Recovering from Hybels scandal, Willow Creek forms senior pastor search committee

Willow Creek begins search for new senior pastor after Bill Hybels scandal

Willow Creek
Volunteers at Willow Creek Community Church of South Barrington, Illinois, hold up care packages made for prisoners for Christmas, December 6, 2015. |

Willow Creek Community Church announced that they are setting up a search committee for a new senior pastor, with the hope that the position will be filled by the end of the year.

The church's elder board explained in an update posted last Friday, that following “much prayer and consideration,” they have created a Senior Pastor Search Committee comprised of five elders.

“In addition, the committee is partnering with a pastoral search firm to facilitate the process. Our initial estimate is that the search process will take approximately six months, with a goal to conclude by year-end 2019,” stated the elder board.

“We ask for your continued prayers in the coming months as we discern the next steps for church leadership.”

The elders also commended Pastor Steve Gillen, who previous served as pastor of Willow Creek’s North Shore Campus, for his service as acting senior pastor, noting that he has agreed to remain in the leadership position during the committee's search.

Bill Hybels
Willow Creek Community Church founder, Bill Hybels. |

“We trust God to guide and lead this process, and we recognize that there will be many questions in the coming days and months. We value the input of staff and congregants across all campuses and are already planning ways for you to participate in this process,” added the elders.

In 2018, the Chicago Tribune published an investigative piece documenting allegations of sexual misconduct against Willow Creek Senior Pastor and founder Bill Hybels.

The Tribune story presented various allegations, including suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss, and invitations to some of the women to hotel rooms.

Hybels, who served as head of Willow Creek for over four decades and oversaw the church as it grew into a multisite megachurch, denied the accusations.

In April 2018, weeks after the Tribune ran its story, Hybels announced that he was resigning as senior pastor, leaving the position months before he previously intended to retire.

“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 last year.

"[I]t has been increasingly clear to us that they [Willow Creek ministries] can't flourish when the valuable time and energy of their leaders are divided. The leaders of both our church and the [Willow Creek Association] need the freedom to get on with the task of carrying out the missions God has given them."

In late February, an investigation by the Independent Advisory Group released a report concluding that the allegations against Hybels were “credible” and criticized his leadership style.

“Hybels verbally and emotionally intimidated both male and female employees. Over multiple decades, the Willow Creek Community Church boards were unable to provide effective oversight of Bill Hybels,” noted the report.

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