An August 8, 2018 Christianity Today article titled Willow Creek Elders and Pastor Heather Larson Resign over Bill Hybels chronicles events that led to Willow Creek founder Bill Hybels’ resignation from the megachurch due to numerous women having come forth with accusations of years of sexual misconduct and abuse by Hybels. Because of the lackadaisical attitudes Willow Creek leadership has taken toward the victims of Hybels sexual abuse, the Christianity Today article states that the two current lead pastors have resigned followed by the entire board of Willow Creek stepping down.
The Christianity Today article leaves the impression that once Willow Creek gets rid of these leaders, elects a new board, and apologizes to the women, there will be a fresh “new start” for Willow Creek. However, there is more to this Willow Creek story than meets the eye, more to repent of than the cover up of sexual misconduct, and the Christianity Today article unknowingly alludes to it. The CT article states:
In the summer of 2008, Bill Hybels stood in front of thousands of pastors and other church leaders gathered at Willow Creek Community Church and admitted his megachurch had failed.
“We made a mistake,” he told the crowd gathered for the 2008 Global Leadership Summit (GLS). A detailed Willow study had found that the church had helped many people find new faith in Jesus, but had failed to teach them how to practice the spiritual disciplines needed to grow their faith.
Lighthouse Trails remembers when Bill Hybels came forth with this declaration. He had actually announced it earlier in 2007. At that time, headlines across Christian media blasted the news that Willow Creek had repented. Lighthouse Trails readers began contacting our editorial office asking if we heard the news that Willow Creek had repented. This led to our researchers digging a little deeper to get the full story on Willow Creek’s “repentance.” In November of 2007, we issued an article titled “No Repentance from Willow Creek – Only a Mystical Paradigm Shift.” Our article began:
Recently, headlines about Willow Creek filled the front pages of several online news outlets. The caption stated: “A Shocking Confession from Willow Creek Community Church.” Some wondered if Willow Creek’s pastor Bill Hybels was repenting from past errors in ministry techniques.1 But a Lighthouse Trails commentary showed that this “shocking confession” was actually a re-enforcement of Willow Creek’s efforts to “transform this planet” through contemplative and emerging spiritualities.
That earlier LT commentary stated:
It is no new thing that Willow Creek wishes to “transform the planet.” They are part of the emerging spirituality that includes Rick Warren and many other major Christian leaders who believe the church will usher in the kingdom of God on earth before Christ returns. This dominionist, kingdom-now theology is literally permeating the lecture halls of many Christian seminaries and churches, and mysticism is the propeller that keeps its momentum. If Willow Creek hopes to transform the planet, they won’t be able to get rid of the focus on the mystical (i.e., contemplative). Their new Fall 2007 Catalog gives a clear picture of where their heart lies, with resources offered by New Age proponent Rob Bell, contemplative author Keri Wyatt Kent, and the Ancient Future Conference with emerging leaders Scot McKnight and Alan Hirsch as well as resources by Ruth Haley Barton and John Ortberg. Time will tell what Willow Creek intends to do about strengthening its focus on “spiritual practices” and “transform[ing] the planet.”
Back then, Willow Creek had conducted a study to find out how they had failed as a ministry. The results of their study led Willow Creek to make a new more passionate commitment to taking their congregation into the emergent church via contemplative prayer practices (i.e., spiritual disciplines) as was clearly illustrated in the Fall 2007 issue of their magazine, where editors stated: “The landscape of our ministries is shifting. Brace yourself for the aftershocks.” The issue included the articles and teachings by numerous contemplative/emergent figures such as Richard Foster, Richard Rohr, Ruth Haley Barton, and John Ortberg (see more detail). There was no doubt about it after reading that issue of their magazine, Willow Creek’s repentance was basically saying, “We are changing the way we do things around here – we need to incorporate more of the contemplative, mystical element into our people’s lives.” And, yet, Christianity Today and other Christian media outlets made it look like a true biblical repentance was taking place at Willow Creek.
Since Willow Creek’s “repentance” in 2007, Lighthouse Trails has tracked much of what Willow Creek has been up to from Lynne Hybel’s anti-Israel efforts to the work by Hybel’s grown kids and kids-in-law to bring the contemplative prayer movement to full fruition at Willow Creek—and, of course, Bill Hybel’s own demise through his out-of-control sexual exploitations of women who worked for or with him.
To give an example of where Willow Creek is at today, we’d like to draw your attention to The Practice, a program started by Bill Hybel’s son-in-law, Aaron Niequist, in 2014 that takes place on Sunday nights at Willow Creek and specifically incorporates contemplative prayer practices. On The Practice website, it states:
The Practice is an experimental gathering where we immerse ourselves in God’s dream for humanity, practice the historic disciplines [i.e., contemplative meditation] that align us with His dream, and carry each other along the way.
While the headlines for a while will focus on the sexual-abuse accusations and the resignations and apologies that are following, there’s not much chance that you will see headlines discussing Willow Creek’s contemplative/emergent ways. Of course, you won’t. Virtually every major Christian media outlet (including Christianity Today) is either giving a pass to this mystical paradigm shift or is outright promoting it. If only the purpose-driven, Willow Creek, seeker-friendly, church-growth, dominionist “church of today” could see that it is on a mystical slippery slope to full apostasy, and while exposing sexual predators and helping victims is an important thing, the very nature of the “new spirituality” with a dependence on esoteric experiences instead of God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit, will not make people live more righteously and God pleasing but will, in fact, pull them deeper into darkness and sin because the source of those esoteric (contemplative) experiences are driven and led by the same source that deceived Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and not by the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. Thus, any “fruit” of such a “repentance” will be sour and harmful.
In spite of all that has been happening at Willow Creek, this year’s Global Leadership Summit still took place this week as is stated in a Religious News Service article. It was expected that over 400,000 around the world would participate. Christians today seem to need to have their ears tickled and their spiritual bellies filled, and the show must go on.