For decades, Pastor Bill Hybels of the Chicago-area Willow Creek Community Church was the reigning dean of megachurch pastors. Before there was Rick Warren or Joel Osteen, there was Hybels, whose church growth policies spawned a “denomination” of imitators. Now, his empire of 20,000-plus weekly attendees on seven campuses lays in ruins. The demise came because Hybels was accused of multiple sexual indiscretions which, according to current Willow Creek officials, lasted for many years. Many women claiming to be victims have publicly come forward. Hybels denies the allegations, but after an independent investigation and supporting evidence, the Willow Creek board removed Hybels and his hand-picked successors and issued an apology for his actions.
Hybels is not the only high-profile pastor to crash and burn during recent years. Such occurrences are almost epidemic. This tragedy led the evangelical journal “Christianity Today” to recently publish an excellent article entitled: “How can so many pastors be godly and dysfunctional at the same time.” It’s a well-written analysis of pastoral failure that should be a must-read for all current and prospective ministers. But it misses a crucial element regarding the reason many men and women of God fail. The article should have been entitled, “How can so many pastors be godly, dysfunctional, and demonized at the same time?”
Preachers are Christians, and Christians can have demons. Our books such as “Dealing with Demons” biblically establish this fact. Not every failure in ministry can be attributed to burnout or lack of personal psychological balance. But demons, like the spirit Jezebel, specifically target those who are called to a ministerial vocation. My book “Jezebel—Defeating Your #1 Spiritual Enemy” describes how this happens and explains how to prevent it.
Let’s ask some serious questions. First, how many successful ministers have an understanding of generational curses and have prayed to cancel the effect of evil deeds of ancestors? Second, how many seminary students are encouraged to undergo deliverance to root out lingering evil from their deeds before Christian confession? In most cases, the answer to these questions is almost zero. Sadly, men of God are ordained to ministry with little spiritual introspection of their own lives that would identify unbroken spiritual strongholds. Our International School of Exorcism (to enroll click here) explains how the Early Church demanded multiple, personal exorcisms before candidates for ministry were ordained. Today, one is considered odd or unbiblical to bring up such a suggestion.
I’m saddened by what’s happened to Hybels. Unquestionably, by God’s grace he has done many wonderful works for the Lord. Many have been saved because of his passion for the gospel. Men and women of God do sin, and they are in need of healing and restoration. We are all imperfect vessels and the issue here isn’t heaping more guilt on the fallen. But unless the evangelical church of America embraces a clearer understanding of spiritual warfare, there will be more ministers who are victims of psychological dysfunction and undetected demonization.
An encouraging word: TURN TO GOD
If you’re going through a tough time, the Psalmist David has a word for you. “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted . . . free me from anguish”’ (Psalm 25:16). You’re not the first person to cry out in despair. David closes his cry with the words, “I take refuge in you” (v. 20). There is the place you need to turn in time of turmoil. Some turn to addictions, obsessions, entertainment, or even cults in time of need. They try to replace the desperate desire for connection with God with something else — anything. Make your refuge the Lord and you will be truly freed from your anguish.