Bill Hybels: “We made a mistake.”

Yesterday a friend sent me an article entitled, “Willow Creek Repents? Why the most influential church in America now says “We made a mistake.” (Go here to get a synopsis of the Willow Creek’s research or go here to see Bill Hybels’ reaction to the research, “The wakeup call of my adult life.”).

I found the article quite interesting. I kept saying to myself, “Of course law-driven principles don’t produce Christlikeness (cf., Romans 7:7-24)!” Regrettably, Hybels still doesn’t get it. His solution is simply to replace one type of legalism with another. Consider Hybel’s response:

    “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 service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.”

No. The answer is not to tell people to become “self feeders.” The answer does not lie in personal spiritual disciplines (as important as they are). The answer does not lie in duty, regardless of how aggressive one may be. The answer to a law-driven church is to become a gospel-driven church! The answer is to understand that the gospel is as much for believers as unbelievers.

Evangelical churches need to be telling people and teaching people the gospel and how all of its multifaceted truths connect to every area of life! What Evangelicalism desperately needs today are gospel-saturated and thus gospel-driven churches and pastors who are committed to declaring the gospel in all of its fullness and glory!

The answer to a law-driven church is to become a gospel-driven church!

The article conludes with Greg Hawkins, the Executive Pastor stating,

    “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.”

Yes. This is my dream as well (i.e., to see all Evangelical churches fundamentally change the way they do church, to become gospel-saturated and gospel-driven)! One of the great problems of the Evangelical church today is its ignorance of the gospel.

The Evangelical church is in large measure ignorant of the gospel, ignorant of the law and ignorant of Christ and His righteousness. Such ignorance is one major cause of the legal temper which characterizes the ethos of American Evangelicalism.

Ignorance of Christ and His gospel leads man to establish legal methods and legal righteousness. “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness,” (Rom. 10:3).

The Evangelical church is in large measure ignorant of the gospel, ignorant of the law and ignorant of Christ and His righteousness.

Ignorance of the law and of the gospel results in ignorance of gospel-methods and gospel-means. Self-will religion has become the trademark of Evangelicalism. Evangelical churches do not need innovation, they need Reformation!

For me, “The wakeup call of my adult life,” was to have had my eyes graciously opened to Christ and His gospel. This has fundamentally changed the way I understand the entire Christian faith and life! May the Lord grant an ever increasing number of believers to get the wake up call of their life as well!

8 Responses to Bill Hybels: “We made a mistake.”

  1. tony says:

    AMEN!!! We need to get back to the straight Gospel of repentance and faith, grace and forgiveness, rooted in the Bible and the Spirit, just like Wycliffe, Hus, Luther and company taught! All the fangled programs, market consumer efforts will pass, but the straight Gospel will never fade.
    Lord, renew us, restore our faith and send us out with your GOOD NEWS!
    Best wishes.

  2. […] announced that he has had the “adult wake up call of his life” and that Willow Creek made a mistake in their approach to ministry. Thus, Greg Hawkins, Willow Creek’s executive pastor, stated […]

  3. A Memeber says:

    The Truth About REVEAL


    I’m thrilled to see the high level of interest and energy behind the blogosphere comments about REVEAL. But I’ve read enough postings to think that it might be helpful to provide a few facts on three issues that keep coming up. Trust me. I’m not into “spin control” here. I just want to fill in some gaps.

    1. It’s Not About Willow
    • REVEAL’s findings are based on thirty churches besides Willow. In all thirty churches, we’ve found the six segments of REVEAL’s spiritual continuum, including the Stalled and Dissatisfied segments. And these churches aren’t all Willow clones. We’ve surveyed traditional Bible churches, mainline denominations, African-American churches and churches representing a wide range of geographies and sizes. Right now we’re fielding the survey to 500 additional churches, including 100 international churches. So, while REVEAL was born out of a Willow research project in 2004, the findings are not exclusive to Willow Creek.
    2. Willow Repents?
    • The first blog started with this question, and the answer is “yes”. But repenting is not a new experience for us. We’ve made a number of major course corrections over the years – like adding a big small group ministry for the thousands of new Christians coming to faith at Willow, and adding a mid-week service for our Christ-followers. We’ve always been a church in motion and REVEAL is just another example of Willow trying to be open to God’s design for this local church.
    3. Is Willow Re-thinking its Seeker Focus?
    • Simple answer – no. My boss would say that Willow is not just seeker-focused. We are seeker-obsessed. The power of REVEAL’s insights for our seeker strategy is the evangelistic strength uncovered in the more mature segments. If we can serve them better, the evangelistic potential is enormous, based on our findings.

    I hope this was helpful. In any event, I’m enjoying following the dialogue. Keep it up! And let me know if you have any questions you’d like me to address.

    Greg Hawkins

  4. Greg,

    I’m sorry that WC is not taking this opportunity to re-direct their ministry away from the seeker-driven model and toward the gospel driven model.

    Should we be concerned for the lost? Absolutely! We have a Great Commission. That commission, however, is not a license for the sorts of things that WC has done. That commission is to preach Christ, administer the holy sacraments, and to make disciples (discipline). The Great Commission is a “churchly” commission and a gospel-centered commission. It is a sacramental commission. I don’t see how WC’s model is any of these things.

    Your post suggests that, as many folks as stream in the doors at WC, you still don’t “get” it.

    Christ’s design for his church is not something he revealed to WC last month or last year but in Matt 28!

    Greg, preach the law (“do this and live”) and preach the gospel (“Christ died for the ungodly”) and nurture those who come. Leave the gimmicks to Charles Finney and Sister Aimee and leave the “numbers” to God the Spirit.


  5. Hi Greg. Thanks for taking the time to fill in some gaps behind the REVEAL study and to bring some clarity concerning Willow Creek’s positions.

    I have just a couple of thoughts about your three points.

    First, even though the findings of REVEAL are not exclusive to Willow Creek, the same point of concern for the current state of Evangelical and Protestant churches remains (i.e., The Evangelical church is in large measure ignorant of the gospel, ignorant of the law and ignorant of Christ and His righteousness). Such ignorance has resulted in a lack of understanding of gospel-methods and means in Evangelical ecclesiology (e.g., for starters, the lack of clear preaching of the law and Gospel in a corporate gathering; the lack of the pure administration of the sacraments on a regular basis [ideally weekly] in the corporate gathering; the lack of church discipline).

    Second, you state that repenting is not a new experience for Willow Creek and that you have made a number of major course corrections over the years (e.g., a big small group ministry). You also state that you are church in motion and that REVEAL is just another example of Willow Creek trying to be open to God’s design for you as a local church.

    My question is, what about God’s design for the local church as set forth in the Scriptures? Dr. Clark, in his response above, raised this very issue. The reference point for organizing and establishing a church is not man but God. So, this question is one of utmost importance and one that we should all take seriously and not quickly gloss over. Perhaps this discussion will lead Evangelicals to a more serious and comprehensive reconsideration of what the Scriptures teach and less of what sociological studies reveal.

    Third, you state that Willow Creek is not re-thinking its seeker focus and that Willow Creek is seeker-obsessed. This is most regretful. It would be most advantageous for Willow Creek to become Gospel-focused and Gospel-obsessed. No one is arguing that Willow Creek’s desire to reach the lost is wrong. This is highly commendable. Churches should be evangelistically focused. I for one have a great passion for proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers and believers alike. I have a passion for missions and seeing the Gospel proclaimed throughout the entire world for the glory of God and the joy of men.

    The way believers and unbelievers alike can be best served is through being exposed to clear and consistent proclamations of the Gospel and all of its multifaceted implications for life and ministry. No amount of seeker-driven methods will ever be able to achieve what the clear, simple, and consistent proclamation of the Gospel can. What is most needed (as has always been the case) is not new insights for the revamping of a seeker-driven churches. Rather, what is most needed is the recovery of the Gospel so that churches are seeking to be Gospel-saturated and in turn Gospel-driven in every area of life both personally and corporately.

    I look forward to hearing from you. Gospel blessings!

  6. Zrim says:

    All good stuff, etc.

    I can’t help but wonder, though. I wonder at all the entreats to the household of Evangelicalism. I don’t have any problem with the content of the entreats, of course. But…one wonders if he might have more luck walking down to Our Lady of Sorrows and suggesting, however sincerely and forthright, that the priest take another look at the Protestant Reformation, re-think the Mass or reconsider papal authority.

    At some point our ancestors must have said, “Well, we tried.” I don’t see many suggestions to make that trek to Our Lady. My bet is that there will have to come a time when we become less surprised at fake-out announcements about “repentance” and less given to telling the popes of Evangelicalism they don’t “get” it. My hope is that a time comes when we say, “Yeah, that is what they do because they are Evangelicals. It makes sense,” just as much as we now say, “Yeah, that is what they do because they are Roman Catholic. It makes sense.” In other words, it just seems to me that the more secure we are as Reformed Protestants the less we really care what other groups are doing and blame them less for *being what they are*. It’s a bit like blaming a Republican for wanting less government or a Baptist for not baptizing his child…that’s what they do.


  7. […] What Evangelicalism (nor some others) Doesn’t Have December 21, 2007 Fonville:  “Evangelical churches need to be telling people and teaching people the gospel and how all […]

  8. Kimberly says:

    I agree….these churches….Willowcreek, Gingercreek….and Joel Osteen…just are missing the point….missing something. They don’t preach doctrine…plays and skits.are one thing…but preaching the Bible is something else. I dropped out of Gingercreek church..lost my faith..two pastors resigned with personal problems in 6 months…..In the homes….never once did anybody open a Bible..and read out of in in front of me. They give “sermonettes”….and preach positive thinkings…..and humor..but not direct gospel. I found God in 2005 with I got healed of skin cancer……..At past church I never heard about healing, the holy spirit…etc….I have never been happier since joining Leroys..ministry….had a devine experience….very happy…..bringing fruit into his ministry. Praise God…Kimberly Reed

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