What Shepherds Can Learn From the Bill Hybels Controversy


After weeks of reading he said/they said/he said/she said articles on megachurch pastor, Bill Hybels, it occurred to me that one simple biblical truth should inform the debate: The Bible says clearly and over and over again that his shepherds and his community are responsible to establish the path to restoration. They, and only they, are receiving the real-time guidance the Holy Spirit offers to spiritual leaders in faith communities belonging to the Lord Jesus. You can read the posts of a similar series here.

The reaction surprised me. Comments on this website countered one another, the Facebook stream energized…you know how it goes.

One sincere reader asked me, “What advice would you give to a new pastor who wanted to avoid this type of controversy. This post is what I would say. But first, my usual disclaimer:


I do not know Bill Hybels, though I’ve begun to pray for him daily.

I pastor a church that is intentionally not mega, though it used to be back “in the day” as they say. “The day” for our church was the period from 1915 to the 70’s. It was as big a deal as a church could be a big deal during that period.

Though there is a truth about the controversy that only the insiders know, I have no knowledge of any of it and truly do not have a horse in this race. Since I know nothing, I say nothing about which side is right.

Finally, my policy from the launching of this website has been to refrain from offering any unsolicited advice or specific observations concerning any local church. It’s not my vineyard.

It’s also important that you understand the readers I’m writing to. There are a lot of jerks offering opinions about Bill Hybels and Willow Creek who simply love a controversy and love to hear themselves talk or write. And, there are a lot of knucklehead Christians who jump on a side and argue vehemently over something they know nothing about.

Here’s my answer to the question, “What would you say to a young pastor who wanted to avoid this type of controversy?

The Template: Courageous Leadership

Nothing exposes the need for re-thinking church more than the criticisms thrown at its leaders. Entrenched ecclesiastical powers measure others by values and standards that long ago lost contact with earthly realities and heavenly concerns. They’re irrelevant and don’t know it, unscriptural and don’t care. Blinded by religious categories, they miss what the Spirit is doing. Comfortable in their unchallenged conclusions, they ignore what God has said.

What sets those shepherds that lead spiritual revivals in their communities apart from political or cultural revolutionaries is a resource that forces every honest mind to evaluate their message and methods by the divine standard. We call it the Bible.

As the most effective Christian leader ever, Paul learned that he could never satisfy his critics. All it did was give them greater opportunity to find fault. Instead, he set the standard for authentic spiritual leadership—he defended himself only to the point that it mattered to his followers. He absolutely did not care what the anti-revival, spiritual power brokers of his day thought of him, but he cared deeply about the impact of their charges on the disciples of Christ.

His defense revolved around two irrefutable truths: (1) you know I loved you, even when it cost me dearly, and (2) you know God used me to change your life. The paragraph he devotes to reminding his friends in Thessalonica of the selfless ways his team served them is the template for New Testament leadership (1 Thess. 2:1-12).

After reminding the readers of their life-change from idol worshipers to servants of Christ eagerly awaiting His return (1 Thess. 1:9-10), he explains how it happened. If I didn’t know that these were Paul’s words to the Thessalonians in the first century, I would think he was describing the ones who have laid down their lives for me as I’ve grown in Christ.

Question: What can we learn from Paul’s template for Christian leadership?