October 12, 1975 Bill Hybels founded Willow Creek Community Church. 43 years later Willow Creek averages 25,000 people per Sunday.
In 1992 Bill Hybels led the founding of the Willow Creek Association and the Global Leadership Summit. Today the summit averages nearly half a million attendees annually.
Calling this man a giant in the Church world understates his influence.
Early 2018 news stories broke about multiple women accusing Hybels of inappropriate contact and interactions. In the aftermath of this breaking news Hybels stepped down from Willow Creek and the summit.
Yet, sadly more news came out last week of another inappropriate relationship.
Within one week the shockwaves from this latest revelation led to the resignation of the two current lead pastors and the entire board leading one of America’s largest churches. A church a 25,000 members faces a total upheaval in their leadership.
Perhaps the largest leadership conference on the planet faces the reality that it’s founder failed to lead himself well.
The influence Hybels wielded over 40 years and in the lives of possibly millions evaporated like smoke.
A few thoughts…
At first I hesitated to write this blog. I don’t want to add fuel to a fire. I don’t want to slander a man’s name. Yet, Hybels lived day very public life and Everything written so far comes from national news sites. Additionally, when such a public figure falls, especially a pastor, we almost have a responsibility to learn from what happened.
When you screw up, own it and deal with it quickly.
Many of the accusations leveled against Hybels happened over a decade ago. The most recent happened before I was born.
(I don’t know how true all these accusations are… But fewer and fewer leaders at Willow Creek are standing up to refute them.)
How different would I and thousands of others feel today if Hybels had confessed and quickly changed and dealt with these struggles when they happened? Hybels possessed genius for leadership and an incredible work ethic. He easily could have landed on his feet and built an incredible ministry after dealing with a personal failing.
I must work hard and fast as possible to deal with sin as quick as possible.
Remember, trust does not eliminate risk
A few years ago attending a financial conference I learned an important lesson. Time after time they shared stories of wonderful people who embezzled funds. They hammered the simple rule into our heads
“trust is not a mitigating factor for risk.”
Willow Creek leadership failed because they trusted Hybels without holding him accountable enough. Now I know, I don’t know all the facts. I have no firsthand knowledge. Yet I know multiple women came out over the years with accusations. The board failed to deal appropriately. The board failed to do what it took to mitigate against the risk of misconduct.
I can’t imagine working with a leader and visionary like Hybels. Disagreeing with him or calling him out would take insane guts. I know putting accountability in place would have taken extraordinary effort but it should have been done. (I know, hindsight is 2020)
As leaders we need systems and people in place to hold us to high standards. Trust does not eliminate risk. We need to install the right people and the right rules to call us to high standards.
I know this little blog represents one of hundreds written on this story. I hope and pray that it will help you to think through what has happened. Perhaps over the weeks and years to come God’s church will find greater strength and resilience through this story.
I might ask you, what do you think the church and leaders must learn from this story?
Regarding Willow Creek and the global leadership Summit I have great hope. I love the steps I see taken and believe they will lead to a healthy future. I pray for Bill Hybels and the women who have leveled accusations against him. I pray for healing in God’s church.