Rob Campbell
Willow Chicago Pastor Rob Campbell announces that he's resigning to start a new church in Chicago. (Source: Video Screengrab)

Rob Campbell Becomes Seventh Willow Creek Campus Pastor to Resign

By Julie Roys

Willow Chicago Pastor Rob Campbell this weekend became the seventh pastor of a Willow Creek Community Church campus to resign his position in the past three years.

Of Willow Creek’s eight Chicago-area campuses, only one campus, Huntley, has retained same pastor it had when the sex abuse scandal involving Bill Hybels came to light.

On Sunday, Campbell and Willow Creek Senior Pastor Dave Dummit announced in a video posted on YouTube that Campbell is resigning to start a new church in Chicago.

Campbell said his decision to part ways with Willow came as a result of a disagreement between him and Dummit over an “aligned model” as opposed to a “highly-contextualized model.”

According to Willow Creek spokesperson Liz Schauer, an aligned model is one where the core ministry and service programs—messages, dramas, and ministry strategies—are supplied by a core team that collaborates with all campuses. A more contextualized model would be one where local campuses create these elements.

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“There are advantages and disadvantages to an aligned model, which is where Willow Creek is going,” Campbell said, “just as there are advantages and disadvantages to a highly contextualized model.

“My heart is just drawn to the uniqueness of the city—the various aspects of city living, the specific challenges and brokenness in the city, the wide range of ethnic and socio-economic diversity in the city and what that means with regards to teaching and music to reflect the diversity of our community . . . I just began to discern that I had a different sense of calling for an urban church.”

Campbell said three Willow Chicago pastors will join him on the new church plant. They are Associate Campus Pastor Stephen Kelley, Discipleship Pastor Rick Wood, and Creative Director Melissa Mullins.

Mullins Kelly Wood
Melissa Mullins, Stephen Kelly, and Rick Wood (left to right) will be leaving Willow Chicago to help plant a new church with Rob Campbell.

Dummit stressed that the decision to part ways was reached amicably. And he urged people not to assume there’s something more to the separation.

“Sometimes people will look at announcements like this with you smiling, me smiling, and say, ‘Okay, yeah. But what’s the real story?’” Dummit said. “This has really been a decision that has come down to a difference in degree, really, because I believe in a contextualized model and you believe in an aligned model. . . . Both have pros both have cons and so we disagree on that.”

Dummit also surprised Campbell during the announcement by informing him that Willow Creek would give $75,000 to the new church plant.

“I’m blown away!” Campbell said. “I did not know that was coming.”

About five months ago, Willow experienced a similar split with one of its campus pastors that did not go smoothly.

In September, Amy Mikal resigned as pastor of Willow Creek’s North Shore campus, stating that she did not align with Willow’s new vision and values.

Amy Mikal
Former Willow Creek North Shore Pastor Amy Mikal announces her resignation on September 27, 2020. (Video Screengrab)

Shortly after that, Willow announced sweeping changes as part of the church’s plan to centralize and streamline Willow Creek’s operations across its eight campuses. The plans included eliminating 92 staff positions churchwide and caused a major uproar at Willow’s North Shore campus.

As a result, 27 of the 32 staff at Willow Creek North Shore left. Some were terminated, but others took a buyout option, rather than accept a new position with the central church.

Willow Creek quickly hired Ed Ollie, a former campus pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel, to replace Mikal. In the months following, views of Willow Creek North Shore’s services have plummeted from around 1.5K  four months ago to less than 500 last Sunday.

In December, Mikal announced she was starting a new church serving the same North Shore community, called A Restoration Church.

Also starting a church on Chicago’s North Shore is former Willow Creek interim senior pastor, Steve Gillen.

Steve Gillen
Steve Gillen explains his plans for Home Church. (Source: Video Screeengrab)

Gillen had been lead pastor of Willow Creek North Shore before assuming the position of interim senior pastor in 2018, following Hybels’ accelerated resignation. Gillen left Willow Creek in March 2020 and started a Zoom-based church in December, just weeks after Mikal announced her new church.

In a video update about a month ago, Gillen said his new Home Church had grown to 600 families and would move beyond its online format to a new church on Chicago’s North Shore.

Other campus pastors who have left Willow recently include Juan Guillen, former pastor of Casa de Luz, Willow’s Spanish speaking congregation. Guillen left in December and gave a tearful farewell to his congregation.

Similarly, Gina Cherian resigned in December. In an emotional video announcement, Cherian said Willow Creek’s central church leadership did not ask her to step down, but God had “made it clear that it’s time for me to step out of this role.”

In October 2019, Marcus Bieschke resigned, saying his “heart and his values are not in full alignment” with the church’s current direction. Bieschke’s disagreement seemed to concern the Willow Creek’s decision not to do more to reconcile with Hybels’ victims.

Reece Whitehead, campus pastor for Willow Creek Wheaton, resigned in July 2019, citing an “intense drive for results, which was negatively impacting staff.”

Pastor Campbell will remain in his position at Willow Chicago until the end of March.

Replacing him at Willow Chicago will be Miguel De La Mora, who joined Willow Creek’s staff a few months ago. Prior to that, he was a teaching pastor at Grace Church in Reno, Nevada.

“That is our goal—is two, thriving churches,” Dummit said to Campbell in the video announcement. “I just want to give my blessing to that, to you, to the team, and to the future of both these churches.”

Similarly, Campbell said, “Even though we may not be serving our King in the same local church, we are all part of God’s Church. We remain brothers and sisters in Christ. We remain co-laborers in being salt and light in the city.”

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24 thoughts on “Rob Campbell Becomes Seventh Willow Creek Campus Pastor to Resign”

  1. About time. Rob Campbell was chairman of the elder board during the majority of the time Hybels was being “investigated.” Campbell even appeared on stage at one of the family meetings to defend Hybels, yet refused to step down along with the other elders involved in the situation. His continued presence there made it impossible for Willow to move on from this. But Dummitt giving him a $75K send off is in poor taste, basic at rewarding him for his refusal to resign earlier, and showing that he has not experienced any consequences for his foolish actions involving Hybels.

  2. This only includes the campus pastors of the last 3 years. So many more teaching pastors shoved out or were in intolerable positions over the years. Like the year Mike Breaux, Randy Frazie and Gene Apel all quit at the same time. That was a little hard to ignore

  3. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dummit. Another day, another problem at Willow. Fresh off the news of one of the elders going around making spiteful and petty book reviews of Scot McKnight’s work secretly on the internet.

    Stephen Kelly pretends to be a justice advocate, yes he consistently stands by Campbell, who was and is publicly unrepentant for his role in enabling and defending Hybels.

    1. Complete with 75,000 dollar stake. Church planting by ultimate chic fake church row / split. Create a bad reputation so one can “pretend” one is different from that.

    1. Billy Foote – I believe not at all. For one thing, the verse in Hebrews concerning gathering together “especially as we see the day approaching” in my opinion, doesn’t have to mean to gather in a “church building”. Today, most of them are various business models as spoken about in this article. Nothing concerning Christ and Him crucified and coming again, only business, money, and more business. There are SO few churches in America anymore that actually preach Christ and the TRUTH of God that I’m surprised that there are so few Home churches – at least around here. If it isn’t this type of nonsense, it’s entertainment with rock band and smoke (like the world), the “Prosperity Gospel”, Kingdom Now, False Apostles (NAR), or “Word of Faith”. The hour is far too late, people are not reading their Bibles, and it just seems PAST time to get more home churches started up. NONE of these things as what’s going on in this article give ANY glory to God, and ALL of it indeed IS His! God bless!

  4. I’m always amazed that anyone would stay at a church that lied for years about their pastor and covered up his sexual sins. Are people in Chicago that easily fooled? I guess so…

  5. Perhaps Willow should have kept GOD’s Word regarding women elders and Pastors.
    I pray they turn themselves around.

    1. So, your argument, taken to its logical conclusion, is that ALL those problems at this so called “church” is the result of women not “allowed” to be “elders” and “pastors”?
      Are you one of those “Me Too” movement persons? Were you one those wearing a “pink hat” protesting Justice Kavanaugh nomination to SCOTUS?
      Are you one of those that claim “feminism” should dictate the rules in the Church and not Christ?
      Followers of the RISEN Messiah would like to know.

      Uwe
      (Jude 3)
      Post Tenebras Lux

      1. Undoubtably you read Kristy’s comment too quickly. She said “Willow should have kept GOD’s word regarding women elders and Pastors”.
        Not the opposite.

  6. “According to Willow Creek spokesperson Liz Schauer, an aligned model is one where the core ministry and service programs—messages, dramas, and ministry strategies—are supplied by a core team that collaborates with all campuses. A more contextualized model would be one where local campuses create these elements.”

    Translation: The mother church wants to exert exclusive control over teaching and direction of ministries on the campuses. It seems that command-and-control organization is what has brought them into the current mess. The spirit of Hybels lives on. You can’t hire top-notch people with a pastoral call and then micro-manage them.

    The churches at Corinth, Rome, Crete, and Jerusalem had different concerns. Ministry took different shape and had different emphases in all of them. As much diversity can exist in today’s modern mega-city. One size won’t fit all in a multi-campus church in Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York.

    “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” ….Gen George S. Patton

    1. It is not a ministry strategy; It is a business model. That is why I happen to be one of those that holds into the premise that once a “pastor” fails……he’s gotta get a job. Just like the rest of us. This so called “pastor” knew the problems at Willow, thus is guilty by association. Amazon is looking for drivers to deliver. But the problem is that once these so called “ministers’ get that….”taste”….of BIG Green $….it is hard to stay away from it.
      Uwe
      (Jude 3)
      Post Tenebras Lux

    2. I thought that at first, but the article quotes Dummit as saying that *he* was the one in favor of a contextualized model. But I didn’t care to watch the video to check that.

  7. These so called “pastors” should get a regular job, like working at a bakery. Perhaps bagging groceries at the local store. Learn mechanics and work at a local car dealer.
    But I guess it is more “profitable” to make money at “churches” attended by people that lack discernment.
    Uwe
    (Jude 3)
    Post Tenebras Lus

    1. UWE – I couldn’t agree more! The Pastor (one of two) we had at our church in New Hampshire was a part time mechanic who still did hospital/home calls and preached services on Sunday. Of course, this was in the late 1980s when most churches still preached Christ and not your “Best life now”. God bless!

  8. With SB opening last weekend, I’ve felt a twinge of longing to return to WCCC but am reminded by reports like this why I left. There’s so much dirt from behind the scenes that hasn’t been brought to the light that I cannot trust anything coming from that pulpit even though the current executive staff are new.

    1. Renee

      Much agreement when you write…
      “…I cannot trust anything coming from that pulpit…”
      ——-

      Yes… It’s the “Pulpit.”
      See, Pul… Pit… Puuuullll…. Piiiitttt…. A funny word. Yes?

      See, The “Pulpit” is really from the “Pit.”
      And it’s job is to “Pull” us into the “Pit.”

      Just get rid of the “Pulpit” and the problem is prevented. ;-)
      ——-

      Seems, In the Bible, Paul, and most likely Jesus…
      Gave some instructions, **when brethren come together?**
      That “today’s pastors, leaders, Pulpiteers, tend to “Ignor?” :-(

      Seems, in the Bible, **when brethren come together,**
      **ALL can,** and are expected to, “Participate.”

      How often do you see this on sunday morning?

      1 Cor 14:26 KJV
      How is it then, brethren?
      when ye come together,
      **every one of you**
      hath a psalm,
      hath a *doctrine, (*Teaching)
      hath a tongue,
      hath a revelation,
      hath an interpretation.
      Let all things be done unto edifying.

      Yes – **when ye come together,**
      ALL can, and are expected to, “Participate.”

      NOT listen to just one and, “Regurgitate.”
      ——-

      In “Today’s 501 c 3, Tax Deductible, IRS Corporation, Religious System…
      That the IRS calls church…

      it is evident that…

      Paid, Professional, Pastors, in Pulpits,
      Preaching, to People, in Pews…

      Prevent, Public, Participation,
      and Promote, Passive, Pew, Potatoes….

      Procuring, Power, Profit, Prestige,
      for the Prevailing, Parsing, Pastor…

      Presiding over, Percived Peons,
      Pressured to, Pray, Pay, Stay, and Obey…

  9. “Campbell said his decision to part ways with Willow came as a result of a disagreement between him and Dummit over an “aligned model” as opposed to a “highly-contextualized model.””

    In days gone by most churches mostly divided over theological issues. Now it seems many may be dividing over administrative and methodological issues.

  10. Pastors are human beings, and hence imperfect. What I am puzzled by is all of these ex-Willow Creek pastors forming their own churches. What’s with that? Seems a little egotistical to me.

    1. and why stay in Chicago? as a pastor, in 27 years of full time ministry, i have lived in 4 different cities. God does allow for a pastor to sell his home and move his family to follow His calling. Abraham in his retirement years, sold his home and lived in tents the rest of his life.

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