August 10, 2018 Editor

Willow Creek, Your Time Is Now

August 6, 2018 by Scot McKnight


photo above: Pat Baranowski was the executive assistant to the Rev. Bill Hybels at the Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., one of the largest megachurches in the country. CreditAlyssa Schukar for The New York Times

WN: What can one add — that is not obvious already?:

  • a leader granted for decades enormous star power, in the day for instance with a personal phone line to George W. Bush;
  • a megapastor with vast numbers of imitators across the world sitting at his feet to learn of his kind of churchianity…;
  • women crying #MeToo, and their cries repeatedly unheard, their persons vilified, their pleadings for justice ignored or silenced;
  • powerful church leaders circling the wagons to protect the decades-long recidivistic male megapastor;
  • the days, weeks, months and years of denial by the powerful;
  • the untold harm done to the victims, re-traumatized every time they were not believed, were called liars;
  • the continued state of denial of the lead pastor, lost in his own personally chosen hell;
  • leaders who eventually tried to excuse themselves, to suck up to the women, to let themselves off the hook for backing the wrong horse — for creating years of hell for the victims;
  • onlookers such as senior pastor Brian Tome of Crossroad Church, who purports to draw wise morals and give sage advice about lessons from the fall of Bill Hybels, yet remains fully blind to the abusive horrors of his own country and Israel; sponsoring “Arie’s Teachings” in his own church, a man we’re told on the website who is “Veteran of five Israeli wars”… — as one credential for his authoritative Bible teaching: veteran of the army in Israel, an evil Empire matching the United States in kind, if not in scope, in its 70 years of massive human rights abuses against, and brutal Nazi-like occupation and oppression of,  Palestine/Palestinians. This is death-and-destruction-dealing abuse on a grand scale that makes Hybels by comparison look like a Sunday School teacher (or whatever).;
  • etc.

Perhaps all that can be added is: “Lord, have mercy”… on us all who would pick up the first stone… We could also say, “There but for the grace of God go I”

The rest is appropriate others’ business and God’s…


With the candid and courageous account of Pat Baranowski in the NYTimes, the previous courageous stories of Vonda Dyer, Nancy Beach, Nancy Ortberg, Julia Williams, and Moe Girkins (and others) are now undeniable. Willow is now at a crossroad.

These women represent the hundreds of noble Christians filled with goodness. They have served and toiled for the sake of the gospel through Willow. They are the ones who have made Willow what Willow is. They are the ones who gave up other jobs to join the ministry. They are the ones praying and reading the Bible and attending small groups and supporting the many ministries of this amazing church.

But that congregation of goodness has been violated by the actions of the leaders.

Sunday the NYTimes told a new story. It ended the Who’s telling the truth? discussion. Willow’s “the women are liars” narrative can no longer hold. The women told the truth. The narrative was the lie.

I weep for Pat Baranowski, for the life she has experienced as we weep for the women who have been sexually harrassed and abused by Willow’s pastor and shoved around and threatened by the process of trying to silence them. The story in the NYTimes is a tragedy, and it is beyond sad that a church leader and the church could do such things while accomplishing so many great things.

What is connected to this story is a history of mismanagement, powermongering, threatening, and offering money for silence (NDA: non disclosure agreements). In seminaries in the years ahead these themes will become central to church leadership discussions.

Willow will never be the old Willow. It can become a different Willow, but it will never be the same.

What I mean is that those who created and sustained and continued that narrative — a narrative that both denied the truth of the women’s stories and the pastor’s sexual inappropriateness — forfeited their ability to lead Willow Creek Community Church and Willow Creek Association. Their time is up.

It is time to form an independent council of wisdom — leaders chosen by wise, non-Willow evangelical leaders — that can pastor what’s left of WCCC and the WCA, to investigate the governance of Willow and how it was able to be so thoroughly wrong, to work out a new governance and find new leaders.

The present leadership — from Heather Larson to the elders to the Human Resources and beyond — cannot lead Willow forward. They have failed miserably for four years.

It is time now to find the truth, to be transparent, to investigate the governance, and to tell that truth honestly.

The women told the truth. The Willow narrative is a false and deceptive narrative.

Why was it so easy for the journalists at Chicago Tribune and Christianity Today to find stories from women but Willow’s so-called investigation turned up nothing?

The time is now. Willow, your time is now. Time to find the truth, tell the truth, and live into that truth.

There is no forward til the truth is found and embraced. There is no forward until the Vonda Dyers and Pat Baranowskis are believed.

Who within Willow Creek Community Church or within the Willow Creek Association will have the courage to work for that truth?

Why now?

Because of truth. Because of the gospel. Because of the grace of God.

Because of the women who have been wrongly maligned, unjustly accused, and publicly wounded.

Because of the structures that have been established that led to the protection of a leader rather than compassion for the women and care of the congregation.

Why now?

Because of Willow Creek’s hundreds of ministry workers; because of the faithfulness of Willow Creek’s congregation. That’s why: hundreds have given up other jobs to work for less at Willow; hundreds are now doing the noble work of evangelism, compassion, ministry and it goes on and on. Thousands have given buckets of money to support the many wonderful ministries of Willow. They have made Willow what Willow is. The goodness of Willow can remain and create a new future for Willow.

That time is now.

Please click on: That Time Is Now

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Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.