Whether or not the allegations against Hybels are true, the way Willow has handled them points to a serious problem in their leadership. The damage has already been done.
At the GLS last year, Hybels said incivility in the church is killing us. He outlined 10 rules every leader must follow to combat this problem. Reading them over again now, I can’t help but wonder how things would be different if Hybels had followed his own advice when the allegations against him surfaced.
- Set the example of how to differ with others without demonizing them.
- Model how to have spirited conversations without “drawing blood.”
- Never interrupt others who are talking and do not dominate the conversation.
- Limit your volume level and refuse to use incendiary or belittling words that are guaranteed to derail a discussion.
- Set the example of being courteous in word and deed.
- Never stereotype.
- Apologize immediately when wrong instead of denying or doubling down.
- Form opinions carefully and stay open minded if better information comes along.
- Show up when you say you’re going to show up and do what you say you’ll do.
- Set rules of respect for everyone in the organization and enforce them relentlessly.
A Very Painful Lesson Is Unfolding
Those of us on the outside looking in, the ones who have benefited from Willow Creek’s leadership training over the years, are witnessing a very painful lesson unfold. What should a leader do when he or she is accused of something? What should an organization do? Well, we know what not to do, thanks to Willow Creek’s current example.
We don’t double down when accused. We look to Jesus, who said very little to his accusers. If anyone had a right to call his accusers liars, it was Jesus. And yet he didn’t.
We don’t tell our followers we’ve conducted a thorough investigation and that everything is fine when we don’t know, really. We do our homework and face the tough questions. Could we be wrong? Have we been deceived?
We don’t try to control the narrative.
We don’t treat those who have accused us as the enemy. We are shepherds. We’re called to care about everyone—even those who have a grievance against us. We don’t try to discredit them or silence them. Think about how Jesus treated Judas.
This current failing of Willow Creek is a great source of confusion and sadness for a lot of leaders. I can personally name three pastors who “owe their ministries” to the teachings of Willow Creek. And yet, even in this most painful lesson, Willow Creek is leading. Hopefully the churches who have looked to Willow Creek for guidance will learn this very difficult lesson from them as well…and do better.
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