The sexually abusive behavior pastor Bill Hybels is accused of is “reprehensible,” but there is hope for repentance, the chair of Willow Creek Association Australia has said.
Stu Cameron, who is lead minister of Newlife Uniting Church on the Gold Coast, shared his thoughts on the Willow Creek Community Church founder scandal in an op-ed for Eternity News on Friday.
As Cameron explains, WCA Australia oversees the country’s Global Leadership Summit, which is a worldwide movement that Hybels once led.
“We condemn the behavior Bill Hybels has been accused of as reprehensible and contrary to the standards required of any leader. We are sorry that the mishandling of the allegations has caused more pain for the women who bravely came forward. Our heart aches for them,” Cameron wrote.
“We fully support a truly independent and thorough investigation of all allegations, as announced. Our hope is that the findings of the investigation will lead to truth, repentance, justice, healing and reconciliation,” he added, referring to the pledged investigation into Hybels’ conduct, which was mentioned at the Global Leadership Summit earlier in August.
Hybels, who founded the evangelical megachurch in Chicago in 1975, retired prematurely in April after several women came forward, before and after the date, accusing him of various types of sexually inappropriate behavior. More recently, one woman said he pressured unwanted oral sex on her.
The now former senior pastor has maintained his innocence and denied all accusations of misconduct. The leadership of Willow Creek Community Church came under great scrutiny when it first sided with Hybels against the women, but subsequently realized their missteps and admitted that Hybels “fell into sin.”
With the controversy growing, the megachurch’s entire elder board, including Executive Pastor Heather Larson, resigned in August, days before the Global Leadership Summit.
In the same Eternity News op-ed, Michael Frost, who is head of the missiology department at Morling College, offered a different perspective on the issue, admitting that he has never read a Hybels book or attended the Global Leadership Summit.
He said that with the “wheels falling off the influence of Willow Creek Church,” and with the GLS struggling to “find its place in a post-Hybels world,” it is time for pastors to think about a different way of preaching.
“You see, while the church has been obsessed with leadership, the subject as we understand it hardly ever comes up in the Scriptures,” he pointed out.
“When you look at the metaphors Paul seems to prefer — mother and father, steward and herald — you see they speak of relationship, intimacy, care, faithfulness, duty and responsibility. All four of those images speak of the twin emphases of ministry: God’s word and God’s people.”
With that in mind, Frost called on pastors to make their search for God available to the people in their sermons; to present well-researched and insightful sermons; and to not be afraid to ask the congregation for points to inform their prayers.
“Be our father. Be our mother. Herald the word of God. Steward the riches of the gospel among us. Love us. Eat with us. Listen to our stories,” he urged.
During the recent Global Leadership Summit, WCA President Tom De Vries made it clear that “Bill’s engagement with the summit and the Willow Creek Association has been severed.”
“There is no map for the journey we’ve been on. We’ve had missteps, mistakes, slip-ups, blunders not condemning Bill’s actions to a greater degree and more publicly; not showing more support to the women who courageously came forward with their concerns; perpetuating a narrative of false allegations and collusions. We are sorry for the places where we could and should have done better,” De Vries stated.