This is Pat Baranowski.

In the 1980s, she was the executive assistant to Bill Hybels, the senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. Recently she revealed that while she was in her 30s she was repeatedly sexually abused by her boss over an eight year period. It occurred shortly after she had divorced her first husband.

Baranowski is the latest in a string of women who have alleged mistreatment by Hybels.

These most recent allegations were a bombshell, resulting in the resignation of one of Bill Hybels’ successors (Hybels retired from Willow Creek earlier this year). But with the fallout of Ms Baranowski’s revelations, and widespread complaints of the church’s handling of the many allegations, it is easy to overlook the lessons to be learned from this sordid tale for anyone in ministry, or working for someone in a position of power.

The account of the abuse suffered by Pat Baranowski’s makes for informative reading, according to Dr Julia Dahl.

Dahl says this case has all the hallmarks of the cycle of sexual predatory behavior and the abuse of power by someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). She outlines the abuse cycle this way:



It begins with selection. Pat Baranowski talks about Bill Hybels approaching her in the church parking lot. Here’s the New York Times account of that evening:

“In 1984, Ms. Baranowski was walking to her car in the vast parking lot of Willow Creek one night after services. She had just been praying about whether to apply for a job at the church she saw posted. Suddenly a car screeched to a stop beside her, and the driver rolled down his window. It was the church’s pastor. ‘Could I drive you to your car or something?’ offered Mr. Hybels, who was then 33. Her car was nearby, but she accepted the ride. It seemed like a sign from God.”

In response, Julia Dahl tweeted:

He selected her. People with NPD are aware of susceptibility in others.  Ms. Baranowski had recently been through a divorce and was vulnerable.  At that time, insecurities were present (as are normal when people experience life trauma).



Bill Hybels proclaimed it a miracle that he found Pat Baranowski, and soon she was running his ministry with him. Again, the New York Times:

“The pay at Willow Creek Community Church was much lower than at her old job, but Ms. Baranowski, then 32, admired Mr. Hybels and the church’s mission so much that it seemed worth it. She felt even more blessed when in 1985 Mr. Hybels and his wife invited her to move into their home, where she shared family dinners and vacations.”

Julia Dahl tweeted:

Bill Hybels selected a vulnerable woman who was reeling from divorce, tested her boundaries (less pay in her new job, inappropriate flattery) – then created further physical dependence on him (he had control of her job, her residence & sense of belonging).  How is this toxic?

This creates the IMAGE of Bill Hybels being generous to her to others.  But in truth, while “when no one is watching” he is abusing her trust and her body.

Despite her high hopes for the job, Baranowski has said that at times Bill Hybels gave her intimate back rubs, fondled her breasts, asked her to watch pornographic films with him, and even performed oral sex.



While grooming a victim, a person with NPD will also idealize them in front of others. Hybels lavished praise on her in the presence of other staff members. He wrote a note to her early in her time working with him in which he told her, “You’re a knockout!”

Dahl tweeted,

Characteristic of predators, @billhybels tested boundaries with her WHILE simultaneously IDEALIZING her.  The personal notes are intended build her reliance/dependency on his affirmation.  Adding “you’re a knockout” is testing a boundary. Bosses commenting “knockout” is wrong.



According to Julia Dahl, the cycle of sexual predatory behavior involves both Idealization and Devalue, described in the image below. She claims a neurochemical addiction occurs because the brain releases dopamine and serotonin during the Idealizing phase. But when the victim rejects the abuser’s advances or outs him to others he begins the process of devaluing her, which stunts the release of these neurochemicals.

Baranowski describes Hybels as an exacting boss, demanding excellence from those on his staff. Dahl interprets that this way:

Within the workplace, Bill Hybels uses idealize/devalue, triangulation, anger and intimidation to “lead” people.  The cycle of praise (idealization) is always matched with those who are being “disciplined” by a leader who answers to NO ONE but himself.  Fear becomes prevalent.


Despite the risk of her personal loss of a residence, job, sense of family and even church – Ms. Baranowski CONFRONTS @billhybels 

His response?  Was it honesty, confession, repentance, doing all that was necessary to repair the harm he caused her? Was it removing himself as pastor because he had disqualified himself by abusing his authority & sexually harassing a member of the congregation/team?  No.


Responding characteristic of someone with NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder), BH minimizes his conduct and demands secrecy.  NPD fear two things:  receiving no attention – being irrelevant and BEING EXPOSED.

According to Dahl, when confronted, people with narcissistic personality disorder will respond in three ways:

  1. deny /minimize to the complainant, thus creating doubt in that person as to whether the allegations are really that serious. This is also called gaslighting;
  2. devalue the person confronting them to the person and to others. The classic smear campaign;
  3. develop a strategy for removing the person in order to limit damage.

According to Pat Baranowski, Bill Hybels did all three things to her.

The former Willow Creek senior pastor has denied these allegations, as he’s denied the previous allegations by Vonda Dyer, Nancy Beach, Nancy Ortberg, Julia Williams, and Moe Girkins and other women.

We need to become familiar with the cycle of abuse and the tactics of narcissistic personalities and establish protocols for church leaders that stop this kind of thing happening in any church again.



Share to: