Amid Giving Push, Willow Creek Invites Alleged Prosperity Preacher Who Offers Tithe Refund

By Sarah Einselen
robert morris willow creek tithing giving
On February 20, 2022, Robert Morris — senior pastor of multi-site Texas megachurch Gateway Church — preached on tithing at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL. (Video screengrab / YouTube)

Facing persistently lower giving, Willow Creek Community Church last Sunday invited Pastor Robert Morris, who some allege is a prosperity preacher, to deliver a guest sermon on tithing. The sermon contained a singular promise: Tithe for a year, and if you’re not satisfied, you’ll get your money back.

“Thousands and thousands” had seen their lives changed after starting to give 10% of their income regularly, Morris said. “I’ve done this with our church. I’ve told our church on multiple occasions, I’ve said to them, if you’ll try it for one year, if you are not fully satisfied at the end of that year, I’ll give you your money back. In 22 years of church no one’s ever asked for money (back).”

Morris is pastor of Gateway Church, once the largest congregation of the Association of Related Churches (ARC) in the United States. (It’s no longer listed in the ARC’s church finder.) He also is one of disgraced pastor Mark Driscoll’s staunchest supporters.

Morris was the first to replatform Driscoll after the Mars Hill debacle in 2014. And just last summer, Morris had Driscoll speak at an ARC preaching seminar at Gateway Church.

When asked about Morris’ money-back guarantee, Willow Creek Executive Pastor Tim Stevens said Willow is spreading the word about God’s miraculous provision — not a prosperity gospel.

Give a gift of $30 or more to The Roys Report this month, and you will receive a copy of “Wounded Faith,” edited by Rev. Dr. Neil Damgaard. To donate, click here.

Stevens confirmed that Willow Creek’s average weekly giving so far this year is 20% below the church’s already reduced budget. This year’s giving budget is about half the church’s revenue in 2019, when investigators said sexual misconduct allegations against Willow Creek’s founder Bill Hybels were credible. But he said giving so far this year is on par with last year’s weekly giving average.

Stevens told The Roys Report that the church budgets the same amount of revenue for every week—about $614,000 across seven campuses. However, he noted, “the reality is that a larger percentage of our giving happens at the end of the year.”

Critics, however, say that though Morris has a softer sell, he still preaches the same health and wealth gospel of prominent prosperity preachers like Kenneth Hagin. “Hagin had no problem telling you that God wanted him to be rich,” write Paul and Susan Dunk of KW Redeemer Church in Breslau, Ontario. “But Morris softens it and prefers blessed.”

They add that Morris’ teaching on tithing is more like “pagan votive offerings” than the voluntary giving encouraged in the New Testament. “If you needed health, wealth, crops, love, wisdom etc . . . you would go to the temple and give money to the corresponding gods of those blessings,” the Dunks write.

Theology professor and Pastor David Schrock likewise called Morris’s beliefs about material blessing a “misreading of Scripture” in a critical review of Morris’s book “The Blessed Life.”

“Instead of grounding God’s character and promises in the new covenant of Christ, Morris makes God a self-styled miracle-worker who promises supernatural power,” Schrock wrote.

Morris preached Sunday on “The Principle of First” as part of Willow Creek’s five-part sermon series “More Than Money.” The series coincides with a major giving campaign underway now at Willow Creek.

“This series aims to help people understand that money is not a financial issue, it’s a discipleship issue and a matter of the heart,” the series summary reads in part.

Morris’s money-back promise was mentioned only in an unlisted video recording of the 9 a.m. service. It’s absent from the sermon video published on Willow Creek’s website, which was apparently drawn from the “full service” recording of the 11:15 a.m. service.

dave dummitt giving
Dave Dummitt

In the 9 a.m. service, Willow Creek Pastor Dave Dummitt made the same promise as he held up a commitment card for the church’s current giving initiative.

Dummitt encouraged congregants to consider pledging to be “Christ-first givers”— the third of four giving options the church is asking congregants to commit to. Then he told the audience he’d “go ahead and be bold and say, if you do this for the year, and you are not fully satisfied, we’ll give the money back.”

“I like that challenge. It’s good,” Dummitt added.

Stevens said Dummitt had offered something similar at his previous church, but his decision to challenge Willow Creek came spontaneously. Leadership decided the idea “needed some time to bake” so it wasn’t mentioned in the later service, Stevens said. However, the challenge is being developed now and could be formally announced as soon as this weekend.

Stevens denied that the money-back challenge constituted a “prosperity gospel” message.

“Any time that my wife and I have stretched in our giving, God has out-given us in return,” Stevens wrote in an email to The Roys Report. The old car lasted longer, he offered as an example, or the tax return was big enough to cover a surprise bill.

Willow creek giving
A giving commitment card distributed on Feb. 20, 2022 at Willow Creek Community Church (Courtesy Photo)

“God meets a need in some miraculous way that we didn’t see coming,” Stevens continued. “I think that was the intent of what our guest preacher was communicating, and what Dave was affirming. Willow does not, and never has, held a position that says God will make you rich if you commit your finances to the church.”

When asked about Morris’ longstanding support of Driscoll, Stevens wrote that Willow Creek tries “to shy away from ‘guilt by association’” when inviting guest speakers.

In addition to repeatedly platforming Driscoll, Morris was formerly an overseer at Driscoll’s new church, The Trinity Church. A spokesman for Morris previously told The Roys Report that Morris remains available if Driscoll’s church needs counsel.

Last August, Driscoll was featured alongside Morris as a speaker at a preaching seminar Gateway and Morris hosted.

Stevens pointed out Willow Creek has recently invited other speakers. Some of them could be considered controversial.

“In the last year we’ve had John Maxwell, Derwin Grey, Gene Appel, (Immanuel Acho), and others,” Stevens wrote. “Having them, and others, on our platform does not mean we endorse 100% of their theology, associations, or partnerships, but rather that we believe they can help us encourage our people to love God, love people, and change the world through teaching a specific topic on a given weekend.”

This story has been updated to accurately state a list of recent Willow Creek guest speakers.

Sarah Einselen is an award-winning writer and editor based in Texas.

SHARE THIS:
  •   
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

GET EMAIL UPDATES!

Keep in touch with Julie and get updates in your inbox!

Don’t worry we won’t spam you.

More to explore
discussion

24 thoughts on “Amid Giving Push, Willow Creek Invites Alleged Prosperity Preacher Who Offers Tithe Refund”

  1. Old Testament “tithes” are 23% not 10%, and it all went to the theocracy or government. Just like taxes, not offerings.

    1. Neil Cameron (One Salient Oversight)

      Most of the Old Testament tithes went to support the Levites, who had both a priestly and a civil role in Israel’s society.

  2. But it seems like thin ice to me to base the title “prosperity preacher” on just a guy saying “tithe for a year and if you aren’t satisfied you’ll get your money back” it seems more like a tough-in-cheek way of expressing a directly quotable scriptural command. If that makes one a prosperity preacher, then there is this the guy I know, who said “give and it shall be given unto you. It will be measured in your lap pressed down and skaken together “. He must definitely be a “prosperity preacher”. No?

    Not defending Morris, whom I don’t know much about. But relying solely on what is in this article, there isn’t much of a story in this article (Except that willowcreek hosted a guy who has been featured alongside Mark Driscoll? And may still assist him?). If he is truly a prosperity preacher then there is much more to be desired in the quality of writing in this article.

    1. Priscilla P Frye

      The words preceeding and following “give, and it will be given” are not about matetial provision, they are about mercy. For example:

      “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you”

      I feel that giving encouraged because the giver will receive a financial provision back is an attempt to control and manipulate God’s actions. I see giving as a form of worship and thanksgiving and a way to become more like God, the ultimate giver.

  3. Contributions where the donor retains a future interest in the funds donated (i.e. can request a refund after one year)
    are not tax-deductible unless the donor subsequently relinquishes all rights. Yet Willow and other charitable organizations issue receipts indicating the contributions are tax-deductible subject to the overall limitations of the tax code.

    Additionally, if Willow has its financial statements audited, this guarantee could cause additional difficulties.

    1. Good point, Kevin. I view the “satisfaction guaranteed” approach as more of a psychological appeal than a legal concern; who has the guts to demand a refund from church? It’s an attractive offer that the guest speaker likely knows will rarely, if ever, be claimed.

  4. Man o man does this remind me of my family’s days at Harvest back in the day when JMac had his series on money.
    We all know the scripture regarding the love of money!

    1. Agreed about JMAC and his money series. I cringe that I continued to tithe at Harvest after that series. I was brainwashed by his teaching. Thankfully I woke up about 6 months later and left. I regret ever attending Harvest.

  5. My former church & pastor (Church of the Highlands/Chris Hodges) used to make that same claim- the money back guarantee. I believe that part of the reason was a bit of a grooming technique, leading you to take that leap of faith, but faith in Hodges or the church, not God. Furthermore, I believe they presumed that when push came to shove, people would be too fearful of God or of rocking the boat to ask for their money back. However, over the last year and a half, due to a laundry list of “antics,” many of us have asked for some of our tithe back. I’m not sure if they’ve quit advertising that “guarantee,” as I no longer attend, but I hope they aren’t lying and claiming that no one has ever asked for it back.

  6. Anyone know the answer to the following:

    Do churches tithe 10% of what they collect? And where does the tithe go?

    Does Pastor Robert Morris (or any other prosperity teacher) tithe 10% of their salary or other financial compensation? Who or what do they tithe to?

    1. Andrew,

      I have head Morris’ preaching on tithing. The West Michigan Wesleyan church I used to attend used his teachings to raise money for a new building. A year or so before he spoke, he claimed he gave away his cars, his house with all its furnishings and emptied all of his bank accounts and retirement accounts because of a word from the Lord. He claims to have at least twice given away *everything* that he owned. He did not mention who received his stuff.

      In regards to the most famous prosperity preachers, they give a lot of money to each other. It is not unusual to hear “Brother Copeland” or “Brother Deplantis” and others giving luxury cars, motorcycles or airplanes to each other.

    2. Kimberly M Chastain

      I have attended several churches that do tithe 10% of their budget to local missions and international missions.

  7. I wonder if Willow Creek or Robert Morris are putting this promise to refund the money in writing, in a contract

    If people started to request the money back, I would not be surprised if they were blamed for a lack of faith causing the lack of blessing, so it was the giver’s fault!

  8. Richard L Mortimer

    Two things: I’m not sure Luke 6:37-38 means what a lot of people think it means. What is Jesus calling us to be generous with?

    And a serious question, should we be teaching tithing?

    1. Jesus is asking us to give generously from everything we have received, time, money and all other resources. In verse 36 He is even asking us to give mercy. In verse 35 He is asking us to “lend without expecting anything back”, that to me sounds like giving away. So Jesus is calling for unselfish generosity.

      Should we teach giving in line with what Jesus taught in the Church? Yes, if we want to really “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you”. Tithing is just a starting point in to a Jesus-following giver.

  9. Crossroads Church in Cincinnati also does the “Tithe Guarantee.” And for the record, it is not a prosperity church, and often speaks out strongly against the “prosperity gospel.”

    Crossroads calls it the “90 Day Challenge.”

    1. Money money money…. Why the need to preach on this every single year, or do series of lessons in which big-name outsiders are brought in? The answer seems clear, because it’s what these people worship. When a so-called Christian leader resorts to tactics of the world such as promising a tithe back at the end of the year we have left the kingdom of God and moved firmly into the kingdom of this world.

      If we are led of the Spirit we will walk by the Spirit including being generous. I see no place in the New Testament which models or instructs hundred percent of our giving must go to one local church. We are simply to share what we have with others in need and support the expansion of God’s kingdom. Lots of ways to do that.

      No idea know what celebrity preachers do with the money they receive, but where I serve overseas all of us who are donor supported tithe on our income by giving to other cross-cultural workers, or by supporting local kingdom ministries in the countries where we live.

  10. “If you needed health, wealth, crops, love, wisdom etc . . . you would go to the temple and give money to the corresponding gods of those blessings,” the Dunks write.

    Well…
    Summon-Bind-and-Command Ritual Magick HAS been described as “an elaborate way to order Room Service”.

    And the classic difference between Religion and Sorcery is that in the latter, it’s the mortal Sorcerer who is in charge of the bound-and-commanded Supernatural Forces or Beings. Either the Sorcerer forces his will on the Supernatural or he buys them off to where they’ll do his bidding.

The Roys Report seeks to foster thoughtful and respectful dialogue. Toward that end, the site requires that people use their full name when commenting. Also, any comments with profanity, name-calling, and/or a nasty tone will be deleted.

Comments are limited to 300 words.

Leave a Reply

The Roys Report seeks to foster thoughtful and respectful dialogue. Toward that end, the site requires that people register before they begin commenting. This means no anonymous comments will be allowed. Also, any comments with profanity, name-calling, and/or a nasty tone will be deleted.
 
MOST RECENT Articles
MOST popular articles
en_USEnglish

As we work to report the truth, your support is crucial! Help us reach our Giving Tuesday goal