Dear Father, Bill Hybels is the founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. Willow Creek has become one of the largest churches in America. In their earliest days they took an approach that made it easier for the unchurched, with messy lives, to feel comfortable experiencing the love of Christ in the church. The church has also embraced women in both ministry and leadership. These approaches led to the rapid growth of the church. The church now has seven satellite campuses with an estimated 25,000 worshippers attending the main campus each week. Hybels created a non-profit to promote godly leadership that has been embraced by churches and businesses around the world. Many well-known leaders have spoken at Willow Creek leadership videocast conferences, the Global Leadership Forum, with audiences of over 400,000 in countries around the world. As a result, Hybels became the confidant of powerful and influential global leaders such as President Clinton in the late 1990s. Hybels was asked to speak at conferences around the world.
Hybels is in the news today because of allegations of sexual misconduct with several women. He has been accused of making suggestive comments, having inappropriate physical contact, having affairs, putting himself in compromising situations (such as being alone with a woman on a boat), and inviting women to be alone with him in his hotel rooms during his last 20 years in ministry. Several former leaders in the church, one time close friends of Bill and Lynne Hybels, leaders in the evangelical community themselves, have believed in the credibility of the accusers. They have been calling for a thorough investigation by both the church and the Willow Creek Association. Hybels has expressed his innocence and his confusion as to why his former friends have conspired against him. The church did hire a lawyer who is said to have conducted a thorough investigation. The lawyer concluded Hybels is innocent of the charges against him. The Willow Creek Association declined to pay for their own investigation. The senior elder of the church, as well as Hybel’s successor as pastor, both women, have given Hybels their full support and share his belief that there is a conspiracy of some nature against Hybels. Lynne Hybels has expressed her full support for her husband, though her move to step out of the limelight suggests the issue has caused the family great duress. Disappointed with the outcome of the investigation, the former friends of Hybels are pushing the case further. Several of the WCA board members resigned in protest, a move that led to a major sponsor of the Global Leadership Forum terminating their sponsorship. Those who believe Hybels is guilty have taken their case to the media. Our present #MeToo culture has jumped on these allegations, especially because they are against such a prominent leader in the evangelical community. Essentially, we have well known Christian leaders on both sides of this issue claiming the other side to be of poor character and judgement.
Who are the innocent victims of this battle? The Willow Creek Church congregation and outreach ministries. The worldwide leadership ministry. The thousands of pastors throughout the globe who have considered Willow Creek a model church. People who are searching for spiritual freedom who now have additional reason to doubt the gospel of Jesus Christ. Father, in other words, this is becoming a major achievement by the enemy to derail and destroy the work of the church in this broken world.
Please, Father, do something to fix this. Convict those who are being deceitful. Lead them to public confession and repentance. Make truth victorious, whatever that may be. Father, I don’t discount the possibility that both sides of the story may be innocent. In this world of hair trigger accusations, misinterpretations, and rush to judgement, Hybels may simply be guilty of being naiive, doing things that can be misinterpreted because he trusted in his own innocent and good-hearted motivations. The victims and their defenders may have honorable and godly intentions to see the church be pure and without blemish. They may be desiring the best for the Willow Creek ministry. Therefore, Father, I look at this as less an issue about which side is right. I see this more an issue about an intense spiritual attack on a major influence in evangelical Christianity. This is an act of war, a foreign invasion of well-trained troops upon the shores of the church.
We need You to defend us. We need You to fight them back into the sea. We need the enemy to flee into the horizon. We need You to restore calm not only at Willow Creek but also on the front lines of every ministry that has been impacted by the negative media attention. More than anything else, we need You to transform the hearts of men and women throughout the church, leading them to surrender their lives to You. Turn Your people into powerful soldiers, armed with their testimonies and with their acts of compassion for people in crisis. Help Your church to advance through the heart of the enemy by demonstrating Your amazing love to every broken man, woman, and child in America.
Father, I ask for Your personal blessings this day on all the names involved in this issue, on both sides. Lead each of them into a deeper relationship with You. Make their testimonies all the more powerful. Repair schisms. Mend broken hearts. Restore relationships. Minister today to Bill and Lynn Hybels, Nancy Beach, Vonda Dyer, Jim and Leanne Mellando, John and Nancy Ortberg, Jeffrey Fowler, Pam Orr, and Heather Larson. And more. Amen.