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Is the Local Church the Hope of the World?

Updated: Aug 2, 2022

Years ago Bill Hybels, the founding senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois popularized the statement: “the local church is the hope of the world.” During my time of working on staff and attending Willow Creek, I heard Bill repeatedly recount that when he was a youngster he considered the local church his family attended to be a place so “hopeless” that he deemed it a social embarrassment.

But after taking a serious look at Acts 2, Bill caught a glimpse of how the early church functioned. He then began to hope that what had happened in church history could happen in Christian communities today. As a college student, Bill was challenged by his professor, Dr. B., to cancel his career plans and devote every day of the rest of his life to the cause of Jesus’ church.

Many can attest that it sure seemed as though Bill Hybels had embraced an Acts 2 vision. Bill’s zeal was expressed on stage with such emotive energy and visceral conviction that hundreds of thousands of people were riveted by the way he invited us to share his belief.

Yet in March 2018, the Chicago Tribune released an exposé that broadcast to the world credible allegations against none other than Bill Hybels with regard to his behind-the-scenes behavior. According to the voices featured in the newspaper, Bill had lived a double life for approximately thirty years. That article spawned a worldwide Christian gasp.


You’ve got to be kidding!

Is this true?

How can the church be the hope of the world when the very man who said this ended his tenure at Willow as one disqualified (I Corinthians 9:27)? Granted, Bill resigned; he was not fired from his job although when public pressure mounted, the church elder board at Willow fired themselves. Still, what are we to make of his famed statement?

Is the local church the hope of the world?

The hope of the world. Let’s think about that.

I just listened to a talk Bill gave in May 2014 titled, “The Local Church is the Hope of the World.” In it, he proclaims that “the message of Christ is the only Power on planet earth that can change the composition of a human heart.”

Look at the sentence above. He said, “the message.”

Do you see what he did not say?

He did not say “the Spirit of God.” He did not say, “Jesus Christ.”

He did not say the Spirit of God (John 3:1-8) is the only Power on planet earth that can change the composition of a human heart. He did not say Jesus Christ is the only Power (I Corinthians 1:24) on planet earth that can change the composition of a human heart.

He subtly diverted attention away from our Lord Jesus and put it onto the act of building the church.

The focus he promoted was on the advancement of the church as an organization.

Perhaps this sounds nitpicky, but discernment sees the significance of shifting glory away from Jesus Christ and putting it onto the church, the local corporate church, that is positionally led by people, such as Bill.

Yes, in his 2014 talk, Bill Hybels openly states that “God” transforms people’s lives. But Bill did not take pains to ensure that the truth was told that Jesus is the Hope of the world.

Christ Jesus is the Head of the Church (Colossians 1:18). Unlike Christ, the institutional church has failed and failed, time and again, throughout church history. But its failure fails to taint the sinlessness of Jesus. Its corruption has no bearing on His greatness.

The church is the Body of Christ, but it is saved by Christ. The church is not the savior. Christ is.

From now on, let us state, “Jesus Christ is the hope of the world,” as a way of telling the truth, and of building church integrity, and of resounding the gospel message that He alone is Lord and Savior.

There is hope for fallen pastors and imposters.

There is ever hope also for Bill.

There is hope for you. There is hope for even me, thanks to Jesus.

Long ago I wrote a jingle meditation as a spiritual song of worship that I sing:

There is hope for even me.

There is hope for even me.

It blows my mind.

All of the time.

But there is hope for even me.

There is hope for even you.

There is hope for even you.

It blows your mind.

All of the time.

But there is hope for even you.

No matter how the church may fare, there is hope in Jesus.

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