THE WASTELAND OF WILLOW CREEK
By Paul Proctor
November 14, 2007
Christianity Today's blog, Out of Ur, posed an intriguing question recently with a post titled, Willow Creek Repents?, where it was reported that Willow Creek Community Church's senior pastor, Bill Hybels, told an audience at his Leadership Summit this year in South Barrington, Illinois that he got "the wake up call" of his adult life.
Out of Ur provided a link in their post to a video clip of Hybels' presentation at that conference where he made a rather startling announcement - and also a link to another video - one from Willow Creek's executive pastor, Greg Hawkins, talking about sitting in Willow Creek's Sunday service week after week - distracted - looking around as the offering plates were being passed and wondering: "Are we spending those folks money in the right way? - Really - Would they feel great about how we're investing their resources? I hope they do - I hope they do; but here's the truth: Some days I'm not quite so sure we're making the right decisions�" which supposedly led him to compile months of what would be disappointing survey and research data for a new book he coauthored with Cally Parkinson entitled, Reveal: Where Are You? - a new release Hybels enthusiastically endorsed in his presentation.
In Hybels' video, he noted that Hawkins had assembled, with his permission, a volunteer team to survey four distinct groups at Willow Creek: "pre-Christians," "beginning Christians," "growing Christians" and "fully devoted followers of Christ."
According to Hybels, each group surveyed was asked: "How helpful is Willow Creek Church being to you?" On a one-to-ten scale, he said the "pre-Christians" gave them nines - the score "new Christians" gave them, he said "came down a little bit" - but then when they got to "growing Christians," the scores started going down significantly - and when it came to "fully devoted followers of Christ," the scores got "scarily low."
He also revealed that after probing further, those in the fully devoted category told them "they're not being fed - that they want more meat of the Word of God - they want more serious-minded scripture taught to them - they want to be challenged more�"
What does Hybels & Company think Willow Creek critics have been saying all these years?
I guess by doing their own surveys and presenting the "earth-shaking" results as a revelation at their Leadership Summit and in a brand new book, Hybels can save face and save customers by admitting comically that he goofed to his chuckling audience in front of the cameras without having to admit that those who rebuked him with the Word of God year after year were right - and that many others who desperately needed the Word of God, yet were denied, have suffered immeasurably for the neglect.
Isn't that the equivalent of saying you just made a few bad business decisions along the way instead of acknowledging before everyone you adversely affected that you sinned against God? So, in response, you make a big announcement, a few procedural adjustments and strategy modifications to your business plan without any real confession, remorse or repentance - tell a few jokes and move on, is that it? I suppose that helps you sustain an illusion of credibility and charm while keeping you in the driver's seat and off the hot seat, doesn't it?
Out of Ur posted a segment of Hybels' videoed response to Hawkins' findings in their piece where he was quoted as saying:
Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn't helping people that much. Other things that we didn't put that much money into and didn't put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for.
Calling it a confession, Out of Ur continued with the following Hybels' admission, which I consider to be little more than a self-serving spin job:
We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become 'self feeders.' We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.
Oh, this is priceless!
So, Willow Creek's "fully devoted followers of Christ" don't know how to read their bibles between services? Is Hybels lying here to try and cover his rear end or is he accidentally revealing the cold hard truth about what they consider to be a "fully devoted follower of Christ?"
Not only that, but rather than take responsibility for failing to feed his flock the meat of the Word during services in the form of a bible study or sermon, they decide "fully devoted followers of Christ" need to go feed themselves somewhere else - which begs the question: Why then should "fully devoted followers of Christ" even bother to come and listen to Hybels or his associates on Sunday or any other day of the week if they're not offering anything substantial to eat there, spiritually speaking? Why don't these devoted followers just leave the empty troughs of Willow Creek altogether and go find pasture elsewhere?
Well, that would jack with their record-breaking numbers, now wouldn't it?
But, you know what? Many "fully devoted followers of Christ" have left their Willow Creek Association member churches to do just that - including yours truly. And, I don't believe for a minute, that their "fully devoted followers of Christ" aren't already feeding on God's Word outside the walls of Willow Creek. In fact, I suspect that it is precisely that outside nourishment that is convincing them of their own church's dereliction of doctrinal duty, because I've been in their shoes and remember quite well how starkly different my faith in Christ was from what I witnessed and experienced, particularly among the leadership, at my former WCA affiliated church seven years ago. My faith was vertical and centered on God's Word. Theirs was largely horizontal and centered on the sensory-driven emotions and experiences of each other with "God" as a backdrop for a business plan that resulted in an artificial atmosphere of marketing and manipulation with little or no biblical discernment, depth or conviction - only a lust for greater numbers, group-think and group participation - as if any of those things had eternal value or significance under God's Throne.
WRFD radio host and columnist Bob Burney responded to Hybels' dubious declaration of benevolent boo-boos with a piece titled, A Shocking "Confession" From Willow Creek Community Church, which first appeared on Townhall.com. Of course, I was pleasantly surprised to see it posted on several sites around the web, and found myself agreeing with Burney's skeptical assessment.
If you haven't already gathered, Willow Creek is a sore subject with me as evidenced by an August 2000 article I titled with the name of my former church, The People's Church, which was followed by a series of short articles that were later compiled into one called, Willow Creek Hegelian Dialectic & The New World Order.
But, you know, what really surprised me, even more than Hybles' public admission, was seeing Burney's article posted on The Baptist Press. The Baptist Press, you see, is the Southern Baptist Convention's news wire service whose central bureau is based in Nashville, Tennessee. The SBC's publishing division is LifeWay Christian Resources where Hybles' books have been sold for years. Even SBC churches that aren't members of the Willow Creek Association have learned much of what they do from Willow Creek, thanks in large part to LifeWay. Clearly Hybels didn't spread this leaven all by himself. He had a lot, and I mean a lot of Southern Baptist help. So, he's not the only one that needs to confess and repent - not that that's what he's actually doing here.
Now, I don't know if posting Burney's article is The Baptist Press' way of trying to rectify their long time support of all things seeker sensitive or they're just attempting to demonstrate some journalistic balance; but in light of the enormous spiritual damage this so called "church growth movement" has done to Southern Baptist churches, not to mention churches of other denominations, they need to do a whole lot more than cosmetically apply one commentary to the problem for appearance sake. Momentarily swinging one's leg over the fence doesn't constitute crossing over or even riding it for that matter.
After 30 years, millions upon millions of misspent dollars, tens of thousands of reinvented churches and scripturally starving who knows how many "seekers" for the sake of numerical growth, are we to simply trade in our soiled WCA lab coats now for fresh ones and follow Hybels on to the next great experiment now that he's owned up to a few of his "felt-needs" faux pas? If you watch his video clip, that seems to be what he is suggesting.
As chronicled in the Out of Ur post, Hybels went on to say this:
Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he's asking us to transform this planet.
It is said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome. If you view the clip, you'll see that Hybels is still focus-grouping his way forward, pursuing as before, Results & Relationships via compromise and consensus, rather than simply proclaiming the Word of God as pastors are called to do with a humble and obedient heart that yields instead of leads.
"As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly." - Proverbs 26:11
In consideration of all the scriptural neglect he and his colleagues have facilitated over the years trying to "transform the planet," (sounds like an alien invasion) is Hybels' oopsy-daisy admission that "We made a mistake" his idea of repentance? Seeing as we're talking about the founder of the world's largest and most influential seeker-sensitive church, it would certainly seem so.
But, if this pragmatic preacher doesn't expect real repentance from his "converts," I suppose we shouldn't expect it from him either.
Now for all you WCA member churches out there who have been financing this fiasco with your tithes and offerings by purchasing Willow Creek's seeker friendly products and services to "reinvent your church" and "transform your planet" - you could ask for your money back - but I'm sure they need it to buy more lab rats.
As for retrieving your souls - you'll just have to take that up with the Lord Jesus.
"He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him." - 1st John 2:4-5
� 2007 Paul Proctor - All Rights Reserved
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Paul Proctor, a rural resident of the Volunteer state and seasoned veteran of the country music industry, retired from showbiz in the late 1990's to dedicate himself to addressing important social issues from a distinctly biblical perspective. As a freelance writer and regular columnist for NewsWithViews.com, he extols the wisdom and truths of scripture through commentary and insight on cultural trends and current events. His articles appear regularly on a variety of news and opinion sites across the internet and in print.
Isn't that the equivalent of saying you just made a few bad business decisions along the way instead of acknowledging before everyone you adversely affected that you sinned against God?