On Aug. 8, the lead pastor and entire elder board of Willow Creek Community Church announced they were stepping down from their positions. The mass resignation comes in the wake of an admitted mishandling of sexual harassment allegations made against the church’s founder and former pastor, Rev. Bill Hybels.
“This is really important. Trust has been broken by leadership, and it doesn’t return quickly,” Heather Larson, lead pastor of Willow Creek said at a congregational meeting held that evening according to Religion News Service. “There is urgency to move us in a better direction.”
The elders were first made aware of the allegations more than four years ago. An internal and commissioned investigation conducted at the time cleared Hybels of the several charges. But the congregation wasn’t made aware of the accusations until last spring when some of the women told their stories to Chicago Tribune and Christianity Today. Hybels has denied the allegations.
“This is not the outcome I would have ever wanted. My hope was that Bill Hybels would have admitted his sins, and that Willow Creek leaders would have come to repentance voluntarily, not through pressure from the national media,” Vonda Dyer, one of the women who came forward, said in an interview with The New York Times. “This is a sad day for Willow and for me personally.”
Willow Creek is the country’s fifth-largest megachurch, boasting more than 25,000 members, according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. The role of lead pastor has been passed to Steve Gillen, a longtime staffer of Willow Creek and pastor at the church’s North Shore location.
Larson and the elder board made their announcement in the same auditorium where The Willow Creek Association’s annual Global Leadership Summit is scheduled to begin Aug. 9. The event, hosted by Hybels, draws an average of half a million viewers worldwide.
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