Be Careful What You Wish For
I’ve never been to Willow and would have some different takes, theological and practical, from that church but have been massively helped by Hybels & Co. over the years. My favourite personal Willow anecdote: I once wrote to Bill, thanking and questioning him over something, not expecting any kind of reply – perhaps a generic secretarial email at most. But a few days later a hand-written note arrived from the man himself encouraging me in my ministry. That felt extraordinary – that someone as busy as Hybels would take the time to write to a nobody leading a little church in the UK. It was that kind of diligence that won Hybels so many admirers.
But I guess I won’t be recommending his books again; even though some of them are the very best there is on the subjects they address.
The Willow Creek train wreck has led to many observations that church leaders – especially mega-church leaders – need good accountability. But as my father points out on his blog, “To be held accountable is excellent in itself but if it is going to work you’ve actually got to be accountable, if you see what I mean.” All the systems in the world won’t save you if you are determined to buck them.
Those of us who have been influenced by Willow probably feel the sense of shame that the recent revelations have brought – just as we have felt the sense of shame that has accompanied the fall of other high-profile ministries. It’s bad enough when people immediately start talking about paedophile priests when they find out what I do; much worse when they start talking about ministries closer to home. It gets tiring having to apologise for this stuff. It gets tiring to have an ever-shorter list of contemporary authors I can recommend.
And it is a sobering reminder of being careful about what one wishes for. The disgrace of a low-profile pastor in a small church has a devastating impact – on a small number of people. The fall of a mega-ministry creates a much larger wave. That’s a big responsibility to live with. As my dad (who in now nearly 50 years of ministry has avoided any hint of sexual or financial scandal) goes onto say,
You may regret the smallness of your ministry, your lack of influence, the fact that you’ve never preached to assembled thousands, but if you are lifetime faithful to your wife (husband), love your kids and never cheat on the church, then people will appreciate your ministry for that and you can be content. Paul told Timothy; ‘Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.’ 1 Tim 4:16. In the end we can’t avoid the need for self-accountability.
That’s wise counsel. If you’re lying to yourself know that one day the lie will be made public. Be careful what you wish for.