(Manya Brachear Pashman and Jeff Coen – Chicago Tribune) Forty-two years after founding one of the nation’s most influential evangelical megachurches, the Rev. Bill Hybels told his congregation Tuesday night that he would step down from the helm of Willow Creek Community Church six months ahead of schedule.His departure comes less than a month after a Chicago Tribune investigation disclosed that Hybels had been the subject of inquiries by church leaders into claims that he ran afoul of church teachings by engaging in inappropriate behavior with women in his congregation — including employees — allegedly spanning decades. The inquiries had cleared Hybels.
At times choking back tears, Hybels told the somber crowd at a hastily called meeting at the church’s main campus in South Barrington that, while he continued to enjoy support from within his congregation, the controversy was proving to be a distraction from the church’s mission and work.
Referring to his wife, he said, “It has been extremely painful for Lynne and I to see this controversy continue to be a distraction.”
He also announced that he would not lead the church’s Global Leadership Summit, an annual event featuring leaders from business, government, entertainment and churches hosted by the Willow Creek Association, a nonprofit dedicated to leadership development, where Hybels had planned to focus his energy after retirement.
While saying he believes he has been cleared of all of the accusations, he apologized to the church for how he handled himself. He said he regretted that he reacted in anger when the accusations were made public.