When a Leader Fails

This week I’ll be going to the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) video cast as I’ve done the past six years or so. But unlike previous years, I am heavily conflicted about attending.

You see, GLS is the brain child of Bill Hybels the now disgraced founder and pastor of Willow Creek Church in Barrington, IL. Hybels is a giant among Christian leadership thinkers and his GLS events have drawn millions to watch high-end speakers in both the secular business world and Christian community discuss leadership concepts and precepts.

I have pages of notes I’ve taken at these events and have implemented several of the strategies discussed over the years. The GLS is an outstanding event which has provided me personal and professional growth and honestly probably will do so again this year.

The struggle I’m having is one I think a lot of attenders will have: how do you separate the good from the bad? How do you hold on to the truth of the teaching when the teacher has lost his moral authority?

Hybels has been accused of abuse of power and inappropriate behavior with women on his staff, including some serious sexual misconduct. He denies all the allegations, but I have to say that the charges are more than credible and those charging him include some major players within his own leadership circle.

Willow Creek for its part stuck by Hybels, labeling the accusers as conspirators and pretty much re-victimizing the victims. Yesterday, the guy who was to replace Hybels as the teaching pastor at Willow quit saying that he could not stay at Willow when his soul was in conflict with the institution. Wow – is that telling! Willow’s board continues to get it wrong.

This is why the GLS is so hard for me this year. It’s a great event with awesome speakers. But can you really support an event that is connected with a group like Willow and Hybels?

It also raises a bigger question. In my own community and throughout the nation we’ve seen both low-profile and high-profile pastors and church leaders fail by having engaged in sexual misconduct, embezzlement, bullying, and more. How do we respond as the Body of Christ when a leader fails and loses his or her moral authority?

The easy answer is you forgive them, kick them out of leadership, get them the help they need and bring them back into the body once they have repented and have recovered themselves. It’s the method Paul advances to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians. But it’s not that easy, is it?

I know I probably shouldn’t feel this way, but I want to take all the books, videos and notes I have from Hybels and burn them. I feel completely betrayed by the guy. He would stand up there on stage and joke about being Dutch and not liking hugs and physical contact yet he’s accused of hugging women inappropriately, touching women inappropriately and much worse. I feel he lied to us all and by doing so completely lost his moral authority to teach the truth.

But, is that accurate? Is what he taught now soiled by his actions?

As with everything, we have to look at what scripture teaches to try to figure this out. Here’s what I discovered.

·       Abraham is still the father of the nations even though he lied about his wife being his sister – twice – to save his own skin.

·       David is still a man after God’s own heart even though he committed adultery, had one of his best friend killed, disobeyed God and did a census, and more.

·       Jacob lied, schemed and was pretty much a schmuck yet was able to wrestle with God and be blessed.

·       Moses murdered an Egyptian yet God chose him to lead Israel out of bondage.

·       Peter denied even knowing Jesus three times yet Jesus built His church on Peter’s confession of faith.

·       Paul persecuted the early Christians yet Jesus chose him to spread the church to the gentiles.

Over and over again I see God using imperfect people to enact His will. And it’s not just imperfection before they are used, it’s imperfection while they are being used.

As I feel very judgmental about Hybels and others in my own community whom I have seen tumble from their leadership roles, I am stopped in my tracks by realizing that God uses me in my ministry despite my failings as well. Very humbling to be honest.

I considered whether to attend the GLS this year for some time. I weighed the pros and cons and decided to go. I think there is a lot these instructors can still teach me and I shouldn’t allow the failings of Hybels and Willow Creek to stop me from learning what God has for me to learn even if it’s in a tainted environment.

After meditating on God’s word, I’ve come to the conclusion that God uses all of us imperfect people to impart His truth. Personally, I believe that Hybels is guilty of misconduct – the evidence is just too credible. I also believe that Willow is stone walling and handling this crisis inappropriately was well. And while conflicted that an organization that is holding a leadership conference is doing leadership so badly, I am going to take my own advice that I give others – keep the good and throw out the bad.

The GLS has value. Churches where a leader has failed have value. Organizations where a leader falls have value. No organization – at least one worth its salt – is about one person or group of people. Truth is truth even if it’s come from a broken person or group of people. So, hold onto the truth and throw out the rest!

Thus, I’ll be spending Thursday and Friday watching great speakers, such as Simon Sinek, TD Jakes, John Maxwell, Carla Harris and others teach me about how to be a better leader. In the meantime, I’ll be praying for Hybels and Willow that they come to their senses and follow their own leadership advice and seek forgiveness, repent and work to recover from their failings.

 

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3 comments

  1. Cris Hueneke · · Reply

    Thank you for this, Tom Mann. You’re right on and reading this healed a tiny corner of my broken heart over what’s happened at Willow.

    1. Hi Cris – this is so hard. Hopeful the GLS will recover!

      1. Cris Hueneke · ·

        I am feeling tremendous relief at what was said and done in the family meeting tonight. I think we’re finally on the right path. As the man (whose name I didn’t quite catch) said, “Do with us as You will, Lord.” And I believe with all my being that He will. I’m not attending the GLS, so I’ll be looking forward to your comments afterwards. THANKS FOR BEING YOU!

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