Living in the Aftermath of Church Scandals

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Two Churches in the Chicago area have been rocked by scandal. Now, how does the Christian community move forward? And how do those hurt by these scandals, the so-called church refugees, find healing? This week on The Roys Report, I’ll have two refugees from Willow Creek Community Church and one from Harvest Bible Chapel join me. Also joining me will be two area pastors whose churches have taken in a number of refugees.  I really hope you can join us for The Roys Report, this Saturday morning at 11 on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life and on Sunday night at 7 on AM 560 The Answer!

This Weeks Guests
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Joe Thorn

Joe Thorn is the Lead Pastor of Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, Illinois, and the author of several books, including Note to Self and Experiencing the Trinity. He has been a columnist for Ligonier’s Tabletalk magazine and is the co-host (with Jimmy Fowler) of the podcast Doctrine & Devotion.

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Dave Jones

David has been privileged to serve as Senior Pastor at Village Church since 2010.  He seeks to combine the in-depth study of Scripture with a shepherd’s heart.  He has been married to Helen for more than thirty years.  They have three grown sons, two daughters-in-law, and one grandson.   

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Rob Speight

Rob Speight graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary and served in vocational ministry prior to working in the market place and attending and volunteering at Willow Creek for 27 years.  Rob started a blog when the Bill Hybels scandal became public.  

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Carol Behrends

Lifelong Christian. . . Survivor of toxic fundamentalism and sexual abuse. . . in attendance at Willow Creek since 1980 (theater days). . . zealot for Truth and accountability

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Terri Streich

Terri was a member of Harvest Bible Chapel for 15 years until she left 1 1/2 years ago. She has also been in Women’s ministry as a counselor for 9+years. Currently she is a member of Redeemer Fellowship St Charles, Ill. with her husband of 35 years Dave. Together they have 3 children and 4 grandchildren.

Show Transcript

Note: This transcript has been edited slightly for continuity.

Segment 1

JULIE ROYS:  Welcome to The Roys Report, brought to you in part by Judson University.  I am Julie Roys and today, we’re going to be talking about a topic that has absolutely ravaged the Christian community in the Chicago area. And, if you’ve been listening to the news, you know that in the past 18 months, two major, evangelical megachurches have been rocked by scandal. 

First, Willow Creek Community Church, one of the 10 largest churches in the United States—experienced major upheaval after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced concerning founder Bill Hybels.  Initially, the women who brought those allegations were discredited by the church. But as evidence against Hybels mounted, senior leaders and elders recanted, and resigned. Yet many say the damage that is done is just too much and they’ve left the church.  Attendance at Willow is down at least 15-percent at Willow’s main campus—and at least 9-percent overall. 

Then several months later, another megachurch—Harvest Bible Chapel—was upended when its pastor, James MacDonald, was accused of rampant wrongdoing. This included financial misappropriation, bullying, and shocking vulgar speech that was aired on morning-drive radio here in Chicago.  The results were similar.  All the executive staff resigned. The elders resigned.  And there was a major exodus of people away from the church.

Obviously, this has sent shock waves throughout the Chicago area. 

There are literally thousands of so-called church refugees—people who feel betrayed and hurt and are in need of healing. At the same time, these people are suspicious of anyone in spiritual leadership. Some don’t want anything to do with the church. Yet there are others who are coming into these area churches and they’re looking for healing and they’re looking and longing for help. 

And then there are pastors—many of whom are godly, hardworking, and often underpaid.  Yet now, they’re viewed with suspicion.  And God forbid, they ask for money or any commitment from people in the pews.  This has become trigger issues for people who are coming into their churches.

So how does the Christian community recover from this? How do we move forward as the Bride of Christ? And can we ever again be a city on a hill? 

Well, that’s what I’m going to explore today. And I’ve gathered a very special group of people to help me do that. With me today are two Chicago-area pastors and three so-called church refugees.

The pastors are Dave Jones, senior pastor of Village Church of Barrington.  And Dave and I met while I was reporting on Harvest Bible Chapel.  In fact, he was a great source of information for me so I’m very grateful for that, Dave.  Dave, you also were on staff at Harvest Bible Chapel—ten years served there, and I know also your church has become just a major wide-open door for an awful lot of refugees.  So welcome to the program.  I’m just really glad to have you.

DAVE JONES:  Thank you.  Glad to be here.

JULIE ROYS:  Also joining me is Joe Thorn, pastor of Redeemer Fellowship in suburban St. Charles.  Joe also hosts a podcast called Doctrine and Devotion.  And Joe and I also met while I was reporting on Harvest Bible Chapel.  You had me in, I think it was pretty early.  It was after my World piece had hit—that expose which I think was mid-December—came in and really enjoyed the opportunity and had a good time with Joe.  But I know you’ve been impacted as well and you have a number of refugees at your church.  Correct?  

JOE THORN:  Yeah.  Over the years, even before this broke, people started to kind of bail on Harvest for various reasons.  And some of them have made their way towards Redeemer.

JULIE ROYS:  Okay.  Let me start with you, Dave, because I know you’ve had, I think, when I interviewed you, you said maybe 300 or so had come from Harvest at some period of time, stayed for at least six months or more.  I’m guessing that was with, there was kind of like two waves.  There was 2012 when there was gambling exposed and then there was this ex-communication of elders which a lot of people left then.  Then the church kind of rebounded and then this latest, you know, revelations of wrong doing and, you know, James eventually got fired by the church.  Has that brought in another wave, I’m guessing?

DAVE JONES:  Yes, it has.  You know, we did have several hundred people, actually, that came from, you know, during like 1.0 and now there’s another wave coming yet again.  And we have not tried to, you know, we have no way of really counting that or anything but we are seeing visitors every service, every weekend.

JULIE ROYS:  Yeah.  So tell me, I mean, what’s it like being a pastor of a church that’s receiving these refugees?  Like, what has it been like the past 6-9 months at your church?

DAVE JONES:  Well, obviously we’re seeing new people every weekend.  So we’re trying to, you know, be welcoming and outgoing toward them and just trying to let them find a place where they can find healing.  We get the context.  We know what’s happening there.  And so we’ve just tried to love and we’ve tried to model Christ-likeness the best we can.  And let them reestablish confidence in the church and in church leadership.

JULIE ROYS:  And when you say you get it not only do you get it because you’ve been there.  But you’ve experienced spiritual abuse.  Can you talk a little bit about that?

DAVE JONES:  Sure.  You know, I was on staff at Harvest for 8 ½ years and that was, you know, I would say those early years were good years.  And there would be occasional things that would happen.  But toward the end especially, my eyes began to get opened to some things.  And once the leadership there got the sense that I was beginning to think and maybe had one foot out the door, it did get really bad.  And so I came out of that situation quite beat up.  And it took me several months just to even get my smile back.  And I was having nightmares.  I was starting to have like some paranoia.  And I was really beginning to wonder if something was wrong with me on the inside.  But God was gracious and through some loving friends who just walked with me through that, and prayed me through it, I did get to a point of healing.  But I would say the healing took place over a 3-4 year period.  So yes, so I get it personally and I also get it corporately.

JULIE ROYS:  Yeah, I’m glad you said that about feeling the paranoia and some of that.  I remember when I was reporting on this story and I’m giving these stories to my editor, right?  And I remember one point he said, Julie, these people, you know, I hate to say it, they sound a little crazy.  And I’m like, you should talk to them.  They’re not crazy and you have no idea what they’ve experienced.  And that comment, you know, I know initially, was just getting used to this story.  And now we’ve seen, as it’s come out, the people are traumatized on a level that I think nobody imagined initially.  And the people aren’t crazy but what they experienced has been absolutely crazy.  And so I think churches need to be just aware.  So I appreciate that Dave.  

So Joe, same question to you.  What has it been like for you the past 6-9 months?

JOE THORN:  Well, we have a small church right, relatively small church — 350’s probably the average attendance on a Sunday between 3 services.  So we have a small space.

JULIE ROYS:  Now why do you do 3 services?

JOE THORN:  Because we can’t fit everybody into a small space.  Literally it’s not to grow, it’s to manage the small growth that we have.  

JULIE ROYS:  You sure you don’t want to start a big building program? Probably not the right time.  (laughter)

JOE THORN:  We’re not going that way.  We plant churches.  We planted 3 churches out of us so we’re sending our people out all the time.  We’re not fans of big church for us.  But our people, at Redeemer, don’t really have to do anything different than they normally do.  Our congregation, who we are a congregational Baptist church.

JULIE ROYS:  Say what that means.  Congregational.  That’s a form of government.

JOE THORN:  Right.  What it means is that our church is governed or led by a plurality of elders who all function together in parity, meaning, me as the lead pastor, I don’t have more say than the volunteer elder.  We all have the same authority.  But the congregational holds us accountable.  They vote on leadership, they vote us in and out.  They can fire me.  They vote on budget.  They vote on members.  So that’s a congregational church with a lot of transparency and accountability.  We don’t change anything that we’re doing other than, because our people are generally nice and welcoming.  They’re very warm towards people that are coming in.  The only thing that we’ve done is we’ve let our congregation know, a long time ago during our members’ meetings, listen these people are hurting.  Some of them are coming in angry.  They’re in the rage stage right because they’ve been betrayed and hurt or abused.  Others are coming in just broken and mourning.  So we just tell them be gentle, give them patience and space but be kind.  And that’s all we’ve had to do.  And our people have warmly welcomed them.  So people, most people from Harvest and that kind of a church, don’t come to Redeemer because we are a small, reformed Baptist church.  Culturally it’s just very, very different.  But the people that have come, have come because of that almost.  It’s like they want to distance themselves from even the culture of what they went through.  Not because the culture was necessarily wrong in every way, but because they want to distance themselves from not only abuse but some of the other trappings and they wind their way towards us.  And I think it’s been, for most people that have come and stayed, it’s been a pretty seamless transition.  

JULIE ROYS:  Yeah.  I mean it’s interesting that we mention even in this first segment church government. Because I remember, again, when I was reporting on this, I had all this information, actually I hadn’t published yet that about how church government at Harvest changed over time.  And James McDonald took power, you know, and had had this façade of being elder led but it really was James led.  And I think people are asking about church government.  But I remember when I was first reporting, again my editor saying to me, Julie, you and I are interested in that, and about 12 of our readers but that’s about it.  You know, I mean people don’t care about church government.  I think people care about church government now.  And I think that’s a good thing.  I think they need to care about church government.  

Real quickly, because we just have like 30 seconds.  What kind of church government do you have Dave?

DAVE JONES:  We are also congregational.  We have elders but they are voted on by the congregation.

JULIE ROYS:  Okay, so they’re actually accountable to the congregation.  That’s a very important piece.

  

Well again you’re listening to the The Roys Report.  I’m Julie Roys.  Joining me today Joe Thorn, pastor of Redeemer Fellowship, Dave Jones, pastor of Village Church of Barrington.   And coming up next, I’ve got some refugees.  Some people who have come from some of these churches who are wounded and hurt and I think you’re going to want to hear what they have to say. Stay tuned, I’ll be right back. 

Segment 2:

JULIE ROYS: After being betrayed by a pastor or a church, how do you ever trust again? Welcome back to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys. And if you’ve followed the news at all, you know that two Chicago-area megachurches have been rocked by scandal. At both Willow Creek Community Church and Harvest Bible Chapel, pastors have resigned, or been fired, in disgrace. Elder boards have been replaced. And congregations have shrunk as many people have determined that they no longer can stay in a place where they don’t trust the leadership.

So, how does the Christian community respond to a crisis like this?  How do area churches welcome literally thousands of people coming to them wounded and hurting? And how do these so-called church refugees heal and learn to trust again? Do they EVER go to a church again? 

Our show today is recorded, so I can’t take your calls. However, I encourage you to join the live conversation online by going to Facebook.com/ReachJulieRoys. Or to get to me on Twitter, use my handle @ReachJulieRoys.

Well today with me are two Chicago-area mega, not mega church pastors. Two Chicago (laughter) pastors—Joe Thorn and Dave Jones. You heard from them in the last segment. But what I want to do now is have you meet three people who have experienced the devastation at Harvest and Willow Creek personally. 

 

First, Terri Streich was a longtime member at Harvest Bible Chapel. In fact, she served in the counseling ministry, but recently she left after experiencing first-hand some of the abuse and the toxic culture there at Harvest.  So, Teri, welcome, great to have you.  

TERRI STREICH:  Thank you.  Good to be here. 

JULIE ROYS:  Also joining me are two former members at Willow Creek Community Church—Carol Behrends and Rob Speight. Carol was a member at Willow Creek for decades, right Carol, is that right?  And Rob actually served part-time on staff for a time. Both have been disheartened and disillusioned by what they’ve seen. And I appreciate you coming on as well and being willing to share your stories.  So welcome Carol. 

CAROL BEHRENDS:  Thank you.

JULIE ROYS:  And welcome Rob.

ROB SPEIGHT:  Thanks for having me.

JULIE ROYS:  So why don’t we start with you Terri.   I know this, I can see it in your eyes, they can’t see it, maybe they’ll be able to hear it, but this is still raw for you.  I mean, how did you first become aware of the issues at Harvest and how has this impacted you on a personal level?    

TERRI STREICH:  Yes, well, it has impacted my husband and I on a personal level. But to give you a little backdrop, we attended Harvest for about 15 years, and it was wonderful at the beginning.  We felt refreshed as if in a dry and weary land.

JULIE ROYS:  When was this?  What year?

TERRI STREICH:  Boy, you know it’s got to be 19 years ago now probably.

JULIE ROYS:  Okay.

TERRI STREICH:  Off and on.  So, just got plugged in right away and was very honored to be asked to serve in some leadership roles and made some wonderful friendships there. And we loved to serve the Lord and the people that come and that are new to Christianity or that just need encouragement.  Then I got invited to be on staff as the Women’s Director in Elgin and over the years the roles somewhat changed and then I did get invited to counsel women at the church and yes. And so for 9 years I was on staff there. And during those 9 years, front row seat witnessed wonderful things of people getting saved but also the things that you only see whether you’re on staff or my husband served as an elder for a few years. So we had the interesting dichotomy of once my husband being on the elder board and me being on staff and we would go home and talk about some things. And it was just shocking to both of us in the spin factor on what was said in the congregation from the pulpit and then behind the scenes, whether it’s in the staff meetings or in elder meetings.

JULIE ROYS:  Two different things and not feeling like they’re telling the truth then to the congregation.  And didn’t your husband and you, I don’t know if you want to talk about it, didn’t you originally discover the gambling that James McDonald was involved in?

TERRI STREICH:  Yeah, Women’s Ministry or the ministries there at Harvest they have small groups and then they have flock leaders that oversee small groups and then elders, of course, oversee the congregation.  But yes, one of the small group, no, one of the flock leaders that I was serving with had witnessed and had heard about some things and so and then there’s rumbling behind the scenes.  We sat on it for almost a year, praying about it, hoping, you know, to test it to see if that’s true and finally the gal and I went to, you know, one of the pastors and brought this to the attention of the elders and were very concerned . . .

JULIE ROYS:  And when you say “this” that James McDonald was gambling in Vegas, right?

TERRI STREICH:  Yes, he was yeah.  And the attitude and the language and the amount of money that was being played all in different areas of the city, we were aware of. So we of course brought that to the elder board.  We brought that to Pastor Rick and it was . . .

JULIE ROYS:  Rick Donald?

TERRI STREICH:  Yeah, he wasn’t shocked, I don’t believe, but he seemed to listen and then the next elder meeting my husband was there to kind of discuss it a little bit, so.

JULIE ROYS:  He wasn’t shocked because he probably knew already.  I mean these are some of the things that are coming out.  So much we could talk about. But I want to get everybody involved here.  So Carol you were at Willow Creek Community Church for decades.  

CAROL BEHRENDS:  Yes

JULIE ROYS:   The only, you grew up, you said, Plymouth Brethren?

CAROL BEHRENDS:  Yes

JULIE ROYS:  That’s an interesting church.  I mean that’s a very small church where you’re not allowed to have pastors, right?

CAROL BEHRENDS:  They choose not.  Yes, that’s not their way. 

JULIE ROYS:  Yeah.

CAROL BEHRENDS:  One-man ministry is not, they think, the way to go.

JULIE ROYS:  So you’ve experienced these two very different churches.  Tell me about Willow. I’m guessing, there were wonderful years. But then it soured for you.  Tell me about that?

CAROL BEHRENDS:  Well, growing up in Plymouth Brethren it was like wonderful to come to Willow Creek and see that style of church, yeah, two opposites, that’s all I can say.  We jumped right in.  We were small group leaders and my husband was heading up the prison ministry, Exodus, and many, we had several small groups.

JULIE ROYS:  And you probably saw a lot of people come to know the Lord in that time?

CAROL BEHRENDS:  Yeah, maybe not through the small groups so much.  We had couples that we were bringing along that we were bringing along that who were young Christians and meeting in homes and became very close to the couples and some of them were still, we still travel to visit.

JULIE ROYS:  So, when these women came forward, you know, started out with a few in the Chicago Tribune saying that Bill Hybels had, you know, had some sexual misconduct toward them and abusive behavior.  At first when you heard that what was your response?

CAROL BEHRENDS:  I believed it immediately.

JULIE ROYS:  You did?  And why did you believe it? Because I’m guessing you had a high opinion of Bill Hybels.

CAROL BEHRENDS:  I had a high opinion of Nancy Beach and all the other ones.

JULIE ROYS:  That’s what was, you know, I felt the same way like we had attended Willow actually back in the late 80’s, early 90’s. And Nancy Beech, Nancy Ortberg, my goodness.  So, but how did, this is your pastor for like decades you know, how did that impact you, to have your pastor now be involved in something like that? 

CAROL BEHRENDS:  My pastor suddenly became in the same category of some of the men I had come in contact with in the work place who were, you know, sexual harassment, guilty of. And so then I hear Bill Hybels is behaving the same way so I just lumped him into that category. 

JULIE ROYS:  But I’m guessing devastating, yes?

CAROL BEHRENDS:  Devastating, shocking, disgusting.  I was disgusted.

JULIE ROYS:  Well, and it’s interesting you say that about, you know, you kind of think of the people, you’ve been in the work place.  For women, I know that’s me too.  And now, I read those things I’m like, oh yeah, I’ve had bosses like that, I know what that’s like.

CAROL BEHRENDS:  I get it.

JULIE ROYS:  It’s tough and to think that this person that was a spiritual leader, a shepherd over you.  Now, is sort of a wolf.

CAROL BEHRENDS:  Exactly.

JULIE ROYS:  Yeah and how’d that make you feel about church?  

CAROL BEHRENDS:  I don’t need church to have a relationship with the Lord.

JULIE ROYS:  So you feel done with it?

CAROL BEHRENDS:  I am done with it.  For right now, that’s where I’m at.

JULIE ROYS:  Yeah, understandable.  I get the pain and I get where you’re coming from.  Rob you’re not going to have a chance to talk in this segment.  I hate to tell you that.

ROB SPEIGHT:  That’s okay. (laughter)

JULIE ROYS:  But when we come back, Rob Speight will tell his story and Rob was at Willow Creek, also served on staff.  So, you have kind of both worlds there from being on staff and being a member.

ROB SPEIGHT:  I do.

JULIE ROYS: And now you’re kind of, you’re preaching in a church and doing itinerant thing.

ROB SPEIGHT:  Getting back into the pulpit now.

JULIE ROYS:  Yeah okay.  And your wife is going to a small group but that’s about as much as she can handle right now, right?

ROB SPEIGHT:  I’d say that’s affirmative.

JULIE ROYS:  Yeah, okay.  Well, again, we’re going to explore this more when we come back.  You’re listening to The Roys Report.  Joining me Carol Behrends, Terri Streich, also Rob Speight and two Chicago area pastors, Dave Jones and also Joe Thorn.  We’ll be right back after a short break.  Stay tuned.

3rd Segment

JULIE ROYS: Welcome back to The Roys Report, brought to you in part by Judson University.  I’m Julie Roys.  And today, we’re discussing Living in the Aftermath of Church Scandals. Here in the Chicago area, we’ve had two, major scandals—first at Willow Creek Community Church, involving founder Bill Hybels. And then at Harvest Bible Chapel involving former pastor, James MacDonald.

Many feel betrayed and duped and are profoundly wary of churches and pastors. And pastors—many of whom are godly and honest—suddenly are viewed with suspicion. In fact, I remember our first show was talking a lot about the Harvest Bible Chapel situation. I got an email from somebody that said, “Man, you sound like you’re pastor-bashing.” And I’m like, “Ahh.” It made me feel awful because I do love pastors and I know the majority of them are great people and godly people. But that’s just the reality right now. So, as a Christian community—how do we heal? How do we deal with this situation? 

Today’s show is recorded, so I can’t take your calls. But I encourage you to join the live conversation. That’s going on online on Facebook.com/ReachJulieRoys. Also, on Twitter, you can use my handle @ReachJulieRoys.

Well joining me this morning, two Chicago-area pastors, Joe Thorn and Dave Jones. Also joining me are three people who have left their churches, following scandal there. We just heard in the previous segment from Carol Behrends and Terri Streich. But now I’ve got Rob Speight. And Rob was at Willow Creek Community Church. But Rob, I’m sure you saw great things at Willow. That’s what brought you there. But tell me how you became disillusioned and decided to leave.

ROB SPEIGHT: Well, when the story broke, that was the first time I heard it, anything about it, was from the Chicago Tribune in March of 2018. And very much like Carol, I believed it because of the people, and their characters, who were making these claims. And then when I attended the first family meeting, which was a defense of Bill Hybels and a defense of the Elders and how the women were liars and colluders, I immediately began to write to the Elders. Because, even though I’m a lone, or a small voice in large church, I wanted them to know that there were people questioning decisions that were made. And so I started to write to them, and the answers that I continued to receive were lacking in transparency. They were, I don’t believe, forthcoming with what was happening. And then eventually, it wasn’t too long after, that we stopped attending. But I continued to write to the elders and continued to be shushed. They did not want me speaking up and sharing my thoughts.

JULIE ROYS: And then we had, initially what was it, 3 women? Was it 3? 

ROB SPEIGHT: Well, it was Vonda Dyer, Nancy Beach, 

JULIE ROYS: Nancy Ortberg

ROB SPEIGHT: Nancy Ortberg. And then Jimmy and Leanne Mellado were advocates, trying to tell the story of an affair that they knew about, that the elders supposedly investigated . . .

JULIE ROYS: And the woman had recanted. Taken back her testimony. 

ROB SPEIGHT: They use that as an excuse. 

JULIE ROYS: I know . . .

ROB SPEIGHT: They use that as an excuse when there are others that know something very different.

JULIE ROYS: So since then, though, as it became 10 women or more, and then Pat Baranowski—Bill Hybel’s former assistant—when she had her exposé in the New York Times, that seemed to be sort of a, the last straw . . .

ROB SPEIGHT: That was the last straw, yes.

JULIE ROYS: So then you had Steve Carter resign and apologize. An elder apologized to the congregation. All the elders resigned. It wasn’t enough for you, though?

ROB SPEIGHT: Steve Carter was, he isn’t given enough credit as he deserves for standing up to a machine. And if he hadn’t resigned, I’m not sure what would have happened. But he caused, in my opinion, Heather Larson to resign and all the elders to resign. Was it enough? Well it hadn’t been enough, because I’d started a blog and I was writing there. And then when there was a meeting called in August, a very spur of the moment meeting, and Heather Larson and the elders resigned, that was enough. And I stopped writing my blog. And I wanted to give Steve Gillen and the new elders to be, space.

JULIE ROYS: Well, and we can talk a lot about because just recently there was a meeting, a reconciliation meeting—I know a lot of the victims didn’t feel like it was reconciliation at all, didn’t feel like—they weren’t even mentioned by name. And so, we could talk a lot about those specifics, but I really want to move it now toward what about your feeling now towards the church in general and toward joining another church? You’ve left Willow, how do you feel about joining another church?

ROB SPEIGHT: I like the idea of joining another church. I like the idea of being part of a community. Do I look with a jaundiced eye at what might be going on behind the scene? Ya, I do.

JULIE ROYS: You’re skeptical.

ROB SPEIGHT: I am skeptical. But, for good reason. But I also know that God uses the local church. God wants his followers to be part of a community, and to build into each other’s lives and to use their spiritual gifts. And that happens in the local church.

JULIE ROYS: But you’re kind of in a wasteland right now. I kind of understand that. We’re going to need to go to break. When we come back, I want to hear just briefly, what do you need to hear from a pastor for you to feel safe there. Then I’m going to give our pastors a chance to respond to that. Just reminds me, I remember when we were looking for a church years and years ago and we’d had a bad experience on staff at the church. Really bad. Very wounded. And I remember meeting with a pastor, which it took about 6 to 9 months to get a meeting with the pastor. Finally got a meeting with the pastor and he looked at me and he said, “You know, I just get the feeling that you’re not that excited about this church and that enthused.” And I looked at him and I’m like, “Well, yeah, you know, but it’s kinda the best we could find. We love the church with its warts and everything else, so we’re just going to roll up our sleeves and serve.” And he looked at me and he said, “Well, if that’s how you feel, you can’t serve at this church. We want people who are enthusiastic.” Needless to say, we walked out of that meeting and we didn’t join that church. I know some of you are listening, you can relate to this. I hope you’ll stick with us, we’re going to come right back after a short break. Again, you’re listening to The Roys Report with Julie Roys. Joining me, 2 area pastors, 3 Harvest and Willow Creek refugees. It’s going to be a great discussion. Hope you stay with us. 

4th Segment

JULIE ROYS: Well, how does the Christian community recover from church scandals? Welcome back to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys. And today, we’re tackling a painful subject that has impacted so many people here in the Chicago area, but also around the country. Of course, in Chicago, we’ve had two major church scandals involving Willow Creek Community Church and Harvest Bible Chapel. But unfortunately, these scandals are not isolated. I can still remember back in the 80s and probably a lot of you listening can remember this as well when Jimmy Swaggert, that scandal hit. When the PTL scandal and Jim Bakker hit. It was disillusioning. It really was, not that I was a big follower of Jim Bakker or Jimmy Swaggert but man, that was the first big evangelical scandal and I just didn’t think that was possible for us. 

These scandals are so, so painful. And they shouldn’t happen. Pastors should love and protect the sheep, not fleece and abuse them. But that is what has been the reality at some of these churches. And what do we do when this unthinkable thing happens? Well, we’re going to jump back into that discussion in just a minute. But first, I want to remind you this month for a gift of any size to this ministry I am giving away copies of the book by apologist Norm Geisler, an amazing defender of the Christian Faith, who just passed away last month. The book is I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist. And it’s a great read by someone I greatly admired. And if you read any of my coverage of the battle for inerrancy at the Moody Bible Institute last year, you’ll see Norm’s name because I interviewed him several times about the issue. He was so passionate about the truth and inerrancy. And I’m thrilled to offer his book. So if you’d like to support this ministry and get a copy of I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist just go to my website JulieRoys.com and click on the donate button. Also, I want to let you know, if you’ve missed any part of today’s broadcast or just want to listen again, or share it with friends, the audio of today’s program will be posted by 1:00 pm today to my website. And again, the website is JulieRoys.com. 

You know it’s funny, I even feel this because I just asked for donations, that there’s a sense in this room, my goodness how dare she (laughter) and I get that. I will say this, we have made a commitment to publishing a line item budget and how much I have made or taken out of that. I can promise you it’s a part-time salary to do this radio program. It is nothing anywhere on the level that we have seen by megachurch pastors. But again, I believe completely in open and complete conversation about that and being transparent. But part of that is because it has to be. 

So, let me return to this conversation, Rob and I had said this before the break. Again joining me is Rob Speight. Rob is a former member at Willow Creek Community church. Rob, what do pastors need to know about you and people like you that are walking through their door?

ROB SPEIGHT: I believe the folks who are visiting churches who have come out of places like Willow Creek and Harvest Bible Chapel, they’re going thru various stages of grief. And there are those who want to be left alone. They want to come in, hopefully experience and be part of good worship and be taught from the word of God and I want to leave. But for my wife and myself, that wasn’t the case. We had pretty much recovered from some of the shock of what had occurred at Willow. And we had visited a number of churches and we have never stuck anywhere. And one of the—there’s a community in a church, there’s strengths and weaknesses about community. The strength is, if you’ve got it, you love it! And you want to hold on to it. But the weakness is, how does a refugee break into that community? So, for the pastors to communicate to their body, who have community, we know you love each other and you have great small groups and all you want to be together and cannot wait to talk with your friends after church or before church. But there are refugees coming. And will you, you’ve got to go out of your comfort zone. Your comfort zone is to be with your friends. Out of your comfort zone is to be noticing, watching, who is new? And not to be like, “Hey, did you sign in yet?” Not to be over bearing. But to be caring, winsome, and to be sensitive. Are you hearing from someone who wants more or are you hearing from someone who wants their distance? So that is a value that I believe incoming churches need to have for refugees.

JULIE ROYS: Absolutely. Carol, that question makes you furl your brow, just the idea of what do pastors need to hear from you?

CAROL BEHRENDS: I don’t need the pastors.

JULIE ROYS: You’ve kind of had it.

CAROL BEHRENDS: I’m really on my own. I have Christian fellowship without being in church.

JULIE ROYS: It would take a miracle for you to go back to the church at this point.

CAROL BEHRENDS: I don’t trust myself to choose a church that in the end I will be able to trust. Because I was in a church for 38 years and didn’t realize what the reality was. 

JULIE ROYS: Boy that’s hard. You know what? And I’ve heard people say that, like who have had multiple experiences even at bad churches and say, “What’s wrong with me? Why didn’t I do a better job picking a church?” It’s certainly not your fault, Carol.  

CAROL BEHRENDS: I pride myself on my intuition and this time it didn’t work.

JULIE ROYS: That’s tough. Terry?

TERRI STREICH: Yah, after many, many years of making relationships and but seeing the hypocrisy that was going on in the church, very painful. You can’t equate it to anything. They’re starting to write about these things now. It is such a grief and a disappointment to come from the Christian community from Holy Spirit led supposedly people. The paranoia that was going on, on the staff at the end, was difficult. And so when I quit, we invited the pastor over, never contacted. There was no love, no outreach. People are left all by themselves, you feel naked. And it is very, very painful. Many tears, you question your own discernment, even. “Why didn’t I see that?” Dave and I, we had our meetings. We had a million meetings. And believing the best and nothing. Most things didn’t change.

JULIE: Yet you ended up at Joe’s church.

TERRI STREICH: Yes.

JULIE ROYS: I don’t think I introduced you at the beginning of the segment, Terry Streich you were at Harvest Bible Chapel and Carol was at Willow Creek Community church.  Joe Thorn one of the area pastors on this program also David Jones. You ended up at Joe’s church. Did Joe do something right that made you say, “okay, I can trust this dude?”

TERRI STREICH: Well this is what happens. ‘Cause a lot of people were calling us and asking. Dave and I had to decide, “what are the main things that God will have us . . .?” It wasn’t easy to go somewhere new. But, you can listen to sermons online now. You can kinda check out people’s doctrine before you step in and invest yourself or get hurt again. We did our investigation as best we could, and we came. And our hearts, we really ached for the word of God to be preached with no apology. In regards to doctrine, the theology, we weren’t distracted because our lens that we were looking through, its sermons before, we were so critical, all of that. And we just didn’t want to be distracted. We wanted to hear God’s word just wash over us. That’s what we were so hungry for.

JULIE ROYS: So you were drawn to the preaching, was there something else? 

TERRI STREICH: Yes. Well Joe is very accessible. We met him at a Starbucks that week. Dave wrote him an email affirming his gift. And we asked a million questions. The people were lovely there. But our eyes always have to be set on the Lord and trust his leading and guiding. And ask for discernment as we read His word. That’s really important.

JULIE ROYS: And you said earlier before we were on air, I’m never going to a megachurch again. 

TERRI STREICH: No, we won’t.

JULIE ROYS: That’s interesting. Dave, you don’t have a megachurch, but it’s, you know what would you say, about 600, 650? How do you respond to you know what these women want from a church, what Rob’s wanting from a church? What have you guys done?

DAVID JONES: Yeah, so again, I think a big part of it for people is just hearing that they understand and know. And so just to let a visitor who’s coming know, “I get what you’re going through right now. Like I experienced it myself personally.” And I think that is disarming in and of itself. And it begins a process of building trust. I think another thing that’s important for them to realize is that even that this is new to you, this is not new to the church. Jesus predicted that there would be ravenous wolves who would come in among the sheep not sparing the flock. He spent His last major discourse of teaching, according to Matthew’s gospel warning people about false teachers. The book of Revelation details seven different churches. And some of them received no condemnation. Some received only condemnation. Some received mixed reviews. And, you know, we look at the problems with Corinth and otherwise. Like the early church was not a perfect place. They were real people who wrestled with real issues, and some of these issues were leadership issues. So I think for people who have come to that awareness of, “This has been going on since the beginning of church history. It’s just happening to me now.”

JULIE ROYS: Man, that is great. Joe I am going to let you land this plane. Although Dave, you just got us down the runway, Joe, speak to these people hurting right now.

JOE THORN: Listen to what pastor Dave, said.

JUILIE ROYS: You second that?

JOE THORN: Yes, he’s giving you the truth of God’s word. My encouragement to people that are hurting that are coming out of spiritually abusive and toxic cultures, churches and situations is to give yourself time. But to draw near to God through the means of Grace meaning His word and meaning prayer. But the means of grace are really most vibrantly and intensely experienced in the Christian community of faith. And so, I want to say I understand, I am not mad at you that people are distancing themselves. I am angry at the wolves. But, I guess the challenge would be, I don’t think that we can be the people that God calls us to be or I don’t even think we can do all the things God called us do, outside of the local church. Now that’s going to look different, different kind of churches, whether it’s house churches, megachurches, big, regular, small churches were made for that kind of covenant Christian community. So, I think the people that I have talked to haven’t completely said, “I’m never going back under any circumstances. They just understand, “I don’t know when I’m going back.” So, I want to encourage them, “leave that door open. And surround yourself with good Christians who can speak into your life and perhaps you’ll find your way back to church through them, eventually.”  But do not distance yourself from the means of grace, that is going to be critical for your spiritual health.

JULIE ROYS: I know Dave you’ve actually done something intentional at your church about spiritual abuse, inviting people in to process these spiritual abusive situations they’ve been from. I think those are really important, and I so appreciate. Thank you so much Rob, Dave, Joe, Terri, Carol for being willing to come and be a part of this, I think it was really helpful. You know I resonate with what you guys just said and the scriptures that are coming to mind, Matthew 16:18, where Jesus says to Peter, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” 

So the church is God’s church He won’t give up on her and I truly believe that these horrible things, and abuses that have come to light, have come to light because God is purifying his church, he has brought these things out, I don’t think it’s  just man’s work, it’s God’s work.

Second scripture is Hebrews 10:25 where the apostle Paul urges us not to stop meeting together and I get it that for some, find fellowship where you can and come to the hospital for healing. We need each other, we desperately need each other. If you missed any of this program the entire podcast will be posted to my website JulieRoys.com. Thank you so much for joining me. Have a great weekend. 

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2 thoughts on “Living in the Aftermath of Church Scandals”

  1. Julie thank you for sharing your platform with these folks. You rock. Your guest Rob Speight has recently written at some length about the ongoingly abusive response form Willow Creek Community Church and Willow Creek Association/Global Leadership Network to the women so cruelly abused by their founder Bill Hybels. You can read his blog post here: robsp82.com/2019/07/31/a-deep-divide-remains-at-willow-creek-how-come/

    I continue to remain astonished that both these gigantic, wealthy, and powerful religious institutions utterly refuse to clearly name and condemn Hybels’ abuses or publicly demand he apologise to the women he harmed. That looks like opposite of leadership to me.

  2. Thanks, Julie. This was a good discussion. Love Terri Streich! I had the privilege of serving with/under her at HBC Elgin. She has a heart of gold ?
    I appreciated what was shared about refugees and visitors to our churches & how we can be sensitive and ready to welcome them. I will be forwarding this podcast to our church staff.
    Blessings.

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