12 April 2018 | The Rev. Bill Hybels announced Tuesday night that he would step down from leading Willow Creek Community Church, one of the largest evangelical churches in America. Hybels made the announcement following allegations of sexual misconduct. He was due to retire later this year after founding Willow Creek 42 years ago.
The Chicago Tribune states that the alleged behavior “included suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss and invitations to hotel rooms.” The acts allegedly took place with both church employees and members over decades. The newspaper added that there had been allegations of a consensual affair with a married woman who later said her claim was untrue.
The accusations had led to inquiries by church leaders. The results of the inquiries had eventually cleared Hybels.
At the Tuesday night meeting at the church’s main campus in South Barrington, Illinois, Hybels told those assembled that although he believed he had been cleared of the allegations and still had congregational support, he was stepping down because the accusations were distracting from the mission and work of the church.
Hybels had initially rejected the allegations as “flat-out lies,” dismissing accusations by a number of former senior church leaders. On Tuesday night he apologized “for a response that was defensive instead of one that invited conversation and learning.”
Hybels said that some allegations against him were misleading and “some entirely false.” However he also apologized saying,“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.”
At the Tuesday night meeting, Hybels said he would not lead the church’s Global Leadership Summit. The pastor had originally planned to head up the organization of the annual Willow Creek event which features business, government, entertainment and religious leaders, after his retirement.
Over the years, many progressive Adventist pastors and worship leaders have attended Hybels’ training events, and regarded him as a mentor/teacher in his Willow Creek megachurch program.