I woke up this morning to watch ministry heroes of mine colliding, crashing and burning, their ministry pasts, presents and futures potentially deeply suspect.
I’m not in any position to evaluate this, but Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church has been accused of inappropriate behaviour with several women over a number of years. And the people leading the allegation include John and Nancy Ortberg, Nancy Beach and Jim Mellado – all previous senior staffers at Willow, and all ministry heroes of mine too. Hybels refutes the charges, the elders say they have thoroughly examined the accusations and exonerated him, and they suspect the issue has only gone public now to tarnish his reputation before his retirement this October.
It is ugly, public, cannot end prettily for anyone, and surely at least one of these high profile figures will have a serious question mark over their fitness for ministry. Sexual propriety is in the potential cast list, but so too is honesty, envy, power and revenge. Bitter fruits, here.
What price Reputation?
Facebook, Weinstein, Trump – what David Waller and Rupert Younger have so carefully analysed in The Reputation Game is becoming daily more relevant. And Brits will know of the string of people who have had their reputations trashed for no reason at all: Paul Gambaccini, Cliff Richard, Leon Brittan, Field Marshall Lord Bramall.
More importantly, and as I would have imagined any of the people in the first paragraph saying, our reputation is the least of our concerns. We pastors are just messengers. Clay pots. Filth. It’s the reputation of the Lord Jesus, his gospel and his church, which must be held up.
I’ve not met any of the people in this sad story, but I have been close to three ministry colleagues who have wrecked their ministries through inappropriate behaviour (actually, all far more serious than the accusations here), and I’ve seen the key lesson written large.
Dear fellow pastors – this is a heart issue, nothing less, and it is a spiritual battle. Nothing puts you in the front line for the Evil One’s attacks more than trying to be a faithful gospel minister.
Nothing puts you in the front line for the Evil One’s attacks more than trying to be a faithful gospel minister.
If you think you stand, watch out in case you stumble and fall. The evil one is prowling, watching, probing your weaknesses, looking to devour you. You know the verses as well as I.
Do not think an excellent evangelical pedigree will save you – that was the the case with the first of my three.
Do not think a glittering ministry CV will protect you – that was the case with the second.
And do not look to an accountability group to guard you – I was in an accountability group with the third, and to put it simply, he lied to us. Sin deceives, and makes you a deceiver. Lies are the Evil One’s nature.
After the first of these men fell, I met a senior and wise pastor. He looked at me straight, and said ‘Never forget, Christopher. There but for the grace of God…’
Indeed. There’s a sorry tale unraveling around Willow, and there are a number of plausible readings of what has gone public. At the moment I am simply shocked that four people whom I have respected for years are making serious accusations against a fifth, whom I have also respected for years.
Pastors, guard your hearts. And not just from sexual sin, either.