Elder Update: Senior Pastor Search and Interim Senior Pastor

Elder Update - March 10, 2020


Dear Willow Family,

We are excited about all that God is doing in our church. We continue to hear stories of people finding Christ, discovering their purpose, deepening relationships, and finding healing. It is this work of God in us and through us, despite our imperfections, that matters most. As we anticipate more change in our church in the coming months, we encourage you to hold fast, first and foremost to Christ and then to the body of believers. We want to provide an update regarding the senior pastor search, the interim senior pastor plan, and ways to celebrate Steve Gillen, as well as address some frequently asked questions. 

Senior Pastor Search
As we stated in January, our search firm, Vanderbloemen, vetted and interviewed six candidates for the role of senior pastor. Our entire Elder Board is engaged in the interview process, no longer operating with an Elder search committee, which has allowed us to determine next steps more quickly. Willow Creek is a unique church that requires a balance of organizational and spiritual leadership. We have been able to evaluate those strengths in the candidates earlier in the interview process than before. We have been encouraged by the process thus far. 

We have spent more than 50 hours conducting interviews and have moved forward in the process with three candidates. Our board has completed online research, in-depth reviews of the candidates’ current churches and values, and watched their sermons. We did visits with the spouses to provide an opportunity for them to learn about Willow, ask questions, and discuss the potential impact for their families.

As part of the process, the candidates participated in theological assessments conducted by Willow attendees who are seminary and Bible college professors to assess the candidates’ theological alignment with Willow Creek’s statement of faith; philosophy of ministry; and approach to evangelism, discipleship, and spiritual formation. Additionally, they completed psychological assessments conducted by a licensed psychologist, including a questionnaire and in-person meeting that provides a filter for unhealthy tendencies and psychological concerns, while also providing information on strengths and leadership style. In the coming weeks, our board plans to do in-person observations of the candidates’ teaching.

We have been blessed and very encouraged by our time with the candidates thus far. Each one has tremendous experience leading and pastoring, and they each have a heart for the global church. Whether their process ends with a role at Willow or not, they are committed to making an impact for the kingdom. 

We ask that you continue to pray. We are committed to being unified in this decision and are trusting God to bring clarity in the weeks ahead.


Interim Senior Pastor: Ray Johnston
We are grateful to announce that Ray Johnston, senior pastor from Bayside Church, will serve as interim senior pastor. He began last week and will serve until the appointment and onboarding of a new senior pastor. Ray has a strong theological and pastoral background with a heart to share the message of Christ. 

Ray has experience in leading during interim seasons and has served in this role with various churches. He is very clear and focused on what his role is during this transition and is already bringing encouragement and energy while helping us prepare the way for the new senior pastor. 

We are grateful for his willingness to help Willow in this season. We are also thankful to Bayside Church for their prayers and support.  


Celebrating Steve Gillen
We have undoubtedly been blessed by Steve Gillen’s leadership and service, both in this interim season and throughout his 23-year tenure on staff. Steve will team teach with Ray Johnston to kick off the Journey Through Mark on March 14/15. We will have a time of prayer for Steve and his family during those services, then provide space for you to write a note of encouragement to him in the Atrium. 


Frequently Asked Questions
Our Elder Board has received a great deal of comments and questions in the last month, and we are working diligently to respond to each one. Click here to view some of the frequently asked questions that we thought would be helpful to share.

In closing, we want to thank you for your honesty, candor, commitment, and prayers. We are in a season of change, learning, and rebuilding. We are trusting that God will use each new day to refine us as His church and glorify Himself through us. May we all rise to be the people God intended us to be when He saved us by grace.

In His service,

The Willow Creek Elder Board

Shoji Boldt
Barb Butz
Jeff Choh
Silvia Escobar
Jeff Mason, Chief Governance Officer
Michael Roth
John Sleeting, Secretary
Mary Square 
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