Bill Hybels, Sexual Immorality, and the Need for Healthy Accountability
When I was taking seminary classes working towards ordination, we did a case study on the start of Willow Creek Church. Without being told it was Willow Creek, the scenario outlined some serious concerns with moral integrity of some of the leaders and we were asked how we would respond. Sarah and I said we would “hit pause” until the concerns over integrity were taken seriously and resolved. The leader then said, somewhat sarcastically, “you just shut down Willow Creek Church.” We looked at each other and said… “OK, we still think that was the best move.” The supposed lesson was, “Don’t be too quick to shut down something big that God might be doing.” While that may be true, and ministry can be rocky, we still think that the purity and integrity of leaders is of utmost importance and concerns must be taken seriously from the beginning. After recent events, it has become clear that those initial concerns with Willow Creek have come to fruition with the moral failures of Bill Hybels. What can we learn as the body of Christ?
I have been making the case for years that issues of sexual integrity within the Church should be addressed as a worldview issue. Why? Because this is one of the KEY stumbling blocks in our culture where Christians frequently 1) question the Biblical perspective on sexuality; 2) rebel against the Biblical boundaries of sexuality; and 3) compromise our witness to the culture by confirming the age-old criticism of “hypocritical Christians.” When key Church leaders succumb to moral failure, they become the opposite of lighthouses within our culture. They become rocky shoals where families and Churches crash against their misjudgment while the world watches. And the liberal media delights in covering it.
I have been speaking on the topic of “Leading with a Pure Heart,” making the case that sexual purity is a key stumbling block for Christians to stand firm in their faith. I also make the case that sexual compromise cripples our ability to engage a culture that is desperate for the hope and healing Christ has to offer. When people like Bill Hybels fall, the ripple effect is enormous. Willow Creek is imploding and thousands of Christians associated with this mega-church are dismayed. We as Christian leaders need to take the issue seriously and stop ignoring the epidemic of moral failure that has become all too common.
One area that needs increased awareness is accountability and transparency. In a Christianity Today article, the Willow Creek elders admitted, “Bill acknowledged that he placed himself in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid.” Situations include hotel rooms and yachts alone with women. Billy Graham famously came up with the “Modesto Manifesto” which is a code of conduct for all those working for him. Mike Pence recently commented that he has similar standards, one of which was not being alone with a woman in a non-public setting. We at Prepare the Way Ministries have similar standards. I can’t tell you the number of times that Christians have ridiculed this policy as legalism.
The fact that this ongoing Bill Hybels saga has gone on for over 30 years should be a huge wake-up call to the Church. It is time we take issues of purity and integrity seriously within the body of Christ. Even if a leader is extremely charismatic and gifted, they must be held accountable. I encourage everyone in positions of oversight (elders, overseers, deacons, boards, advisers, etc.) to take your God-given position seriously and hold leaders accountable to Biblical purity and integrity. I’m giving one of our talks this week, “Leading with a Pure Heart,” and as I prepared, I was reminded that we are not meant to walk alone. If you are stuck in the sin of sexual immorality, seek help and get into a healthy accountability group. If you don’t… eventually “your sin will find you out” and hurt others in the process.