Open Letter to Willow Creek Association

Open Letter to Willow Creek Association July 3, 2018

By Andy Rowell, posted with permission.

Open Letter to Willow Creek Association Board and Tom De Vries

Dear Tom De Vries and the Willow Creek Association Board,

I’m a ministry leadership professor at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota and I attended the Global Leadership Summit last year. Bill Hybels was one of my heroes.
I am concerned about the latest article in the Daily Herald about the GLS and about the May 17 public statement by the WCA.
Benjamin Ady reports that as of June 8th he had heard that 205 of 700 North America sites (29%) have pulled out of hosting the GLS including Christ Church of Oak Brook and Eagle Brook Community Church.
Therefore, it was hard for me to imagine the statement in the Daily Herald article today was truthful about the same number of attendees being expected this year. But then I looked at the exact quote and I see that it could be weasel words. “the number of registered attendees both for South Barrington and around the world is right on track with previous years, De Vries said.” Possible translation: Attendance is way down in US and Canada BUT the home site and other international sites are expecting stable attendance.
The article did not note that the WCA Board has put out a statement about the issue:
It seems to me that this statement is rather weak and leaves room for a comeback for Bill Hybels and does not take any responsibility for holding him accountable or looking further into these issues. It is hard to understand what a board is for if they abdicate these responsibilities.
Furthermore, the WCA Board has been avoiding responsibility since 2015 when three members resigned because of a failure to look into these issues.
See these comments from Nancy Ortberg about being on the WCA Board.

Months later, at a meeting with certain Elders and Willow Creek Association Board members, Bill was asked about these women. Bill characterized both of them as “having drinking problems,” being “unstable” and “stalking his family.” I was the only person on either Board who knew the identities of both women, and I knew they were smart, kind, and diligent leaders.

At this same meeting, Bill was asked about his “special arrangement with I.T.,” where his emails are permanently deleted on a frequent and regular basis. During that meeting, an Elder told a WCA Board member that Willow Creek had “no document retention policy.”  This was the first time either Board had heard about this arrangement, but both of these women told us separately that Bill had told them about this “special arrangement” years prior.

Bill also admitted that the woman alleging an affair had spent many nights at the Hybels’ home when Lynne was out of town.

In July 2014 I told the Elders about the story from 2006. They had not been aware of it and did not ask a single question, nor ask for the woman’s name until I brought it up again three months later.

In addition to everything we were learning, I and others on the Board of the Willow Creek Association grew deeply alarmed at Bill being allowed to continue in a counseling relationship with this woman who was suicidal, as well as the slipshod nature of the investigation and the overall lack of accountability in the Willow Creek culture.

Then see this section of an article from the original article about the allegations against Hybels:,amp.html

For Ortberg and two other board members, the decision was the last straw.

Ortberg, along with Jon Wallace, president of Azusa Pacific University, and Kara Powell, executive director of a research center at Fuller Theological Seminary, resigned from the association board in January 2015, later citing what they deemed an inadequate review.

“It is our firm belief that leaders should be open to examination of and accountability for our actions,” Wallace and Powell said in a joint statement provided to the Tribune earlier this month.

Ortberg told the Tribune that the board’s decision not to pursue another inquiry was, in her opinion, a “complete abdication of fiduciary responsibility,” and left the board vulnerable to litigation if the allegations were proved true.

Soon after, there was more fallout from the board’s decision. Compassion International chose not to renew a long-standing sponsorship of the Willow Creek Association’s Global Leadership Summit.

“The decision was made, in part, as a result of Compassion’s concerns over WCA’s process for reviewing complaints regarding Willow Creek Community Church senior leadership,” the organization said in a statement.

You can see my summary of the events and a few comments at:
It seems to me as well that there should be a public list of who are the Board members of the WCA so they can be held accountable for their role in this. It seems odd, secretive, and inappropriate that there is not a list on the WCA website.
I have nothing against the Global Leadership Summit–I love it actually–but I am troubled by Tom De Vries and Dick DeVos and whoever else from the Willow Creek Board made the May 17 statement and then also De Vries’s comments in this article. It perpetuates the culture of secrecy and lack of accountability and half-truths that got Willow Creek Community Church and the Willow Creek Association into this situation. The Willow Creek Community Church elders and pastors have begun to sharply reverse course and admit Hybels and the church Board and pastors were in the wrong–not the women and the reporters telling the truth, and it is time for the WCA to do the same. Someday conceivably Bill Hybels could make some sort of return to something but how will you and the 400,000 GLS attenders know whether that is appropriate unless you all have had an independent credible investigation look into what happened and how both the Willow Creek Community Church elders and the Willow Creek Association failed to stop it and give recommendations going forward? Demonstrate your leadership competence and integrity by paying for an outside investigation and then giving up all control over what they look into, who they talk to, and the nature of their public final report. Please be different than many organizations that hire a public relations firm to put the best face on things and then hope people move on to focusing on other things. If other pastors are any indication, Bill Hybels will reappear soon and the outcry and sense of cynicism and anger toward leadership and Christians will bloom again. Take this seriously now. It is not going away. Many sites have pulled out this year because it is unappetizing to receive leadership training from a group that is downplaying the misconduct of its leader with half-truths. The Global Leadership Summit will never recover its credibility and thus also its ability to do its mission unless the WCA Board addresses the abuse of leadership power by its founder and its failure to listen to those who were concerned including the resignation of three board members in 2015.
Andy Rowell
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