Out of Ur Repents?
Marshall Shelley responds to Willow's Revealing YouTube video.

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."

June 25, 2008

Displaying 1–10 of 27 comments


September 07, 2008  6:50pm

I am one of the victims of reveal. Can you imagine following faithfully for over 20 years, doing everything Bill Hybels tells me about keeping my spiritual tempurature high, serving so faithfully and then one day Bill speaks to leaders and said oops we made a mistake. There are people involved who got hurt, who didnt grow spiritually as much as they could have, who had to watch people making money by using reveal to write books when in fact it is lives that were hurt, people who were not being taken care of spiritually and now all of a sudden we are supposed to follow the new trend when there must be some reason why three pastors all left Willowcreek within a few months and once again no one is talking about that.

Report Abuse

Stan Tharp

July 14, 2008  10:04am

The folks at Willow made observations that call into question the assumptions of ALL American church leaders...not just those of us in the seeker-sensitive genre. We have tended to think that if we just get people to our church services, into our classes and small groups, and serving in our church ministries, they will become fully devoted followers of Christ. The reveal of REVEAL is that such church based activities are indeed helpful, but not all sufficient in prompting the kind of spiritual growth and transformation all of us seek in our congregations. Those who strive to use REVEAL as a tool against Willow have probably been contrary to their approach anyway...but REVEAL is NOT confirmation of your anti-seeker-sensitive biases.

Report Abuse


July 12, 2008  12:31pm

I have a great appreciation for both Willow and Leadership (Out Of Ur) for their humility in the discussion. I would like to suggest, however, that we all learn from this to avoid over-dramatizing and tabloid-esque conclusions a priori, if possible. Humanity's rubber-necking voyeuristic impulse can prove to be detrimental sometimes. http://vialogue.wordpress.com/2008/07/11/reveal/

Report Abuse


July 08, 2008  6:40pm

Out of Ur Repents? That is what I thought when I read the article. What amazes me is this. REVEAL was a study done in collaboraton with many churches. But some don't seem to know this. Also, some seemed shocked that discipleship is weak in many churches. What I love about WC is that at least they research and then are transparent enough to tell the truth. Always have been. I realize that what they took the time and resource to discover is true of every church I have been a part of during my life. The fact they had a wake-up call about this is a credit to them. Know of anyone else of their stature willing to risk it? Send me a link! Now about the word "Repents". Out of Ur might have felt that the technical definition was their meaning in the post (though I'm sure many will also see that as "spin" as well) but in reality to millions of evangelical Christians, repent will always conjur up talk of "dealing with sin". Clearly, tons of people in America took it this way. I (like many other responders) am happy to see this talked through. Sometimes, God wins. Wish people would communicate more before going to press. It would solve a host of problems in the body of Christ and model better communication. Bottom line - Thanks for the effort! It takes some maturity to take this direction!

Report Abuse

mr. contentious

July 03, 2008  4:33pm

What I can take away from this discussion is that "pomosapiens" tend to be very discriminatory. They don't like mega-churches such as Willow Creek because those churches tend to target a more modern audience. Pomo's get super-excited (and maybe a little over-eager) at the possibility that the mega-church may possibly stumble. Obviously modernism is not as good as postmodernism so stop trying to reach those stupid, structure oriented people. (please note the sarcasim in my voice.) Wow that came out a little more harsh than I meant. It is easy to get carried away in this "conversation". I would re-write it but then maybe keeping it can help me remember how easy it is to be contentious...

Report Abuse


July 02, 2008  8:31am

Hear Hear Bill! Sad to have seen Out of Ur post that about bloggers (aka gloaters) as most posts I saw that took issue with WC and Reveal were respectful and insightful.

Report Abuse


July 01, 2008  11:14pm

Interesting that few comments have included anything about the adapting of ministry to meet the culture. As a missions pastor, the missionary enterprise of the last 50 years has been accepting the challenge of contextualizing the gospel to the culture to which it is called to serve. Why would it be any different here in the U.S.? Churches who want to reach the culture must adapt. The methods of reaching and growing people in 1970 needed to be re-evaluated...just as Willow seeks to do. The gospel message is the same, the packaging changes with every generation. On vacation we attended a 150 year old church this past weekend, we sat with 40 or so other worshippers in a beautiful old sanctuary fit for 1000 people. I loved the music and the organ, but couldn't wait to return to my church with a contemporary means to reach the contemporary culture of this millenium. Let's face it, the new millenium is down the track...why not work at adapting like Willow does?! It's okay for missionaries to contextualize the gospel, why shouldn't we work as hard at it?

Report Abuse


June 30, 2008  1:17pm

The change in direction from what I have observed is not that they are "repenting" or changing what they are doing and have done, but that they are adding a component that they have been missing due to a false assumption. Discipleship does not happen in the big, community meeting for most people. Keep the service seeker-oriented if you want. But let's also get to the nuts and bolts of being used by God to help converts be able to stand on their own 2 spiritual feet. This is what I am looking for in their new book. What I read in Reveal (the first book) is not new. Sonlife was teaching this in the late 70's. They also had 4 levels of growth, and from my understanding Willow Creek and Sonlife and CDI all had a part in that beginning. Willow just forgot about the 2nd half (which they are now "rediscovering"). There should be an article on that!

Report Abuse


June 30, 2008  10:24am

"This seems to imply that the good news of salvation isn't for the Jew, the Muslim, the Mormon, the Wiccan or the JW. Very odd." Melody, I think a cursory, literal read would imply the exclusivity of which you indicate a silent protest, but given the subject I think one should look beyond the obvious semantics of what is being discussed and see the totality of the subject, which is that they're all included.

Report Abuse


June 29, 2008  11:25am

I find this statement from the top of this post quite troublesome, "I certainly affirm the steps Willow is taking to more effectively turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Christ". This seems to imply that the good news of salvation isn't for the Jew, the Muslim, the Mormon, the Wiccan or the JW. Very odd.

Report Abuse
  • Seeing God on the Silver Screen
    An interview with Kevin Harvey on how engaging pop culture might be the best way to share the gospel.
  • Have Stethoscope, Will Travel
    Nurse Kelly Sites talks about her experience battling Ebola overseas
  • Actively Seeking Change
    Daniel Ryan Day talks to us about his attempt to live intentionally different
  • Digging For Truth
    Josh McDowell on the Bible's truthworthiness, the internet, and the future of the church