Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Train Wreck

Bill discovered that a staff member had been involved in a pattern of behavior that threatened the stability of the staff member's personal life and the integrity of the rest of the staff. Months earlier Bill had become concerned about behavioral trends in this person's life and had confronted him but was angrily accused of being overly suspicious, judgmental, and prone to the legalistic excesses that we were all trying to escape. Wanting to believer the best, Bill backed off, but his suspicions had in fact been correct.

I'll never forget Bill's agony as he walked into the darkness of our cabin and described to me what he had just learned. In the shock of the moment, he could see nothing but absolute disaster. "The dream is over," he said.

Immediately upon returning home, Bill called a meeting with the elder board and disclosed the tragic truth. Personal feelings of intense sadness were forcibly pushed aside as these elders faced an immediate problem: what do we do now?

It was a destructive, ongoing pattern of behavior; it could not be ignored. But the person involved was a dear friend, a member of the team that shared a common dream, a devoted servant who had sacrificed for the ministry. Yes, the behavior had to be dealt with. But neither Bill nor the other elders could conceive of a ministry future without the entire team intact. True, the community spirit that had united us years earlier had begun to weaken, but beneath the surface tension, there still lingered the sense that we were in this together. Sure, there were ripples of frustration, even hostility. But we could work through that. In the end, we would all ride off into the sunset together, as we had always planned. Any thought to the contrary was unimaginable.

To protect the privacy of the person involved, the elders decided against a public disclosure; neither staff nor lay leaders were informed of the problem. The individual was allowed to continue in ministry, with the understanding that he would seek professional counseling and submit to the accountability and monitoring of the elders.

This is bad, thought Bill, but it'll all work out eventually. It'll blow over. We'll be back on track before we know it.

. . . But it wasn't long before I wished I were in Michigan again -- not to get away from Bill but to escape the growing tension at church. The staff situation came to a head in early September when the elders confronted the erring staff member with his ongoing pattern of behavior and his apparently unrepentant spirit. Rather than discuss the situation, he opted to resign. The elders accepted his resignation.

The following morning an elder announced the staff member's resignation, citing "differing philosophies of ministry," and wished him well in his new endeavors. The elders assumed the congregation would accept the partial explanation given, but they clearly misjudged. By the end of the service, the core members of the church were in an uproar. "Give us the truth! Tell us what's really going on!"

The elders tried to explain in positive terms the philosophical and personality issues that necessitated a "parting of the ways." But in order to protect the privacy of the resigned staff member, they hid the real issue behind an opaque screen of secrecy. When people questioned the former staff member, he too avoided a straight answer . . .
While many people trusted the elders' decision and chose not to demand further explanations, others filled in the information vacuum with an explanation of their own: Bill was after power. The elders were accused of being naive accomplices.

. . . Overnight we became embroiled in a nightmarish round of accusations and mistrust, of betrayal and hostility. Years later it is undoubtedly hard for an outsider to understand why the elders continued to hide the real issue, given the intensity of misunderstanding that existed . . . At night our phone rang with people informing me of the selfish and evil actions of my power-mongering husband. The elders met night after night to try and save what appeared to be a dying dream.

That is an excerpt from Lynne Hybels' story of the formative years of Willow Creek Community Church in Rediscovering Church. If you don't know about Willow Creek, it was really the first effective, and therefore the prototype, "seeker church." I know lots of folks think the idea for our sort of church began with David Foster, but what we do at BCC was actually trailblazed by Willow Creek nearly 20 years earlier.

It really does sound eerily similar, doesn't it? It struck me that way as I re-read it again this week. There's a lot more parallels too, including how crucial the elders were in getting the church back into shape. This portion is from a chapter in the book titled "The Train Wreck." It documents the disastrous events in the church in 1979. This church really did "go off the rails.

A few years later Willow Creek was on its way to becoming one of the largest attended churches in North America.

8 Comments:

At 6:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow.....I did not know that. I pray people read this and realize that Willow Creek some 20,000 strong now, growing beyond its US borders, and highly respected, had the same "kind of" struggles. Growing pains.....which I am somewhat familiar with as my little one is teething....

Thank you jared for finding this and reminding us that while we may be "unique" in many ways...we are NOT alone in this mission to reach the "seekers" and that others have set examples for us to relate with. Maybe Bill Hybel will come speak at our church...that isn't out the realm of possibility....

 
At 11:12 AM, Blogger judas icarus said...

People are so quick to give up.... when they don't get their way.... they often resort to tantrums and diatribes... and shout... "the sky is falling, the sky is falling"... or "BCC is doomed... BCC is doomed"...

All the while..... eliminating God from the equation... because they think they know what is best.....

They don't.... not because they don't have good intentions... or good hearts.... they just don't have a good working knowledge of the Word.... inch-deep, mile-wide Christianity is a by-product of the God-lite Seeker model.... and if they aren't taken deeper... seekers flounder around in that inch depth.... almost spiritually suffocating from lack of the water of life... which is in the bigger pond... called growth....

And, growth takes time... and challenges.... and changes... and crisis... and... well.... something kind of like BCC is dealing with currently..... hmmm..... go figure.....

Something (less publicized) kind of like this happened at BCC a few years back, too.... but how quickly we forget the exodus of a large portion of staff and the mature believers (that once were seekers).... which, in part, culminated in the birth of Cross Point Community Church...

And, hey... I will also be glad to follow David Foster to his next assignment or church.... but only as a U.N. observer... not a disciple....

Many of the folks that have dissented over the Foster dismissal... are overtly showing themselves to be disciples of David Foster.... although they would argue they are disciples of Jesus....too....

Actions speak louder than words, people.... walk the walk... talk the talk.... anything else is gibberish....
-------------------------

What a great comparable picture via Willow Creek to share with everyone, Jared.... but in our fast-paced, McGod world.... we want it now... give it to me now... got to have it now.... can't wait a few years (let alone days or weeks) for the truth to set us free...

And... I wonder... to be (secretive) or not to be (secretive)...

That IS the question... eh?

C. Evan Shakespeare

 
At 11:24 AM, Blogger Jared said...

we want it now... give it to me now... got to have it now....

Evan, this mentality is actually something I plan to address in a post on Monday. But it will be more narrowly focused on the sentiments right now that rejoining the Fosters with BCC be implemented immediately. Separation right now is vitally important.

There is a big piece of this puzzle a lot of folks on both sides are missing, but I want to wait until after the weekend to talk about it because I think the words I offer will be "hard."

 
At 11:26 AM, Blogger Jared said...

Hmm, that previous comment didn't come out very well.

What I mean is, there are some folks saying that, now that Dr. Foster has accepted the decision, the two sides should come together and get started on working Foster back into the church. That would be a big mistake.
But the reasons I'll give for that will have to wait until Monday.

 
At 12:16 PM, Blogger judas icarus said...

I hear ya.... I suppose the only thing WORSE than going with a...."since he said he was sorry... that's good enough for me.... so, let him come back and lead the church... I mean, don't mess up my weekend service... c'mon... I need the big screens, and the lights.... and the videos... and the music.... and Foster.... before I can worship and connect with God" MINDSET OR SENTIMENT.... would be...

to find out that this was all a staged performance by everyone at BCC to kick off a brand-new 10-part lecture series from Foster entitled:

"10 Ways To Prove Who Has And Who Ain't Really Read The Bible (Lately)"

And... maybe we can get Doctor Phil to come down and mediate things between David and the Elders.... I just hope they'll invite the 40-50 ex-staff members and the folks who have left BCC because of Foster to be the studio audience....

If there is truly a movement that touts having Foster come back because of his email today.... I think I may just go jump off a stack of bibles into the vacum of stupidity. I want to see and talk to each of the people that are in there... proposing such nonsense.

But, in today's world (emphasis on world)... the addict, the murderer, the thief, the liar, the bully, the unrepentant and the likes are looked upon favorably when they finally say... Okay... the jig is up!!!!

Then there's the TV appearances, the made-for-TV movie, the book signings, the magazine interviews.... and voila'... everything is okey-dokey. Let's get things back to where they were before all this brouhaha began.....

Everything's fixed now.... everything has been taken care of by one (long overdue) email - open letter from Dave!

People are generally good and I try my best to tolerate them.... but the selfishness at the bottom of that mentality is so corrupt... so bankrupt.... and so serpentinely enticing.

I don't know how many times people expect other folks to get snake-bit and not die..... spiritually....

Perhaps at some point in the future Foster might be invited to visit or speak at BCC.... but even that would be a mistake in my mind..... ah... sorry... Jared... excuse me now.... I've got to go.... doctor's appointment.... my monthly shot.... snake venom.... the doctor says... that's what they use to create a antidote for snake bites..... snake venom... funny... eh?
------------------

I look forward to what you will share regarding this most ridiculous notion being considered.... now....

C. Evan Leonard

 
At 11:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And... maybe we can get Doctor Phil to come down and mediate things between David and the Elders

Bad idea...
I'm not sure Dr. Phil believes Jesus is the only way to heaven :)

 
At 5:05 PM, Blogger judas icarus said...

Good point.... then how about Oprah... could she mediate???

Maybe Simon Cowell? Ryan Seacrest?

Nah... guess not...

Maybe it's just gonna be up to the Holy Spirit.... and that should be A OK with everyone!

C. Evan Leonard

 
At 9:45 PM, Anonymous My Dad ROCKS! said...

You're so Nashville if...

...you have absolutely no idea where God will lead you next, but you're absolutely sure that you won't be leaving Nashville.

 

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