A shocking confession from Willow Creek
COLUMBUS, Ohio (BP)--If you are older than 40 the name Benjamin Spock is more than familiar. It was Spock that
told an entire generation of parents to take it easy, don't discipline your children and allow them to express themselves.
Discipline, he told us, would warp a child's fragile ego. Millions followed this guru of child development and he remained
unchallenged among child rearing professionals. However, before his death Dr. Spock made an amazing discovery: He was wrong.
In fact, he said: "We have reared a generation of brats. Parents aren't firm
enough with their children for fear of losing their love or incurring their resentment. This is a cruel deprivation that we
professionals have imposed on mothers and fathers. Of course, we did it with the best of intentions. We didn't realize until
it was too late how our know-it-all attitude was undermining the self assurance of parents."
Something just as momentous,
in my opinion, just happened in the evangelical community. For most of a generation evangelicals have been romanced by the
"seeker-sensitive" movement spawned by Willow Creek
Community Church in Chicago. The guru of this movement is Bill Hybels. He and others have been telling us for
decades to throw out everything we have previously thought and been taught about church growth and replace it with a new paradigm,
a new way to do ministry.
with this "new wave" of ministry came a de-emphasis on taking personal responsibility for Bible study combined with an emphasis
on felt-needs based "programs" and slick marketing.
The size of the crowd rather
than the depth of the heart determined success. If the crowd was large then surely God was blessing the ministry. Churches
were built by demographic studies, professional strategists, marketing research, meeting "felt needs" and sermons consistent
with these techniques. We were told that preaching was out, relevance was in. Doctrine didn't matter nearly as much as innovation.
If it wasn't "cutting edge" and consumer friendly it was doomed. The mention of sin, salvation and sanctification were taboo
and replaced by Starbucks, strategy and sensitivity.
Thousands of pastors hung
on every word that emanated from the lips of the church growth experts. Satellite seminars were packed with hungry church
leaders learning the latest way to "do church." The promise was clear: Thousands of people and millions of dollars couldn't
be wrong. Forget what people need, give them what they want. How can you argue with the numbers? If you dared to challenge
the "experts" you were immediately labeled as a "traditionalist," a throwback to the 50s, a stubborn dinosaur unwilling to
change with the times.
All that changed recently.
Willow Creek has released
the results of a multi-year study on the effectiveness of their programs and philosophy of ministry. The study's findings
are in a new book titled "Reveal: Where Are You?," co-authored by Cally Parkinson and Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek Community
Church. Hybels himself called the findings "ground breaking," "earth
shaking" and "mind blowing." And no wonder: It seems that the "experts" were wrong.
The report reveals that
most of what they have been doing for these many years and what they have taught millions of others to do is not producing
solid disciples of Jesus Christ. Numbers yes, but not disciples. It gets worse. Hybels laments:
"Some of the stuff that
we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data
actually came back it 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."
If you simply want a crowd,
the "seeker-sensitive" model produces results. If you want solid, sincere, mature followers of Christ, it's a bust. In a shocking
confession, Hybels states:
"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 gotten people, taught people,
how to read their Bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much
more aggressively on their own."
Incredibly, the guru of
church growth now tells us that people need to be reading their Bibles and taking responsibility for their spiritual growth.
Just as Spock's "mistake"
was no minor error, so the error of the seeker-sensitive movement is monumental in its scope. The foundation of thousands
of American churches is now discovered to be mere sand. The one individual who has had perhaps the greatest influence on the
American church in our generation has now admitted his philosophy of ministry, in large part, was a "mistake." The extent
of this error defies measurement.
Perhaps the most shocking
thing of all in this revelation coming out of Willow Creek is in a summary statement by Greg Hawkins:
"Our dream is that we fundamentally
change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it
with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God
is doing and how he's asking us to transform this planet."
Isn't that what we were
told when this whole seeker-sensitive thing started? The church growth gurus again want to throw away their old assumptions
and "take out a clean sheet of paper" and, presumably, come up with a new paradigm for ministry.
Should this be encouraging?
Please note that "rooted
in Scripture" still follows "rethink," "new insights" and "informed research." Someone, it appears, still might not get it.
Unless there is a return to simple biblical (and relevant) principles, a new faulty scheme will replace the existing one and
another generation will follow along as the latest piper plays.
What we should find encouraging,
at least, in this "confession" coming from the highest ranks of the Willow Creek Association is that they are coming to realize
that their existing "model" does not help people grow into mature followers of Jesus Christ. Given the massive influence this
organization has on the American church today, let us pray that God would be pleased to put structures in place at Willow
Creek that foster not mere numeric growth, but growth in grace.
Bob Burney is Salem Communications' award-winning host of Bob Burney Live, heard weekday
afternoons on WRFD-AM 880 in Columbus, Ohio.
This column originally appeared at Townhall.com. Reprinted with permission.