Elder Update: COVID-19 & Senior Pastor Search

Elder Update - March 23, 2020

Dear Willow Family,

We find ourselves in extraordinary times. We are writing to share some of the steps we are taking as a church community in response to COVID-19, as well as to provide an update on the leadership structure and senior pastor search. 

Government officials have taken unprecedented measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, from social distancing to mandatory sheltering in place. At Willow Creek, we have moved our services online, asked staff to work remotely, and offered our facilities for use by local governments in the fight against the virus. We may not be able to gather in our buildings, but our worship continues in online communities and homes across the Chicago area. The Journey Through Mark series is a resource for the entire family to study God’s Word and understand who God is and how we should respond to Him. We have loved watching ministries collaborate and learn to teach for digital audiences. We celebrate the innovation, creativity, and heart to pastor well.

We have adapted the way we serve our neighbors by adjusting sheltering practices for the homeless, exploring new methods of delivering meals, and organizing alternative ways to support those who are most vulnerable in our communities. Coronavirus response teams have been formed to distribute emergency food packages at the Care Center, through the mobile Care Center, and directly to homes. Pastoral teams have coordinated outreach to friends and neighbors, working to ensure that no person within our community feels alone. This is what it means to be the church, to be a light in a dark time. Our desire is to remain faithful in loving our neighbors, even if all we can offer is a phone call. May we continue to be a church that reaches out, bringing hope and comfort to one another in Jesus’ name.

Leadership Structure

Due to COVID-19, we are adjusting the transition plans for the senior pastor to assure continued staff and congregation support and guidance. Steve Gillen has graciously agreed to continue to serve the Willow congregation and staff in a role as senior advisor for a period not anticipated to last beyond May 1, 2020. 

While Steve has completed his agreed-upon contract and has already begun the process of transitioning off staff, in this time, we believe a trusted and known pastoral voice will help lead the church through the challenges ahead. Additionally, travel restrictions may not allow Ray Johnston to be physically present, so we believe the additional availability of Steve during this period will be a valuable resource. 

Ray Johnston will continue in his role as interim senior pastor, providing guidance, encouragement, and oversight of the weekend teaching calendar.

Senior Pastor Search

Despite COVID-19, our pastoral search is continuing. We are in conversations with the three candidates. Due to the move to online services nationwide, we will not be observing the candidates teaching live at their home churches. Instead, we are more extensively viewing their online ministry. We are unified as a board as we progress through each stage and are grateful for the prayers offered on behalf of this search. Given the unique and ever-evolving challenges facing the church globally, we ask you to pray for the candidates and their congregations. Please pray for God to grant each candidate wisdom in shepherding their congregations and strength for the days ahead. Pray for their families and their congregants as they navigate uncertain times.  

We close this update with gratitude and prayer. God has been faithful to His church. We are learning to lean into our faith and increase our reliance on prayer, worship, Bible study, and service. We take comfort in knowing that we are not alone—God is with us. As a church family, we will continue to pursue new and innovative ways to love and support one another. Whether you need help or are looking for a way to help, you can visit our update page to learn more. 

We invite you to join us in prayer; it is powerful and effective (James 5:16). In prayer, we partner with God in His work of healing, humbly requesting God to act in the lives of others (Matthew 21:21–22). Jesus instructs Christ followers to pray without giving up in response to challenging and difficult circumstances (Luke 18:1, Luke 6:28, Matthew 5:44–45). We ask that you pray specifically for our government officials, medical professionals, and all the families impacted by COVID-19. 

As we continue to lift up our prayers, we hold on to the faithful promise of Jesus:

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” —Matthew 28:20

In His service,

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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