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…