Willow Creek Church Pastor Bill Hybels officially stepped down from his role as senior pastor after sexual misconduct allegations surfaced last month.
"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," Hybels says in a statement posted to the Willow Creek website.
"Further, I have decided to step out of my usual teaching and hosting roles at the upcoming Global Leadership Summit. This, too, was my decision, but after discussion and prayer it was agreed upon by the WCA Board," Hybels says. "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."
Popular evangelical leaders, including John and Nancy Ortberg, say the allegations are true. Hybels firmly denied them.
His statement reads:
In recent times, I've been accused of many things I simply did not do. However, let me humbly acknowledge three things I have done.
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.
Hybels announced last fall that he would be transitioning out of ministry and two co-pastors would step up in his place. Hybels said he would complete the transition by October 2018, but accelerated the move after the allegations surfaced.
Pam Orr, the Willow Creek Board spokesperson, says the elders have claimed 2 Corinthians 4:18 as the hope during the media swirl.
"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," Orr says.
"Tonight, I'd like to talk about our future as a church. God only ordained three institutions—government, the family and the church. Willow Creek is not our church. While Bill has been the senior pastor since Willow Creek's beginning, Willow has never been about one person. Willow Creek is Jesus' church, and He promised to build it (Matt. 16:18). So the good news about our future is it's not dependent on any of us to build this church—it is dependent on Jesus Christ Himself to keep His promise to the apostle Peter: 'I will build My church,'" Orr says.
Heather Larson is one of two co-pastors to succeed Hybels. As of Tuesday, she serves as the lead pastor of Willow Creek. Steve Carter now officially serves as lead teaching pastor.
"There is no way to get around it; this season has been difficult beyond words. Some of the women who brought their stories are women who have mentored me and invested in me. To those women, I want to say that I have love and gratitude for you and the role you played in my life, and I am so deeply sad for all of us that we find ourselves in this place," Larson says in a statement.
Now, let's turn our focus to starting the next chapter. The Elders and Bill set us up for this back in October. This new season starts a little early for us, but God has always, only, ever been faithful to us, and He knew about this night long before the rest of us. We will keep our eyes on Him, and we will trust Him in the days ahead. Our church needs every one of us, more than ever, to link arms together and join in building a radically inclusive, biblically grounded, people loving, Acts 2 church. Not only does our church need that, but the world around us needs that. Let's return our focus to our neighbors around us. So many of them are wondering about God and who He is. Let's live in ways that draw them in and show them the love of God that has transformed our lives.
I want to acknowledge that we're all going to need time and space to process. Let's come together and support each other in that. But in the midst of how sad and how hard it is, let's also resolve together that this is not the end of the story. It's not the end of Bill's story. This is not the end of Willow's story, and it's certainly not the end of God's story. God is still writing new chapters for all of us. We will depend on Him for that. We will keep learning and growing, we will keep serving the world around us, and we will keep being the church together! God will do the rest!
The church discussed the announcement in a recent family meeting. You can watch the video here.
Hybels founded Willow Creek Church in October 1975.
More than 25,000 people now attend weekend services at eight Chicago-area locations.
Hybels also founded Willow Creek Association, which inspires, encourages and equips Christian leaders transform their communities. According to the site, WCA has served leaders for more than 25 years.
Jessilyn Justice @jessilynjustice is the director of online news for Charisma.
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