Just over 15 months after losing their charismatic founder, Bill Hybels, to a sexual misconduct scandal, Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago publicly closed the chapter on their flawed former leader while urging him to “repent” as needed.
“God has blessed Willow Creek Community Church to have a profound impact for His kingdom. Bill Hybels served and contributed to Willow for more than 40 years. Simultaneously, unchecked sin and intimidating behavior resulted in harm that is still felt in this present day. Christ died to free us from the power of sin. It is in that spirit that we appeal to Bill to reflect on his years in ministry, repent where necessary, and seek to live out the ministry of reconciliation,” the church’s new elder board led by Jeff Mason said in a recent statement.
Earlier this year, an Independent Advisory Group that investigated sexual misconduct allegations against Hybels, called them “credible” and recommended counseling for him as well as a raft of changes to improve the organizational culture at the church and Willow Creek Association, rebranded as the Global Leadership Network.
The recommendations were among 15 suggestions as well as a list of conclusive points made by the Independent Advisory Group in a 17-page report.
“Our desire is to move forward into this new season with transparency, acknowledging that truth coming to light can oftentimes be difficult and painful,” the board said at the time.
In what the elders say would be their final public statement on the Hybels saga this month, they noted how their efforts to engage with Hybels were rebuffed.
“We have reached out to Bill Hybels; however, he has chosen not to engage in dialogue at this time. We welcome the opportunity to meet with him to aid in healing and reconciliation. We are issuing this statement because in listening, we recognize that there are some specific harms that must be named,” they said.
The church pointed to the attacks that many of Hybels’ accusers and their advocates continue to face. Among the advocates were Compassion International and Menlo Church. The church also painted members of the 2018 elder board and the church’s staff as victims of Hybels’ scandal.
“In early 2019, the IAG report found your allegations to be credible, and we unequivocally support their findings. We believe your allegations about Bill. We ask anyone who participated in verbal and written attacks to prayerfully examine their actions, apologize for wrongdoing, and seek to mend the relationship,” the elder board said on the matter of continued attacks on Hybels’ accusers. They also urged a similar response to the attacks on Compassion International and Menlo Church.
Days after naming the specific harms that those involved in the Hybels saga have endured and continue to endure in some cases, the church also hosted an elder board-led worship and reflection service to help the community move forward.
Further reconciliation efforts are expected to continue privately.
Hybels was forced to resign as lead pastor at Willow Creek Community Church after an extensive investigation published by the Chicago Tribune in March 2018 detailed a pattern of sexual misconduct allegations. Hybels denied a number of the allegations, including a consensual affair with a married woman who retracted her claims. The Tribune report also alleged a pattern of behavior against Hybels that includes suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss, and invitations to some female staffers to hotel rooms.