Willow Creek Elders and Pastor Heather Larson Resign over Bill Hybels

Church leaders apologize to Nancy Ortberg, Nancy Beach, Vonda Dyer, and other women with accusations: “We have no reason not to believe you.”

In the summer of 2008, Bill Hybels stood in front of thousands of pastors and other church leaders gathered at Willow Creek Community Church and admitted his megachurch had failed.

“We made a mistake,” he told the crowd gathered for the 2008 Global Leadership Summit (GLS). A detailed Willow study had found that the church had helped many people find new faith in Jesus, but had failed to teach them how to practice the spiritual disciplines needed to grow their faith.

He vowed the megachurch would do be better in the future.

Ten years later, Willow Creek’s leaders confessed even more mistakes. On the eve of the 2018 GLS, they admitted in a special congregational meeting that church leaders had failed to appropriately handle recent allegations of sexual misconduct against their founding pastor.

Lead pastor Heather Larson announced that she was resigning immediately. The church’s elder board announced that its members would also step down in an orderly fashion by the end of 2018.

Steve Carter, the church’s lead teaching pastor, had already resigned on Sunday, saying he could no longer continue at the church in “good conscience.”

At tonight’s Willow family meeting, elder Missy Rasmussen said she and other church leaders had been blinded by their faith in their founding pastor and had failed to hold Hybels accountable.

“We trusted Bill, and this clouded our judgment,” she said.

That blindness, Rasmussen said, led to a number of missteps, including a rushed investigation when allegations that Hybels had had an affair first surfaced in 2014. Church leaders did not move quickly enough to secure his’ devices or other forms of communication, she said. When the woman who made …

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Learning to See Your Single Neighbor

The more the church recognizes our worth, the better we can integrate into the church.

I recently found myself in tears over a beautiful white couch. Someone had kindly offered this couch to me for free, but I had no way to pick it up, transport it, and store it. After more than a week of text messages, face-to-face requests, and social media posts, I found myself unable to move the couch the night before the deadline I had been given.

Here is a text I sent to a friend that night:

I’m so tired of being so dependent on other people. So tired of being vulnerable and asking for help and being made to feel/making myself feel like a burden. I’m so tired of how crushing the need for a truck and strong muscles is on a recurring basis. I was so excited about this couch, and now I’m crying not because I probably can’t get the couch, but because all day I laid myself out there and asked for what I cannot do and was not treated with gentleness and understanding. I’m so tired of doing daily life alone.

Doing life alone. I’m far from the only single Christian who is regularly exhausted by it. Singles who have great family and friends and churches still regularly experience loneliness and feelings of powerlessness. From ordinary Saturdays to life-changing events, singleness can often make you feel like you are hiding in plain sight.

This is not how it’s supposed to be. In the kingdom of God, partnership is not reserved for married couples. The Scriptures consistently paint a picture of interconnected community, showing us a way of life where our unique personhood matters and where we find ourselves in day-in and day-out partnership with others. But sadly, the American church has often adopted a vision of singleness that emphasizes independence over partnership, excusing married people …

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Rwanda Restricts Fasting as 8,000 Churches Closed

New law requires pastors to obtain theology degrees and forbids urging lengthy fasts.

About 8,000 official and unofficial churches, as well as 100 mosques, have been closed in Rwanda for failing to comply with health, safety, and noise regulations. This includes 4 in 10 congregations belonging to a nationwide association of 3,300 Pentecostal churches.

And authorities indicate such shutting down of houses of worship in the East African nation will continue until congregations meet the strict requirements of a new law adopted by Rwanda’s parliament on July 27.

The latest requirement: Pastors must now have a degree in theological education from an accredited school. The law also prohibits church leaders from urging their followers to fast for lengthy periods—like Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness—in order to better secure God’s blessing; authorities claim this is a form of starvation.

Many churchgoers look at the new law as a form of harassment and restriction on freedom of worship. But many also fear to speak out, saying it’s a directive from the government and Christians should not oppose authorities.

The law also requires churches and “prayer houses”—unofficial places where Christians gather to pray and worship—to explain their sources of funding, while donations received must be kept on a known bank account.

Lawmakers even debated imposing limits on how much churchgoers could tithe to their church, given the numerous complaints about pastors who collect money from impoverished worshipers while living luxurious lives. The Council of Protestant Churches in Rwanda even “declared war” on such “bad pastors” last year.

Robert Kayitare, a businessman who attends St. Peter’s Anglican church in Kigali’s Remera neighborhood, believes …

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Where Have All the Church Planters Gone?

What’s the greatest hindrance to effective church planting?

What’s the greatest hindrance to effective church planting?

You might expect to get varied answers to this question from church planting theorists, strategists, and practitioners, but among those consistently participating in this conversation one comment bubbles to the top almost every time: A scarcity of prepared leaders.

This wasn’t true in the not-too-distant past. As networks and denominations fanned the fires of church planting fervor, the early adopters were quick to launch out and start new churches. There was once a substantial pond of would-be church planters from which to fish, and numerous groups threw their lines in the water and caught strings of quality leaders.

For example, Chris Railey, Senior Director of Leadership and Church Development for the Assemblies of God, reports that they planted 406 churches three years ago[1] and the North American Mission Board’s Send Network saw a similar rise in church planting in 2014[2], with 985 new church planted.[3]

So, what’s the problem?

To many, all looked good. But there was a problem that most didn’t foresee over the horizon. It soon became obvious that ready-made, pre-prepared church planters were becoming a difficult fish to catch. The pool of church planters was becoming fished out and no one was stocking the pond.

The years that followed were met with diminishing or plateaued results among even the most aggressive denominations or networks.

No amount of altered strategy or focused resourcing can make up for a lack of pre-prepared leaders to plant the churches that North America so desperately needs.

Which prompts the question: How many churches do we need? Currently, there are approximately 4,000 churches being planted across North America …

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Hybels Heir Quits Willow as New Accusations Arise Before Global Leadership Summit

Teaching pastor Steve Carter resigns after New York Times article; GLS had already lost 111 host sites.

Steve Carter, teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, resigned Sunday after new allegations surfaced against founding pastor Bill Hybels.

Carter, one of Hybels’s two heirs at Willow, had previously apologized for the church’s handling of accusations against Hybels, who took early retirement earlier this year after allegations of misconduct.

Earlier on Sunday, one of Hybels’s former assistants accused the Willow Creek founder of repeatedly groping her. Pat Baranowski told The New York Times that Hybels allegedly touched her breasts repeatedly and rubbed against her, had oral sex with her on one occasion, and once asked her to watch porn with him as a research project.

Baranowski told her therapist about the incidents, according to the Times. She also told another pastor at the church, but asked him to keep silent until now. She is the tenth woman to accuse Hybels of misconduct.

Hybels told the Times that the allegations were not true.

“I never had an inappropriate physical or emotional relationship with her before that time, during that time or after that time,” he told the Times in an email.

Those accusations were the last straw for Carter.

“The new facts and allegations that came to light this morning are horrifying, and my heart goes out to Ms. Baranowski and her family for the pain they have lived with,” he wrote on his blog, announcing his resignation. “These most recent revelations have also compelled me to make public my decision to leave, as much as it grieves me to go.”

The new allegations and Carter’s resignation come days before the annual Global Leadership Summit (GLS), which opens this week at Willow Creek and simulcasts worldwide.

Hybels’s shadow …

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Secularism and Diversity: Lessons from Canada

The implications of the Canadian Supreme Court’s refusal to accredit the Trinity Western University law program.

Trinity Western University, a Canadian liberal arts university, planned to open a law school as part of its vision to prepare Christians to serve in public and civic life. It wasn’t long before their plan triggered the ire of provincial law societies.

In the end, this case ended up before the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled that provincial law societies could refuse to admit TWU law grads from practicing law. Their ruling was based on their objection to the university’s community covenant: It requires students to agree to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and woman.”

Why Does This Matter?

Let me share a few reasons I believe this is important for Christians both in Canada and beyond.

First, it shows how a country’s top court can render a verdict in favor of human rights but biased against religious freedom. When the two ideas butted heads, religious freedom was the loser.

Second, it makes short shrift of the model that within a diverse society a plurality of ideas and beliefs can exist together. This is a huge loss. And when Canada, known for its democracy and public fairness, takes this road, we lose an important example of how pluralism functions.

In today’s cultural, religious, and ethnic stew, to respect and get along with each other is as basic a formula as I can imagine. Justices opposing the majority noted,

The state and state actors [and in this case, provincial law societies] – not private institutions like TWU – are constitutionally bound to accommodate difference in order to foster pluralism in public life. . . . Canadians are permitted to hold different sets of values.

Third, it keeps faith from being public. I hear …

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The Other Benedict Option: Humility

What a sixth-century monk can teach all of us about public engagement

In sixth-century Europe, unprecedented chaos gripped the dying remnants of the Roman Empire. As Europe entered a period of political chaos and moral decline, a young Christian by the name of Benedict started a movement that would radically reshape Christian habits of life for more than a millennium.

His primary contribution was fairly basic, perhaps even pedestrian: He offered a clear and orderly way to organize Christian monasteries, penning what came to be known as The Rule, which detailed how monasteries should run, down to meal times and organization charts. But these monasteries, stabilized and fortified by TheRule, would eventually become agents of subtle social change and guardians of a rich and vibrant faith amid the political chaos and cultural decline of the proceeding centuries.

In 2017, journalist Rod Dreher argued that we find ourselves in a circumstance not so different from Benedict’s: a moment of social upheaval and decline in which “serious Christian conservatives could no longer live business-as-usual lives” but must focus on nurturing “creative, communal solutions to help us hold on to our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them.” Building on the work of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, who argued for the relevance of Benedict’s preservation of Christian moral reasoning over 30 years ago, Dreher contended that this would involve painful but necessary shifts in mindset for evangelical Christians.

The ensuing discussion has been well-documented in CT’s pages. Supporters of the “Benedict Option” contend that it is essential to evangelical public engagement in an increasingly post-Christian environment, while critics have argued that …

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My Foster Daughter Was Separated from Her Family at the Border

Caring for someone else’s kid brought heartbreak. But it also drew me closer to God’s kingdom purposes.

When the mother of my five-year-old foster daughter ran toward her and scooped her up in tears and smiles after an eight-month separation, I knew I was seeing shalom embodied.

Julia had lived in my home since February, one of the more than 3,000 children separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border since last fall. After her sponsor family neglected her, social services took her into custody and within hours, I became her foster mom.

Restoring children to their parents is the goal of foster care, but it’s also what repels many people from fostering in the first place. Why? The potential heartbreak is hard to reckon with. That prospect of loss is what I feared most last summer when my family and I initially embraced the call to foster.

After pursuing adoption in Mexico—where my family had served as missionaries—we found only closed doors and returned to the US with a greater attentiveness to the needs in our own community. I began to seriously consider America’s broken foster care system and found myself wrestling with Joel 2:12–13: “‘Even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ Rend your heart and not your garments.”

My excuse for not fostering had been the possibility of heartbreak after a child left, but I began to recognize this anguish as an essential part of the calling. I realized that not only is there a deep human need to be part of a family—there’s also a deep need to know where one came from. In seeking adoption, I had focused on the former. In becoming a foster mom, however, I had awakened to the latter.

Embracing heartbreak, I learned, is part of carrying each other’s …

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Pew: Why Americans Go to Church or Stay Home

Among regular attenders of religious services: 2 in 3 go because of their kids, Catholics half as likely as Protestants to value sermons, and 1 in 5 don’t usually feel God’s presence.

About 2 out of 3 American adults who regularly attend church or other religious services say they go for their kids, for personal comfort, or to become a better person.

The most important reason for going: to become closer to God. Yet 1 in 5 adults who attend monthly or more say they do not usually feel God’s presence; 1 in 4 don’t usually feel a sense of community; and 4 in 10 don’t usually feel connected to their faith’s history.

Meanwhile, Catholic attenders are half as likely as Protestant attenders to say sermons are of enough value to be very important to their attendance.

These are among the results of a new Pew Research Center study, released today, examining 10 reasons why people might attend religious services and 8 reasons why they might not.

Pew has found a decline in attendance at religious services from 2007 to 2014, with about a third of Americans now saying they worship weekly and about a third saying they go rarely or never. However, the self-reported weekly attendance at evangelical churches stayed flat at 58 percent.

Who Attends:

Among US adults who do attend church or other religious services regularly (defined by Pew as attending monthly or more), 7 in 10 say a very important reason they attend is so their children will have a moral foundation (69%). Similar shares attend to become a better person (68%) or for comfort in times of trouble or sorrow (66%).

The most common reason for attendance is to become closer to God (81%), which far and away is also cited as the single most important reason (61%) with every other reason cited by less than a tenth of respondents.

Pew also examined the demographics of regular worshipers. Among the findings:

  • 71% pray daily
  • 56% are women
  • 55% are age 50 or older

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Under the Law: Israeli Christians Worry About Secondary Status in Jewish Nation-State

Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews cautious as region’s only democracy makes its identity politics official.

In a legislative act both obvious and inflammatory, this month Israel cemented its nature as a Jewish state.

What this means for its Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews is left unclear.

By a narrow vote in the Knesset, Israel’s legislature, the law entitled “Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People” was adopted to serve alongside over a dozen other “basic laws” that serve as Israel’s de facto constitution.

A key clause states that national self-determination is “unique” to Jews. Other provisions formally establish the nation’s flag, emblem, and anthem. Jerusalem is confirmed as the complete and united capital. The Sabbath and Jewish festivals are declared official days of rest.

But two other clauses have raised considerable concern. Jewish settlement is a “national value” to be promoted. And Arabic is downgraded from an official language to one with “special status.”

“This law outlines that Israel’s democratic values are secondary for non-Jews,” said Shadia Qubti, a Palestinian evangelical living in Nazareth. “It sends a clear message that my language is not welcome and consequently, neither is my cultural and ethnic identity.”

Her fears are echoed by an Israeli lawyer.

“While the idea of the law is straightforward—it’s hard to argue that Israel isn’t a Jewish state—the actual provisions are controversial, discriminatory, and possibly racist,” said Jaime Cowen, former president of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations.

Today the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem also denounced the law as “a cause of great concern” because Palestinians, who make up …

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