today on Willow Creek and GLS

New York Times Sunday article with new allegations against Hybels which he denies.

Scot McKnight’s response to Willow Creek.

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Photo: By Ianphilpot at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18726346

Global Leadership Summit Will Give 10 Minutes to the Bill Hybels Controversy

According to blogger and Willow Creek church member Rob Speight, the leaders of the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit (August 9-10) have promised to give 10 minutes at the beginning of the conference to a “live acknowledgement” of the Bill Hybels controversy. Here is a beginning of Speight’s post:

I have become aware of some disturbing news about the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) 2018, and how it will be kicked off.

The WCA has made the decision to make a “live acknowledgement” approximately 10 minutes prior to Session #1 on August 9, 2018. The webinar that described this announcement was directed to the host site producers and tech staff of the GLS.

The Summit is God’s Event
By way of introduction, the following statement was made on the webinar:

“First off, the Summit is God’s event. It’s always been God’s event, not about one person. So it’s not something that we felt the ministry had to pause for a year.”

This statement is fraught with troublesome issues. Several inferences are obvious:

The WCA is reassuring the host sites that remain that they are participating in an event that belongs to God.

At the same time, the WCA implies that the host sites that have pulled out of the GLS have made a mistake by choosing to not participate in this event because it belongs to God.

By ascribing God’s name to and ownership of the GLS, one is not permitted to argue against it. It compares to the age old dilemma posed by “that” friend who would say to you, “God told me . . . (and then fill in the blank).“

If God told that person something, then the conversation ends. One can’t debate or question that which is of God.

The WCA falsely concludes that because the GLS belongs to God, they must automatically hold the event this year.

It could well be argued that if indeed the GLS is God’s event, the WCA ought to hit the pause button this year! After all, God is the Defender of the oppressed. The women have been oppressed at the hands of the powerful.

First, by Bill Hybels, and more recently by the leadership of Willow Creek. Until the truth is revealed regarding the women’s claims, would it not be wise for the WCA to err on the side of caution and on behalf of the women who claim personal violation?

It is technically true that the GLS is “not about one person.” But:

○ That one person originated the GLS.

○ That one person traveled the world representing the GLS.

○ That one person was the face of the GLS.

○ That one person was looked to by all other WCA senior leadership to give them their marching orders.

○ That one person raised untold millions of dollars for the WCA and GLS.

○ That one person’s own star power attracted other stars to participate in the GLS.

○ It is this same one person’s inappropriate conduct (while traveling globally on behalf of the WCA & GLS) with women (not his wife) that is at the center of the biggest scandal in the 26 year history of this iconic ministry.

It seems obvious that Willow Creek leaders presided over a massive failure of leadership. To put on a leadership meeting and think that a 10 minute acknowledgement will address the issues is another sign that the leaders need to be taught not teach.

Go read the rest of Speight’s piece here.

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Image: Fair use from https://www.willowcreek.com/events/leadership/index2.html

Eagle Brook Church’s (MN) Statement About Pausing the Global Leadership Summit

Eagle Brook Church in the Twin Cities area of MN is not going to host the Global Leadership Summit this year. Although this decision has been made for awhile, public disclosure of it has been limited.

Back in May, Benjamin Ady tweeted this letter which the church sent to those who attended the GLS in the past.

Because you’ve been involved with the Global Leadership Summit in the past, we wanted you to be among the first to know that we’ve decided not to host the GLS this year. In all of the years we’ve been connected with the GLS, we’ve so appreciated the wisdom it’s instilled in our leaders, our attenders, and so many others in our community.

However, this year we felt it would no longer uphold the standard of excellence and integrity it has previously been known for due to the recent accusations surrounding Bill Hybels and his subsequent resignation. Because of all this, we decided to step down as a host site.

If you’d like to know more about this decision, here’s a note from our senior pastor, Bob Merritt.

Merritt’s letter is below:

Dear Friends,

From the moment the accusations regarding Bill Hybels became known, the Eagle Brook Executive Team met every week—and ultimately, we decided we could no longer host the Global Leadership Summit. We have labored over our decision and understand the full ramifications of it.

We have decided not to host the Summit this year for two primary reasons. First, we believe the value of the Summit has been compromised. Bill was historically a big draw for us, and as we evaluate this year’s lineup, we don’t believe it will offer the same value for attenders.

The second reason has to do with our own credibility and reputation. In the end, it would be a lot harder for us to defend why we’re hosting than it would for us to defend why we wouldn’t. It’s not an easy call either way, but we are simply not willing to risk our own reputation for the mistakes that Bill and Willow Creek made.

We are not trying to make a point, and we are deeply saddened by all that’s happened. But we believe this decision is best for our church.

We are grateful for the positive impact the GLS has had on our church and churches all over the world. If the GLS can right the ship and find a new leader or a greatly restored leader, we would consider hosting again.

Currently, if you count Willow Creek Church as one location, 494 simulcast sites are listed on the conference website as participating venues. Willow Creek Association started the year with 700 sites.

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Photo: By Ianphilpot at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18726346

The Global Leadership Summit Appears to Be Shrinking

At the beginning of 2018, the Willow Creek Association proclaimed that they had 700 venues participating in the simulcast of the Global Leadership Summit.

Today, on the conference website, two claims are made. On the front page, organizers say over 600 venues are available.

However, if you click on the link which allows you to find a venue near you, a different number comes up.

The entire list comes up along with this message:

A significant erosion has happened. The GLS started the year with 700 locations and now the organizers claim “over 500 locations nationwide.”

However, there is a problem. If you click the “show list” link and count the number of venues, only 494 are currently listed. I suspect, Willow Creek Association knows this but hasn’t changed the website again because less than 500 doesn’t sound as spectacular as “600+” as the front page of their website currently boasts.

What would a leader do?


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Churches Back Out of Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit Over Handling of Bill Hybels

Churches and speakers have dropped out of one of largest evangelical leadership gatherings of the year. Will it make any difference to Willow Creek?

Coming August 9-10 is the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit. This international event has in the past involved over 600 locations in the U.S. and some of the biggest names in Christianity. Over the years, millions of Christians have watched on location at the church near Chicago or at a simulcast venue.

However, this year some changes in the speakers and the venues have happened as a result of the scandal which has engulfed the church since Bill Hybels announced in October 2017 that he would retire in 2018. Then in March of this year, the Chicago Tribune published a story with the disclosures of women alleging misconduct against Hybels. The next day Hybels denied the allegations and then in April he stepped aside from all Willow Creek activities, including the Leadership Summit.

Numerous observers have faulted Willow Creek’s leadership for their handling of the allegations before and after they became public. In reaction to the situation, three speakers who had planned to speak to the GLS — Denzel Washington, A.R. Bernard and Lisa Bodell — pulled out. You can see the full line up remaining here.

Churches are Dropping Out

Even though the show is going on, a unknown number of churches and venues have pulled out. According to Australian Benjamin Ady, 120 churches have canceled involvement in the GLS since April. Ady told me that altogether over 200 churches have backed out of hosting the event but he hasn’t confirmed the reasons. Ady contacted all the venues he could find to ask them to consider pausing their involvement to show support for the women who disclosed their experience with Hybels.

One church, Life Center in Tacoma, wrote me to say they indeed had canceled in response to the recent events. Other churches have made announcements pointing to Hybels and Willow Creek Church as the reason. For instance, Dave Rodriguez of Grace Church in Indiana preached a sermon regarding their decision to pull out.  The Vineyard Church in Cincinnati recently pulled out as well, announcing the move on their website:

Many of you know that we have been a host site for Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit for 14 years. Some of you may have heard that the pastor of Willow Creek Church, Bill Hybels, has recently resigned amid allegations of misconduct with women perpetrated over many years. (See CHRISTIANITY TODAY ARTICLES)

After much thought and prayer, we have decided that Vineyard Cincinnati Church will not be a host site of the Global Leadership Summit this year.

We are reminded from Scripture that God calls us to defend the vulnerable — the orphan, the widow, the oppressed and those who suffer under the misuse of power.

In short, God cares deeply how those who possess power use that power. We pray that women everywhere who have suffered would see that God’s people stand with them and love them and care for them.

Another large church pulling out is Christ Church Oak Brook (IL) with this explanation:

In light of the allegations now swirling around the former senior pastor of the Willow Creek Community Church AND the larger national movement drawing needed attention to the stories of women treated in harmful ways, this message comes to inform you that Christ Church will not serve as a host site for the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) this coming August. For those of you who have registered for the conference or planned to bring others, I know this may be a shock or an inconvenience. I apologize for that. This is why I am writing to you.

I wrote the Willow Creek Association to find out if the drop outs have hurt their registrations or projected attendance. After a day, I have not received a reply. I have not been able to independently confirm that all 120 churches have pulled out.

WCA did make one response to the controversy which was to inform their members and constituents that the conference would go on without Hybels, Denzel Washington, A.R. Bernard and Lisa Bodell (Read the letter here).

According to the website, there are plenty of locations if one must be schooled in Willow Creek methods of leadership. However, it may be worth reflecting on what leadership would look like in this situation. Some leaders have decided that the best lessons might come from not attending.


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Willow Creek Association: A really big tent

Researching the relationship between Canyon Ridge Christian Church and the Willow Creek Association, I corresponded briefly with WCA’s Executive Vice President, Steve Bell. I reported the initial statement provided by Mr. Bell regarding their relationship with Canyon Ridge in Salon on July 2:

The 10,000 churches that belong to Willow Creek Association are aligned by their mutual agreement with a statement of faith that reflects a historic, orthodox understanding of biblical Christianity.   WCA membership does not imply that the WCA supports or agrees with a church’s position on social or political issues. Willow Creek Association’s goal is not to interfere in the political processes of other nations.  Rather, its sole mission is to provide resources and training to church leaders around the world that will assist them as they minister to people in their communities and help them find a deeper understanding of God.

I followed up with questions regarding their stance on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and the participation of Canyon Ridge in the upcoming Global Leadership Summit. Mr. Bell wrote back quickly to clarify WCA’s positions. 

WCA membership does not imply that we support the social or political positions of our member churches.  We align with them theologically and we take that very seriously.  But we don’t try to judge or interfere with their social and/or political positions (example: Episcopal churches).  And we don’t take outright stands on political issues within countries.  Our goal is to influence and support faith-based communities, not governments.

To be specific and clear, Canyon Ridge will be a host site church for the Global Leadership Summit in August.  However, that does not mean the WCA supports their position vis-à-vis Martin Ssempa, anymore than our relationship with Episcopal churches implies our advocacy for homosexual pastors.

I take from this response that some churches in WCA support the ordination of gay clergy. To be a member in the WCA, one must pay a fee and agree to their statement of faith.

One may locate a WCA church from their website. Seekers are greeted with this disclaimer:

While we do not oversee the ministry expressions of individual churches, WCA Membership is intended solely for churches that hold an orthodox understanding of biblical Christianity. All WCA Member Churches have affirmed the central doctrines of the Bible reflected in the WCA Statement of Faith and also presented in the historic creeds of the Christian faith. WCA Membership is open to churches of any size or denomination that are marked by a deep commitment to furthering the cause of Christ.

It appears that WCA does not make stances on cultural issues a condition of membership. They seem to want to be a big tent where many different perspectives are included. From the sound of Mr. Bell’s response, gay affirming or non-gay affirming churches may join. On this point, I am curious to know how any WCA gay affirming churches would regard Canyon Ridge’s support for Martin Ssempa. On the other hand, I wonder how other non-affirming churches regard the inclusion of Episcopal churches who affirm gay ordination.

Can a tent be too big?

I am conflicted a bit on this. I am generally a big tent person. I like to fellowship with believers of various opinions and perspectives where the focus is on the core elements of the faith. However, I do think that some issues cry out for leadership and I think the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is one of those issues. I do not believe that the bigtentness of the WCA should prevent them from expressing a critical view of the bill or of those who support it. 

The WCA’s position statement regarding stands on social issues has not stopped Willow Creek Community Church pastor, Bill Hybels, from taking a stand on immigration. Pastor Hybels recently introduced President Obama’s speech on immigration at American University (video on his favorably remarks). His wife, Lynne, offered support for immigration reform on behalf of herself and Rev. Hybels before the Senate Judiaciary Committee back in October, 2009. 

I suspect WCA does not monitor member churches on immigration reform, but I do wonder what they would say if one of their churches supported doing violence to undocumented people.

Those in leadership with the WCA have evaluated the work of Martin Ssempa on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and come to a different conclusion than member church Canyon Ridge. However, I do not think it would do harm to their big tent if they went a step further and made explicit their concerns about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren started where WCA is now but soon determined that a clear condemnation was needed. Will Willow Creek do the same?

NPR reports on Canyon Ridge Christian Church and Martin Ssempa

Barbara Bradley Hagerty reported today on the ties between Canyon Ridge Christian Church and Martin Ssempa. The audio will be up at 7:00 pm but the transcript and a bit more is up now on their website.

Hagerty provides the facts: Canyon Ridge has supported Ssempa since 2007 and Ssempa has become the face of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. She also has interviews with Change.org’s Michael Jones, Canyon Ridge pastor Kevin Odor and me. The interview with Rev. Odor is important for those following this story. Here are excerpts:

Ssempa’s turnaround satisfied Pastor Odor, and he sees no reason to condemn the minister. Nor does he think he should denounce the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

“Why do we, as a church in America, need to say something about a bill in Uganda?” he asks.

The turnaround referred to is what seems to be a shift in Ssempa’s thinking about the penalties for aggravated homosexuality — from death to 20 years in a rehab facility. Odor continues to say that his church has compassion for gays.

Pastor Odor says his church has “a heart” for homosexuals. He notes that Canyon Ridge participates every year in a march for people with AIDS, and for the past two years the church opened its campus for HIV Testing Day.

“We love everybody, including people with AIDS,” he says. “There are two things: How you got AIDS and that you have AIDS. That you have AIDS is a matter of compassion. The church should be compassionate for people with AIDS.”

I suspect they do experience a desire to reach out but what they miss is the incongruity of what they support in Uganda with what they express here. As I note in the NPR segment,

“If you preach compassion here, you have to support compassion elsewhere.”

Odor says that his church is being crucified for simply wanting to help people with AIDS.

I am interested in reader reaction to that claim.

Go read the segment; Audio is below. If the player doesn’t load, click here.

Related posts:

February 1 – Canyon Ridge Christian Church issues statement on support for Martin Ssempa

June 10 – Canyon Ridge Christian Church in conversation with Martin Ssempa

June 20 – Canyon Ridge Christian Church hosts National HIV Testing Day

June 23 – Southern Nevada Health District to evaluate relationship with Canyon Ridge Christian Church

July 1 – Las Vegas newspaper covers Canyon Ridge controversy

July 2 – Salon article: Canyon Ridge, Willow Creek Association and Martin Ssempa

Also see this article on Salon.com:

Church loses partnership over “kill the gay” bill

Salon article: Canyon Ridge, Willow Creek Association and Martin Ssempa

This morning Salon published my article reporting on the evolving relationships between Canyon Ridge Christian Church, the Willow Creek Association and Uganda’s Martin Ssempa.

Canyon Ridge is a member of the Willow Creek Association of churches and continues to see Martin Ssempa as being misrepresented by the media. Willow Creek apparently disagrees to the point that they would not have given him a 2007 award had they known his views. The Willow Creek folks apparently understand the nature of Martin Ssempa’s support of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill but are going to continue partnering with Canyon Ridge for next month’s leadership summit. Furthermore, Willow Creek Association declined to directly condemn the AHB, following Rick Warren’s initial path regarding the bill.

For much much more and video of Ssempa marchers calling for the death penalty, go on over to Salon. If you are so inclined, leave them a comment as well.