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(RNS) — Willow Creek Community Church was probably the most influential evangelical church in the world, and its architect, Bill Hybels was the most influential evangelical pastor in the world. If they and he were a notch or two below those claims doesn’t matter much for this article. Not only was Hybels influential, he reshaped the job description, image and toolbox of what pastoring is understood to be.
As a result, every Christian needs to be concerned about Willow Creek’s model because that model has entered the space of every church. This influence has undoubtedly been diminished but the network they established remains.
Professors - Theology - Talk - Models - Pastor
Professors of pastoral theology (which I’m not) talk about the models of a pastor often, and I read some of their books. Historically, pastor models include priest (mediator between humans and God), preacher (Sunday morning 11 a.m. event), teacher (same event, different approach), prophet (Sunday, plus weekday calling out of social injustices and immorality), psychologist (both in counseling people in the church and in the substance and approach to preaching) and social activist (establishing justice, dismantling injustice and bringing that activism into the pulpit and church).
Bill Hybels, and the Willow Creek culture, formed into a different model: the leader of an organization. Organizations form their message into branding — and no church branded itself better than Willow Creek. Hybels packed the weekend service into a seeker-friendly service that spoke to the “unchurched Harry and Sally” about their common human concerns. What people didn’t like about churches is what Willow Creek avoided and what was relevant to human concerns was what they focused on. Which required, if one watched attentively over the last three decades, adjustments and accommodations to meet “unchurched Harry and Sally” wherever they were at the moment. Which led to the model of a pastor who...
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