I am shocked and saddened by what is being reported about Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Community Church. For many years, Hybels was the church leader I respected and learned from the most. I’ve visited Willow Creek, attended and taught some of their courses, and absorbed and applied many books, sermons, and leadership talks by Hybels.
WHAT HIS LEGACY WOULD HAVE BEEN
Hybels had planned to retire this autumn. He stepped down in April amid the allegations against him. Until this news broke and snowballed, his legacy seemed sure to be his apparent Godly leadership and the tremendous positive impact his ministry has had on thousands of churches and millions of people.
WHAT HIS LEGACY IS TODAY
Hybels has denied doing what he’s accused of doing. Despite that, evidence is piling up, and there seems no reason to doubt the accusers. While Hybels was widely and deeply trusted and respected for years, his accusers are trustworthy and respectable women. Someone is lying, and it increasingly appears to be Hybels. To most people, it’s a foregone conclusion.
As it stands today, Hybels’s legacy is one of disgrace. Not only is he widely regarded as an adulterous abuser of women and a raging hypocrite who has betrayed everyone who ever trusted him, he’s also seen as a man who refuses to take responsibility for what he did wrong and, in doing so, maligns the women he already abused.
WHAT HIS LEGACY COULD BE
If Hybels truly is guilty of being unfaithful to his wife, abusive, and hypocritical — as he appears to be — he has an opportunity to forge a different legacy. He’ll never regain his original legacy, and he never could erase the facts of his current legacy. But, if he repents, his legacy would take on a new dimension.
Repentance would mean that he owns up to what he’s done — all of it. He wouldn’t mitigate it. He wouldn’t justify it. He would call it what it is. He would feel shame and express regret. He would apologize sincerely to everyone he’s hurt. He would rush to repair the harm he caused. He would hate what he’s done so much, he would do a one-eighty. He would turn over a new leaf. He would be a different man.
That’s what repentance does. What doesn’t it do? Repentance doesn’t undo what’s done. It doesn’t make everything okay. People have been hurt, and that doesn’t just go away. Admittedly, repentance is difficult to trust. How could anyone be sure he’s truly repented? Trust breaks into a thousand pieces, because that’s what it’s made of. It would take years of “new leaf” living to rebuild trust. But, if Hybels makes this choice and invites God to create a clean heart in him, it would be a beautiful thing for the world to see.
God’s done it before, and He can do it again. But the choice is up to Hybels. I pray that he makes that choice, for everyone’s sake. Such a decision would do some mending of hearts and shine a light on God’s grace and transformational power.
I’m grateful that God can create a clean heart in each of us. While we’re pointing fingers, let’s be sure to look in the mirror. No one is immune from temptation and sin. May each of us pray this prayer …
Make a clean heart in me, O God. Give me a new spirit that will not be moved. Do not throw me away from where You are. And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Let the joy of Your saving power return to me. And give me a willing spirit to obey you. Then I will teach wrong-doers Your ways. And sinners will turn to You. (Psalm 51:10-13)