Bill Hybels, founder and senior pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois, is resigning earlier than originally announced following rumors of sexual misconduct.
"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 said in a statement he read to the church.
An investigation by the Chicago Tribune alleged that Hybels had a consensual affair with a married woman. The woman has since retracted her claim and Hybels has denied the allegations.
"As Lynne (wife) and I have watched this, it has been extremely painful for us to see this controversy continue to be a distraction that is hindering our Elders and church staff, as well as the WCA (Willow Creek Association) staff, from carrying out the work of these fantastic ministries," Hybels said.
The Tribune report also said that Hybels made suggestive comments, extended hugs, invitations and an unwanted kiss from women.
The church conducted its own investigation and said it could not confirm the Tribune's findings.
In his announcement this week to resign earlier, Hybels again denied the allegations, calling them "'misleading" and "entirely false."
He did admit, however, that some of his past actions might have been misinterpreted.
"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," he said. "I was blind to this dynamic for far too long. For that I'm very sorry."
The investigation came after Vonda Dyer, a former Willow Creek ministry worker, claimed that in 1998 on a trip to Sweden, Hybels asked her to come to his hotel room. Dyer says Hybels complimented her, criticized her husband and suggested they could lead Willow Creek together. He then allegedly put his hands on her waist and stomach and kissed her.
She said she told him to stop and left the hotel room.
“It never happened,” Hybels had said.
Hybels had already announced last year that he would step down in October 2018. Heather Larson would become lead pastor and Steve Carter will be the teaching pastor.
Publication date: April 11, 2018
Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for ChristianHeadlines.com since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and IBelieve.com. She blogs at The Migraine Runner.