Willow Creek, What’s a Pastor?

Willow Creek, What’s a Pastor? September 16, 2019

I’ve had two stints as a professor in a seminary, schools designed to educate those in the church and especially those called into its various ministries. Two decades of my teaching career. My first stint involved a massing learning curve about pastors while the second stint, at Northern Seminary, is (what I think is) my sweet spot. I love teaching students who love the church.

While we have plenty of students who are not going to be senior or teaching or lead pastors, the pastoral calling transcends those adjectives. So, in my classes we talk lots about churches and pastors and the pastoral calling.

This all led to my book Pastor Paul: Nurturing a Culture of Christoformity in the Church. Which made my ears and eyes sensitive to Willow Creek’s summary description of what they are looking for in a pastor.

God’s design for you and for me, for all Christians, for the whole church is expressed with living brilliance in Romans 8:29-30:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.  And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified (NRSV).

The design of God for all of us is to be “co-morphed” into his Son’s very image. I call this Christoformity, a slightly more accurate expression than “Christlikeness.” Conformity to Christ, co-morphing into Christ is Christoformity.

If this is God’s design for us, then this is absolutely the design of the pastoral calling. Pastors first and foremost are called to pastor people toward Christoformity. This theme shapes all eight chapters in Pastor Paul. I develop these themes: friendship, siblings, generosity, storytellers, witness, world subversion, and wisdom.

All as instances of the theme of pastors as culture makers, as those who nurture a culture of Christoformity.

So, two big ideas: pastors pastor people, and pastors pastor people by nurturing Christoformity.

There is not the slightest hint that Willow Creek’s pastor job description comprehends this as the central shaping vision for the pastor they want. Besides being the one and only pastoral search description I have ever seen that does not state that its pastor is to match up favorably with the elder/bishop list of the 1 Timothy 3:1-7 (or Titus 1:7-9) and besides not having anything along the line of the pastoral ends/goals, the job description focuses on the very culture formed under Bill Hybels. That is, a culture in which the pastor is an entrepreneurial leader who expands the Willow Creek brand.

All of Willow Creek’s elders need to stop right now and read Eugene Peterson’s The Pastor: A Memoir. Over and over in his long career of pastoring and teaching pastors, Peterson warned against what Willow Creek seems not to have heard. The church is not a business and pastors are not CEOs, not business leaders and not entrepreneurs, they are pastors-of-people called to nurture spiritual formation in the “same direction” (or Christoformity).

At the bottom of this post the job description is posted.

Here’s a word cloud of the terms Willow Creek uses in its job description. Word Clouds aren’t everything but they can be telling. This one is. I have a few more thoughts below the Word Cloud and then the actual advertisement of the job description:

Some expressions in the job description are praiseworthy:

  • Values and champions women in leadership roles at all levels of the organization, in both executive and ministry capacities.
  • Has likely worked in a nonhomogeneous environment and embraces a diverse culture.
  • Can balance being accessible, while also exhibiting healthy personal boundaries.
  • Is known to be a humble servant leader. This shows up in learning, asking questions, and relying on the strengths and gifts of others.
  • Displays a high level of emotional and relational intelligence.
  • While very grace-filled, holds to a traditional view on marriage (between one man and one woman).
  • Has likely weathered a season of great pain and loss which has helped humble, refine, and shape him or her into a better leader and pastor.

Now some observations about the job description:

First, no Jesus, no Christ, no Bible, no gospel — that is, in the main words. They are buried into tiny words or they are not there. Amazing. Jesus appears twice. Christ once. God four times. Bible not at all. Gospel not at all. What’s a pastor job description without these terms prominent?

Second, the focus is “Willow” as in “We are Willow Creek.” Also Barrington, Chicago, and South (as in South Barrington). This is an advertisement seeking someone who can carry on the Willow Creek brand.

Third, the biggest two words of substance in the job description’s Word Cloud are “pastor” and “leadership.” Leadership is hardly a significant term in the NT for the calling of pastors. Both leading and pastoring are functions performed by various other people found in terms in the NT like elder, bishop, deacon, apostle, prophet, teaching, evangelist. Still, I like the term “pastor” but I get nervous about “leader” as it took the church world by storm in the wake of pastors focusing on the leadership models in the business world. (In the 1980s, I think.) This led rather abruptly to the sudden appearance of an adjective “servant” as in “servant leader” to correct the business model. The term “leader” from the business world, in other words, was not good enough: the pastor is a “servant” leader. That term “servant” appears once in Willow Creek’s job description. Eugene Peterson’s entire complaint about pastors in the last quarter of the 20th Century was that the business leader model had taken over. He has been ignored in this job description’s emphases.

Fourth, Willow Creek wants a leader who is both theologically grounded and (or but) that person does not need a theological degree. That’s a very very rare combination. So rare that this Willow Creek job description is stomping recklessly on thin ice. Two decades in a seminary have shown to me that we seminary professors are not naive about what can and what cannot be accomplished in a seminary. Rare is the seminary professor who thinks we can turn people into flourishing pastors. I’ve not met that “rare” one. Seminaries do not turn people into pastors but we can enhance the gifts of the pastor. Pastors need a theological foundation and the surest way to get it is through theological education.

The absence of theological terms in that Word Cloud, along with the desire for “theologically grounded without needing a theological education,” conform to one another. That is, those who devalue theology don’t think theology is needed. (They’re wrong.) What Willow Creek surely needs, following on the heels of a pastor who was not theologically educated but who did get help from some theological mentors, is someone who has a seminary degree (preferably an MDiv). Such a pastor can give theological shape to the church and re-form Willow Creek into a theologically-sound infrastructure. What is lacking at Willow Creek (theological depth) is why the elders can form a job description without it (theological depth).

What’s a pastor? is the question I constantly have as I read this job description.

I see some things that are cringe-worthy: “motivate and inspire high-capacity men and women to use their gifts to further the vision.” What about the 95% who aren’t high-capacity? This is so Willow-speak, so Hybels-speak. And, I don’t know what to make of this one: “Has life experience in connecting with professionals, entrepreneurs, and people who have outwardly made it in life but are seeking significance.” I’m glad it is followed by a “heart for the under-resourced,” something Willow Creek has done well for years.

The elders could benefit from revisiting this job description.


Denomination: Nondenominational

Weekly Attendance: 21,000 at eight locations

Neighborhood: South Barrington, Greater Chicagoland, Illinois

The role: Leading from the South Barrington campus, the Senior Pastor will wear the dual hats of pastor (able to discern God’s direction for the congregation) as well as CEO (with organizational leadership skills to lead a complex organization with more than 350 employees). This leader will bring the right balance of preserving what is, but also will fan the flames of Willow’s DNA of boldness, innovation, and creativity.

Meet Willow Creek Community Church: 

Willow Creek Community Church is a local church with a global impact. One church in eight locations; more than 21,000 people gather every weekend across the Chicago area. Each Willow Creek church offers the same high-caliber teaching, experienced live at South Barrington and via high-definition video stream at regional locations. In addition to live worship, each site offers a unique assortment of classes and workshops, robust programs for children and students, and plenty of volunteer opportunities where members and guests can meet people and make a difference in their own neighborhood.

Thousands of local churches across the globe can trace their beginnings to an inspiring vision they received while attending a leadership conference, event, or service at Willow Creek. Although the past year has seen some turmoil for the church, the leadership has not lost its heart for reaching those far from God through relevant, biblical teaching and weekend services, developing impactful teams, and leading compassion and justice initiatives that change the community both in Chicago and around the world.

Casa de Luz, Willow’s Spanish-language congregation, meets at the South Barrington campus and serves their Spanish-speaking community. Each regional church— irrespective of its location or language—is both an extension of Willow Creek and a fully functioning local church with its own staff and ministries to meet the needs of its local community. Although most weekends are live-streamed, each regional Lead Pastor has the opportunity to teach live eight to ten times per year.

The central campus of Willow Creek in South Barrington and its regional campuses, governed by a unified body of elders (installed in January 2019), are united by more than just the “Willow Creek” in their names. Each shares a single-minded focus: to reach people who are far from God and to help them become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

After our recent visit to Willow, we are convinced she has bright days ahead. This is a fantastic opportunity for a God-centered leader to join the team to continue the rebuilding which has already begun.

About the Senior Pastor: 

The Senior Pastor will lead and serve the Willow Creek Community Church at all its locations to become a thriving, healthy family of local churches. This man or woman will provide overall leadership and vision for the entire network of regional campuses. They will ensure Willow Creek’s vision and strategy is clear and understood across all locations, that the right leaders are leading and serving the campuses, and that Willow Creek is positioned for strength well into the future.

The Senior Pastor will have the ability to dream and cast vision for the next season of congregational life and community impact. The ideal candidate will demonstrate spiritual leadership, an authentic walk with Jesus, and a proven commitment to balancing the rhythms of work and life. He or she will be a proven “leader of leaders” who can motivate and inspire high-capacity men and women to use their gifts to further the vision.

The Senior Pastor will accomplish the following goals: 

In Spiritual Leadership:

  • Although not expected to deliver the message every weekend, when teaching, communicate biblical truth in an inspiring fashion that helps reach irreligious people and help people at all levels of their spiritual journey to become fully devoted followers of Jesus.
  • Exemplify a life of walking closely with Jesus, including strong spiritual leadership in the home.
  • Can balance leadership and vision along with accountability and submission while working with a board of lay elders. The Senior Pastor will meet with the elders regularly and will have full voice into all matters, but will not be a voting member of the elders.
  • Help bring healing to a staff and congregation that has experienced significant loss.

In Visionary/Organizational Leadership: 

  • Bring strength to Willow’s network of churches through a unified vision, while continuing to provide a great deal of autonomy that has allowed the regional sites to attract top talent and thrive as self-supported congregations.
  • Focus initially on strengthening Willow as a local church. Once strength is restored and Willow is healthy and thriving once again, continue Willow’s legacy of high-impact ministry outside the walls in the Chicago area and around the world.
  • Lead the executive team to bring unity and clarity to all programs and ministries, so that all of Willow is pulling for the same mission and vision.
  • Work with the elders to clarify the relationship with Global Leadership Network (formerly WCA). Note: GLN (WCA) is no longer under the authority of the elders but still occupying space in the building.
  • Focus on building an executive team. Initial hires are likely to be a Teaching Pastor, as well as a South Barrington Lead Pastor to focus on the broadcast campus and largest staff.
  • Put emphasis on leadership development, individually modeling this at the highest levels. Equally, place a focus on building processes and systems so that managers and team leaders across Willow are being developed.
  • Provide leadership to help Willow discover her target audience. In the past, it was “unchurched Harry and Mary.” This needs to be redefined for 2020 and beyond.

What you bring:


Willow Creek values candidates who are life-long learners. Proven leadership experience is important, and this individual should be theologically grounded, but a formal theological classroom education is not a requirement for selection.

Experience and Skills

  • Has a proven communication gift with the ability to effectively deliver talks with a large audience in a room that seats 7,500, while simultaneously engaging with people who are viewing from other locations via high-definition video.
  • Has the ability to deliver messages that reach the seeker, as well as provide depth to help believers grow in their faith.
  • We have a strong preference toward leaders with multi-site or complex organizational experience.
  • Has life experience in connecting with professionals, entrepreneurs, and people who have outwardly made it in life but are seeking significance.
  • Has a heart for those who are under-resourced and history of fighting poverty and injustice.
  • Has a track record of developing and equipping leaders.
  • When you look in the rearview mirror of this leaders life, you see growing organizations.

Personal Characteristics

  • Values and champions women in leadership roles at all levels of the organization, in both executive and ministry capacities.
  • Has likely worked in a nonhomogeneous environment and embraces a diverse culture.
  • Can balance being accessible, while also exhibiting healthy personal boundaries.
  • Is known to be a humble servant leader. This shows up in learning, asking questions, and relying on the strengths and gifts of others.
  • Displays a high level of emotional and relational intelligence.
  • While very grace-filled, holds to a traditional view on marriage (between one man and one woman).
  • Has likely weathered a season of great pain and loss which has helped humble, refine, and shape him or her into a better leader and pastor.

What it’s like to live in South Barrington, Greater Chicagoland, area:

Each Willow Creek campus is located in the greater Chicagoland area. Chicago is the third most populous city in the United States, after New York City and Los Angeles, with 2.7 million residents in the city, and 9.5 million in the metropolitan area. In addition to its renowned upscale establishments and restaurant districts, the city’s unique location on Lake Michigan, its rich architectural heritage, its lively theater, arts, and comedy community, and its vibrant nightlife attracts residents and tourists alike. Chicago was recently named the fourth-most “walkable” city of the 50 largest cities in the United States (2011, Walk Score).

Chicago has numerous nicknames, including Chi-town, Windy City, and Second City. The city is a center for business and finance and is considered one of the world’s top global financial centers. Located near a portage between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River watershed, Chicago has remained a major hub for industry, education, telecommunications, and infrastructure since its founding, with O’Hare International Airport being the second busiest airport in the world in terms of traffic movements.

Chicago offers a large array of cultural, historical, sporting, and entertainment focal points that bring thousands of tourists to the area yearly. Grant Park hosts the annual Taste of Chicago festival, while also featuring Millennium Park, home to the iconic Cloud Gate Structure, Buckingham Fountain, and the Art Institute of Chicago. The city is home to numerous major-league sports teams, world-class museums, and the Magnificent Mile shopping district, all along the beautiful Lake Michigan shoreline, creating an atmosphere not soon to be forgotten.

Willow’s broadcast campus is located in South Barrington, a suburb of Chicago just about an hour away,  is consistently ranked one of the best places to live in Illinois. Living in South Barrington offers residents a suburban feel and most residents own their homes. In South Barrington, there are a lot of parks and great green spaces to enjoy, as well as proximity to the greater city of Chicago while still feeling like a “small town,” with just over 4,000 residents. The public schools in South Barrington are highly rated.

Think you’re a great fit for this role? Become a candidate here. 

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Bob3

    Does this surprise me? No, not at all. Expectations have changed dramatically. Gone are the days of seeking Biblical wisdom, maturity and gifting in choosing the local churches shepherds. It’s all about having the look of Rome in the local church; or in this case, the local cultural refinements. People of South Barrington expect professionalism but they want their shepherds with a gritty edge. They want someone educated but not too, one who is one of them but one who will not make them uncomfortable and Willow is willing to accommodate. And then, there is “authenticity”; the need to be overly transparent, almost reveling in all your flaws in an earthy sort of way. For most churches today, they don’t know what to do with the qualifications for elders or deacons; I guess they are antiquated, they don’t matter. I would guess, very few even know they are in the Bible. There is no teaching about maturity anymore so why have a qualification like that?.

  • Scot,

    This post strikes me as an indictment of Willow’s particular pseudo-denominational structure, and the uber-practical approach that Willow has always had, more than this description per se. It’s both a critique of what that job actually is (leader of a large and influential organization and denomination), and an issue of semantics.

    Another way to put it: if you’re okay with what that church is, as the flagship for essentially a denomination, and, at that, a denomination that is unapologetically and famously pragmatic and innovative in its approach to faith and mission, I don’t see how the job description can be a problem. Of course they use Hybels-speak and need a leader for a large, influential organization. That’s who they are, and who they’ve been for decades.

  • Chris Smith

    There seems to be a confusing shift in nomenclature here. As others have already pointed out, Willow acts more like a denomination than a church. The role that they have identified as senior pastor seems much more analogous to the role of a bishop or a superintendent than a pastor. This is especially clear when one of the first tasks this person will undertake is the hiring of a teaching pastor and a lead pastor for the main campus. Who is this person supposed to pastor then? A simple shift in nomenclature will not fix all the problems Scot has raised here, but it will go a long way to making this less head-scratching.

  • bobby gilbert

    Willow Creek seems to fit the a one private company model. I am not sure who the owner is. Since I have been working for the catholic church, a very large conglomerate, there is the company and the company man. I am still not sure who the owner is. I get paid to set the table.

  • scotmcknight

    I’m not so sure, Chris. Their description is not of an executive pastor who delegates duties but of a Sr Pastor who preaches most of the time, or at least will not preach all the time… a bit confusing… but this description fits what Bill Hybels did, not what John Ortberg or Gene Appel or Darren Whitehead did… Sr Pastor, in other words, looks to me exactly who they want to hire.

  • scotmcknight

    And I would answer back: that’s precisely the problem. Pastors nurture people into Christoformity. The biblical model of a pastor is a long way from what this job description is.

  • So, do you see this as a problem that’s fundamental to what Willow has been all along, or a recent shift?

  • David Moore


    How healthy would you rate the relationships between seminaries and churches? I know you have only firsthand experience with Trinity and Northern, but my own experiences from Dallas and Trinity leads me to believe that the conversation could be much improved.

  • scotmcknight

    Dave, difficult to answer: seminaries and churches, for many of both, don’t exist as such. Rather, seminary professors and pastors seems where this discussion is. Some denom seminaries have official conversations between denom leaders and seminary reps, but I can’t say it gets down to what happens in the classroom and thus to the students. Perhaps it does, perhaps it does not. Too many seminaries have profs who are not engaged enough in their own churches so what they have to say is not where the pastor lives and where the people live.

  • scotmcknight

    It’s the culture shaped over time by Bill Hybels and those with him who helped shape that culture, the people encouraged that culture.

  • Brad

    I do not wish to be uncharitable, but I am interested in the role of money in all this. One of the things Hybels achieved was a large church that gained considerable revenue. How great is the desire to ensure that this mark of Willowcreek continues? My point in short: it seems likely that there are financial motivations for the wording presented above.

  • Doug McPherson

    From this job description, the Willow leadership seems to assume that theologically equipped pastors are rarely effective leaders (and vice versa). While examples supporting this assumption can be found, it’s a false dichotomy. You can find plenty of women and men in the pastorate who possess both theological chops and leadership skills. But theological grounding takes precedence, because that enables the pastor to recognize what direction to lead the church— toward Christoformity. It’s the ability to discern the way toward Christoformity in the midst of our turbulent world that makes theological education so indispensable.

    And it may even be the case that with Willow’s size it has the ability to offer the Senior Pastor leadership resources and assistance that lighten the leadership load considerably. Pastors at normative-sized churches have to be a jack-of-all-trades. Larger churches often allow more specialization of roles. Imagine if the job description was reworked in the opposite way, with the Senior Pastor being less concerned with the administrative tasks and more concerned with things like teaching the Scriptures and prayer.

  • A Amos Love


    I agree, a “pastoral search description”…
    Should include 1 Timothy 3:1-7, and Titus 1:7-9.

    “Besides being the one and only pastoral search description
    I have ever seen that does not state that its pastor
    is to match up favorably with the elder/bishop list
    of the 1 Timothy 3:1-7 (or Titus 1:7-9)…”

    But, In my experience, “most” who call themselves “pastor/elder/overseer/reverend,” will “Ignore,” or “Twist,” the 17+, tuff Qualifications in 1 Tim 3:1-7, and Titus 1:5-8. They are more interested in maintaining their “Titles,” then being honest about meeting these tough qualifications. “Titles,” like senior pastor, lead pastor, reverend, that come with Power, Profit, Prestige, Honor, Glory, Reputation, Recognition.

    In my experience, with pastors/elders who “Ignore” 1 Tim 3:1-7, and Titus 1:5-8…

    Titles become Idols
    Pastors become Masters
    Leaders become Deceivers

    “Titles” become “Idols” ………….. “Idols” of the heart – Ezek14:1-11 KJV
    “Pastors” become “Masters”…….. A big No, No. Mat 23:10 KJV, Mat 6:24 KJV
    “Leaders” become “Deceivers”…. Isa 3:12 KJV, Isa 9:16 KJV, Mat 15:14 KJV

    Jer 50:6
    “My people” hath been “lost sheep:”
    **THEIR shepherds**
    have caused them to *go astray,*

    1 Pet 2:25
    For ye were as *sheep going astray;*
    BUT are now returned to
    the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

    {{{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}}

  • A Amos Love


    Here is a look at just three **Qualifications** for elder/overseer from Titus.
    That “most” pastor/overseers will “Ignore,” or “Twist.”

    1 – For a bishop (overseer) “Must Be” *BLAMELESS.*
    2 – JUST. 3 – HOLY.

    Titus 1:5-8 KJV
    …ordain elders in every city…
    If any be *BLAMELESS,*
    the husband of one wife,
    having faithful children
    NOT accused of riot or unruly.
    1 – For a bishop “Must Be” *BLAMELESS,*
    as the steward of God;
    NOT self willed,
    NOT soon angry,
    NOT given to wine,
    NO striker,
    NOT given to filthy lucre;
    a lover of hospitality,
    a lover of good men,
    2 – *JUST,*
    3 – *HOLY,*

    1 – *Must Be*
    Strongs #1163, die. – It is necessary (as binding).
    Thayer’s – necessity established by the counsel and decree of God.
    This *must be* is the same Greek word. – You *must be* born again. Jn 3:7
    Seems to be a small word but very important. Yes?

    Strongs #410 anegkletos – unaccused, irreproachable, blameless.
    Thayers – cannot be called into account, unreproveable, unaccused.
    Dictionary – Without fault, innocent, guiltless, not meriting censure.

    2 – JUST
    Strongs #1342 – dikaios {dik’-ah-yos} from 1349;
    Thayers – righteous, observing divine laws, innocent, faultless, guiltless.

    3 – HOLY
    Strongs #3741 – hosios {hos’-ee-os}
    Thayers – undefiled by sin, free from wickedness,
    religiously observing every moral obligation.

    Now that’s three tough qualifications for pastor/elder/overseers. Yes?

    How many pastor/elder/overseers today, who honestly examine themselves, seriously considering these three qualifications, can see themselves as Blameless, Just and Holy, innocent, without fault, above reproach, undefiled by sin, and thus qualify to be an pastor/leader/overseer? And, if they can see themself as *blameless?* Is that pride? And no longer without fault? 😉

    If WE, His Ekklesia, His Church, His Sheep, His Kings and Priests, His Body…
    Take seriously the many tough Qualifications in 1 Tim 3:1-6, and Titus 1:5-9…
    The number of Biblically Qualified – pastor/leader/reverends – is quite small. 😉

    But, will these UN-qualified, pastor/leader/reverends, “Remove Themselves?”
    And be a good example to the flock?

    Ps 138:6
    Though the LORD be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly:
    but the proud he knoweth afar off.

    Ps 40:4
    Blessed is that man that maketh the LORD his trust,
    and respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.

  • scotmcknight

    I can only imagine! Great statement, Doug.

  • Mark

    I currently attend Willow services, and, because b/c my wife was serving with the kids, sat in the overflow area yesterday and half listened to the service on tv while actually finishing the intro sections to Scot’s new book. I believe one of the new “elders” parks a few spots away from me at my office and was thinking of asking him to read it during their search.

    I am not a Willow apologist and basically agree with what Scott has said. But as someone who has attended a few 500-600 member churches over my 45 years in this area, I have trouble rectifying the ‘bad Willow’ model with the wonderful people I know from Willow. Every other evangelical church I have attended, and been active members of, has been a rather bad experience, due to people and (especially) pastors. After I left Willow (with Ortberg) to attend the free church at the entrance to my new neighborhood, I’ve always defended Willow as saying it’s the only church where I see people really changing for the better.

    I am barely hanging on to my Christianity due to bad pastors and “elders” in my past, but Willow actually keeps me somewhat connected and I actually wish them well. But again, I agree that their pastor model is unusual, due mostly to size, but my experience is that Christoformity occurs at Willow, even despite an egomaniac senior pastor.

  • scotmcknight

    And i have said often in this entire Willow ordeal that it is filled with wonderful, good people. I don’t care to guess how many are corrupted folks who actually entered into and extended that toxicity. If you have followed my career, Mark, I have often defended Willow when others of my ilk were not. So I’m with you, but this job description is a very serious problem. While it is unusual, it is not as unusual as some think; in fact, parts of it are just plain wrong headed.

  • Mark

    Again, I agree, and I have agreed whole-heartily with your book so far. I have always yearned for the pastor you describe.

    I have read many of your books, and have read this blog every day at lunch for years. I have never been pro-hybels, never doubting the reports, but at the same time I have not agreed with everything you have posted on fault and the Willow response. But we are close enough, and I think we have somewhat different information on the behind the scenes for some of it. I digress.

    However, a theological/ecclesial hurdle for me is how a wrong headed place, lead by an abusive pastor, can be the one place I (personally) have seen Christoformity. It’s a very legitimate, and still unanswered, question for me. And also how so many pastors (and elders) I have met are just mini-hybels (lacking in some cases the infidelity), despite all their emphasis on prayer and chair-time. Why would we expect Willow to change their brand if it seems to be working (to them and to me), taken down only be pastor infidelity? I have seen so much good under a bad system, and so much bad under the alternatives around Willow.

    No further reply is needed, I just wanted to share my experience.

  • Mark

    Actually, I will add one more thing. After Willow announced from stage an ‘end of personality worship’, I was heartbroken (I literally verbally lamented in my seat) when they later read the bios of the replacement elders during service. All still top tiers in their fields, hedge fund managers and doctors, etc. So much for a new Willow. I believe the job posting above is a reflection of that board, and what the search committees looked for in filling the spots. I think churches need two boards, a business board (deacons) to run the building and true spiritual/pastoral elders to care for the flock. But I believe Willow might have tried that once, and it probably just made Bill annoyed having too many people involved.

    All churches I have been to worship earthly success (money, position, looks, etc.) too much.

  • David Moore

    I’ve offered input to various churches wanting to find qualified people to serve as elders. I always encourage everyone to focus first on the function of an elder rather than the qualifications. I am very committed to the qualifications, but have found it much more fruitful to get everyone to agree that the three main things elders are and do encompass a life of prayer, commitment to the Word of God, and proving to be examples to the flock (see Acts 6:4; I Pet. 5:1-3).

    These three bring much more clarity as to who is truly qualified!

  • David

    They want a CEO such as Jimmy Mellado. What a crazy way to lead a church! Not much God there. Not much Bible. And is it just me but the amount of duties and responsibilities would seem to burn someone out quite quickly!

  • Alex Dalton

    Job description of pastor as a leadership role in the New Testament:



    *cricket chirps*

  • Steve McAlpine

    Completely nailed it. This line in particular: “What is lacking at Willow Creek (theological depth) is why the elders can form a job description without it (theological depth).” Reinforcing the problem and further tightening up the already tight vicious circle.

  • PaulWilkinson

    Someone who will wear Saul’s armor.

  • A Amos Love

    Hi David – I agree when you write…
    “I am very committed to the qualifications…”
    And the three you chose to use are very reasonable.

    Here’s a quick review of 17, Qualifications in 1 Tim 3, and Titus.
    Given by Paul, and most likely Jesus, to Timothy and Titus.
    Using Strongs and Thayers for the Greek translations.
    That most congregations, and overseers, “Ignore.”
    When hiring an elder, overseer, pastor.

    Are ALL the qualifications given by Paul? and most likely Jesus?
    Important? For some reason?

    Which, of the 17 Qualifications, can WE, His Sheep, His Ekklesia, “Ignore?”

    1 – “Must Be” **BLAMELESS** – unrebukeable, without fault, innocent.
    2 – husband of one wife – married, male.

    Most are very sure about #2, married, male.
    When they dis-qualify female/elders – Yes?
    But, are real fuzzy with #1 – Must be BLAMELESS. 😉

    3 – Rules WELL his own house, his children in subjection
    For if a man know not how to rule (manage) his own house,
    how shall he take care of the church of God? 1 Tim 3:4-5.

    To Qualify, an overseer has to have a family…
    And has to rule, manage, his family WELL…
    His children are in subjection, obedient. – Got any teenagers?

    4 – not greedy of filthy lucre — Not greedy for money.
    5 – vigilant — no excessive wine, calm in spirit.
    6 – sober — of a sound mind, self controlled.
    7 – of good behavior — modest, unassuming, reserved.

    8 – NO striker — NOT quarrelsome, contentious.
    9 – NOT a brawler — abstaining from fighting.
    10 – NOT self willed — NOT self pleasing, NOT arrogant.
    11 – NOT soon angry — NOT prone to anger.
    12 – temperate — having power over, restraining.

    13 – **holy — undefiled by sin, free from wickedness.
    14 – **just — righteous, virtuous, innocent, faultless.

    Must be BLAMELESS, HOLY, and JUST.
    Do your overseers meet just these three Qualifications?

    ***And their children must qualify also…
    “having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly” Titus 1:6

    15 – Faithful children – believing, trusts in God’s promises.
    16 – NOT accused of riot – Strongs, asotia, unsavedness.
    an abandoned dissolute life, lost to principle.
    17 – Unruly – disobedient. – Got any teenagers?

    Now, that’s a tough list qualifications. Yes? 😉
    Do you know many? any? elders? overseers? pastors?
    Who meet these 17, very tough, Qualifications?

    Do your elders, overseers, pastors, meet these Qualifications?

    Which qualifications are NOT important?
    Which qualifications can WE, His Sheep, His Body, “Ignore?”

  • RustbeltRick

    I go to a large church and I’ve noticed much of the service is basically an advertisement for the church itself, much like this job description is a plea for someone who will protect and enlarge a brand.

  • Nick Budmats

    I am a regular attender at Willow and have been for over 30 years. I am accustomed to the recurring criticisms of some which have ranged from Willow being a cult, to “Christianity lite”, to being a “brand” requiring preservation. I believe it is my job to loving support and encourage the leadership of my church. If you care about Willow, why wouldn’t you feel the need to write from that perspective? If you don’t care about Willow, as a Christian, why wouldn’t you temper your remarks considering who could be included within your audience.

    Willow Creek is by definition a church. Willow over the decades, and to this day, has attracted thousands upon thousands of people who were far from God and brought them into a greater knowledge of the savior who loves them. Willow has and continues to make disciples.

    Your criticisms of Willow and it’s elders (multiple elder boards) make this bride of Christ out to appear ugly and stupid. As I read your blog posts it is personally difficult for me to discern the humility and gentleness in your words, and I do not believe your words are helping to form a bond of peace as described in Ephesians 4. Further, I am concerned that as a result of reading your criticisms, new or baby Christians could become disillusioned or discouraged with Willow and could possibly walk away from their faith. (Were they so disillusioned as to not seek another body of believers with whom to come along side of). Is this your goal? Is what you share so important and truthfilled as to potentially risk other people’s salvation? Surely, you do not desire to defame the name of one of Christ’s brides to the point where people walk away from her!

    I realize that Willow is not your home church any more. But the comments you make reflect on the bride of Christ (the Christian Church) in whole. As Christians we need to bear one another in love. Is your blogpost accomplishing that Biblical goal?

  • Nate Hickox


    Always appreciate what you write. Currently reading “Pastor Paul” now and thoroughly enjoying it. I agree with the idea that pastors pastor people (reminds of Pope Francis saying shepherds needs to smell like sheep!) But it leads me to ask, how many people can one pastor pastor? Certainly the eventual “pastor” of Willow Creek cannot personally nurture Christoformity for every person. I have a 150 person church. I am the regular preacher on Sundays. I manage a small staff and I help develop the lay leadership and direction of the church. I teach confirmation and lead a small group. Outside of these responsibilities, I have very little leftover time for 1 to 1 care or other small discipling type relationships.

    I think many churches try to solve this discrepancy in various ways:
    -Scrap the whole model and go “organic.” No 30 minute sermon. Scrap programs. More life-on-life discipleship.
    -Go elder-led and lay people become pastors alongside the sr. pastor
    -Hire multiple pastors
    -Treat small group leaders as under-shepherd pastors.

    Certainly 1 woman or man cannot meet all the demands of most churches and be expected to personally pastor every person.

    Not sure if you get to this in the book, but does APEST fit into a model of pastoral-leadership? Do not churches need multiple people with pastoral roles in order to make sure everyone is pastored well?

    Anyway, all that to say, I can see why the job description doesn’t include a whole lot of personally pastoring considering Willow’s church model. Perhaps there is something wrong with the model? Or perhaps it is solved by one of the aforementioned ways?

  • Steve_Yellowknife_Canada

    “Willow over the decades, and to this day, has attracted thousands upon thousands of people who were far from God and brought them into a greater knowledge of the savior who loves them. Willow has and continues to make disciples.”

    “Is what you share so important and truthfilled as to potentially risk other people’s salvation?”

    “Surely, you do not desire to defame the name of one of Christ’s brides to the point where people walk away from her!”

    Time and time again appealing to success (evangelistic or numbers or growth) has been the recourse for deflecting sometimes needed criticism of church structures or church culture. Statements like this have sometimes been deployed as smokescreen for truly truly awful disfunction.

    No doubt much good has been done at and through Willow Creek. All the more reason for taking a hard look at issues such as those Scot raises. I have never detected a speck of malice or bad faith in Scot’s commentary. He certainly has been more balanced and charitable than I could have mustered.

    Willow Creek has shown the ability to take hard looks at their ethos and methodology before (the REVEAL study from last decade). Why can they not do so now? They’ve intentionally positioned themselves as global leaders in the wider christian world. Commentary on their practice and philosophy is not uncalled for.

    “As Christians we need to bear one another in love.” Exactly. Exactly. And articles like Scot’s are part of what that entails.

    Furthermore, as for “…new or baby Christians could become disillusioned or discouraged with Willow and could possibly walk away from their faith.” There’s been a great deal of material for this already provided in-house.

  • Steve_Yellowknife_Canada

    Mark, I just want to say how much I appreciated reading your comments. So heartfelt and open.

    It helped me sympathize what regular, Jesus-loving people may be experiencing as they attend churches that are struggling through hard seasons.

    God’s grace be upon you. I shall pray for you.

  • A Amos Love

    Nate… Yes…
    “…how many people can one pastor pastor?”

    Well, how about Jesus? When He is the “ONE” Shepherd?
    How many people can Jesus lead? teach? shepherd?
    Jesus, Who is the only “ONE” in the Bible…
    Who refers to Himself as…

    The “ONE” Leader
    The “ONE” Teacher
    The “ONE” Shepherd

    In the Bible, Jesus taught His Disciples NOT to be called “Leaders.”
    Seems Jesus has a unique take on “Leaders” for **His Disciples.**


    Mat 23:10-12 NASB
    Do NOT be called leaders;
    for “ONE” is your Leader, that is, Christ.
    But the greatest among you shall be your “Servant”.
    Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled;
    and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

    And, His Disciples must have believed Jesus… Because…
    In the Bible, NOT one of His Disciples called them self “Leader.”

    In the Bible, Jesus taught His Disciples NOT to be called “Rabbi.”
    For “ONE” is your Teacher, the Christ. Mat 23:8 NKJV

    John 6:45
    It is written in the prophets, And they shall be ALL taught of God.

    John 14:26
    But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost,
    whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things…

    Deuteronomy 4:36
    Out of heaven he made thee to *Hear His Voice,*
    that *He might instruct thee:*

    In the Bible, Jesus refers to Himself as the “ONE” Shepherd.

    John 10:16
    And other sheep I have, which are NOT of this fold:
    them also I must bring, and they shall “Hear My Voice; “
    and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.

    If not NOW? – When?

    One Voice – One Fold – One Shepherd – One Teacher – One Leader

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  • scotmcknight

    Amos, please reduce the length of your posts and keep your scripture citations to one or two… you clog up the comments with these lengthy comments.

  • scotmcknight

    1. The larger the church in numbers the more pastors are needed. Each person, let’s say each member if there is such a practice, needs to have a pastor. Sr Pastors are to pastor people, too.
    2. APEST is a distortion of NT teaching. I’ve had this on my blog before…

  • scotmcknight

    Nick, I’ve written something for another media publication that I’ll wait for that occasion to say some of what needs to be said here. I have said more than plenty of positives about Willow over the last 15 years on this blog, and all I say now needs to be read in light of that. When I was speaking about Willow in positive terms as an outsider, no one told me to bug off… it sure seemed to me Willow Creekers enjoyed outsider approval. When I speak critically, and I have in two major contexts on this blog — the betrayal of trust emerging from the Bill Hybels sexual allegations and approvals by the elders, this Sr Pastor job description — and I think I can be trusted not to be one “out to get” WC. I have plenty of friends; I have said over and over that what is good deserves approbation; but WC seems incapable of hearing criticisms and that saddens me. What happened is a disaster in need of exposure and repentance, along with full renovation of the insides so it doesn’t happen again.
    Now I ask: look at that Word Cloud and tell me what you see as what is most important to that description in the words used. Compare that description with how overseers [bishops]/elders/deacons are described.

  • scotmcknight

    This is not accurate, Alex. True, “leader” is not used often. But it is used: “leadership” is a translation of a Greek term that has other translations, but here are the NT (NLT) uses of proistemi as a term indicating something like leadership, and there are other terms:

    Rom. 12:8 If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

    1Th. 5:12 Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance.

    1Tim. 3:4 He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. 5 For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?

    1Tim. 3:12 A deacon must be faithful to his wife, and he must manage his children and household well.

    1Tim. 5:17 Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching.

    Titus 3:8 This is a trustworthy saying, and I want you to insist on these teachings so that all who trust in God will devote themselves to doing good. These teachings are good and beneficial for everyone.

    Titus 3:14 Our people must learn to do good by meeting the urgent needs of others; then they will not be unproductive.

  • DrLefty

    I hear you, Nick. I’m nowhere near Willow Creek, but I read this thinking “Wow, this writer put a LOT of time and energy into poking at this church and deconstructing its job ad.” It feels like piling on to me, and I agree that I’m not sure what good it accomplishes.

  • Nate Hickox

    1. Paul’s churches had approximately 40-60 people yes? Was it 1 pastor per church? Or multiple elders/overseers? Jesus had the 12 and the 72. Perhaps there is wisdom in the 40-70 range? Our church can’t afford more than 1 full-time pastor, so I rely on lay-leaders to perform pastoral duties. One of our values is “Every member is a minister” It seems to be working well right now.
    2. I’ll have to check that into that.

  • stevecuss

    Scot, you wrote, ‘Pastors first and foremost are called to pastor people toward Christoformity.’ This may be a given and is certainly inferred (implied? inferred?) in your article. But I think part of the ongoing issue with pastors is that we are not doing what is actually first and foremost which is ‘be led by God toward Christoformity’ before we ever pastor others toward it.

    I think for too many of us, our followership is dangerously disconnected from our leadership

  • David Moore

    I take these qualifications to be true generally of an elder who is fit to serve. For example, not having a “pugnacious” spirit doesn’t mean you never lose your cool in fleshly ways. It does mean that the overall tenor of your life is marked by a gracious and calm character.

  • scotmcknight

    On size… variety rules. 15-50 is a good approximation.
    On one pastor per church… I don’t think that’s the term to use. Elders per house church and deacons per church would be better, and we don’t know. One might argue the householder would in many instances be the one and only elder. Some think elders and deacons are more city-wide while per house church would be one and one or something like that. We can’t infer much from what is not clear to us. Those elders and deacons pastored people. Pastoring, then, is more functional it seems to me. How many can one pastor? I’m not sure that’s answerable but I do believe everyone needs to be pastored, some more and some less.

  • A Amos Love


    I apologize for my poor manners.

    Thank you for the kind admonishment.

  • Alex Dalton

    Not sure how this contradicts what I said. These verses are incredibly thin with regards to description.

  • Nate Hickox

    Totally agree Scot. I think the larger a church gets, the more the pastoral function needs to be entrusted and developed in others. For a Willow size church, I would imagine the sr. pastor can pastor the elders and some key staff and that’s about it. They would then entrust those leaders to pastor others as well. The job description could be reformed to reflect a greater emphasis on that. Knowing the little I know of Eugene Peterson’s pastoral theology, trying to get willow to reflect his ideals of a pastor would be like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. They have very different ideas of what a pastor/church is and does. That’s true everywhere. Even in the church I pastor, people have very different expectations of what I ought to be doing. To some I should me more a chaplain, to some a CEO, to some a preacher and teacher, to some an evangelist and community liaison. For myself, I view my key responsibilities as these: 1. Preach the Word and and give the Sacraments. 2. Pastor people and equip them for ministry in our body. 3. Set the culture and direction of the church by listening to the Holy Spirit alongside church leadership.

  • Toneranger

    Nick, the mormon church has attracted “thousands upon thousands of people” and claims to have to brought them into a greater knowledge of the Savior. Is that proof that it is legitimate?

    Christ says that broad is the way that leads to destruction. Is Willow Creek on the narrow path?

    Scott has fairly pointed out the severity of the problem with WC’s business-like model. I see a great deal of love in his posts, even if it is tough love. And he is right on with this particular article: again, take a good look at that word cloud please. If you can’t see the problem with that I would suggest you spend some time reading your Bible…if the Apostle Paul was here today, would you be able to take his criticism?

    “18 Now some are puffed up, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills, and I will know, not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power. 20 For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power. 21 What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness?”

  • Nick Budmats

    Have you already sent your insights and encouragement to
    Searchcommittee@willowcreek.org. ???

    In regards to your comments,
    Bill Hybels hasn’t been at Willow in a year and a half. He most certainly should be held responsible for his actions . The former and current elders most certainly did not “approve” or give approvals of his actions regarding the sexual allegations. I agree that what happened is a disaster and has received considerable exposure in various blogs and newspapers.

    Keep in mind that there are hundreds (maybe more than a thousand) of new people who in the last 18 months have started to attend Willow South Barrington who have never met Bill, heard Bill speak, or May not even know who he is.

    Keep in mind there are thousands of people who attend the Willow campuses other than south barrington who have never met Bill, heard Bill speak, or don’t even know who he is. Do they ALL need to repent too?? Do they ALL need additional exposure to old sin?

    Sometimes it gets difficult to distinguish between those who have an axe to grind and actively seek evidence to support their claims that Willow is theologically shallow (or worse), and those who are trying to be constructive and encouraging. I’m assuming you already sent your insights and encouragements to the current elders and fall into the second camp. If not, I ask you to reconsider your present actions and how they align with Ephesians 4. The elders recently published an update (this week) concerning the pastoral search. They welcomed input, prayers and encouragement. If you care about Willow, provide it.

  • A Amos Love


    Sorry – For many years I was part of “An Abusive Religious System”
    That would “Ignore,” or “Twist,” these tough qualifications.

    After leaving “The Abusive Religious System”
    Through much pain, tears, and spiritual abuse…
    Caused mostly by elders, overseers, and pastors…

    Who taught they were leaders… Called of God… God’s anointed…
    And I was to obey and submit to them…

    After leaving and doing a little research in 1 Tim 3, Titus…
    I realized NOT one of these “Titled” pastors, overseers…
    Met these very tough Qualifications…
    A lesson learned…

    I believe these Qualifications to be important for…
    WE, His Ekklesia, His Body, His Sheep, His Disciples…
    To prevent future messes like Willow Creek, Driscol, etc…
    And the pain these Un-qualified elders have caused many.

    Did Bill Hybles meet these Qualifications?
    Did anyone check? Or were they afraid?

    Did Willow Creek elders, who resigned, meet these Qualifications?
    Did anyone check?

    Do the new Willow Creek elders meet these Qualifications?
    Did anyone check?

    Will the new senior pastor meet these Qualifications?
    It’s NOT part of the job description… Is it?

    Why NOT?

  • A Amos Love


    How many of the 17+ tough Qualifications in 1 Tim 3, Titus…
    Does a potential elder/overseer/pastor have to meet…
    Before he becomes….

    “…an elder who is fit to serve?”


    If not ALL?

    Which ones, of the 17+ tough Qualifications in 1 Tim 3, Titus…
    Can a potential elder/overseer/pastor NOT have to meet…
    And he still Qualifies as….

    “…an elder who is fit to serve?”

  • David Moore

    I agree. Qualifications are indispensable, and I know firsthand through much pain about trying to serve effectively with those who are not qualified…so much so that some of them told me themselves they were not qualified. And they were correct.

  • scotmcknight

    I’ve written a few times to the elders. I asked explicitly to communicate with one and he never responded. I have communicated with one of the pastors, and I have actually received positive affirmation of this very post from a WC pastor.

  • Rudy Schellekens

    Hello, really? “Both leading and pastoring are functions performed by various other people found in terms in the NT like elder, bishop,…” Surely, with your teaching stints, you are aware that the elder, shepherd and overseer are not three different people, but three aspects of the same function?
    And in your decades of teaching, have you ever stopped to think about the idea that in early Christianity there was no such things as “THE” pastor? And surely, as a stint of decades teaching, you have spent time looking in the pages of the Bible, and found a major lack of any mention of the role of “THE” pastor as you describe it?

    And then you wonder why there is such problems with “THE” pastor in these churches!

  • Nick Budmats


  • Kyle Roehl

    Hi Scot, Are there other people or roles besides the Pastor
    that can help in nurturing people in the way of Christ? (APEST distorted) How do believe Eph. 4 gifts fit into Christoformity? Into the Body?

  • A Amos Love

    Hi rational

    Seems you have put in some time researching “christianity.”
    And the New Testament…. And the Catholic Encyclopedia…

    I do NOT know, or am certain about, “the origins of Christianity.”

    What I am certain about today is…

    The Blood of Jesus Christ His Son…

    Cleanses me from ALL sin.

    Have you researched “The Blood of Jesus?”
    Beginning in Genesis, to Revelations?
    For the forgiveness of your sins?

    1 John 1:7-10 KJV
    But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light,
    we have fellowship one with another,
    **and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son**
    **cleanseth us from all sin.**
    8 If we say that we have NO sin,
    we deceive ourselves,
    and the truth is NOT in us.
    9 If we confess our sins,
    he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins,
    and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
    10 If we say that we have NOT sinned,
    we make him a liar, and his word is NOT in us.