Elder Update: Servant Leadership

Elder Update - October 24, 2019

Dear Willow Family, 

As the Elder Board, we are seeking God’s direction for our church. We have reviewed the mission and values of the church and unanimously affirm our mission to continue to be a church that desires “to turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Christ.” The mission is only attainable through Christ’s saving work and the power of the Holy Spirit. We seek to be a congregation where a person in any stage of faith can learn about Christ and find community.
Over the coming months, we want to use this platform to affirm the values of our church and provide updates on our work as Elders. 
Servant Leadership
We hold strongly to the value of servant leadership. We believe servant leadership is a calling—one that staff, volunteers, and congregants should actively pursue. The term servant leadership is taken from Jesus’ admonition to the disciples:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
—Mark 10:42–45

Christ followers strive to use influence in advancing God’s kingdom and in service to one another. Therefore, it is a posture of service that informs how we operate as a church. At Willow Creek, we see examples of Christ followers using their influence in the service of God’s kingdom and one another by leading small groups, serving our under-resourced neighbors, and demonstrating love through hospitality. Promiseland is a favorite place for entire families to contribute to the care and discipleship of our children. Compassion and Justice initiatives ensure that, as servant leaders, we are using our influence for the betterment of the local and global community. Whether staff, volunteers, or congregants, we find Christ followers living out the calling to servant leadership. 

While we expect leaders at Willow Creek to faithfully steward influence, we recognize that any person can fall short in their calling. We acknowledge that within our church, the value of servant leadership was not always upheld, resulting in abuse of power.
We desire to be a community that builds trust through actions that avoid harm and deceit while honoring biblically moral and ethical standards. Examples include behaviors such as the following:

  • Using edifying language that builds up the listener and offering constructive feedback with grace. We should avoid gossip, insults, derogatory expressions, and coarse language. 
  • Speaking truthfully, honoring the Lord and the listener, and avoiding manipulation and deceit. 
  • Influencing people toward godly and Christlike behavior.

In our commitment to discipleship, we strive to uphold this value by modeling servant leadership while identifying and correcting instances where power is abused and people are injured. We want to outline four examples of how Willow staff and Elders have sought to pursue greater levels of servant leadership while promoting a safe and healthy environment. This list represents a sampling of work occurring across all Willow locations and is not exhaustive. 

1. Manager Training
In mid-October, all managers at Willow spent two days together learning about the values of management at Willow. Managers were trained on four core components of a healthy manager:

  1. Care (Loving every team member well at Willow. Building healthy relationships on every team.)
  2. Clarity (Ensuring that every team at Willow has a clear vision, and each team member knows how their work contributes to that vision.)
  3. Conversation (Having healthy, consistent, beneficial feedback conversations.)
  4. Cultivate (Cultivating growth in every team member at Willow.)

2. Pastoral Protection Team
As Christians, we understand that we live in a fallen world (Romans 3:23). The Pastoral Protection Team documents and examines instances where Willow Creek attenders display potentially dangerous or disruptive behavior, or are seeking to volunteer and have disclosed or been accused of past violent behavior. The exclusive focus of the team is safety and protection. 

The team is made up of Elders, volunteers, and staff who review concerns, hold conversations, and recommend actions. If the recommended action involves a change in an individual’s ability to attend any campus of Willow Creek, the recommendation is first reviewed by an independent review board made up of representatives of partner churches across the United States, and finally is approved by a dedicated Elder committee. 

The Pastoral Protection Team and process has been in place since February 2019. We will continue to evaluate and improve the process. 

3. South Barrington Culture Building Team 
As an example of the ongoing work at all Willow Creek locations, we are highlighting the South Barrington Culture Team. The South Barrington staff has created a cross-departmental team to determine the current state of the staff and implement initiatives and changes to make working at Willow a better experience. The first step in the process was to identify what themes, both positive and negative, have been, and still are, part of the culture. The team brought in four consultants to do a series of listening sessions (group and individual) where staff were invited to confidentially share their experiences on staff. The consultants then conducted a series of focus groups to present initial findings and gain staff input on values they (the staff) desire to pursue as they shape the staff culture for the next season. The consultants are gathering all of their learnings to present to the Culture Team to provide recommendations for how all staff, together, can take responsibility and ownership in the staff culture.

4. Communication Pathways to Raise Concerns
A key component to a safe and welcoming environment is knowing where to present concerns if and when they arise. Please use the following:

  • If you have a safety concern while attending Willow Creek, please speak to security or any staff member, or call 847-765-5000.
  • If you have a concern with a staff or volunteer acting inconsistent with the value of servant leadership, contact their direct supervisor or protection@willowcreek.org to connect with the Pastoral Protection Team.
  • To report abuse of power by a campus lead pastor or senior pastor, call 630-682-9797, ext. 1291, or email willowcongregationhotline@capincrouse.com.

As the Elder Board, we are committed to pursuing healing and reconciliation for the harms that were publicly revealed in 2018. We believe reconciliation is most effective when done with those directly involved and in a way that makes people feel safe and heard. 

We are working with various experts on church abuse and reconciliation and have been reminded again of the care that leads to healing. We desire to listen and learn, to seek and extend forgiveness, to look back at our failings and forward to our future. We ask for prayer as we continue this work, and we ask for understanding as we pursue this work privately rather than publicly. We will provide general updates when appropriate. 

Senior Pastor Search
The search committee plans to present two final candidates to the full Elder Board in the coming weeks. In-depth interviews will be conducted by the full board and will include the candidates’ spouses as well.  While we are encouraged that the search process continues to move forward, we value wisdom and discernment in this process over speed, and we trust God will lead and guide us in His time. Please pray with us toward this end.

If you have insights, prayers, or encouragement that you’d like to communicate directly with the search committee, please email searchcommittee@willowcreek.org.    

Prayer Requests
We ask that you consider the following prayer requests:

  • That our church will continue to be a place where a person in any stage of faith can learn about Christ and find community.
  • That we uphold the value of servant leadership as modeled by Jesus.
  • That the Pastoral Protection Team will operate with wisdom, discernment, and compassion.
  • That God grants us patience if His timing is different from our timing for selecting the senior pastor.

We conclude this update with a reminder from Paul on the Christlike attitude for stewarding power:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
—Philippians 2:5–8


In His service,

The Willow Creek Elder Board

Shoji Boldt
Barb Butz
Jeff Choh
Silvia Escobar
Jeff Mason, Chief Governance Officer
Michael Roth
John Sleeting, Secretary
Mary Square

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