In October 2007, Out of Ur posted what has now become a much read and much quoted commentary that we titled "Willow Creek Repents?" It was based on comments that Bill Hybels and Greg Hawkins, Willow Creek's executive pastor, presented at The Leadership Summit 2007, announcing the release of Reveal, a book emerging from an extensive study of Willow and other churches.
Earlier this month, Bill Hybels and Jim Mellado, president of the Willow Creek Association, posted a video on YouTube objecting to the "misinformation" published by Out of Ur and our sister publication Christianity Today regarding Reveal.
The week following the release of the video, I went to South Barrington to meet with leaders of Willow Creek to hear their concerns face to face, which was a very helpful experience. They shared with me new approaches to ministry prompted by Reveal that are in process and things they are not ready to have published. I will honor their trust. I certainly affirm the steps Willow is taking to more effectively turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Christ.
I do need to respond publicly to two items that were aired in the YouTube video.
1. What does it mean to "repent"?
In the video, Bill Hybels says of the title "Willow Creek Repents?":
"I wondered, What horrible, immoral thing have I done? I think it was a poor choice of words, actually. . . . I don't think when you make a strategic adjustment, it qualifies under the term repent. I think every evangelical knows that's kind of a loaded-up term, and I think someone wanted to get some action on a blog, and I think it was very unfortunate and quite disingenuous to title the article that way."
Okay. It did get attention on the blog, and the term provided Willow critics in the blogosphere a chance to gloat. But the gloaters were misreading both the blog post and the Reveal study. We have high regard for the ministry at Willow Creek and feel terrible that our wording led to a misrepresentation of what was actually happening. For that we apologize.
At Out of Ur, a blog for pastors engaging today's culture, we assumed our readers would know that repent means (literally) "to turn" or "to change your mind." Our editors have been reading authors in spiritual formation that suggest repentance is not just a dramatic shift "from sin to holiness," but instead repenting is a daily realigning of life to follow Jesus, a shift "from off course to on course." This is the meaning that comes to our minds first.
Yes, a common connotation of "repent" is "to renounce sinful ways." That's NOT what we meant, as the blog post itself bears out. Out of Ur intended the word repent to refer to a mid-course correction to follow Christ, which is the way Greg Hawkins took it in his follow-up post when he wrote, "repenting is not a new experience for us. We've made a number of major course corrections over the years."
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