Bill Hybels, Jack Hyles, and Why Preachers Should Learn from the Downfall of Others

Jack Hyles / Bill Hybels
Jack Hyles / Bill Hybels

The owner of BCNN1 got saved through the Independent Baptist movement, and he remembers the sad, tragic fall of Jack Hyles at the end of his ministry. It is ironic that Bill Hybels, who was laboring as a young evangelical pastor at the time, did not take heed to the fall of Jack Hyles who pastored one of the first megachurches just 60 miles south of him in Hammond, IN.

Like Hybels, Hyles, in the twilight of his ministry, was accused of sexual misconduct by people he worked with, among other charges.

The moral of the story is: Pastors, beware. What you sow throughout your ministry, you can reap in your old age. Just because you are called to preach does not mean you are called to pastor. As we have said before, every preacher is not a pastor, contrary to what we believe in the modern church. If you are not called to pastor a church, you are going to make a mess of things. We need more evangelists and missionaries who go and preach somewhere and keep moving.

Below are the two Chicago Tribune stories.

–BCNN1 Editors

Pastor Denies Adultery, 2 Other Charges

May 25, 1989 | By Michael Hirsley, Religion writer.

The influential fundamentalist pastor of the First Baptist Church of Hammond, long dubbed America’s largest Protestant church, is fighting accusations of adultery, financial mismanagement and anti-biblical teaching.

Rev. Jack Hyles, 62, who has run his auditorium church and self-proclaimed “largest Sunday school in the world” for 30 years, has vowed from his pulpit to fight the charges, which he called “dirty, rotten lies.” At stake in the allegations that he had an affair with a former deacon’s wife, gave her and other church members gifts and cash for which no records were kept and preached contrary to conservative biblical principles, is a pastor’s reputation that extends well beyond Hammond. The furor has spawned a split between national fundamentalist factions and a debate over Rev. Hyles in two national fundamentalist newspapers.

Chief among Rev. Hyles’ accusers is Victor Nischik, a former church deacon and former trustee of the church-affiliated Hyles-Anderson College in Crown Point, Ind., of which Rev. Hyles is chancellor.

Nischik, who divorced his wife, Jennie, in 1986, has charged that she and Rev. Hyles had “a sexual affair” for many years.

The former deacon, who left the church last year, said he hesitated for a long time to act despite his knowledge of the affair because he feared

“bringing reproach to fundamentalism and the church that I felt had the solution to the world’s problems. You could say I was brainwashed.”

Rev. Hyles, who did not respond to requests for an interview, fought back in a sermon earlier this month and a letter made available at the church offices.

“The nearest thing that I will come to defending myself is simply to say that the accusations and charges against me are false, absolutely false,” his letter dated May 19 states.

In his earlier sermon, he vowed to fight back like a “wounded bear,”

telling “all I know” about Nischik and other preachers he suspects of collaborating against him.

“If the IRS looks at me, it will look at them,” he said.

That was an apparent reference to Nischik’s allegations that he and his former wife received thousands of dollars in gifts, such as cars and cash, from Rev. Hyles for which the pastor said no records were kept.

Although the war of words focuses on a relatively low-profile, albeit large, church in a drab downtown section of a blue-collar Midwestern city, repercussions reach much farther.

Despite steering clear of televangelism, unlike fellow fundamentalist Rev. Jerry Falwell, Rev. Hyles has a national reputation and ideologist identity among fundamentalist Christians.

And within that community, two national Christian publications have squared off for and against Rev. Hyles.

The Biblical Evangelist, published in Ingleside, Tex., devoted the lion’s share of a 24-page issue this month to what it headlined as “The Saddest Story We Ever Published”-detailing Nischik’s charges and editor Robert Sumner’s contention that Rev. Hyles has strayed from biblical teaching and into cultlike mind control.

In defense of Rev. Hyles, the Sword of the Lord, published in Murfreesboro, Tenn., has termed Sumner’s story a vendetta against that paper and Rev. Hyles, who is a board member, because Sumner, a former Sword of the Lord staffer, was passed over in favor of editor Curtis Hudson.

“This situation highlights a major problem of independent churches as opposed to religious denominations,” said Bill DiPuccio of Wheaton College’s Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals.

“In denominations, some structure exists to investigate allegations of wrongdoing,” he said. “Here, you have no governing body. Jack Hyles is not accountable to anyone or anything, except possible pressure from peer churches.”

Stressing that “no one is ready to pass judgment on Jack Hyles,”

DiPuccio said, “Those who know him and are involved in his ministry want more than his word. Especially with what we’ve gone through with Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart, no one’s word is good enough.”

Speaking anonymously, a former student at Hyles-Anderson College and continuing supporter of Rev. Hyles and his church, said he takes the pastor at his word: “He said he’s innocent, and I believe him.

“I’ve read everything written against the pastor, and while it’s written in a believable way, it’s still a handful of people against a big church. I want to see documentation.”

Sumner and Nischik said the Biblical Evangelist story drew upon court depositions given by Rev. Hyles and the Nischiks in the couple’s 1986 divorce case, which was settled without testimony. “He’s said under oath that he keeps no accounting of cash contributions,” Sumner charged. Depositions from the case now on file in East Chicago Superior Court are sealed from the public.

Denying that his motivations had anything to do with his previous employment at the Sword of the Lord, Sumner said, “I’ve known Jack Hyles for 30 years and heard him preach many times. I would be delighted if he could clear his name, but I don’t think he can.”

DiPuccio describes Rev. Hyles as a nationally prominent fundamentalist whose teachings and writings have influenced many other pastors, including such high-profile leaders as Falwell and Bob Jones III, head of Bob Jones University.

Having attended services at First Baptist Church of Hammond, which draw a reported 18,000 people weekly, DiPuccio said, “The church definitely revolves around Jack Hyles. They think if he falls, fundamentalism falls.”

Nischik said he believed that for many years. For 24 years, even as an accounting executive, Nischik said, he worked weekends as one of the legions of First Baptist bus drivers who brought anyone they could recruit to the church.

“We were very aggressive, no doubt about it,” he said. “We believed that in God’s province there was a quota of righteous people. Once that nebulous quota was reached, God’s judgment could be spared. We all worked toward delaying the end of the world, and giving our children a chance to live, by bringing more and more people into the church.”


After years of inquiries, Willow Creek pastor denies misconduct allegations

March 23, 2018 | Manya Brachear Pashman and Jeff Coen

Last October, the Rev. Bill Hybels stood before worshippers at his packed sanctuary and made a stunning announcement. After 42 years building northwest suburban Willow Creek Community Church into one of the nation’s most iconic and influential churches, Hybels was planning to step down as senior pastor.

“I feel released from this role,” he said, adding that he felt called to build on Willow Creek’s reach across 130 countries with a focus on leadership development, particularly in the poorest regions of the world.

After introducing his successors, he invited church elders onstage at the expansive church to lay hands on them and pray.

What much of the church didn’t know was that Hybels had been the subject of inquiries into claims that he ran afoul of church teachings by engaging in inappropriate behavior with women in his congregation — including employees — allegedly spanning decades. The inquiries had cleared Hybels, and church leaders said his exit had nothing to do with the allegations.

An investigation by the Chicago Tribune examined those allegations and other claims of inappropriate behavior by Hybels, documented through interviews with current and former church members, elders and employees, as well as hundreds of emails and internal records.

The alleged behavior included suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss and invitations to hotel rooms. It also included an allegation of a prolonged consensual affair with a married woman who later said her claim about the affair was not true, the Tribune found.

Elders of the church — appointed members who oversee Willow Creek’s administration and pastor — had conducted the reviews after claims about Hybels came to their attention more than four years ago.

Pushing for the investigation were two former teaching pastors and the wife of a longtime president of the Willow Creek Association, a nonprofit organization related to the church. Some of those pressing for more scrutiny say the church’s prior investigation had shortcomings in their opinion and at least three leaders of the association’s board resigned over what they believed was an insufficient inquiry.

A humanitarian aid agency also chose not to renew its sponsorship of the church’s Global Leadership Summit over concerns about the association’s process for reviewing complaints about senior leaders.

Hybels sat down with the Tribune for a lengthy interview this week and at times grew emotional as he flatly denied doing anything improper and dismissed the allegations against him as lies spun with the intent of discrediting his ministry.

The pastor said he has built his church with a culture of open conversation, strength and transparency, and said he could not understand why a group of former prominent members of his church — some of them onetime close friends — have “colluded” against him.

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