Elder Leadership at Willow Creek


Leadership at Willow Creek

Leadership and governance have been critical since the church’s inception. Much of the New Testament sets forth descriptions of both what church leaders should look like and how the church should be governed. We see leadership models throughout the Gospels as Jesus calls together his apostles and disciples. And we see a furthering of these models in Acts and in Paul’s letters that follow. There is great diversity in who leads, how many people lead, and what governance looks like in what the New Testament describes. But what is common and what stands out in the descriptions of leadership is a specific kind of leadership—leadership that is servant-oriented, sacrificial, Spirit-led, and wisdom-based.

Willow Creek has historically been led by a group of volunteers called “elders” that form an “elder board.” Prior to 2009, the elder board was hands-on and participated in the actual management of the church. In 2009, however, the leadership structure shifted to a model called “policy governance.” Policy governance draws clear distinctions between the overall governance of an organization and the day-to-day management of that same organization. In essence, then, under policy governance, the board of elders sets the goals the church is to meet, the values the church is to embody, and policies the church is to follow. The Senior Pastor and the rest of the staff, then, are to implement strategies and programs to meet those goals, embody those values, and follow those policies. We believe this type of leadership to be appropriate for Willow Creek given the size, context, and history of our church. (For a fuller description of Willow Creek’s view of leadership within the church, please email email Katlyn Terpstra at [email protected]).

If you have a concern about a senior or lead pastor at Willow Creek, please contact Capin Crouse at 630-682-9797, ext. 1291, or email wi[email protected].

Elder Candidate Nominations

Elder candidates at Willow Creek are nominated by the congregation and then undergo a robust screening and interview process conducted by the Elder Selection Committee. The Elder Board will advise the Elder Selection Committee of the number of candidates needed and specific attributes and skills required to ensure continued diversity and balance on the Elder Board. Specifically, the Elder Board must include 5-10 lay persons and the Senior Pastor (non-voting member), and must have representation from multiple campuses and generations, diverse ethnicities, both genders, as well as at least two individuals with financial expertise. Elder candidates who complete the vetting process will be confirmed by the presiding Elder Board.

Elder Candidate Requirements (every candidate should exhibit all of these characteristics)

  • High engagement in the life of Willow Creek (a minimum of five years, history of serving, and a record of generosity);
  • Spiritual maturity (known for their devotion to Jesus Christ, discipleship of others, engagement with the Bible, love for others, and sharing their faith);
  • Beyond reproach (pass background, reference, and social media checks);
  • Marriage/family/relational health (for example: not in any known relational discord, currently going through a divorce, or currently dealing with debilitating issues of mental health);
  • Aligned with Willow Creek’s core values and beliefs;
  • Able to take ownership for mistakes (high relational intelligence quotient);
  • Can rise above their own ministry agenda or campus or passions and represent the entire church;
  • Collaborative spirit with leadership (other board members and executive staff);
  • Not related to anyone currently on the pastoral or managerial staff;
  • Willing to enter a one-year Elder Development program, and then, if selected, serve a three-year term.