The Real Enemies

A good friend passed on to me a link to an article on the Internet. I read it and was pretty annoyed. It is a commentary on Willow Creek’s recent “recanting” of their ministry model. I’ll give you the URL: A Shocking “Confession” from Willow Creek Community Church.

Here’s my brief analysis. First, let me say I was there in October of ’06 and heard Hybels and Hawkings in person explain what was going on. OK – everybody knows that WCCC changed their tune – this is really old news. But besides being behind the curve, it seems to me that Burney has missed the point. It isn’t about Bill Hybels being wrong about the seeker-sensitive movement– in actual fact he has been very right for a couple of decades. In addition, it looks like Burney completely misses the boat when he labels Hybels as a “church growth guru” and conveniently forgets that WCCC has always been about outreach, evangelism, and reaching people who just were not being reached. Thousands of people are now headed for an eternal life with Jesus because of the ministry of Hybels, Rick Warren, etc. Burney seems to consider this unimportant as he doesn’t mention that fact at all. Come on, we all knew that the seeker-sensitive thing (in and of itself) was not, nor was it ever about, developing fully-devoted followers of Christ.

In fact, if you actually look at what the WCCC statements are saying: it is not that they have repented of trying to reach “unchurched Harry and Mary” – not at all. In fact, WCCC is repenting of a programmatic, get-them-involved-in-anything approach. They are repenting from not emphasizing the development of “self-feeding” believers.

Do you see what Burney has done? WCCC has repented of their *discipleship* model, NOT their evangelism model. But Burney attacks their *evangelism* model because of their statement about their discipleship model. And also no words of encouragement from Burney to WCCC for getting a better grip on how to grow disciples. Why doesn’t he say, “WCCC, the rest of us are really glad that such an influential church is getting serious - not just about bringing people into the Kingdom of light - but now that you want to grow them into fully devoted followers of Jesus.” No; it’s pretty much just: ‘You guys were wrong. About everything – wrong.’

It seems to me that Burney has gotten this wrong. In addition, from where I sit, he’s being a little mean: the tone of this article is way too much on the side of gloating. I’m pretty disappointed – throwing stones at brothers and sisters in Christ is wrong. Comparing Hybels to Dr. Spock is a cheap shot. WCCC has repented; and done so very publicly. I’ve got to wonder if Burney will.

So here’s my Big Point: I think Bob Burney – and far too many “Evangelicals” on the Fundamentalist side of the tent – may have fallen into an age-old trap. We have forgotten something very basic. The question they (and we) need to remember to ask is: Who is the real enemy?

Let me make it clear: sin, the Devil, and death are our enemies. Bill Hybels (as flawed as he is) is not the enemy – he’s a devoted brother in Christ. We get so incestuous in the fights we pick. It is clear that I disagree and am disappointed in Bob Burney. But he’s not my enemy – he’s my brother. I can pick on several goofy Christian leaders and point to their mistakes, their confusion, their error, and even their sin. It’s not my job to condemn or even convict them – I’ll leave that job to the one person who actually has that in their job description: the Holy Spirit. I believe instead that Jesus’ asks us to graciously and humbly confront our brothers and sisters. Even in this blog, I don’t condemn Burney; I want to humbly suggest that he reconsider his analysis and his tone.

As Christians, we have real enemies, but they should NOT be other believers, or the people who don’t vote like we do, or even our unbelieving and very annoying neighbor who is partly a victim of the blindness that accompanies sin. Let’s remember who our real enemies are: the Devil, sin, and death.


Eric said...

I've never been a huge Bill Hybels fan, although I haven't paid that much attention. Whatever, it's surely not my place to criticize a guy because he wants to reach people. Burney makes a typical fundamentalist error, one I also easily fall into. The error is assuming that because something is not perfect is it wrong and evil. We all make mistakes. We all grow. At least Willow Creek is admitting their mistakes. Would that we all could be this honest. Thanks for the good insight.

Anonymous said...

good stuff... really good stuff... I've thought this, but haven't articulated it very well. I'm so thankful for the work and ministry of Hybels and WCCC. They are not perfect, but have taught me so much about reaching people. Now they are teaching me about humility. We all could learn a lesson... Thanks for every word!

emesselt said...

Just let me be clear - there may be plenty of opportunity to critique Hybels and WCCC. And this I know from being intimately involved with a church that was, in their words, "up a Willow Creek without a Hybels."

One of the first critiques is that WCCC didn't seem to have a good discipleship model! Another was Hybels' apparent arrogance in the early days. And we could go on. But I really like WCCC’s ability to lead people to Jesus more than most other Evangelical churches’ typical ineffectiveness and poor witness.

OK, I’m being a little harsh. But my point is the same: critique shouldn’t have to mean hostility.

emesselt said...

Well, it helps that I get some affirmation from people smarter than me: