In 1979, almost forty years ago, I publicly made a decision to follow Jesus. No turning back. Of all of the bad decisions I have since made, I can at least say I have made a very good one, in fact, it has been the best decision of my life.
Not long after my church-going days began, my church split. I didn’t know churches could do that! The split came from dissensions that seemed too political, lacking in love. Of course, it revolved around money. This was my introduction to the real church living in the fallen world. Every institution on the planet, including churches, has been affected by it.
False Teachers and Fallen Men
This is nothing new, though. All through the New Testament, the theme of false-teaching and false teachers is strung. James says the wicked creep into the church. The word of God becomes perverted.
This was obvious to me from the get-go.
My youth group was eighty kids strong and full of life and discipline and good leadership. I met my best friend there. Her mum used to watch strange TV. It was “Christian” TV. My first thought was, how cool! Christian TV! Then I would sit next to my friend, along with her mum at breakfast and watch.
I was only fourteen. What did I know about fakes and frauds and people with bad intentions! But once I saw this lady with ginormous false eyelashes and streams of thick, black mascara streaming down her face crying for money, and a phone number in large, bold white numbers at the bottom of the screen, I had my doubts.
How skeptical and cynical and critical I thought I was to sense that there was something way off kilter with the programs she was engaged in. How could I have doubts? It was “Christian” TV! Red flags went up inside me, though, all over the place. I asked my friend if she thought this program was for real, or if she though they were just frauds after money. She didn’t seem too convinced that their “ministry” was genuine, either. Nearly ten years later it was proved my instincts were true.
But the telling didn’t stop there. Following on the heels of Jim Bakker’s sex scandal was Jimmy Swaggart’s sexual disgrace. Then there were the sex scandals of Ted Haggard, Doug Phillips, Bob Coy, Benny Hinn, Rory Alec and Andy Savage. These are just some of the mega ones. I remember thinking, “The next thing I’ll hear is that Bill Hybels is having an affair!”
Recently, the awful truth is that this has come to pass.
The Lust of the Flesh, The Lust of the Eye
Men stumble with sex because they are men. The church elevates the pastor to a high position, which ought not be. We are all brothers and sisters in the Lord, none higher or more privileged than another. The line of the pastoral position should be horizontal to the members of the church body, not vertical!
We feed the pastor the idea that he (or she) is more important, more valuable. We pay pastors in mega churches huge salaries. No wonder they feel special! They have large numbers all around them in the form of attendees and the tithes they bring.
Largely, because pastors are esteemed higher than the church body, they don’t join the small groups. Many believe they don’t need to be taught; they are the teachers. This means they are generally not held accountable. As their wealth increases to mega figures, they buy jets, villas, they sign big book deals. None of these are bad in themselves, but when achieved with ill-gotten gain, they lead to destruction. Some church goers believe these men must be trustworthy and honorable and are under the impression that God has truly blessed them.
Hollywood and Sex Scandals
How does Bill Hybels feel today? With all of the decades of “success” that he rode on now behind him, how has this success ended for him? There is much controversy over his actions, and the allegations have been going for some years, along with investigations. But he was found innocent of any wrongdoing, until recently. New investigations have been launched. The accusations against him are damning and extend beyond sexual infidelity into sexual abuse.
It seems after Hollywood has begun this “coming out with sexual misconduct” trend, the church is jumping on the bandwagon. Last fall the #MeToo movement began. The church responded with the #ChurchToo movement. These are forums where sexual abuse victims can visit and share their stories.
Jules Woodson, a victim of Andy Savage, said, “We as a church, of all places, should be getting this right. It’s unfathomable to me that the secular world, Hollywood, are taking a stand. The church should have been the first group to stand up and say, ‘We will not allow this.” The offenses of Mr. Hybels span back into the 90s. That is over twenty years ago!
At one point Hybels called the accusations outright lies.
The New Bill Hybels Legacy
There are the skeptics, too, that say the church is too quick to follow mainstream media. They believe there is something more sinister at work. Could he have been set up in some long-range plan to tear down the credibility of Christianity? For decades we have been told that Mr. Hybels is good. Good. Good. Now, we must believe, when social media tells us, that his is bad. Bad. Bad. The truth must lie somewhere in between.
In 2017, Hybels announced he would step down in October 2018, giving his reigns to two heirs. Christiany Today reported on August 8, 2018, “Since that announcement, 10 women have accused Hybels of misconduct. Earlier this week, The New York Times reported that one of leader’s former assistants accused the Willow Creek founder of repeatedly groping her. And on Sunday, Steve Carter, whom Hybels who indicated would succeed him as teaching pastor, announced his resignation.”
Willow Creek Church was blinded to his misconduct. Pastors are expected by the church to be above reproach, and when they fail, they hit the ground hard, taking many down in the fall. He has left a trail of disgrace, broken hearts and controversy. That is his new legacy! Mercy may be better than judgement, and it might be true that someone should be there to counsel him through his recovery and healing, but how does the church pick up all the pieces and rebuild again? Their name is marred forever. Bill Hybels, and mega-pastors in general, have been allowed to hold too much power and influence within Christian circles. Christians are left to look foolish, and we lose credibility when they fall. And they do fall. Don’t expect Hybels to be the last one!
While this subject matter is a sensitive one, I wanted to address it, and to share my personal thoughts on the matter. I can remember one of the most powerful teachings I have ever heard. Spanning decades, it has stuck with me. It was from a man based in Phoenix years ago. He was an excellent teacher. One day he taught a lesson on suffering and success using Joseph as a model. He said something like out of every 1,000 men, only 10 know how to suffer well, and from amongst these ten, only 1 will know how to succeed well! Staggering! Men simply don’t know how to prosper. The model is that In order to prosper well, you must know how to suffer well. Hmm. Who wants to know how to suffer well, especially if practice is involved? I pray that you will be that 1!
Written by Jori Sams
Jori Sams is a Christian author and freelance writer with nearly 2000 published pieces on the Internet, with over 1500 being published by Yahoo. Her books are published through Writeious Books. When she isn’t writing, you can usually find her following the sun…