Willow Creek’s Crash Shows Why Denominations Still Matter

Nancy Beach at Willow Creek Community Church for the WCA Leadership Summit

Image Source: flickr.com

By Tish Harrison Warren - Posted at Christian Headlines:

"Yet because Willow Creek was an independent congregation — which endorsed and promoted Hybels as a pastor — the report ended by saying there was nothing the church could do to further discipline Hybels."

(RNS) — It’s become common among some Protestants — and especially evangelicals — to call themselves “Jesus followers.”

Not Christians. Not Baptists or Pentecostals. Not members of the Presbyterian Church in America or the Anglican Communion. Not Wesleyans or Methodists or Lutherans.

Just people following Jesus.

I appreciate the spirit behind the moniker.

Christians want our first loyalty to be to Jesus, not a particular institution or tradition. But I am wary of referring to myself (or anyone else) as simply a “Jesus follower” because no one follows Jesus in some pure, individual way, free of institutional ties or a larger and longer tradition.

I understand the desire to wash our hands of denominations. Linking ourselves to older institutions implicates us in past and present evil, and the damage caused by bickering and splintering within denominations can scarcely be overstated. The 20th-century evangelical rallying cry of “doctrine divides” is, in some sense, self-evidently true.

In reaction to the pitfalls of denominations, the mid-20th century birthed the baby boomer phenomenon of the “nondenominational megachurch.” American evangelicalism saw a rising tide of churches that were explicitly or implicitly anti-doctrinal and nontraditional, focused on relevance, extraversion, positivity, attractional style and seeker-sensitivity. Often these churches are helmed by a charismatic male head-pastor.

It is in this milieu, in 1975, that Bill Hybels started Willow Creek Community Church, and it quickly grew to be one of the largest churches in America. Willow Creek’s growth — and its ability to creatively and effectively address the needs of its community — is due, at least in part, to its entrepreneurial commitment to innovation and experimentation.