By Bill Hybels
I sincerely wish that I could have met Pastor Walter Rauschenbusch when he was alive. He sounds like someone who walked the talk, catalyzing whatever action was necessary to meet the holistic needs of those he served. That’s the kind of legacy a guy like me dreams of.
I read Paul’s response and was not at all surprised that he wonders if Willow Creek is an exception within evangelicalism. Many of the larger evangelical churches seen on television are eerily similar to the stereotype he laments. It’s a reality that bothers me, too.
Often, when I’m in a social setting and people learn that I am an evangelical pastor of a large church, the jokes begin: “So, who are you mad at?” Or, “Who are you guys bashing these days?”
It’s tough to laugh back.
I have worked hard to lead our church into the understanding that Christ did not come to condemn the world, but to redeem and restore it.
I have worked hard to teach and inspire every member of our church to be the first person in any social setting to reach across chasms of all kinds—socioeconomic status, race, gender, age, religion, and so forth.
And while I know not everyone in our church actually does this on every occasion, many of them do take the challenge to heart. As a result, instead of becoming divisive Bible-beaters, they have grown into compassionate, bridge-building Christ-followers.
They make me proud.
In more recent years, the other teaching pastors at Willow and I have done talk after talk on issues such as extreme poverty and HIV/AIDS. The response of our congregation has been nothing short of astonishing. Not only have millions of dollars been released into easing these great struggles, but thousands of volunteers have become personally involved as well, offering up their time, their talents, their sweat.
That, too, makes me proud.
To be perfectly candid, though, there is a lot more that Willow and other evangelical churches need to do to address injustice in this world. In my view, we need to be making a more substantial impact in convincing those in elected office to seek peace instead of wage war. Leaders of evangelical churches should be more vocal about environmental matters such as seeking alternative fuel sources and sorting out global warming. One of my favorite old hymns reminds us that, “This is my Father’s world.” I happen to believe it’s true.
The list of other critical causes is a long one.
The challenge, I think, is to keep forcing the balance between the values of “redeem” and “restore”—a harder task than many people realize, myself included. I am regularly criticized by those who think Willow is too evangelistic, but then the next letter I open is from someone who claims our church is nothing more than a social justice agency. Perhaps this just comes with the territory?