What The Board Of Willow Creek Did Wrong
The three fundamental failures of the Willow Creek board and the lessons we can learn and avoid in the church.
The recent resignation of the entire board of Willow Creek Community Church is not a surprise. It was inevitable given its governance errors in dealing with Bill Hybels, and the accusations against him. Especially enlightening is that the congregation applauded when the current board announced it would step down. I am confident this applause was not intended as antagonistic, but a recognition that it would take a new board to move forward. I believe that the board failed in three crucial areas. Each area of failure made the situation more critical, not less.
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Failure One: Willow's board did not hold their leader accountable.
If anyone was a superstar in the Christian leadership arena, Bill Hybels was. Perhaps this is a contributing factor to why the board allowed itself to be manipulated by Bill to downplay the severity of the accusations against him. Also, Bill is known to be an influential figure who has proven challenging to object as a leader.
The allegations against Bill date back several years, and even with those accusations and credible voices, the board failed to hold Bill accountable for actions that would eventually bring about his resignation. Every leader needs to be held accountable, and boards that are not willing to keep their leader accountable are weak and ineffective boards.
Failure Two: Willow's board did not take the allegations against Bill Hybels seriously causing additional pain to the victimized.
Can you imagine being one of the victims who took the courageous step to come forward only to be called a liar (directly or indirectly)? In a place that should be safe – the church – it felt unsafe to many victims and whistleblowers. Amazingly, some of the accusations came from well-known women who had served the church faithfully for years, and the board listened with a voice of disbelief and dismissal. Willow Creek, the model ministry for many others, failed the "#MeToo" test. While I am sure the vigorous denials of Bill played a role in their failure to listen, the board is ultimately responsible for not acting as multiple individuals came forward with a story. In the process, they made the pain of victims and their families that much more significant.
Failure Three: Willow's board destroyed its credibility by protecting Bill Hybels.
When in damage control mode, many boards go into damage control mode where spin is more important than truth. Those watching from the outside scratched their heads in amazement as the board made pronouncements to the congregation only to need to clarify and modify in the next announcement. And the next!
Ironically the best way to protect a congregation is to tell the whole truth when situations like this occur. At least there can be confidence in the leadership to be up front even if the administration has failed. In this case, because of how they handled the situation, Bill Hybels, the board, and his successors all ended up without the trust of the congregation and resigned. A massive blow to the already wounded church. What was complicated and ugly became even more complicated as trust in all leadership is now gone!
If you serve on a ministry board, be an advocate for transparency wherever the chips may fall. Falsehoods or cover-ups do not help God they are only fuel for the enemy.
Vince Miller is a speaker, author, and mentor to men. He is an authentic and transparent leader who loves to communicate to audiences on the topics of mentorship, fathering, leadership and manhood. He has authored 13 books and small group curriculum for men and is the primary content creator of all Resolute materials. Contact Vince Miller here. His newest book is Thirty Virtues That Build A Man.