Since the very first service of this church in a rented movie theater in 1975, our deepest passion has been to build a thriving Acts 2 church, for the glory of the One whose name we bear. A community where:
Having a front-row seat the last 42 years to watch God fulfill this grand vision has been the greatest thrill and privilege of my life.
Then add to that the fact that beyond our walls, God birthed and multiplied the Global Leadership Summit to where it now develops leaders in 130 countries. Only God!
Now, given my love for both this church and the Leadership Summit, you can imagine how grieved I have been by the way the controversy surrounding me has impacted both these ministries.
At our family gatherings two weeks ago, the Elders clearly stated that the outside, independent investigations found no evidence to support the allegations brought to their attention. As a result, the Elders expressed their desire that I continue in my role as Senior Pastor until my planned retirement date of October 2018—six months from now.
Lynne and I have both deeply appreciated the support of the Elders and the Executive Team.
While most of you in the Willow congregation have listened carefully to and accepted the findings of the external investigations commissioned by the Elders, some in the wider Christian community continue to be confused and conflicted.
As Lynne and I have watched this, it has been extremely painful for us to see this controversy continue to be a distraction that is hindering our Elders and church staff, as well as the WCA staff, from carrying out the work of these fantastic ministries.
The passionate and faithful leaders of this church have a very important job to do. They have a congregation to lead, people to pastor, a Care Center to run, youth ministries to support, and so many other causes to rally around—like our upcoming Celebration of Hope, when we highlight the extraordinary work of our global partners who faithfully and effectively serve the poor. And the WCA has an equally important job to do, as they equip and empower church leaders across the globe.
Lynne and I love these ministries and we want them to flourish.
But it has been increasingly clear to us that they can't flourish when the valuable time and energy of their leaders are divided. The leaders of both our church and the WCA need the freedom to get on with the task of carrying out the missions God has given them.
Therefore, I have decided to accelerate my planned retirement date from October of this year to tonight. This decision was mine and mine alone, but after much discussion, my decision earned the unanimous support of the Elders and the Executive Team.
Further, I have decided to step out of my usual teaching and hosting roles at the upcoming Global Leadership Summit. This, too, was my decision, but after discussion and prayer it was agreed upon by the WCA Board.
Going forward, I feel the need to humbly look deep inside myself and determine what God wants to teach me. I intend to continue surrounding myself with wise counselors and trusted friends, and to ask them to speak honestly into my life so that I can learn every single lesson I need to learn from all of this. I have complete peace about this decision and will not rush this process. Your prayers would be much appreciated during this upcoming season of reflection.
In recent times, I've been accused of many things I simply did not do. However, let me humbly acknowledge three things I have done.
First, my first response to some of these recent accusations was anger. I confess to feeling very angry these last few weeks as I watched harmful accusations fly around without accountability. I felt attacked and knew that my loved ones and this church family would be affected. I sincerely wish my initial response had been one of listening and humble reflection. If I could go back, I would have chosen to listen first, and then to seek to learn and understand. I apologize for a response that was defensive, instead of one that invited conversation and learning.
Secondly, I realize now that in certain settings and circumstances in the past I communicated things that were perceived in ways I did not intend, at times making people feel uncomfortable. I was blind to this dynamic for far too long. For that I'm very sorry.
Thirdly, I too often placed myself in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid. I was, at times, naive about the dynamics those situations created. I'm sorry for the lack of wisdom on my part. I commit to never putting myself in similar situations in the future.
Additionally, I want to acknowledge that anytime allegations like these are made, they must be received with great humility and gravity. I reaffirm to you that I have taken these allegations very seriously, as have our church's Elders. While some of the stories that have been told about me are misleading and others are entirely false, and while investigations have found no evidence of misconduct, I have been sobered by these accusations, and as I said earlier, I have invited the input of wise counselors, friends, and family members to help me engage in a process of humble reflection.
By God's grace, the future is very bright for both the church and the Global Summit. On the church side, Heather and Steve have been functioning in their new roles since last October. The Elders and I are in agreement that as of tonight, Heather Larson will officially become the Lead Pastor of Willow, and Steve Carter will formally step into his role as Lead Teaching Pastor. As you know, they are gifted and passionate servants of God and are supported by the finest Executive Team I have ever worked with. The Elders will continue to provide outstanding oversight of all things Willow. My respect for them knows no bounds. I believe wholeheartedly in God's vision for our church's future and in the outstanding team that will provide leadership to carry it out.
On the Willow Creek Association side, our CEO Tom DeVries and Board Chair Dick DeVos, both seasoned and effective leaders, will continue to expand the reach and impact of the Global Summit all over the world. No one will be cheering on the 2018 Summit more than I will be.
If you are wondering if I am going anywhere, after a season of reflection, I intend to rejoin all of you here in the Willow congregation. Willow will always be my home church.
In closing, just a few personal thoughts:
Our family will be forever grateful for how you have loved and supported us. Shauna and Todd both came to faith and were baptized in this community. They both began volunteering here when they were in grade school: Todd with the Promiseland production Team, and Shauna, on a Promiseland Drama Team and in the Seeds Bookstore on Saturday mornings, where she had to stand on a step ladder to reach the cash register. They love this church.
My wife, Lynne, has volunteered here during my entire tenure. She led the charge with our HIV/AIDS initiatives in Africa. She traveled repeatedly to the Congo to meet with women who were victims of rape as a weapon of war. She's taken many of you with her to the Middle East to meet with grassroots peacemakers. She's traveled to Jordan and Iraq to meet with refugees and with women rescued from sexual slavery under ISIS. She has been a champion for the marginalized for decades. You have respected, honored, and supported her ministries. Thank you for that.
One of our most deeply held values here at Willow is that, "the local church is the hope of the world." Willow, you not only believe it, you exemplify it! You have come alongside the global and suburban poor. You have taken up the banner of racial reconciliation. You have welcomed immigrants and loved our Special Friends kids. You have poured out your hearts for prisoners and packed millions of seed packs for the hungry. I have said it before and I will say it again now: you are the most passionate, generous, Kingdom-minded, open-hearted church on the face of the earth. I am as confident today about the future of this incredible church and the future of the Global Summit as I have ever been.
These have been challenging days for so many people, here at Willow and elsewhere. Over the past four years, our Board's objective has been to lead and protect this church, as God calls us to do in Acts 20:28, by seeking truth, grace, righteousness, and reconciliation in relation to the allegations that have been brought to us. Those values are what we have upheld, and will continue to champion going forward. We are deeply saddened by the way recent events have been played out in the media, and we are committed to moving forward in a biblical manner. We pray that God, in His sovereignty, will redeem this situation and provide healing for everyone involved.
Let's claim 2 Corinthians 4:18 during this time of adversity and challenge: So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Willow, we are being given a real test on matters of faith and practice tonight. God has given Willow Creek an extra measure of influence and with that comes the responsibility to steward it well. This situation is no different. We have an opportunity to respond to this situation in a godly and biblical way.
Our core beliefs point us to Scripture. If we are going to live as a biblical community of believers, then we need to anchor our feelings and actions in Scripture. Ephesians 4:31 has clear instructions in times like these: Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. The admonition gets even more difficult in the next verse: Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Over the past few weeks, the Elders have been in the process of carefully discerning next steps in regard to new information that surfaced in the media. Over the weekend, Bill informed the Elders of his decision to move up the date of his retirement. Although we are deeply saddened, for so many reasons, by the circumstances surrounding the end of Bill's tenure, we accept and see the wisdom in his decision. We thank God that He uses ordinary people to do His good work. And we are grateful that Bill listened to God's call on his life and served the church, and God's Kingdom, for the last 42 years.
Tonight, I'd like to talk about our future as a church. God only ordained three institutions—government, the family, and the church. Willow Creek is not our church. While Bill has been the Senior Pastor since Willow Creek's beginning, Willow has never been about one person. Willow Creek is Jesus' church and He promised to build it (Matthew 16:18). So the good news about our future is it's not dependent on any of us to build this church—it is dependent on Jesus Christ Himself to keep His promise to the Apostle Peter: "I will build My church."
We are stewards of Christ's church and He's equipped us well to carry on. As you know, Bill and the Elders have completed a multi-year succession process that culminated this last October when we announced Heather Larson and Steve Carter would lead our church into the future. Together, we Elders fully endorse them in their new roles as Lead Pastor and Lead Teaching Pastor. They were announced to you last October with our full blessing and confidence, and in the months since then our confidence has only grown. We believe the best days of this church are still to come.
This is what we know to be true: God's Great Commission hasn't changed. Willow, we will continue to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. His Great Commandment hasn't changed. We will continue to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength and mind. AND, we will love everyone always. God's Word hasn't changed; and Willow Creek's mission and vision haven't changed. We will not give up doing the work He calls us to do.
Hebrews challenges us this way: And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1–2).
While we are a people with deep sadness, we are not a people without hope. As long as our hope is in the right place, we have much to look forward to as Willow Creek Community Church.
This is hard. I am guessing your emotions are all over the place right now. I know mine are. You probably have a ton of questions as well, and I just want to speak to a few things that we know.
First, Bill and Lynne will always be the co-founders of this church, and we can be forever grateful for Bill's role as our pastor for over 42 years. I will continue to be extremely grateful for who he is and the impact he has had on all of our lives. I know some of you want to express that too. You can write a note to Bill or Lynne, and you can send it here to the church to their attention. We've also set up a special email address [email protected], and you are welcome to send notes there as well. We are working on an appropriate way to honor the Hybels family in the future, and we will let you know about that.
There is no way to get around it, this season has been difficult beyond words. Some of the women who brought their stories are women who have mentored me and invested in me. To those women, I want to say that I have love and gratitude for you and the role you played in my life, and I am so deeply sad for all of us that we find ourselves in this place.
I do know, however, that this is the right path forward. There are relationships to be mended, and I hope this sets up the best trajectory to begin a process of healing and restoration.
I want to speak for a moment to the women of Willow.
I know many of you are confused or frustrated. Some of the language you have heard in the media does not resonate with your experience or what you know to be true of our church. I want to assure you we can at the same time respect someone's story and stand up for our own. You are strong. You have your own voice.
And for all of us, women and men, I know we will put our best energies toward moving ahead, using our gifts to build the church. We will be radically committed to a healthy environment where we can work and serve together. This has been part of our culture for decades, and it is a value that goes deep into my bones. We will continue to offer each other support, safety, and courage to talk about hard things. We will keep short accounts with people. We will speak with candor. We will continue to build a strong and healthy culture where all of us, women and men, are fully able to live out the potential of who God has created us to be. That's one of the things I love most about our church. That is not changing and I believe our resolve will be strengthened to do the hard work to make that happen.
Now, let's turn our focus to starting the next chapter. The Elders and Bill set us up for this back in October. This new season starts a little early for us, but God has always, only, ever been faithful to us, and He knew about this night long before the rest of us. We will keep our eyes on Him, and we will trust Him in the days ahead. Our church needs every one of us, more than ever, to link arms together and join in building a radically inclusive, biblically grounded, people loving, Acts 2 church. Not only does our church need that, but the world around us needs that. Let's return our focus to our neighbors around us. So many of them are wondering about God and who He is. Let's live in ways that draw them in and show them the love of God that has transformed our lives.
I want to acknowledge that we're all going to need time and space to process. Let's come together and support each other in that. But in the midst of how sad and how hard it is, let's also resolve together that this is not the end of the story. It's not the end of Bill's story. This is not the end of Willow's story, and it's certainly not the end of God's story. God is still writing new chapters for all of us. We will depend on Him for that. We will keep learning and growing, we will keep serving the world around us, and we will keep being the church together! God will do the rest!
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