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Bill Hybels and the Willow Creek Church Scandal. What Can We Learn From It?

August 17, 2018
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Sexual Misconduct in The Church. The Weakness of The Flesh.

By now, many people have heard of the very sad events that have transpired at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. At one time, Willow Creek, was considered by many to be the most important church in America. Now, both the senior pastor and the preaching pastor have resigned, along with an orderly resignation of the entire church board. The future of the church must now be thought of as uncertain.

Bill Hybels, the founder and senior pastor of Willow Creek, became known for both the “Seeker Sensitive Model” of doing church and his annual church leadership summit.

I must confess that I have strongly disliked the Willow Creek model from its very outset. My reasons are many. For one, I did my doctoral work at Trinity in Chicago, and have had multiple opportunities to attend and observe Willow Creek. I have been to many services where the name of Jesus was not even mentioned once. From my perspective, Willow Creek is more about moralism than the Gospel of Jesus.

But in spite of my objections to the Willow Creek model, I will not rejoice in the revelation of Bill Hybels’ sexual sins, nor of the sins of the elders in protecting Bill and refusing to listen to the women who were genuinely abused. This is not a time for gloating. This is a time to weep. But it is also a time to reconsider our ways.

Ephesians 5:3 says, “But among you, there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality.” (NIV) In keeping with Paul’s admonition, it is necessary for all those in positions of church leadership to examine their relationship to the opposite sex. The ease in which pastors involve themselves in close intimate relationships should be a matter of great concern. Whether it is extended periods of counselling or sharing business trips, driving in a car together or going out for meals, Christian leaders are leaving themselves wide open to both temptation and scandal.

I am quite aware that there are those who will argue that the lesson here is that of using positions of power to gain a sexual advantage. While I do not deny this phenomenon, we cannot forget the Biblical counsel of the weaknesses of the flesh. I for one, will not counsel a woman, drive alone with a woman, go out to dinner with a woman, or be in a place alone with a woman.

To those who wish to criticize this approach, I quote the late Flannery O’Conner, the well-known Roman Catholic writer. She compared the differing approach to sexual temptation by St. Thomas Aquinas as opposed to the middle ages mystic, St. John of the Cross. She writes: “St. John would have been able to sit down with a prostitute and say, ‘Daughter, let us consider this.’ But St Thomas doubtless knew his own nature and knew that he had to get rid of her with a poker or she would overcome him. I am not only for St. Thomas here, but am in accord with his use of a poker. I call this being tolerantly realistic.”

Dr. John Neufeld

Dr. John Neufeld

Dr. John Neufeld is the national Bible teacher at Back to the Bible Canada. He has served as Senior Pastor, church planter, conference speaker and educator, and is known both nationally and internationally for his passion and excellence in expositional preaching and teaching.


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