One Pastor's Response To The Willow Creek Confession
By Wayne J. Edwards
A little over twenty years ago, the "seeker sensitive" movement was introduced to the American Church through what appeared to be a very successful "church growth" strategy used by the Willow Creek Church, in Chicago, Illinois. The leader of that philosophy of ministry was Bill Hybels, who, through his annual "church growth" seminars, books, tapes, and other forms of media, encouraged pastors to abandon everything they had been taught about how to "do" church and to accept this new paradigm. Pastors were told, if they wanted to attract unbelievers to their church, they must soften their preaching on sin, relax their convictions about the blood of Jesus Christ and change their music so that it sounds like the music of the world. They were advised to use only paraphrased versions of the Bible, and to keep their "messages" short, because today's generation would not endure a lengthy lecture. Instead, they were to spend the majority of their sermon time on personal application and personal illustrations as opposed to biblical proclamation.
Sadly, many churches, and even many denominations tried to copy those methods in order to take advantage of, or perhaps profit from, what appeared to be a great harvest of souls and a great revival of the church. Whatever attracted more lost people to the church had to be right, because it was "working"! It appeared that God was blessing the method or that God had anointed the man who was using the methods. So, the purpose of Sunday School was changed from being the basic Bible teaching and evangelistic arm of the church to a topical study of the "felt-needs" of the Christian life. Sunday Worship was shifted from being focused upon God and how His people could honor Him and glorify His Name, to the needs of lost people, and how the church could "reach out" to them. Personal Discipleship was all but abandoned as being too rigid and requiring too much commitment for today's post-modern minds and schedules.
Well, the report card is in, and the "church growth" experts were wrong. The results of a multi-year study on the effectiveness of their programs and ministries have just been released in a book entitled Reveal: Where Are You? co-authored by Cally Parkinson and Greg Hawkins, executive Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. Even Hybels called the results "earth shaking", "mind-blowing", and well he should, because the report revealed that most of what they have been doing, and have led millions of others to do for these last twenty years, has failed to produce devoted disciples for Christ those able to become reproducing reproducers.
"We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith
and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that
they have to take responsibility to become "self feeders"! We should have taught people
how to ready their bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more
aggressively on their own. Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into wasn't helping people that much. Other things that we didn't put that much money into and didn't put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for!"(Emphasis mine)
Pardon me, but this was, and is more than a "mistake" that can be corrected by the publishing of another book, or as Greg Hawkins suggests: "take out a clean sheet of paper and rethink all of our old assumptions (and) replace them with new insights!" Bill Hybels is one of three men who must assume some degree of moral, if not scriptural responsibility for the anemic condition of the American church today. The models of church ministry fostered by Bill Hybels, Rick Warren and John Maxwell have, in my opinion, done more harm to the true effectiveness of the church than we will be able to overcome in our lifetime, apart from a genuine revival.
In Ephesians 3:1-21, the Apostle Paul made it clear that the purpose of the church is not to bring glory to a man, nor to the works of man, but to the One who began the church by shedding His own precious blood, and the One who holds the church together today by His love, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. Because of that, the honor of the Lord Jesus Christ is in the hands of the church today. And because of that, what is done in and through the church will either bring glory to the Lord or glory to man. If it is done in the power of the flesh, no matter how well intended, it will fall short of the glory of God, and that is the definition of sin not a mistake!
Sadly, this "mistake" cannot be corrected in the lives of those children, youth and adults who have been "mislead" by this doctrinal error. For every gain that was made by some manipulative method to reach the lost, there was a loss of doctrinal and theological truth, as basic convictions were compromised by the very methods themselves. For every gain in converts by the schemes of men there was a lack of spiritual understanding on the part of the new believer, and that lack of discipleship resulted in a lack of spiritual growth, and therefore the loss of true, biblical worship. What was gained by the numbers in attendance and in converts in all of these extremes was negated by the loss of biblical certainty and theological integrity. But more importantly, the glory that rightfully belonged to Jesus Christ alone was diverted to man.
When Jesus Christ corrected the church at Ephesus, He did not tell them to "re-think" what they were doing, or to try to develop some new strategy or philosophy of ministry. He told them to repent of their sins, and to return to doing those things they were doing at first to return to their first love for the Lord Jesus Christ. When the church returns to it's only mission, which is to lift up the Name of Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit, not only will this "method" draw lost men to receive Jesus Christ as their Savior, and surrender unto Him as their Lord, but it will glorify God throughout all ages world without end.
I am very pleased that the Willow Creek Association has discovered its faults, and has been willing to publicly admit them. But I also believe it is time for every church to put away the methods of men, and to return to the New Testament Model as outlined in Acts 2:41-47. The people were in harmony with each other, in agreement over the purpose of their fellowship, involved in the pursuit of truth through the teaching of the Apostles doctrines, praising God in their times of worship at the temple and in their homes, in prayer of thanksgiving for what God was doing, in favor with believers and unbelievers alike. "And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved."
(Wayne J. Edwards is the founder of Mature Ministries, a revival ministry, encouraging God's people to raise the standard of righteousness in their personal lives and in their church. He is currently serving as Transitional Pastor at the First Baptist Church of Perry, Georgi