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Willow Creek Promises Investigation Amid New Allegations Against Bill Hybels

“We are sorry,” elder board says as more women claim misconduct.

Last night, Willow Creek Community Church made a promise to its members following the early departure of its founder and senior pastor, Bill Hybels.

“Even though Bill is no longer in his role, our work to resolve any shadow of doubt in the trustworthiness of [Willow] is not done,” the church’s board of elders told members in a Friday evening letter. “With the benefit of hindsight, we see several aspects of our past work that we would have handled differently, and we have identified several areas of learning.”

Last week, Hybels retired six months early after 40 years as leader of Willow Creek, calling recent allegations against him a distraction for the megachurch and its ministries. Hybels denied any wrongdoing. He did admit regretting that he first responded to the allegations with anger.

Yesterday, the elders similarly expressed regret in the way the church handled the allegations.

“We have at times communicated without a posture of deep listening and understanding,” they wrote. “We are sorry that at times our process appeared to diminish the deep compassion we have for all those involved in these matters.”

Likewise, the elders said they would work on “strengthening the relationship of accountability with our church leaders.”

“Bill acknowledged that he placed himself in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid,” the elders wrote. “We agree, and now recognize that we didn’t hold him accountable to specific boundaries.”

The elders also said they wished they had worked harder “to collaborate with all parties,” and promised to “methodically examine our church culture, enhancing policies and informal practices ...

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5,000 Pastors Rally to Defend Housing Tax Break Ruled Unconstitutional

Appeal: Exemptions do more than just save pastors $800 million a year.

When a pastor responds to late-night prayer request or invites congregants to his home for Bible study, is he just doing his job or going beyond the call of duty?

That’s not a question for the federal government to decide, according to the Chicago-area pastors and churches appealing a 2017 ruling that declared tax breaks for clergy housing costs to be unconstitutional.

The lawsuit over the longstanding benefit, launched by the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) seven years ago, has entered another round of appeals. The Christian defendants, represented by Becket, filed their written appeal in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals late last week.

Last October, the lower court judge sided (for the second time) with the atheist group’s claim that the tax-exemption for housing allowances violates the First Amendment. The pastors’ appeal makes the opposite case: that the special provisions for ministers actually keep the government from unnecessarily meddling in religious affairs.

More than 5,000 pastors from across the country have already signed on to an Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) campaign defending the exemption. The legal team expects several Christian groups, including ADF, to file supporting documentation—amicus briefs—this week, the next step before the case goes to court later this year. (Pastors have until the end of the day on Monday to sign on to the ADF brief at ministerhousing.org.)

“The district court’s decision would … have devastating practical effects on ministers and communities across the country,” reads the opening brief from Becket, a legal team defending religious freedom cases. “For over a century, churches and ministers have relied on these ...

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The Moral of Moral Failings of Christian Leaders

The character of Christian leaders is in question. We need to ask why and work for change.

The past few months (and if we are honest, the past few years) have been hard for Christians, and evangelicals in particular. I’ve felt it myself as I’ve had to deal with some good friends confess to failures, and the aftermath that has occurred in their wake.

It’s certainly been much harder on those directly hurt, but it’s impacted many of us.

My love for Christ and his church, and the calling he has given all of us—not just leaders—to represent him well and live lives of integrity has pushed me into places of grief as of late.

When Donna and I were in California in March, we had lunch with Rick and Kay Warren after church. We talked about a Saddleback conference from 2010 where Rick, Kay, and I spoke. Since that conference, about half of the speakers have stepped down from the churches they were serving due to some personal issue.

Half—in eight years.

That’s not right, but it is real.

And, it requires some self-reflection.

Secrets Come Out

One of my best friends recently resigned due to a “morally inappropriate relationship.” He’s still my friend, but before we were friends in ministry, and now we are friends in lament.

One is too many, but there have been far too many moral failures in a world where Christians often claim to be guardians of morality.

Sometimes it’s been more than a moral failure. Sometimes it is an abusive situation, as I’ve written about often. And, it is there where the church needs to stand with the victims—and we have seen that all too often they do not.

Yet, Luke 8:17 of the New Living Translation says this: “For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought ...

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One-on-One with Brian Stiller on “From Jerusalem to Timbuktu”

The gospel springs into life and people are transformed.

Ed: What led you to write From Jerusalem to Timbuktu?

Brian: North America media promotes the perception that the church is slowly dying. But in my travels, I see amazing communities of faith. In Latin America in 1900, there were 50,000 evangelicals. Today, there are over 100 million. In China, when Communism took over in 1949, there were about 700,000 Christians. Today, estimates range from 80 to 140 million. So, I asked, “Why? What brought about this enormous leap?”

My curious nature led me down paths of surprises.

Ed: What surprised you most in your research?

Brian: The biggest one was the contemporary role of the Spirit in witness and ministry. Ed, you and I and our generation have lived with a common reference to, and understanding of, the person and work of the Spirit, be it Reformed or Pentecostals.

What I did not see was that prior to 1900, the Spirit seemed to be caught in the shadows of the Father and the Son. There were periodic outbreaks of Spirit empowerment through the centuries, but not an understanding of how the Spirit gifts and empowers us for ministry and service. This breakout in the early 1900s changed the church.

With ministry no longer confined to pastors and evangelists, the laity discovered the Spirit was in them and that they too could exercise gifts of ministry. When this became more common knowledge, it rippled across the world, and the church has not been the same since.

Ed: Does one person or movement stand out for you?

Brian: When I was a young teenager, a South African names Nicholas Bhengu spoke in our church in Saskatoon. I had never heard such preaching, He was an evangelist who built deeply into his own land, creating an indigenous church plant that spread through the southern part ...

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Jesus, Take the Control Wheel: Southwest Pilot Saw Flying as Ministry

Fellow Texas Baptists cheer on Tammie Jo Shults, who heroically landed Flight 1390 after engine failure.

BOERNE, Texas (BP)— When members of First Baptist Church in Boerne, Texas, heard recordings of radio transmissions from a Southwest Airlines pilot who made a harrowing emergency landing this week in Philadelphia, they recognized the voice as one of their own.

Tammie Jo Shults—the pilot who guided Flight 1380 to the ground April 17 after a midflight engine failure shot debris through a window, killing one passenger—is a recognizable figure at the Texas Hill Country church, which averages 900 in worship. She has led the children’s worship program at First Baptist and taught Sunday School for children, middle schoolers, high schoolers and adults, said Staci Thompson, a longtime friend and administrative assistant in the church office.

“When we heard the voice” in media replays of cockpit recordings, “it was just like talking on the phone. That’s what she sounds like,” Thompson told Baptist Press.

The church was “impressed” but not “shocked,” Thompson said, at reports Shults, 56, landed the plane safely after a 20,000-foot drop in six minutes, then walked down the aisle hugging passengers. The plane was bound from New York to Dallas, and seven of the 144 passengers aboard were injured in addition to the one fatality.

Social media reports by surviving passengers hailed Shults as having “nerves of steel” and being “a true American hero.” One passenger told The Dallas Morning News, “I specifically said to her, ‘Do I get a hug too?’ She said, ‘Of course, I wouldn’t let you by without a hug.’”

Shults’ “biggest goal” amid the emergency landing and subsequent media coverage, Thompson ...

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My Son’s Down Syndrome Showed Me the Real Imago Dei

It didn’t look at all like I thought it did.

For the majority of my theologically trained life, my ideas of what it meant to bear the image of God were quite conventional—easy inheritances from systematic theologies or books. We can love because God is love. We have the capability to reason; God is the one in whom no irrationality is found. Our personhood originates in God’s being a person. We exercise will; God is volitional. We’re creative; our God is the Prime Creator. We are creatures of language; God is Logos, the God who speaks.

Our most foundational doctrines are often the ones we build most shabbily on. But the basics were there. That we are made in the image of God is the doctrinal tenet by which Christians understand what it means to be human. Marshaling the claim from Genesis 1:27 that “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them,” supported by the weight of the New Testament (see 1 Cor. 11:7, Eph. 4:24, James 3:9), Christ followers maintain that every person bears the imago Dei.

Then I met my son Augustus, who was born with Down syndrome. Gus overturned the assumptions of my theology.

Looking at versus Looking Along

Until then, to my mind, intelligence, rationality, and language were measured against a standard of competency. Those most capable of demonstrating these characteristics best bore the image of God.

But Gus, with his protruding tongue, floppy frame, and inarticulate attempts to speak, posed new questions. What about those who would never reason or speak at an exemplary level? How do people with Down syndrome—how would my boy—carry the imago Dei? Looking at the image of God solely through the steely eyes of doctrine had left me with a sort of astigmatism. Life had now offered me ...

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How to Become America’s Fastest-Growing Church? Think Like a Startup.

Cincinnati’s Crossroads uses entrepreneurial strategies for gospel ends.

The fastest-growing congregation in America is one you may never have heard of with a name you hear everywhere: Crossroads Church.

Crossroads are about as common as First Baptists among today’s non-denominational, contemporary churches. But this particular Crossroads, based in Cincinnati, could have a location near you in coming years if all goes according to plan. It has set out to take on nationwide influence, leveraging data from its app and streaming services to choose where to launch new campuses.

Just over two decades old, the booming church still functions like a startup—for good reason. Described by Cincinnati Business Courier as both “an entrepreneurial church and a church for entrepreneurs,” its business mentality has been key to its growth so far and shapes how it will expand—essentially, franchise—in the future.

In 2017, Outreach Magazine and LifeWay Research named Crossroads the fastest-growing church for the second time (the first was in 2015). With 14 campuses and 38,000 in attendance, Crossroads added around 6,000 members in 2016—growing at a rate of 25 percent.

Taking ministry out of the box

While keeping focused on Scripture and the Spirit, leaders at Crossroads pride themselves on rethinking the standard tone of church life. They favor catchy language and marketing, powerful messages, and exciting programs. They credit the church’s growth to an entrepreneurial willingness to break the mold—even their own.

“We don’t set out to intentionally disrupt anything,” said Brian Tome, senior pastor of Crossroads, who mingles business metaphors and spiritual allusions.

“But Jesus said he works in new wineskins. He’s not against old wineskins. ...

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Gleanings: May 2018

Important developments in the church and the world (as they appeared in our May issue).

Supreme Court hears pregnancy centers’ plight

The US Supreme Court will decide in June whether pregnancy resource centers in California must post notices advertising state-funded contraception and abortion, or whether the state requirements violate their free speech. During the oral arguments for National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra in March, justices appeared critical of how the state law may unfairly target pro-life centers. They will also issue in June another First Amendment ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the case of the Christian baker who refused to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding.

Turkey: US pastor faces life sentence on terrorism charges

A year and a half after detaining American pastor Andrew Brunson on what US officials believe to be erroneous terrorism charges, Turkey finally issued an official indictment and began court proceedings this spring. Brunson, an Evangelical Presbyterian who spent 23 years in ministry in the majority-Muslim nation, faces a sentence of life in prison. He is among hundreds accused of conspiring with exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen to overtake the Turkish government in a 2016 coup. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has called on the White House to secure Brunson’s release.

Austria: Iranian Christian refugees stranded by US

A group of about 100 refugees from Iran spent over a year in Vienna, Austria, awaiting resettlement in the United States, only to learn their applications had been denied under stricter requirements set forth by the State Department. Most of those stranded came from heavily persecuted communities of Armenian and Assyrian Christians; they hoped to reunite with family members ...

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The Church and Mental Health: What Do the Numbers Tell Us?

Why is it uniquely challenging for us to address issues often associated with mental illness?

Most of us know someone who is in counseling, on medication, or has even taken his or her own life as a result of a mental illness. There are many difficult issues for Christians to talk about, and mental health would certainly be near the top of that list.

Yet, this is a conversation the Church needs to have. Suicide may be one of the most complex and demanding topics of all. Over the past few years, the discussion has felt forced, especially when the event is connected to high-profile suicides of prominent Christian leaders or their family members and close associates.

While the circumstances in these situations are varied, the question of mental health always comes up; and when we talk about mental illness and suicide, it immediately creates a unique challenge for believers. The question is “Why?” Why is it uniquely challenging for us to address issues often associated with mental illness?

God Heals

The answer is, at least partly, because we know God heals. He not only restores our spiritual wounds, but many also believe God physically heals… at times in miraculous ways. So, as people of faith, we accept the miraculous, know of freedom in Christ, experience the forgiveness of sin, and acknowledge supernatural healing.

However, we have all seen people, even believers, struggle with severe mental problems. They affect them emotionally, spiritually and relationally, and sometimes deliverance does not seem to come in supernatural ways.

The person wants help. His or her family seeks answers. Others wonder what is going on. So, it makes for awkward and limited conversations. As leaders, we often end up avoiding mental illness concerns altogether, or we fly by the seat of our spiritual pants in response when help ...

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Rwanda Weeds the Church Plants

Thousands of churches closed in attempt to curb bad buildings—and bad preaching.

Authorities have closed more than 6,000 churches across Rwanda, including 714 in the capital city of Kigali, in the span of two months for failing to comply with health, safety, and noise regulations.

Underscoring the seriousness of the campaign, a lightning strike killed 16 worshipers and injured 140 at a Seventh-day Adventist church that had not installed a mandated lightning rod.

Lawmakers are now debating new regulations in an attempt to prevent fraudulent behavior among the East African nation’s mushrooming churches.

President Paul Kagame welcomed the shutdowns but was stunned at the scale: “700 churches in Kigali?” he said during a government dialogue in March. “Are these boreholes that give people water? I don’t think we have as many boreholes. Do we even have as many factories? This has been a mess!”

Kagame said his country doesn’t need so many houses of worship, explaining that such a high number is only fit for bigger, more developed economies that have the means to sustain them.

Many church leaders disagree, and six Pentecostal pastors were arrested for organizing protests. Rwandan authorities maintain the churches were in such poor physical condition that they threatened the lives of churchgoers.

The majority are small Pentecostal gatherings. Many are shepherded by charismatic preachers who draw followers with promises of signs and wonders. Often, such churches meet in houses, tents, or crude structures that lack adequate water systems. They often blast sermons down streets through megaphones and loudspeakers.

The existing law on civil society organizations permits Rwandans to open churches and register after a period of months and doesn’t require pastors to go through ...

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