You may remember that Bill Hybels, the charismatic New Apostolic Reformation apostle who founded Willow Creek Church, stepped down from his position of lead pastor amid sexual abuse allegations involving women connected to his megachurch in Chicago. The elders, including the new female lead pastor, Heather Larsen, admitted to mishandling the allegations and several elders, including Larsen, resigned as well.
In a recent email sent to church members and posted on Willow Creek’s website, Willow Creek invited the former elders as well as Bill Hybels to attend a service of reconciliation. According to the email, Hybels declined.
“The good news God commissioned the church to share is the gospel of reconciliation through Jesus Christ, first to God and then to one another,” the letter reads, “we believe God has given Willow Creek Community Church the opportunity to live out the ministry of reconciliation.”
In the aftermath of the events made public in March 2018, we experienced a fracture in our church marked by disbelief, confusion, fear, and hurt. After such a traumatic experience, what does it look like to enter into a gospel-centered season of reconciliation? Because reconciliation is from God, we prayerfully entered into His work with humility and grace, undertaking a systematic approach to actively listen, learn, and apologize. Over the past six months, we, as an Elder Board, have reached out to and listened to people involved in the events that came to light in 2018.
We have intentionally talked with former Elders, former staff, and the individuals who raised concerns regarding our senior pastor starting in 2014 and went public in 2018. We have also sought to listen to church attenders and current staff who have come forward. 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.
The letter not only acknowledges the mishandling of the allegations against Hybels but also states that there was an “unfair assumption that [the elder board] acted with malice,” regarding the handling of the allegations which caused “public anger and judgment” toward them and that Willow Creek seeks to resolve this.
That Hybels declines to attend or seek reconciliation speaks volumes to his relationship with his former church, but does not answer to question as to why. You can read the entire elder update here.