Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Let's Not Let the Tragedy Be Multiplied

Mark Galli, at Christianity Today, often does a good job of looking at a news item from several sides. He usually succeeds in not only reporting the news in Evangelicalism but in bringing the story back to the all-important question, "So What?" What should I do about this? What can I learn from this? Do I in some way, I hadn't thought of before, have a part in this?  I imagine that all of you are at least acquainted with recent reports of inappropriate behavior on the part of Bill Hybels, former pastor of the mega-influential Willow Creek Community Church. I've heard Hybels speak. I was challenged and helped by a lecture/sermon he gave a long time ago at a pastors' conference on "unchurched Harry and Mary." The lecture came at a time when most of us still had not met this pair. Like many others, I have been helped by his books. On at least three occasions I have I have been involved in classes based on the "Contagious Christian" series. Hybels didn't write or produce the series but were it not for him, the very useful material would never have seen daylight.  I fancied that I had some things in common with Pastor Hybels. We are about the same age. We both pastored one church for our entire career. Though Hybels was a mover and shaker in the Evangelical world, he came across with a sort of "Aw Shucks" plainness that I admired. While we disagreed on a number of issues, I like the man from a distance. More, I appreciated his contribution. For these reasons, among others, when the "me too" movement came to South Barrington, IL, my response was, "Oh, no. I hope not. I'm going to wait for more to come out." In the past couple of weeks, more did come out, and it isn't good. In his article, Galli doesn't go into detail about all the past news. One can easily find more than he wants to know about the story. Christianity Today, the magazine Galli leads, has been out front with coverage. Instead Galli focuses on, what do we do now?
"In light of the resignation of [Willow Creek's] pastoral staff and elder board, it’s time to rally around Willow Creek Community Church with support and prayers. With those resignations, and the repentance they suggest, Willow has an opportunity to enter into a new fruitful season of ministry." You probably ought to stop here and read Galli's article (if you can't open the link below, you might find it on another site).

So, what should we do in the light of what appears to be a major failure on the part of a big-time pastor, and the corollary failure of those around him? For one thing, we can learn. I hear my late Father quietly saying, "Now, Son, let that be a lesson to you." Here are some lessons Galli suggests with one of my own added.

  • "We tend to think that loyalty means always taking the side of the leader to whom we want to be faithful. Loyalty instead means doing everything in your power to make the leader not only a better one but a more faithful disciple of Jesus Christ."
    Wisely, and rightly, Galli points out that loyalty does not only run in the direction of fellow-staff, with whom we serve but to the constituents we do serve. Supremely, we must be loyal to God.
  • Frequently, when commenting on incidents like what has taken place at Willow Creek, I find myself making statements that begin with, "They should just . . ." as if what needs to happen now is easy. It isn't. As Galli points out, "Repentance is a hard and fearsome thing." Doing right is often hard. Cleaning up a mess like the one at Willow Creek--whoever is telling the truth--is off-the-scale hard.
  • The possibilities of redemption are greater than we tend to think. Ponder these words from Galli: After confirming that care and help must provided to the victims of abuse, he goes on to say, "[T]he gospel calls some of us to rally around the accused and guilty, as well. What loyalty and love looks like in each situation is different, but in the end it should be a combination of honesty and grace, tough love and tender mercy, that leads one and all into a deeper relationship with God." Abraham, Moses, David, Jeremiah, Peter, Paul, and John Mark, are all reminders of the reality that God may not be finished with someone just because we are. I'm in no way endorsing the express lane to restoration that has too often marked big-time Evangelicalism. I am saying that God's mercy is bigger than I know.
    For most of us, what this means is that we should pray.
  • Here is mine: While I did see some parallels between my ministry and Pastor Hybels's there is one glaring difference, scale. I once attended a midweek service at Willow Creek. I was like a wide-eyed farm boy visiting the city for the first time, only more so. For those of us labor in relative obscurity, there is a powerful temptation to jealousy and envy. And, then when things go wrong in the mega-ministry, there is a powerful urge to say something like, "See, I told you." That temptation yaps in my heart like an aggravating little dog. So far I've succeeded in telling the annoying beast to "shut-up." I'm praying that it will go out for a walk and not come back. I pray that my ministry colleagues, those who serve faithfully in ministries big or small, will be delivered as well. At this point, I can hear Screwtape's infernal printer grinding out a memo to all junior demons tasked with the ruination of those who serve in leadership for "the enemy" (for those of you not familiar with the Screwtape Letters, that would be our Lord Jesus Christ).
 ". . . encourage their envy. Your goal is to make them self-righteous about the fact that they are faithful in a small hard place. From there it should be an easy step to temp them to pride. Those who serve the enemy are sad that we have won a victory concerning one of their esteemed leaders. For a moment contrast that sadness of the enemy with the shrieks of joy--if such is possible in the underworld--if we can leverage this small victory into the far greater advance that will come if we can get many of them to become proud. The silly vermin are going about spouting the phrase, 'Me too.' It should not be hard, even for incompentent tempters like you, to start a 'not me,' movement. Make sure to plant the thought that these silly pastors and such can resist the temptation on their own. At all costs keep them from the patently obvious observation that they are fundamentally no different than others who have fallen. The possibilities cause me to sink lower and lower with delight. . . .
With Ravenous Affection,Screwtape. 

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