Non-Disparagement Agreements And Truth-Telling In The Church: Willow Creek

Non-Disparagement Agreements And Truth-Telling In The Church: Willow Creek September 13, 2018

More and more churches and Christian institutions are establishing and demanding non-disclosure agreements as well as (even more) non-disparagement agreements.

What’s Going On?

Non-disclosures, for the sake of this blog post, pertain to intellectual property like a church creating a discipleship computer program with a person’s knowledge; that person leaves and is asked/required not to talk about that program.

Non-disparagements pertain to not talking bad about the institution, not telling dirty secrets, not disparaging the institution or the pastor or the people at the institution.

Money is often involved; yea, nearly always. Sometimes lots of it.

In non-disclosure agreements money can be exchanged as a reasonable severance for work done, and such standard severance is often not a problem in churches. One friend told me he was paid one month salary for every year he had worked as his severance upon leaving.

Money being offered in non-disparagement agreements can be a messy and sometimes profoundly evil transaction. At times people are asked with an offer of money to hide acts that are wrong, evil, and even criminal; some are asked for money not to talk about a corrupted institution. And sometimes sizable sums of money are involved. Way too much money for churches. Sometimes the discussion involves ambushing the employee, sometimes there are threats and bullying and intimidation. Sometimes all that is said is “Please finish well” with a meaning that is very clear to the employee.

The Problem

In Non-Disparagement Agreements the money can easily become hush money, bribery, silence for shekels. It’s morally wrong and contrary to truth telling. (And I’m not saying all NDAs are always always always wrong.)

I’m willing to stiffen that judgment with some starch: no one with a theologically-informed ethic should be thinking of non disparagement agreements when the issue is dirt on the floor in the church. Such a person, instead of advocating silence, should be advocating rebuke and repentance and a return to basics, including unflinching truth telling.

Willow Creek South Barrington (I don’t know about other campuses in this regard) is guilty here and it needs to be discussed.

[Not only has Willow — again, always South Barrington in this article — signed NDAs they have also initiated more than fifty restraining order type letters (one published on this blog last week) that are absent of pastoral expression or pastoral plans for restoration. (These are not in view below.)]

All that matters in what follows is (1) non-disparagement agreements about (2) actions that are unChristian and sinful for which (3) Willow offers money and a person signs an agreement of silence with money exchanged. My contention is that Willow is morally wrong offering such an agreement. I assume there are times when the best situation is for both parties not to talk. However, it is never right to hide a sin for money. I hold the stronger party most liable for creating the situation. The stronger party (Willow) is asking the employee to compromise her or his moral integrity to sign the agreement. But the stronger party is implicated for sin its own action because they only reason for asking for the agreement is because it knows something that is wrong has been done and it wants it not known.

Some Questions for Us to Discuss

My questions: Is it right for a church, and in most cases the Human Resources Department of a church, to demand or to contract silence about an unChristian, unbiblical and perhaps even criminal action? Is the person who signs such a contract/agreement obligated to silence? What if the contract was agreed to under some coercion or duress or threat or bullying? What if the person who signed the agreement comes to a conviction later that the church was profoundly wrong and they now regret having signed it? Can they speak up?

Thinking about NDAs through the Demander

The Demander (Willow Creek’s Human Resource agent with WCCC behind it) has sometimes violated the relationship he/she has with the Demanded as brother or sister in Christ. Instead of gospel-shaped truth-telling, the Demander violates the gospel. The Human Resources Deparment at Willow Creek has sometimes violated the gospel in creating a Non-Disparagement Agreement in exchange for silence when the matter being silenced is a moral or professional failure and WCCC then also prohibits the truth from being told.

Now more questions: What if the one who is being asked to sign an agreement recognizes Who it is that is demanding the agreement as inconsistent with Christian truth? What if one realizes that what was asked of the person is out of line with Christian fellowship? What if “I” then become convinced the Demander was acting in an evil system of powermongering that needs to be resisted by telling the truth? Would not the Demanded become the prophet telling the truth to the Demanded and the System that created the Demander?

Here’s the bigger question: Why in the world is a church in this situation? Are not Non Disparagement Agreements already an admission that something is seriously wrong?

It is my contention that when the Demander has violated “in Christ” relationships (truth-telling, silencing sins and violations, etc) the agreement ought to be reconsidered and considered invalid. But don’t do so until you talk to an employment lawyer.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Do you think this non-disparage agreement practice has become as common as it is because of the internet (everyone having a platform)? Or is this mostly a megachurch thing and NDAs could pre-date the age of widespread availability of the internet?

  • scotmcknight


    Everything in the internet age is more complicated when it comes to having a voice. I don’t know if it is a megachurch thing but probably more so there than in smaller churches. NDAs predate internet age. Those with the most to lose, protect, etc, are most attracted to NDAs.

    I queried a few churches and my limited survey leads me to think Willow South Barrington has more of these than others. I talked with one megachurch pastor who said they’ve never done an NDA and had only two restraining orders (Willow South Barrington has 54 in ten years) in ten years and both were gun toters who were saying crazy things.

  • Tucker

    Scot, What about Christian colleges and seminaries? John and I both know of employees in such institutions who have been paid off so that they will not go public with their stories of serious wrongdoing. Has Northern Seminary ever done that?

  • Inquirer

    With a focus exclusively on church (not other Christian entities), it is clear to me that this problem, and most, arise out of church-as-formal-institution. Fellowships, gatherings, assemblies of people of faith would not find it necessary to address these questions.

  • Tucker

    Actually, in my case at Calvin Theological Seminary, I would have had to sign a non-disparagement agreement to save my job. I refused to do that. I was thus forced to end my teaching career after my second terminal appointment ended. The administration was undermining me at every turn, so that staying would have been a terrible situation for me. The fact that I was 59, and could afford to “retire” helped a lot. Most professors and staff can’t afford to do this, especially if they’re younger—or a lot poorer than I was. They are essentially forced to sign that awful document.

  • nate shoemaker

    The more business like our churches become the more business like behavior they will continue to exhibit. To address this only in the context of churches is too narrow, I would think, and would benefit by comparing the behaviors and practices of businesses vs an older (perhaps purer) model of church.

    I think I’m more inclined to think if you choose to be a part of a church as business (employee, “customer”, or whatever) your expectations for how that organization is run and handled should match. It would not be any different if you were employed or a customer at JiffyLube, McDonald’s, Nike, or Liberty Mutual. Now, I think Willow’s behavior is gross, inappropriate, and sinful; I am not condoning it (or their structure that enables it). However, I am not surprised by it, and to a certain extent I would hope it would lead people away from these types of “church” structures, both in terms of membership and attendance, as well as employment and planting. The fact that they behaved this way is directly related to what we’ve let church become. NDAs and NDCs are only applicable because they’ve essentially stopped being church.

  • Terri Fullerton

    It seems to me that the NDAs in this case are like the shaking of a jar of muddy river water when you need clarity. It’s intentional and it’s impact is more harmful and widespread than even the people involved. It’s harmful, and controlling to say the least, to the victims. The NDAs, in this case, seem like an adherence to reputation and secrecy which undermines integrity and truthfulness. I don’t think you can have both in church community. An environment that adheres to secrecy and lies with shaming threats is like spraying bleach on a plant and expecting it to survive. It will suffocate the life out of a restorative culture, which is the work of Christ. The structure of intentional powermongering will come crashing down.

    Buildings are condemned for a reason. But with the right skill and leadership they can be gutted and rebuilt.

  • Jeff Miller

    Man, I’d like to believe that I’d never sign a Non-Disparagement Agreement in a case that would involve potential abuse, vicitimization, etc…but I fear my own desire for the “security” of the big payday.

    Scot, I know this is only tangentially related, and, to my knowledge, not something that’s been utilized by Willow in this situation, but I’d also be very interested in discussion of the ethics of churches using Non-Compete Agreements (NCA) with staff ending their employment. I recall NCAs coming up often in connection with Mars Hill problems, and they would seem (to me) to be symptomatic of Ecclesiological break-downs stemming from the Pastor- or Staff-centric Church models.

  • Thanks for chiming in, Scot, those are helpful details. I can’t get over how much ugliness we see the more layers of this onion have gotten peeled back.

  • Ted Johnson

    I have seen churches and Christian ministries increasingly use these types of instruments in the last 15 years or so. Part of this is driven by the litigious society we now live in where lawsuits against churches, ministries, pastors, and individuals in ministry are increasingly common. Law firms and insurance underwriters often recommend these kinds of instruments as part of a larger package of procedures and legal instruments to limit legal exposure and liability, both organizationally and personally. Along with having insurance coverage, and “best practice” procedures in place, these type of instruments can provide protection and limit exposure from lawsuits or threats of lawsuits. As well as restrain behavior that might lead to lawsuits or harmful behavior, in particular, publishing online negative material to harm organizational or personal reputation and/or goodwill of organization or name/trademark. The larger the churches and ministries, and the more prominent and/or affluent the pastors or leaders, the more these layers of protection are used, and sometimes required for insurance, etc. Also, larger churches and ministries and prominent pastors or leaders often have business agreements and activities and contracts with publishers, media, other business entities etc., and those interests and entities want legal exposure limited and reputation and or name/trademark protection as much as possible also. It is true that today large churches and ministries are increasingly operated like a business, and are adopting business practices, and while that may not be ideal or desirable, in today’s world it is increasingly a necessity. The reality is, Willow is not just a large church, it is also a large business. The use of these type of instruments has become very common practice in business and non-profit organizations.

    There are valid and prudent and reasonable legal and business reasons and uses for these instruments. But like anything else a church or ministry or Christian leader engages in, the use and practice and execution of these things should be consistent with scripture, best business practice, including HR best practice, and high ethical standards. But as appears to be the case with Willow, these things can be and too often are abused, misused, and wrongfully practiced. That is where strong independent and ethical boards and vigilant and ethical outside legal counsel are so important. Robust oversight and regular review of practices is critical in safeguarding against the use of these type of instruments for covering up and enabling abusive, criminal, or unethical behavior and practices.

  • paul

    While I concur wholeheartedly with what Scot wrote, I appreciate your practical thoughts and insights, given the reality of our “litigious society we now live in”. And even though you defend NDAs and the like as a necessary evil, you are astute to sound a cautionary warning: ” like anything else a church or ministry or Christian leader engages in, the use and practice and execution of these things should be consistent with scripture, best business practice, and high ethical standards. … Robust oversight and regular review of practices is critical in preventing the use of these type of instruments for covering up and enabling abusive, criminal, or unethical behavior and practices.” Thanks!

  • Sam Lam

    The seminary at which I teach hasn’t and wouldn’t use such an agreement. We might ask that a person who leaves please not engage in negative publicity about the seminary, but would never go anywhere near as far as it seems WCCC has.
    I don’t know, and don’t want to know, the specifics of this situation. I do know enough to know that keeping things quiet in this case is not terribly different from what the Roman Catholic church has been roundly condemned for by evangelicals. I seem to remember a wonderful Ray Bradbury story called “The Other Foot.”

  • paul

    I agree Nate: “NDAs and NDCs are only applicable because they’ve essentially stopped being church.” To me, this whole sad and sorry saga is at the root “what we’ve let church become.”

  • Jane

    This is a very personal topic for me. I signed an NDA alleging sexual assault against my very young child in a church setting. It is very complicated, but I felt tricked into the secret settlement. I was in process of going public via local media. When the media contacted the church they sent us a threatening letter. I believe NDAs are more common in churches than you can even investigate since their mere presence is a secret. I have been in conversations with legislators and others about making such agreements illegal.

  • I know a few situations of friends who left a pastorate at a church and were strongly persuaded to sign an NCA at their exit interviews. I don’t know anyone who gave in a signed it, but it’s not uncommon. I have this running theme in my head of asking “empire or Kingdom?”; to me, empire mentality is trying to conquer a neighborhood and views other churches as competition for a limited number of churchgoers. Kingdom mentality sees other churches as friends and family, and when they win, we win… and the harvest is ripe. A NCA is completely “empire mentality” to me, and it is very unfortunate.

  • Jane

    Ted, I am curious what content you believe would be appropriate to conceal within a confidentiality agreement in a church context vs what you would believe is wrong.

  • Inquirer

    Ted – you say “large churches..are increasingly operated as a business, and are increasingly adopting business practices.” When an organization calls itself a church, but has a majority of organizational characteristics which reflect those of a parachurch ministry organization, and virtually none of the one-another characteristics described in the NT of the church, how is it to be concluded that such is in fact a church, and not a parachurch ministry? What makes a church truly a church? (Asked in all seriousness.)

  • Ted Johnson

    I agree the lines can definitely become significantly blurred. When mega churches publish books and teaching materials, produce music and video content, create popular apps, produce music artists and concerts, teaching conferences, TV/radio stations or online channels, schools and children’s care, the business aspects can overshadow the more traditional church apects in terms of money, staff, and facilities. On one hand, technology and resources of mega churches creates unprecedented ministry opportunities. On the other hand, it entangles churches more deeply into business and legal and financial entanglements. Often to their detriment, and sometimes to their corruption.

  • Patrick

    I would simply leave that cesspool, just like I would the Catholic church at this point.

  • “Is it right for a church… to demand or to contract silence about an unChristian, unbiblical and perhaps even criminal action?”

    Given how easy it is to picture the Pharisees using such tactics on Jesus to prevent Matthew 23 from being published, I’m going to suggest the answer is a resounding “NO”.

  • Lori Anne Thompson

    NDA’s are complicated little ditties to the average uniformed and overwhelmed victim. As Dr. McKnight so well noted, the weaker party is the victim. Of course it is the victim. Abuse of power is always an imbalance of power.

    Fact: By the time victims get to the NDA stage, usually they have been dragged through hell and back. The legal process presents a veritable traumatic merry-go-round, complete with evil clowns, and financial loss through limitless legal costs. Add in the well-played instrument of fear, this is nothing short of disorienting, if not despairing for victims of clergy sexual abuse/misconduct.

    The Demandee has already been overwhelmed by the Demander… the power dynamic did not ever change. The victim is often coerced, if not with words, then with the overwhelming reality that the balance of power was and remains in the hands of the powerful offender.

    In most states, provinces, and territories in North America, clerics remain free to wield their power with little legal restraint. Clergy sexual abuse of an adult is not a criminal offense therefore lends it to civil, rather than criminal proceedings. Combine this with the naive trust that clerics enjoy, victims often are faced with the “choice less choice” of signing an NDA.

    NDA’s pay for silence.

    “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.” Elie Wiesel

    Indeed we must.

  • Ted Johnson

    There are many possible appropriate situations and applications. Each situation is unique in terms of fact pattern and circumstances. But one example: If a church or ministry is contacted by a law firm and threatened with a lawsuit or a lawsuit is filed, pursuant to allegations of negligence or wrong doing that are deemed to be substantive, the most efficient resolution for both parties might be a financial settlement. Settlement agreements usually do include confidentiality agreements and release of all further liability. Not for the purpose of covering things up, but for the purpose of obtaining finality, resolution and closure of all the issues. These are usually negotiated and finalized by attorneys working for an insurance company. This in no way precludes a church or ministry from also diligently pursuing a robust process of review, investigation and discipline, including termination, against staff found to have acted against policy or employment requirements , or who have committed wrong doing. If crimminal behavior or actions are found or substantively suspected, then referral to law enforcement may be appropriate as well. In some cases, as with allegations or suspicion of child abuse, reporting can be legally required.

    I would suggest that confidentiality agreements that are orchestrated by accused staff or compromised boards or leadership or enabling legal counsel, for the purpose of silencing accusors, covering up wrong doing, and protecting and enabling bad/immoral or crimminal behavior within the church or ministry, with no serious intention or action to stop and correct wrong doing and hold wrong doers accountable, is unethical and unbiblical and contrary to best practice, and may result in incurring further legal and criminal liability.

  • daryl sterk

    it does seem the reformed traditional authoritarian leadership style has an affiinity for NDA’s (and I consider non disclosure and non disparagement basically the same, recognizing the original intent of non disclosures was protecting company secrets, buty they have exploded way beyond that thanks to lawyers and sin that leaders want covered up)

    This is a recommendation I’m hoping will become a reality in a denomation… we will see what happens…

    SPECIFICALLY: Evaluate NDAs, confidentiality agreements, non-disparagement agreements and other similar documents on a case by case basis and recognize (and repent) where NDAs have been used to protect those in power at the expense of the victim-survivors. Declare any ungodly agreements as null and void. Create a policy limiting NDAs, etal in the future in the CRC as they often further harm those who have already been hurt.

    I do have to wonder with Willows Reformed roots/influence with some Willow’s key leaders, if that is part of what has propagated these there.

  • Renee

    I read another blog post this week asking how to tell if WC is a church or a company. I don’t know if it’s ok to post the link here so delete my post if it’s not.

  • daryl sterk

    Is it right for a church, and in most cases the Human Resources Department of a church, to demand or to contract silence about an unChristian, unbiblical and perhaps even criminal action? NO, this is the enemy’s way, keeping things in the dark… why in the Name of all that’s holy would we use the enemy’s MO,instead of God’s way, in the light (John 3:19-21)

    Is the person who signs such a contract/agreement obligated to silence? NO, it is not confidentiality but a conspiracy to silence to cover up wrong doing… to hide something that is unethical, immoral, illegal, ungodly… just plain wrong! let alone evil and demonic.

    What if the contract was agreed to under some coercion or duress or threat or bullying? the contract is NULL and VOID, coercing anyone to benefit/protect themselves at the expense of the one harmed is abuse of power…

    What if the person who signed the agreement comes to a conviction later that the church was profoundly wrong and they now regret having signed it? Can they speak up? YES, it will be probably be painful and costly, but if they have support from others around them and have the capacity to fight it, I believe they should challenge the legitimacy of it, because it is an illegitimte contract, especially in the Church…

    I hate NDA’s… they are often evil… they have been used to perpetuate the culture of silence, protecting the perpetrator at the expense fo those harmed… when ALL 56 US attorney generals agree these are BAD, that should tell you something… the Church should be the one declaring these as unethical!

    quote: “I hope the leaders of Congress recognize that there’s a wave coming and they should step up and do the right thing,” he said. and I would say, I hope the leaders of the Church recognize the same and do what’s right…

  • Jim Henderson

    “In most states, provinces, and territories in North America, clerics remain free to wield their power with little legal restraint” which is what happened in the case of Mark Driscoll

  • Jim Henderson

    Scot, please keep this topic alive. You have the right tone. People listen to you. This is all of course exactly what happened 10 years ago in Seattle with Mark Driscoll. He is still peddling his stuff in Phoenix. We left him to the church in Phoenix to deal with since it took us ten years to expose and expel him from here.

  • Iain Lovejoy

    Speaking as an employment lawyer (although in the UK where things are different legally) I can see the merit in NDAs where these relate to a personal dispute between the employer and employee (for example if the employee believes they have been sacked unfairly) since if the employer is settling the dispute with the employee they don’t expect to see the employee then e.g. going to the media to try and pressurise the employer for further redress. That is what the things are for.
    NDAs attempting to prevent the employee exposing serious wrongdoing by the employer are quite a different matter. (In UK law NDAs are unenforceable in so far as they purport to prevent this sort of disclosure, in any event.)

  • Aaron Lage

    I second Paul’s thoughts here. Thank you Ted.

  • Ted Johnson

    A judge can decline to enforce a NDA/Confidentiality agreement if there is evidence of fraud, duress or threat, criminal conduct, bad faith, abusive process, lack of adequate disclosure, etc.

  • Wisdom, Justice, Love

    Yes, sorta and no.

    Yes the internet has the ability to amplify voices that would not have the resources to do so 20 – 30 years ago. So many have access to others like never before.

    And it’s not just a megachurch thing. It is a corporate liability thing.

    But the idea that NDAs are need to protect against false claims is preposterous.

    Robertson Allowed to Drop Libel Suit if He Pays Defense Court Costs

    Judge Dismisses Robertson’s Libel Suit Against McCloskey : Order by Court Makes McCloskey the Legal Victor

    We already had libel/slander laws for anyone making FALSE claims.

    NDAs are intended to protect an organization’s TRADE secret that is not illegal. An NDA can protect KFC from having someone “in the know” revealing the recipe for their 11 herbs and spices. It is meant to protect against XYZ Corp’s magic formula for making “wodgets”, a formula that involves a completely legitimate/scrupulous strategy/tactic that now everyone has the talent to implement, or hadn’t thought of.

    The way they are being used is to silence any criticism, warranted or not.

    I’ve signed NDAs that say, not only can I not say anything about the organization, but I can’t even acknowledge that the NDA I am signing even exists -I haven’t revealed the company name. If you asked about it that specific company I would be obliged not to say anything.

    If your organization is on the up and up, why the need to silence critics in such a way?

  • daryl sterk

    Thanks Ted, that is encouraging and helpful to know… I was pretty sure that was the case, but the more clear that we can be on that will help a lot for people who are wrestling with these…

    let’s pray that the Church leads the way in declaring these null and void for those very reasons, when those ungodly influences were the pressure for someone to sign one in the first place… my cynicism says about the possibiility of the CHurch leading the way on this… yah right.. but, I also have seen the exposure of this abuse of power cesspool in the last year in unprecedented ways, which I believe is the Lord…

    Ok Church, let’s do it! because it’s the right thing to do!

  • daryl sterk

    Why in the world is a church in this situation? Are not Non Disparagement Agreements already an admission that something is seriously wrong?

    Thanks Scot (and others like him – you know who you are ;), keep stirring the pot here… many often pray for pastors, join me in also praying for the prophets to rise up as part of the priesthood of all believers… and for the entire priesthood of all believers/Ekklesia to rise up in their God given callings… including speaking up and advocating on behalf of those who have suffered in the Church, sometimes referred to as the spiritual refugees…

    I believe God is working on consuming the dross and refining the gold in His Kingdom Church… messy, painful process, heartbreaking to see the dysfunction that has been allowed for far too long… but so healthy, in restoring wrong to right… and so needed!!

  • zbicyclist

    The article makes good points about the strange nature of non-disparagement agreements for a church.

    I’ve signed such agreements in private industry. Basically, in business-to-business contexts, salesmen often move from one company to another in an industry, taking their contacts with them. The intent of a non-disparagement agreement is to avoid having your former salesmen trash your company when they move. Even if the agreements are very difficult to enforce, they serve as a warning — nobody wants to be caught up in a lawsuit.

    But a church?

  • Anonymous

    Want these problems solved? Investigate Colby Burke and his subordinates. Next, investigate his correspondence with Scott Vaudry (former head of Pastoral Care) and Jim Pluymert (outside counsel) and you’ll find how Willow silenced its victims.

    It’s all there. If it’s not, that means yet another cover up. If that’s the case, reach out to the victims the and you’ll find out what really happened.

  • Ed Bachner

    “Colby Burke” is a new name to me, but I can tell you that per Jim Pluymert and his law firm are the registered agent for the Willow Creek Association (and NOT for Willow Creek Community Church). I am NOT an attorney, so I don’t know what (if any) bearing this has on the NDA’s and no-contact letters discussed in an earlier blog, but it seems suspect to me that (per Mr. Pluymert’s LinkedIn profile) a Certified Christian Conciliator who leads Willow’s conciliation ministries can tout himself as independently representing Willow (as he helps decide who gets cast out) and how he can legally justify those letters because from what I’ve seen so far they completely distort the facts and truth of the situation at hand (so his letters may therefore constitute commissions of mail fraud).

    Speaking of those letters and other correspondence that Willow has managed to keep hidden for years if not decades, I would love to get my hands on Willow’s governance policies and procedures – how Willow handles (how Willow is supposed to handle, anyway) conflict between church members, approval or rejection of volunteer applicants, corrective discipline of sinning-and-unrepentant congregants, excommunication of churchgoers, etc. Willow’s ERT flat-out REFUSED to give those to me, which is no small part of why Willow cast me out – because I challenged the fact that the ERT was flagrantly acting against Scripture. Anyway, if anyone has those policies and procedures (and Mr. Burke’s correspondence with Mr. Vaudrey) in their possession please let me know.

    BTW, when did Mr. Vaudrey’s status as Director of Pastoral Response become “former”?

  • Ed Bachner

    To overcome any Court’s hesitation to delve into legal matters involving any religious organization, the best approach (from my layperson and NON-attorney research) seems to be to focus on matters pertaining to violations of civil / criminal laws and not on Scriptural issues, and to focus on non-adherence to established policies and procedures (or on the absence of any established policies and procedures altogether) versus trying to persuade any Court or jury of how clergy ‘should’ act based on Scriptural directives.

  • Marc


    Here’s what Willow stated about using NDAs. Essentially, they say they didn’t and don’t. What do you make of the rest (i.e. “no restriction on reporting abuse or ethical violations”)?

    From Willow Process Updates:

    “We recognize the importance of every staff member’s contribution to building the church and are also mindful of the impact of a transition. The spirit of the financial care the church provides is one of coming alongside to help bridge the gap during the transition to new employment. For all staff members, we understand this time at the church is one part of their journey; when this time comes to a close, for whatever reason, we care that they and their family are well.

    Willow provides a legal document that outlines the details of the financial care, including specifics of the compensation and benefits. The document includes a brief paragraph that asks the staff member to refrain from making disparaging or untrue statements about the church for the duration of the financial care agreement. A staff member is given time consider the agreement. It does not prohibit a person from reporting any type of abuse or ethical violation. It does not prohibit the person from sharing her or his experience on staff. Transitions can be hard and our desire is for both the church and the transitioning staff member to be respectful of each other. As a church, we generally don’t share specifics of staff transitions, recognizing that in some cases this is necessary to protect and honor the transitioning staff member. As part of this desire for mutual respect, the document includes an agreement to engage in biblically-based mediation if there is unresolved relational conflict between the transitioning staff member and the church. As we move ahead, we’re considering how to best care for transitioning staff members and their families.

    The Elder Response Team has never used NDAs.”


  • Mr Kish

    I pray Willow Creek revives

  • Anonymous

    This comment is spot on. This is the nucleus of the cancer in Willow and it must be removed.

  • HematitePersuasion

    I am dubious about the legality of these agreements; contracts for illegal acts are invalid, and without force.

  • Wrong: they admit there’s a no-disparagement clause, which applies even to true but negative statements: “The document includes a brief paragraph that asks the staff member to refrain from making disparaging or untrue statements about the church for the duration of the financial care agreement.” It sounds like they’re admitting hush money, too— the threat is to cut off the “financial care” if the person criticizes Willow Creek. That’s a lot easier to enforce, because it makes the critic go to court, not Willow Creek.

  • Sorry, but it sounds like none of Ted’s items apply. If you sign an agreement, you’re bound by it, ordinarily— and I don’t think there was any fraud or duress here. Signing something without reading it doesn’t mean you’re not bound.

  • The Reformed tradition is the opposite of authoritarian leadership style, at least if you mean leadership by an individual. The tradition is to have a board run things, not the pastor, and for the board to mostly be laymen, not pastors. Of course, in practice in many churches the pastor, with the support of a worshipful congregation, carefully picks the elders to be beta-male yes-men.

  • “Not for the purpose of covering things up, but for the purpose of obtaining finality, resolution and closure of all the issues.” How funny. Covering things up is *exactly* for the purpose of obtaining finality, resolution, and closure. It’s so the leadership can escape criticism, and can pretend that all their members are spotless and without sin.

  • Marc

    I interpreted those lines the same as you. So how are they able legally to say “The Elder Response Team has never used NDAs.”?

  • Lying is not illegal, except under oath or where extracting money from someone. “Equivocation” is unfortunately common. You might like my essay on truthful lying at