SOUTH BARRINGTON, Ill. — The lead pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, Heather Larson, and the entire elder board have announced they are stepping down following allegations of sexual misconduct against Rev. Bill Hybels.
The announcement was made Wednesday evening at a service at the South Barrington church.
“As hard as I have tried I simply have not been able to get the momentum we need to address the issues to bring about the fresh start,” Larson said to the congregation on Wednesday. The church’s lead teaching pastor Steve Carter resigned earlier this week.
Hybels announced he was resigning from the Evangelical megachurch six months ahead of schedule back in April. The announcement came after a Chicago Tribune investigation disclosed that the pastor had allegedly engaged in inappropriate behavior with women in his church.
“The leaders of both our church and the Willow Creek Association need the freedom to get on with the task of carry out the important missions that God has given to them. Therefore, I have decided to accelerate my planned retirement date from October of this year to tonight,” he said to his congregation in April.
According to the investigation, the alleged behavior included suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss, and invitations to hotel rooms.
Hybels called the allegations part of a calculated and continual attack on him and church elders.
The pastor had been at the church for 42 years.
The entire elder board will step down in waves before the end of the year. The first group leaves Aug. 15. On Wednesday, they offered an apology to the women who have come forward.
“To all the women who have come forward the church should always follow in Jesus footsteps to help the wounded find healing and we are sorry we added to your pain,” Missy Rasmussen, a Willow Creek elder, said. “That was not our intention and we regret it has taken us this long to acknowledge that.”
The church plans to bring in a council of outside Christian leaders to conduct an independent investigation on the allegations.
Meanwhile, the church’s annual Global Leadership Summit is underway, which has been affected by the scandal. Speakers, including actor Denzel Washington, have bowed out. More than 100 churches have called off plans to broadcast it.
This is the first year that Hybels is not the host of the event. Willow Creek Association President Tom DeVries addressed the church founder’s departure during the summit opening Thursday morning.
“He’s no longer involved, and there’s no path for him to return. There are no conversations about his future involvement. There is no map for the journey we’ve been on. We’ve had missteps, mistakes, slip-ups, blenders,” DeVries said in his address.