SOUTH BARRINGTON, Ill. The co-founder of one of the country’s largest and well-known churches is moving up his planned retirement by six months. Bill Hybels is stepping down now.
Hybels, who along with his wife Lynne, launched Willow Creek Community Church in 1975, has been plagued by claims of inappropriate behavior with women. The latest media coverage came from the Chicago Tribune in March.
Hybels, who is 66 years old, has continually denied any wrongdoing and past church investigations have cleared him. But in a new statement issued through the church, Hybels reflects on ways he could have done things better to avoid any hint of misconduct.
Above: Willow Creek Community Church Senior Pastor Bill Hybels, sixth from left, and other church leaders pray before the congregation. (Mark Black/Daily Herald via AP)
He says, in part, “First, my first response to some of these recent accusations was anger. I confess to feeling very angry these last few weeks as I watched harmful accusations fly around without accountability. I felt attacked and knew that my loved ones and this church family would be affected. I sincerely wish my initial response had been one of listening and humble reflection. If I could go back, I would have chosen to listen first, and then to seek to learn and understand. I apologize for a response that was defensive, instead of one that invited conversation and learning.
Secondly, I realize now that in certain settings and circumstances in the past I communicated things that were perceived in ways I did not intend, at times making people feel uncomfortable. I was blind to this dynamic for far too long. For that I'm very sorry.
Thirdly, I too often placed myself in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid. I was, at times, naive about the dynamics those situations created. I'm sorry for the lack of wisdom on my part. I commit to never putting myself in similar situations in the future.
Additionally, I want to acknowledge that anytime allegations like these are made, they must be received with great humility and gravity. I reaffirm to you that I have taken these allegations very seriously, as have our church's Elders. While some of the stories that have been told about me are misleading and others are entirely false, and while investigations have found no evidence of misconduct, I have been sobered by these accusations, and as I said earlier, I have invited the input of wise counselors, friends, and family members to help me engage in a process of humble reflection.”
Pastor Hybels says he moved up his retirement out of concern that it was damaging the church’s mission and a national leadership outreach, the Global Leadership Summit. Roughly 25,000 people attended Willow Creek services each week.
He also shared this with church members in his statement:
“Going forward, I feel the need to humbly look deep inside myself and determine what God wants to teach me. I intend to continue surrounding myself with wise counselors and trusted friends, and to ask them to speak honestly into my life so that I can learn every single lesson I need to learn from all of this. I have complete peace about this decision and will not rush this process. Your prayers would be much appreciated during this upcoming season of reflection.”
Heather Larson, executive pastor, will take over as the church's chief executive. "This is going to take time for all of us to process," Larson said. "This is not the end of the story. It's not the end of Bill's story. It's not the end of Willow's story, and it's certainly not the end of God's story."
© 2018 Power of Worship Radio (The Associated Press contributed to portions of this story)