Everything starts somewhere.
I was rocked last week with the news that Bill Hybels – Founder/Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church – had resigned his position amidst allegations of inappropriate conduct. In the hyper-charged environment of modern culture – exposing histories of sexual exploitation of women by men in power in business, politics and entertainment environments – the reports of highly-regarded women within the Willow Creek community aggregated to become an overwhelming force.
Almost 30 years ago, the path of my calling brought Bill into my story. My departure from my business career in 1984 – resulting in the launch of the marketplace-focused parachurch ministry that I still lead today – had occurred as a result of strategic counsel I received from Chuck Swindoll.
Seven years later, I was rocked by an unexpected shift in my direction. Back then – in 1990 – there were only 150 megachurches (weekly attendance of 2000+) in America (today, there are 1000+). One of those – with 5000 people – was 10 miles from my home; their founder resigned amidst allegations of inappropriate conduct. Their leadership began the tough task of finding a replacement, and the search started with 100 names to cull. Within a few months, the list narrowed to… me.
Willow Creek was the mirror-image of South Coast Community Church, though 1700 miles apart. They began about the same time – with the same ethos of evangelicalism – and the two founders had collaborated in their innovations. My consideration of the radical realignment of my personal calling created a conversation between me and Hybels, that continued over the course of months. My decision to accept the call to lead that church would not have happened apart from the input I received from Bill.
Yogi Berra’s quote comes back into play: “It’s like déjå vu all over again.” The same stunning news of resignation amidst allegations – the same pain and anguish among people who come to church for some relief from the cultural calamities that characterize daily life in a fallen world – has re-circulated, into the holy headlines.
What is the genesis for destructive behaviors? Technology advances, but human foible is frozen in time: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters.” (James 1:13-16).
Just 12 months before the news from Willow Creek broke, the American press was reacting with vile toward the revelation that Mike Pence – the Vice President – was personally committed to what they called “The Billy Graham Rule:” the commitment by men not to spend time alone with women to whom they are not married. Called “misguided” by The Atlantic and other enlightened sources, the attacks suggested that women were denied career advancement because of moral boundaries established by faith leaders who wanted to maintain what the Apostle Paul had described as one of the prerequisites for Kingdom leadership authenticity: to remain “above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2).
Had Billy’s ground-rules been practiced by Bill, the headlines of the last week would have lacked the sizzling sensationalism that has come from South Barrington, Illinois. Had another pastor – in Orange County, thirty years ago – adopted Mr. Graham’s wisdom, my diversion into church leadership would have never occurred. Everything starts somewhere; nothing “just happens…”
Boundaries matter. For over 30 years, I’ve embraced “The Billy Graham Rule.” It works.
What’s your rule? Where are your boundaries?