Bill Hybels, founder and leader of Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, Illinois, announced he is accelerating the date of planned retirement from October of this year to today. He made the announcement at a family meeting for Willow Creek members on April 10, 2018.
“I have decided to accelerate my planned retirement date from October of this year to tonight.” In addition to stepping down from leading the church, he has also “decided to step out of my usual teaching and hosting roles at the upcoming Global Leadership Summit.”
Hybels said the news of the allegations of sexual misconduct that broke in the Chicago Tribune recently lead to this decision. Hybels maintains the accusations against him are false, and while he believes the congregation of Willow Creek has accepted his testimony on the matter, “some in the wider Christian community continue to be confused and conflicted.” This confusion is distracting the leadership team of Willow Creek from being able to focus fully on the work of the ministry.
While Hybels maintains he did not commit the actions he is accused of committing, he said this time has lent itself to self-reflection. He shared three things he regrets doing.
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.
Moving forward, Hybels reiterated the original plan to have Heather Larson and Steve Carter replace him. “Heather and Steve have been functioning in their new roles since last October,” Hybels explains and although they were officially going to take over as Lead Pastor and Lead Teaching Pastor, respectively, in October, they will instead be taking over sooner. As far as the Willow Creek Association and the Global Leadership Summit is concerned, Hybels said CEO Tom DeVries and Board Chair Dick DeVos “will continue to expand the reach and impact of the Global Summit all over the world.”
As far as what the immediate future holds for Hybels himself, he said he has employed wise counselors, friends and family members to help him through a time of “humble reflection” as he steps down from his leadership position. After this time of reflection, however, Hybels intends to rejoin the congregation he started. “Willow will always be my home church,” Hybels said.
Pam Orr, the head of the elder board of Willow Creek, also addressed the congregation last night.
Over the past few weeks, the Elders have been in the process of carefully discerning next steps in regard to new information that surfaced in the media. Over the weekend, Bill informed the Elders of his decision to move up the date of his retirement. Although we are deeply saddened, for so many reasons, by the circumstances surrounding the end of Bill’s tenure, we accept and see the wisdom in his decision. We thank God that He uses ordinary people to do His good work. And we are grateful that Bill listened to God’s call on his life and served the church, and God’s Kingdom, for the last 42 years.
Heather Larson, the new Lead Pastor, had a message specifically for the women in the congregation.
I know many of you are confused or frustrated. Some of the language you have heard in the media does not resonate with your experience or what you know to be true of our church. I want to assure you we can at the same time respect someone’s story and stand up for our own. You are strong. You have your own voice.
Larson also articulated the leadership is “radically committed to a healthy environment where we can work and serve together… We will continue to build a strong and healthy culture where all of us, women and men, are fully able to live out the potential of who God has created us to be.”