Willow Creek Community Church founder Bill Hybels has announced that he is stepping down as pastor of the megachurch. Last month, the Chicago Tribune published the findings of an investigation into several incidents of misconduct, which Hybels and the church have denied.
Hybels announced last year that he would be retiring in October of this year, and had already named the leaders who would take his place.
In a statement to the church, he said (in part), “I have decided to accelerate my planned retirement date from October of this year to tonight. This decision was mine and mine alone, but after much discussion, my decision earned the unanimous support of the Elders and the Executive Team. As Lynne (wife) and I have watched this, it has been extremely painful for us to see this controversy continue to be a distraction that is hindering our Elders and church staff, as well as the WCA (Willow Creek Association) staff, from carrying out the work of these fantastic ministries.”
In the report, several women said that Hybels engaged in “suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss and invitations to hotel rooms.” Another woman accused him of an affair, though she later recanted the accusation. The church says that a long investigation into the accusations found no wrong doing. However, one of the former leaders said the investigation was “poorly designed.”
In his statement to the church, Hybels said, “I too often placed myself in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid. I was naive about the dynamics those situations created … I commit to never putting myself into similar situations again.”
Hybels also said, “I apologize to you, my church, for a response that was defensive instead of one that invited conversation and learning.”
This week Vonda Dyer, one of the women who accused Hybels of inappropriate behavior, explained why she felt it was important to tell her story, writing “I believe the women who have come forward because our stories are so similar. For the sake of the other women and for the sake of the church, I cannot stay silent.”