Becoming Contagious

Was I now a fully paid-up member of the Awkward Squad? I was 18 and daring to question my pastor. He had decided to cancel the church Bible Study for the summer and begin a study of Bill Hybels’ book Becoming a Contagious Christian. The pastor meant well. We were a church of 120 but lived in a city of 120,000. He wanted people to be saved and this little book seemed to offer all the answers. Hybels was the pastor of a US ‘Mega Church’, defined as a church with average weekly attendance exceeding 2000 people. Hybels soundly beat that: Willow Creek’s weekly average attendance was 25,743 according to So if you want help on how to grow a church of 120, Bill Hybels must know what he’s talking about. Yet, I complained to the pastor that it would be far better to study the words of God rather than the words of men. He dismissed my objections by assuring me the book was based upon the Bible and I therefore had nothing to fear. I still have the copy of the book given to me at that time, but I never did read it.

This month, Willow Creek’s several pastors and all its leaders have resigned. The Chicago Herald laid allegations of sexual misconduct against Hybels spanning decades. The church elders had previously investigated some initial claims, but exonerated their top man, only for ten more women to come forward with claims of being groped and subjected to unwanted advances. It should be noted that one of these women appears to have since retracted her claim and I understand Mr Hybels denies the allegations. But how was this situation allowed to develop in the first place?

One female elder, Missy Rasmussen, is quoted in Christianity Today saying she and other church leaders had been ’blinded by their faith in their founding pastor’ and had failed to hold Hybels accountable. Indeed. I hope to God that this huge church recovers its Biblical footing and finds ways of better monitoring its staff. There is however a lesson for the rest of us: when we focus on men instead of Christ, we end up disappointed and hurt. When we listen to men’s words instead of the word of God, we become deaf to truth and blind to sin:

Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. Psalm 146:3