Bill Hybels stepped down as the pastor of Willow Creek Church in suburban Chicago yesterday. This came a few weeks after a Chicago Tribune report which talked about decades of sexual misconduct: lingering hugs to females, kissing women staffers, inappropriate comments, inviting women back to his hotel room on trips. The 66 year old pastor had planned to step down this October but moved his retirement up following the Tribune story.
In a statement on Tuesday night, Hybels said:
“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. I was blind to this dynamic for far too long. For that I’m very sorry…I placed myself in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid…I was naive about the dynamics those situations created. I’m sorry for the lack of wisdom on my part.”
I don’t know if these allegations are true or not.
The Tribune article and some other pastors I respect say that there’s smoke behind this fire. Willow Creek says that they had already had these matters investigated by a third party.
I just don’t know what’s true. But I do know it’s a very sad situation. Willow Creek is one of the largest churches in America and has been extremely influential in the 40 years since Bill Hybels founded it. It’s the third largest church in America with over 20,000 in weekly attendance.
No matter what, this is a sad story.
It’s sad that some will indict Christianity in general for this (when we don’t know the facts). It’s sad for people impacted within Willow Creek. It’s sad for the women involved. And it’s sad for the people who are Willow Creek attendees, because this effects them too.
For many Christians, this story will undoubtedly be discouraging, because these stories are far too often from within the church. We live in a world that is not as it should be. And unfortunately, we see that even in churches. One way or another, someone isn’t being honest in this story. But regardless of the failings of people, God is still God.
“Look among the nations, and see;
wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
that you would not believe if told.”
I think it’s important to pray for Willow Creek, for those in leadership at that church. I also think it’s important to pray for the truth. I think many who follow this story will be tempted to jump to a side.
When there’s so much spin and outright falsity, I feel like it can be hard to find the truth. But truth is inherently good and something we should always desire.
Hybels is one of the most influential leaders of American Christianity over the last 40 years. He’s one of the founding fathers of the “seeker sensitive” movement. Willow Creek, which was founded by Hybels is one of the largest churches in America, with over 20,000 in weekly attendance.
Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in Minnesota.