Bruised Reeds, Second Chances and Finishing Well Part 5: Missing the Point
You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. John 19:11 (NIV)
Mark Twain must have been a prophet of some kind. His pithy insights into human nature still make much sense a hundred years after his death, including this one: “In 20 years, you will be more disappointed by what you didn’t do than by what you did.” This captures what has been overlooked in the events unfolding at Willow Creek Community Church.
This is about a bruised reed. I am sure that most of us don’t associate that descriptive with Bill Hybels, the person who changed how a generation of pastors shaped their ministry, who developed leaders around the globe, whose church is still making an impact for Jesus’ kingdom. Whose past is now under the magnifying glass of doubt and wondering. But a bruised reed he is nonetheless.
First let me note that nothing is certain of the full truth yet. A team of very mature leaders now has been selected to discover the Who, What, and When of all that happened. God willing, they will accomplish what has been delegated to them.
Instead of debating what might have happened in Bill’s past, let’s instead ask a more important question. What should have happened twenty years ago that would have transformed his life?
Public accusations go back to his actions towards women leaders he raised up. A number of those women were leaders of thousands. The first reporters recount an unwanted kiss, an extended uncomfortable hug, a creepy invitation to a room. Later accusers report worse.
What did not happen was any of those leaders addressing the onset of spiritual wandering in a leader who had invested in their lives. When did they come to the conclusion that he needed spiritual help and bring in others who could help rescue Bill from becoming a ‘castaway,’ to use Paul’s apt description? Instead of working for Bill’s restoration long before he was truly deeply caught in sin, it seems all of them waited twenty years for his active ministry to wind down before privately, then publically push for confession and repentance while the rest of the church community looked on in astonishment.
This isn’t an attempt to suggest that we overlook the past because Bill’s life since then seemed to right itself. That he remained faithful to his marriage thereafter. That, ‘Hey, he’s only human.’ Nor is it an attack on the accusers. If this sounds like I am blaming the victims, then you do not know me. I have the deepest concern for all who are sinned against.
Rather, I am speaking to our tendency to assume that someone who appears to be powerful, and is recklessly using that power, is not underneath it all—a bruised reed—in need of our concern and response at the moment when they outwardly show their mess. This is not just a women issue, as many men have cowered at the thought of speaking up to the powerful as well.
Jesus, who is our example, never cowered from speaking the uncomfortable truth to the powerful. “Go tell that fox…(meaning a lion-wannabe in that culture)” was what he tells the Pharisees to say to King Herod (Luke 13:32 NIV). He discomforts Pilate with “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”
All power in this world, including the church, is imputed. What does ‘imputed’ mean?
When I was a youth pastor, one of the lessons I taught my teens was about imputed value. I would bring in a $100 bill and a glass of water, allowing all those present to handle both. Then I would ask, “Which one is more valuable?” All would point to the C-note. Then I would ask them to imagine themselves in the middle of the desert miles from an oasis. Which item was more valuable? Of course, they conceded, that the water was more valuable. In fact, the water was the only one of the two that was valuable in itself. The $100 bill is a piece of paper with inked-on images claiming it is worth something, but in real value, has cost the government 12.5¢ to produce. You can’t eat or drink it, can do little with it unless you trade it with someone who accepts its imputed value.
When we say someone is powerful in the church, we are imputing. Nothing that person has done or is capable of doing has not come from the Father. Our fear of people with imputed power means we are exalting them—and failing in our family relationship to them—based on the world’s system instead of Jesus’ kingdom.
What is sad is when we abdicate our responsibilities to each another—to love, to forgive, to restore from sin, to speak the truth in love, to bear each other’s burdens—because we have placed too much emphasis on the outward appearance of power. We allow fear or cultural boundaries to hush our mouths. We then fail to respond to the reality that our brother or sister is being tugged by the lies of the enemy and their unfinished business into ruin—if not today, twenty years from today.
Stay tuned for more to come…
Your analysis suggests it was a church problem. The pastor could only do what he did if the church ignored the signs and became silent in the face of them. Corporate sin often starts at the top. But its impact is felt body-wide and, if unaddressed, spoils the church’s relationship with God as an entity. Here’s my take:https://blessingpoint.org/2018/04/christs-message-to-the-church-when-a-leader-falls/
Thanks for your take on this, which I read with interest. If I am reading you correctly, you are looking at this from the current moment with the need to humble ourselves as a whole church to hear God speaking to us about the corruption among His people. I could not agree more.
I am focusing – and I am not finished – on our personal failure to speak into a fellow believer’s life in a timely way to restore them before they are destroyed by sin. And then to loop back later to publicly denounce the person for the degeneration of his or her life.
We live in changing times when what has been secret is being shouted from the roof tops. I agree that God orchestrates these moments – for He cares about His glory and will not share it with another – not even a successful mega church pastor!
I think that it is good to examine our tendency as the body to care about the one another enough to speak the truth in love. I am concerned that several of these women leaders were at the top rung at Willow Creek and did not use their influence to draw others into the moment so that Bill could have been helped spiritually. The idea seems to be that they were either so traumatize by his advances as a woman they kept quiet about the event or were lulled by his minimizing his intents. I wonder at these explanations, since being a leader of 1000s is never for the faint of heart and that they seemed to have a deep relationship with God.
As a result, 20 years later we are watching the devastating outcome. I accept that this is God’s judgment for hidden sin. I accept that this is not just about Willow Creek and Bill Hybel as well. But I also question if those who failed to speak up, to seek restoration to Bill’s walk with God at the moment of his sinning, take any responsibility in things getting to this point at Willow Creek.
My thinking here does not seek to shift the blame from Bill to the women. I have had to process this question about my own past failures to speak up, to seek restoration in someone who may have been saved from the consequences of the terrible choices he or she made. In the repeated refrain that writer of Judges (using KJV style), we all do what is right in our own eyes. It never turns out well.
Great to hear from you. Yes, I was looking at it as a whole and what God is saying to the Church at large through it. I believe that such events are messages to the larger body, and sometimes the nation, about problems in our corporate relationship with him. You’ll see that theme in much of my writing.
As it relates to your point about people not stepping up sooner, it speaks to another point we often make at Blessing Point with churches where a pastor falls. The church did not have a pastor problem, the church had a church problem. For in most cases (which I think is the point you are making) a pastor can’t sin without the rest of the body facilitating or enabling the sin in some manner. (The body’s anti-bodies don’t do their job.)
The enabling might take the form of silence in the face of suspicion about wrong doing. It might be a failure to love the fallen one enough to speak truth to them about their sense of entitlement or over reach. We commonly see this in churches where a pastor has been wounded by a lay leader in the past and then is very cautious about who he chooses as lay leaders. He doesn’t want to be hurt again, but inadvertently sets himself up for pain by gathering those around him who support/idolize him to the degree they remain silent when they should speak up. Even the church body gets implicated (non leaders) because church polity often includes a congregational vote that put those lay leaders or pastor in his or her role.
On another level, one about which I’m curious in regard to Willow Creek, what was Jesus saying to this church by allowing this fall to occur? Had pride blinded them to the possibility of their pastor sinning? Had they grown so big, or successful that they lost their humility and Jesus is chastising the church through the pastor’s fall? Sometimes the pain (fallen pastor) is the problem. Sometimes it’s a symptom of a deeper problem. We’ve seen Jesus bring pain into churches because of a deeper, unresolved issue between the church and himself. If that’s the case at Willow Creek, they will continue to experience corporate pain, because they have not dealt with the underlying issue. If Hybel’s fall was a “one off” and the church handled it in a way God can bless, then they my rebound without further divine discipline.
Sadly, I recall hearing Bill Hybels give his testimony years ago. He talked about boat racing and how he could size up other boats or teams and discern that they were “NAF” or not. NAF stood for “Not a Factor.” Now, he himself has become NAF except perhaps to the extent that the church and others watching from a far hear what the Spirit is saying through his sad demise.
BTW I love the spirit of compassion that drives your “bruised reed” sentiments.