Update from The Global Leadership Summit August 9, 2018
Prior to the first session of the 2018 Global Leadership Summit, Tom De Vries, President of the Willow Creek Association (WCA), addressed the gathering concerning the controversy surrounding Bill Hybels and Willow Creek.
Emphasizing the fact that Willow Creek Community Church and the WCA are separate entities, De Vries acknowledged, nevertheless, that the last several months have caused “tremendous turmoil for the Summit and also the Willow Creek family”.
As he’s said before, De Vries assured the group that Hybels’ association with the WCA has been severed with no path or plan of return. However, De Vries took the opportunity to apologize, on behalf of the WCA, “for the places we could and should have done better” when addressing the allegations against Hybels.
De Vries announced the board is still working on reconciliation between it and the people involved in the controversy. Moving forward, DeVries outlined three “commitments”:
The WCA board is seeking advisory leadership council for an independent investigation and will be offering more details about the council in days ahead
The WCA is committed to providing an environment that can be helpful in the dialogue about power dynamics between men and women as they lead together. GLS speaker Danielle Strickland will be addressing this topic later in the day.
They are also seeking to provide future opportunities for growth and learning on this topic. De Vries said the WCA has had a track record of dealing with the issues of the day head on. This is “just the beginning” of a journey toward offering ways for businesses and associations to equip and empower women in leadership.
In a shaky voice, elder Missy Rasmussen addressed the congregation at Willow Creek Church Wednesday evening at a Family Meeting. Rasmussen said she was there, on behalf of the elder board, to “acknowledge our missteps.” She then announced that the entire elder board would be stepping down and that they are “exhorting” Bill Hybels to acknowledge his sin.
“I stand before you heartbroken,” Rasmussen began as she relayed a message from the board of elders. Rasmussen explained the board now believes Hybels’ “sins were beyond what he previously admitted on the stage.”
Speaking of the women who brought forth allegations, Rasmussen specifically mentioned Pat Baranowski, whose story appeared in the New York Times on Sunday, August 5, 2018. The article included allegations that took everyone by surprise, including Lead Teaching Pastor Steve Carter, who resigned from Willow Creek the same day.
Rasmussen said that Carter made several requests of the board to address the allegations, and while they were able to “align” with him on several of his requests, he still disagreed with the board’s direction.
Admitting the investigation into the allegations it initiated four years ago was “flawed,” Rasmussen said they were focused on looking for evidence of an affair instead of determining whether Bill’s actions were above reproach. She also said they did not move quickly enough to “secure” Hybels’ devices during that investigation. Rasmussen said they trusted Hybels, which led to the flawed nature of the investigation.
When the Chicago Tribune article broke the story of the allegations against Hybels, some of the allegations took the board by surprise. What followed was evident to everyone watching the Willow Creek saga from afar: The board scrambled as it tried to limit damage as they determined how to address the new information they were not aware of. The board now acknowledges “this has taken too long and left you, our congregation, wondering why we did not respond.”
Elder Board Apologizes and Resigns
Rasmussen then offered several apologies on behalf of the elder board to “God, the congregation, the women, their advocates and those calling us to repent.”
Specifically, she named:
The people of WCC – The board is sorry they allowed Bill to operate without the accountability he should have had. Moving forward, they would like to “retain what is good and pure about Willow” while addressing the things that need to change.
To the women who brought allegations, Rasmussen said “the church should always follow in Jesus’s footsteps, to help the wounded find healing.” While Rasmussen said we will probably never know the full truth of what happened, the board has no reason not to believe the women. “We exhort Bill to acknowledge his sin,” Rasmussen said.
To Nancy Ortberg – the board is “sorry about the way your allegations were handled and the time it took us to truly understand your experience.”
To Nancy Beach – Rasmussen apologized for allowing “Bill to call your motives into question.”
To Vonda Dyer – the board is sorry they allowed Bill’s statements calling her a liar to stand. They now believe Hybels kissed her in a hotel in Sweden, as she claims.
To an unnamed staff member – the board apologized for allowing Bill to give his account without giving the staff member the chance to share.
Moving forward, Rasmussen said the entire board is stepping down. Turning to practical considerations, she described a “prompt” process of replacing the current elders that would begin August 15 and continue in stages through the end of the year.
Further, a governance expert is being called in to investigate the board and they are also convening a group to investigated Baranowski’s allegations against Hybels, specifically.
Rasmussen reiterated the board’s belief that Hybels is not above reproach. “If Bill had not already stepped down, he would have disqualified himself from leadership here,” she explained.
Heather Larson Resigns
Next, Executive Pastor Heather Larson took the stage. Speaking through tears, she said, “You, Willow Creek, have been my world for the past 20 years.”
She then went on to explain how she has attempted to manage her “brand new role” while navigating the allegations against Hybels. “Circumstances have been devastating and heartbreaking on many levels,” Larson said, and admitted she wished she could go back and do things differently.
Larson said the church needs a fresh start and that the staff need “a clear running lane” to heal and move forward. For that reason, she is stepping down from her position. At this point, a man in the audience yelled “We need you!” Larson smiled sadly and continued. The reality of the matter is, “trust has been broken by leadership.”
Steve Gillen, the pastor of Willow Creek’s North Shore campus, will take on the role of Lead Pastor, Larson explained. In closing she assured the congregation: “Please know that I am not giving up on this church; most importantly, God is not giving up on this church.”
Steve Gillen Takes the Helm
“This is a tough season, and we’re going to get through it together,” Gillen said as he began his brief speech.
He explained that the Bible instructs us that when you realize you’ve done something wrong, you must lament and grieve. “We need to do that,” Gillen said. But at the same time, Gillen believes Willow Creek needs “to be faithful to the call God’s put on us from day one.” By that, he means they need to continue their evangelism efforts to reach Chicago and beyond.
Gillen does not plan on staying at the South Barrington campus indefinitely. He described his task as to “get this congregation through these days” while the elder board looks for a new lead pastor. Then Gillen is planning to return to the North Shore campus, where he currently serves.
You can read Willow Creek’s full statement here.
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