“In the last 40 years or so, the number of larger churches has exploded all over the world. These larger, high-velocity churches place many demands on senior pastors, in both teaching and leadership,” Bill says. “The demands of preaching quality have gone way up, and on the leadership side of the equation, pastors of larger churches have larger staffs to lead and develop, and larger budgets to manage. Add up these demands, and it’s often 80–90 hours per week—as has been the case all too often in my own life. It’s unsustainable, inefficient, and deeply frustrating for staff and volunteers, who don’t want to bother an extremely busy senior pastor. They know the demands on their lives.”
Willow Creek believes God has given each Christ follower spiritual gifts, and that both men and women are called to use those gifts in building up the church—those with the gift of leadership should lead, and those with the gift of teaching should teach. By dividing the senior pastor role into two positions, each leader can focus on their strongest spiritual gift—with one focusing on leadership and the other focusing on teaching.
“In October 2018,” says Bill, “we’re doing away with the title and role of a single senior pastor, and will be using the titles Lead Pastor and Lead Teaching Pastor, which will allow both Heather and Steve to use their top gifts, lead sustainable lives, and be more effective in moving our church ahead.”
2. What will Bill’s role look like during his final year as senior pastor of Willow Creek?
“It’s my intention for this to be the best year I can possibly give God and give our church,” Bill says. “I plan to develop, mentor, coach, and inspire our staff—especially Steve and Heather, as they transition into their new roles. And I’d like to keep our congregation unified around our vision, and help Willow flourish as much as it can possibly flourish, for the glory of God. And when this year is done, I’ll be able to look back and know I’ve given God my very best, as he’s only ever given his absolute best to me.”
3. What are Heather and Steve’s responsibilities?
As Lead Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, Heather will lead the staff at all eight Willow Creek locations and ultimately be responsible for leading the vison, strategy, and management of the church. Steve’s areas of responsibility are content and congregation. As Lead Teaching Pastor, he will teach on most weekends, midweek services, and holidays; develop teachers within Willow; and oversee teaching content. He’ll also pour himself into pastoring our congregation.
4. Were the Elders unanimous in their decision to appoint Heather and Steve to these new roles?
Yes. Willow Creek’s Elder policy requires “consensual decision-making,” meaning all decisions of the Elders must be unanimous.
5. Will Heather report to the Elders, as Bill did?
Yes. Under Willow Creek’s governance model, one senior staff leader is held accountable for fulfilling the Elder board’s direction. As Lead Pastor over all of Willow Creek, Heather will attend all Elder meetings and report to the Elders.
6. Who will Steve report to?
Steve will report to Willow’s Lead Pastor, Heather. As Lead Teaching Pastor, Steve will be involved in Elder meetings.
7. What is Willow Creek’s perspective of women in leadership within the church?
Serious-minded Christ followers have long studied the Scriptures on this topic—and come to differing conclusions.
Since its earliest days, Willow has held the belief that both men and women are called to use their God-given gifts to fullest capacity within the church and beyond. While it’s not newsworthy to Willow’s congregation (or to many churches) that women are empowered to lead and teach in the church, for some it may come as a surprise that Willow’s incoming senior leader is a woman. Willow is excited for the future of our church under Heather's leadership.
Read more about the theology behind Willow Creek’s belief that women can use their full gifts and talents—including leadership—within the church:
8. Will other leaders or teachers be added to the current team?
Yes. Willow is looking for one additional teacher to augment weekend and midweek teaching responsibilities. Heather and others will continue to teach on occasion, and Steve is developing teachers from within Willow. In addition, Willow will add a new Executive Director of Ministries to the team. This person will take on some of Heather’s previous responsibilities.
9. How do these changes affect Willow Creek’s regional locations?
Currently, the lead pastors of each regional location serve as leaders of their respective congregations. They report to Bill as Senior Pastor of Willow Creek. In the next era, they will report to Heather instead of Bill.
10. How will this transition affect Bill’s role with Willow Creek Association?
Bill will continue serving as chair of Willow Creek Association—and feels increased energy to help grow The Global Leadership Summit to reach churches and leaders in some of the most under-resourced, oppressed countries in the world.
11. How is Willow Creek led and governed? Can you describe the governance model?
Read about Willow’s biblical model of church leadership and its governance model here.