Another Campus Pastor Leaves Willow Creek as Church Struggles

By Jackson Elliott
Dave Smith Dummitt Willow Creek
Outgoing Willow Creek Crystal Lake Pastor Dave Smith (left) and Willow Creek Community Church Senior Pastor Dave Dummitt address the Core Team at the church. (Source: Video Screengrab)

Another campus pastor is resigning from Willow Creek Community Church as the church continues to reel from the aftermath of scandal and a plan to centralize by new Senior Pastor Dave Dummitt.

Crystal Lake pastor Dave Smith announced this weekend that he is leaving his campus in May, becoming the eighth campus pastor to resign from Willow since the Bill Hybels sex abuse scandal in 2018. He’s the fifth pastor to leave since Dummitt announced the church’s plan to centralize less than six months ago.

Smith has worked for Willow Creek for over a decade. But he just assumed the campus pastor job at Crystal Lake in October 2019, following the resignation of former campus Pastor Marcus Bieschke.

According to a video posted online, Smith said he decided to leave Willow because his vision for the church clashed with Dummitt’s vision.

“It has become apparent that Willow Crystal Lake needs a campus pastor that fully aligns with the new role description that supports our new vision and strategy for our church,” Smith said.

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In October, Dummitt made sweeping changes to centralize church operations, cutting 92 ministry positions across eight Chicago campuses.

Dummitt’s plan reportedly requires significant change to the campus pastor job description. And since October, four other campus pastors have resigned: former North Shore Pastor Amy Mikal, former South Lake Pastor Gina Cherian, former Casa de Luz Pastor Juan Guillen, and former Chicago Campus Pastor Rob Campbell.

In the videotaped announcement, Smith said he believes churches should be a locally controlled “family.” He added that his conviction has deepened after recent crises of integrity among Willow’s central leaders.

“The current foundation I’m walking on as a pastor is no longer the right fit for me,” Smith said. He added that “this isn’t about right or wrong, but simply alignment on what matters most to me this season. Overall, my transition is less about calling, and it’s more about conviction to remain true to my God-given design philosophy of ministry.”

Smith announced that his replacement at Crystal Lake will be Miguel De La Morra—the pastor who just assumed the campus pastor position at Willow Chicago last month.

It’s unclear who will replace De La Morra at the Chicago campus. However, Willow Creek has posted a job description online, which states pastors must “Enthusiastically champion and cheer for all- in church-wide efforts.”

After Smith finished speaking, his congregation quietly applauded for an extended period of time.

Amidst all these changes, Willow Creek appears to be struggling financially.

Since the scandal in 2018, Willow’s operating budget has decreased from $51 million to $35 million today, said Willow Creek communications director Liz Schauer.

Despite these massive cuts, the entire church is $1.8 million behind budget. And Crystal Lake is $173,230 short of its yearly budget of $884,000, according to Willow Creek’s website.

Last week, Crystal Lake’s giving met less than half of its budget needs. In his sermon this Sunday, Smith urged his congregation to give.

“When we come to our time of offering, we’re actually demonstrating our love to God,” said Smith.

Despite the challenges, Dummitt expressed optimism about the church’s financial future.

“I’m pumped about the stories of how your generosity is impacting lives locally and globally,” said Dummitt on Facebook about Willow Creek giving. “Showing God’s love in practical ways, meeting real needs…that’s who we are!”

Dave Smith’s Resignation Announcement: 

Jackson ElliottJackson Elliott is a Christian journalist trained at Northwestern University. He has worked at The Daily Signal, The Inlander, and The Christian Post, covering topics ranging from D.C. politics to prison ministry. His interests include the Bible, philosophy, theology, Russian literature, and Irish music.



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20 thoughts on “Another Campus Pastor Leaves Willow Creek as Church Struggles”

  1. “When we come to our time of offering, we’re actually demonstrating our love to God,” said Smith. For some reason, that doesn’t sit well. Perhaps someone smarter than me can explain why I shouldn’t be bothered by it.

    1. I’m very likely not smarter than you :) so can you explain to me why I should be bothered by it? Perhaps being a church treasurer shapes my view, but it doesn’t seem to me to be problematic. Perhaps a little trite without developing the thought, but not untrue. Am I missing something?

      1. I always look forward to giving to my church, and I see it as a way of cheerfully demonstrating my love for the Lord.

    2. Because it sits in contrast with: “Let everyone give joyfully what he feels in his heart, not under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

      You know… what the Bible says!

    3. You should be bothered by it. The Institutional business model church of today is so far off the mark when compared to the early Church. Billions upon billions of dollars have been wasted on a broken, man made tradition of men. Of course, the whole scam is spiritualized by telling us that you really love God if you give. Many Kingdoms of men have been built on the money of sincere, good people. There is a huge difference in what the book of Acts says about money, giving and generosity compared to what is happening today in many churches. Be bothered. Be very bothered.

    4. What readily comes to mind is what is written in James about what true religion is. Giving to that which has born bad fruit sounds like utter stupidity to me, but maybe I too am a smart idiot. There are multiple statements here where the now ex-pastor claims to be speaking for God himself in true prophetic form. In my opinion all of those statements are simply blaspheme. Humility begins by realizing you are doing almost everything wrong, not making boastful claims about how right you are and how others who are not going along with the program are purely evil.

  2. So heartbreaking. Is it possible that these Evangelical, multi-campus megachurches are just too big to maintain a vital congregational life and be centrally managed by a super-pastor? In this model, congregations are spiritually stunted, not developing local campus leadership, while the single pastor leader is overwhelmed, becoming less and less accessible to the flock.

    Denominationalism has its shortcomings for sure. But in this life, there is no perfect organization, just those that work better. Smaller churches with active, growing, developing pastoral leadership are better for a movement than a huge multi-campus set up, one centrally run by the equivalent of a Catholic Bishop and a volunteer board. Monarchy of Christ, not pastoral monarchy, is the NT model.

    The Baptist (independent congregations, loose larger affiliation), Presbyterian (larger organization of presbyters outside local congregation), and Assemblies of God (hybrid of Independent and Presbyterian model) models are time-tested alternatives, or even the Foursquare or Methodist model (a more Episcopal, hierarchical organization with limited local autonomy).

    At a certain point, one needs some kind of authority to oversee pastors and facilitate larger churches’ efforts. This is not just to maintain integrity, but just practically to provide larger coordinated outreach, foreign missions, to run schools for theological training, to vet and ordain ministers, etc. At a certain point in size, institutions, even churches, become numbers driven rather than people driven. The admiral of a Navy doesn’t take care of the sailors on the ship on a personal level. He can’t. He doesn’t know them. He is all about numbers, amassing forces. It is the local ship’s Captain, the sailor’s Division Officer and leading Chief that know the sailors, can show compassion, can hold accountable, can provide opportunity for professional development, help with family problems, etc. These are the folks that get the job done on the human level. It’s not particle physics, but just the nature of things. The admiral, general, king, or corporate president is the anti-thesis of pastoral care and call.

    One pastor cannot effectively pastor 20,000 people. One shepherd can’t shepherd 20,000 sheep. Willow Creek discovered this with their own internal study a few years ago, finding that they were good at getting people into the door, but poor at developing disciples. People who were hungry to grow were leaving the church and dissatisfied. A vital Christianity is not a mile wide and a quarter inch thick.

  3. Couldn’t agree more JB, I think your right on target. I think many people are looking for a more intimate, relationship driven church which is hard to find in a mega church. My pastor knows me well, my struggles and my strengths. He has been instrumental in helping grow in my faith, probably hard to do in a mega church setting.

  4. Although Christians give as an expression of worship and love towards God, they must trust a ministry’s leadership to disperse those gifts. That trust was broken in February of 2018 by the revelation of Bill Hybels’ sexual predation and subsequent poor leadership by the then elders of Willow Creek. It does not appear that trust has been regained by the new senior pastor, Dave Dummitt, no matter how psyched and excited he tells us he is about what is going on at Willow. Breaking trust causes the closing of wallets.

  5. It seems to me Dave Dummitt is consolidating power to South Barrington and to himself. Seems like their is going to be less Senior Pastor oversight. Dummitt has hired weak campus pastors with reduced responsibilities. This is going to be a prescription for more sin. Willow used to say that the local church was the hope of the world. I guess that is no more. I am out…

  6. That always bothered me when they said that. Jesus Christ is the hope of the world, not ourselves as the church. The difference is subtle but critical.

  7. What corporation is this and what commodity do they sell?

    Job Cuts??

    Hedge Funds want to know if there is a money making opportunity here.

    1. Some of that corporate rhetoric was left over from the Bill Hybels days IMO. “Treat your church like a business”

  8. I am still reeling from what I see as the loss of my Church. I was a member, for many years, at Willow when Bill Hybels was Senior Pastor. Oh how I miss those days, when Sunday was set aside for worship and fellowship. I now seek spiritual learning from the computer and television. I feel like a lost lamb, though in no way have I lost my love of God. What has just occurred in Chrystal Lake is just more of the same. Dave Smith is following his heart but that does nothing for the congregants. I remember giving generously and was happy to do so, but now I just don’t feel that way. So sad. I miss Bill, I miss his remarkable sermons, and I miss the security I felt at Willow. Pray for me. Sally (Sarah) Mages

    1. Pastor Smith’s job description is said to have changed – so soon after he was promoted – and so drastically, by all accounts – that it could be regarded as a breach of promise.

      He doesn’t have to put up with that: and he shouldn’t, because he is right. The centralized mega-church model is an historical aberration – for various reasons. It needs to be handled with extreme care.

      Perhaps Pastor Smith should rent a hall and start his own church, and you could follow him there?

  9. Catherine Cavicchioni

    My husband and I were in the Community Care Ministries. People came in from all walks of life. Never wealthy self centered folks, who wouldn’t sully themselves in CCM! (someone might find out!) just people off the street who were hurting. When we were in the nitty gritty of life, biblically based, seeing true life change; we were resistant to go to Sunday service. It was so vague, biblical truth was not popular…um, theatre to amuse the masses. There was a lot of cow towing to the upper echelon (in THIS world). We had our own community. We saw true life change, miracles, even. It was so life giving…until Willow grabbed hold of CCM, either they’re rules and regulations. It went flat and we left after many years. God was changed to political correctness and it all died.

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