Willow Creek responds to new allegations against former pastor Hybels

The Rev. Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., speaks on Jan. 26, 2012. Photo by Marc Gilgen/Creative Commons

A service at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., on Feb. 12, 2012. Photo by Glenn Davis/Creative Commons

SOUTH BARRINGTON, Ill. (RNS) — As the allegations against former Willow Creek Community Church senior pastor Bill Hybels mount, his congregation is trying to cope — spiritually and practically.

RELATED: Willow Creek pastor Bill Hybels denies claims of inappropriate behavior

During services Sunday (April 22), Steve Carter, the church’s lead teaching pastor, recalled standing onstage less than two weeks ago with church elders and praying over Hybels, who has denied several accusations of misconduct with women.

Carter told the congregation how he watched the founding pastor of the Chicago-area megachurch walk offstage afterward — and keep going.

This past Sunday, Carter, standing on that same stage, his voice breaking at times, delivered a message about Joshua, who, in the Bible, succeeded Moses to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land.

Carter said he felt a “profound sense of sadness” because “we were supposed to enter the Promised Land together. There was more work to be done.”

But like Joshua, he continued, God was calling the congregation to be strong and courageous.

“I believe that God has given us this moment, that he’s been preparing us for this. … Right now, while the world is watching, how will a church respond to these circumstances?” Carter asked the congregation.

“This is our black swan moment. How many black swans does it take to prove they exist? Just one, and this is our time.”

The moment comes as Willow Creek’s board of elders released a letter to church members Friday announcing it will “examine” new allegations against Hybels and “respectfully reach out to each woman who has made an accusation,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

The Rev. Bill Hybels, former senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., speaks on Jan. 26, 2012. Photo by Marc Gilgen/Creative Commons

Christianity Today reported several new allegations over the weekend, including claims from Maureen Girkins, former president of Zondervan, which published many of Hybels’ books. Girkins alleged Hybels made comments about her appearance and pressured her to spend time with him alone, even insisting they work out the terms of a publishing contract on his private jet — without her husband, who had been hospitalized during a conference they were attending.

They follow a number of accounts, first revealed in a Tribune investigation, from women in his congregation and on its staff chronicling invitations to hotel rooms, comments about appearances, uncomfortably long hugs and an unwanted kiss. One unnamed woman also said she had a consensual affair with Hybels, though she later denied it when contacted by an elder.

Previous investigations by elders and a lawyer specializing in workplace issues had cleared Hybels of any misconduct, according to the Tribune investigation.

At least seven women now have accused Hybels of acting inappropriately with women and abusing his power as head of Willow Creek, by Christianity Today’s tally. The influential megachurch has eight locations in the Chicago area, including a 7,000-seat worship center at its main campus in South Barrington and the Willow Creek Association, a nonprofit focused on leadership development.

Hybels resigned earlier this month following the Tribune investigation — several months ahead of his planned retirement. He has denied all accusations, calling them “flat-out lies.”

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.


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  • What? Even more allegations? But none of the original ones had any merit. And now even more allegations without any merit. It’s almost as if someone has a meritless accusation mill going full time, or the poor pastor……

    Ah, fooey.

    Maybe they have merit, maybe they don’t. only time will tell. But what if they determine that even more accusations also have merit, when the good pastor has assured us that none of it does.

    Will Jesus forgive him? That’s the only important question. Or will his congregation not realize that they have been conned.

  • WHAT A PLAY-DUMB QUESTION that my born-again Christian brother, “Steve Carter, the church’s lead teaching pastor, … [had] asked [Bill Hybels’ Willow Creek Community] congregation … ‘While the world is watching, how will a church respond to these [new] circumstances?'” – new because of “new allegations against Hybels”, and because – DUH – “previous investigations by elders [including Steve Carter] and a lawyer specializing in workplace issues had cleared Hybels of any misconduct”!

    (Thanks, Bob Smietana, for breaking the news with “Willow Creek Promises Investigation Amid New Allegations Against Bill Hybels”, Christianity Today, April 21, 2018.)

  • Not conned…Billed?…maybe?

    Nothing really good can come from a church placing it’s faith in a pastor, or a president, rather than the God it worships. To some degree it probably happens in every church. Sometimes the pastor meets the expectations, sometimes he doesn’t. In either case there is a result in people’s lives that is going to be a negative sum.
    It’s hard to be humble in a position like that, that’s human. It’s hard not to idolize a person in that kind of position, that’s human also. There should a religion that teaches this…oh wait mine does.

  • This is the problem when you worship an invisible sky God that isn’t there. Your life isn’t changed because there is NO Holy Spirit to change it and make it any different than the pervert off the street. Nothing new to see here, move along.

  • I am perhaps being overly harsh towards the pastor. But I am so tired of these holy hypocrites, weary beyond belief of people who never heard of me denouncing me for being a gay man, only to be found later to be total effing hypocrites. Or even if they are not found out, but pontificating endlessly about my alleged evil.

    It’s funny, except it’s not. I’m now nearly 68. I have never once in my life been accused of forcing myself on someone else, of misusing my position for sexual advantage, nor have I EVER done so. I have also not spent my life scolding other people for being human beings.

    Jesus had it exactly right when he spoke of motes and beams, about casting the first stone. All of us may be sinners, though what that might mean varies. But only some of us are throwing stones.

  • Did you not read the article? Hybels was cleared of any wrong-doing. Accusations are just that – accusations, until proven.

  • Funny. I’m 68. I’ve never been so accused, not once.

    Meanwhile, what would you say about Hillary? How many investigations, how many accusations, and exactly how many have ever been proved?

  • Hybels is in the sewer right now, and sewers can be a very dark, grim, despairing place to find oneself in.

    But he ain’t the only one.

  • I don’t really know Bill Hybels, but what I know of him I would say this way. He seems to be the kind of guy I would not mind disagreeing with. I don’t tend to disagree agree with him often but if I did I think I would still respect the guy. In that regard he reminds me of you. We don’t agree on some core things but your the kind of guy I don’t mind having a disagreement with. You seem to place a high value on values, and it bothers you when someone’s beliefs robs them from the ability to see value in people of a different belief. To me that’s a big part of what it means to be humble. So I hope there’s misunderstanding here, and if so, then maybe there would be some value in making this public. As men maybe we need to hear women say it bothers me when women do certain things those things are understood as one thing. But when men do certain things they are just misunderstandings. I’ve liked the guy in the past I’m hoping there is not more to it than we know.

  • 2 words come to YOUR mind as you write those words down:


    The other 2 words are:


  • Two Christian publishers so far have decided to continue publications of Hybel’s books. Now Zondervan (The lead publisher for Hybels) must make a decision.

    Ultimately the future of Willow Creek is at stake. Will the church survive or go downhill?

  • It amuses me greatly that Jesus said how very few would actually find the path to transformation, and that many who claimed such transformation would be revealed as frauds…but then when it’s uncovered that someone failed to be transformed and was living a fraudulent life, it’s trumpeted as proof Christianity is false. It seems to me that things are unfolding just as the guy predicted, which lends him a good deal of credibility.

  • The #MeToo Movement is having its day of justice. This is necessary with the abuse of power within Christianity. The church needs to be shaken from the “talent” and submit to “transformation”. Christians continue to run from authority and “church shop” to appeal to their fallen senses. As the body of the Bride continues to accept its bruising scandals, her cries are being transmitted through “untrustworthy” women. Hell, the apostles didn’t believe Mary when she returned from the empty tomb. The patience of God is profound and encouraging. His Spirit constantly urges the heart to see Jesus beyond the talent. So many good souls, like the many following Jesus, have run from the “hard teaching” of Jesus when pondering the conundrum with eating His flesh and drinking His blood. As Christian run further and further from Eucharistic belief displaced by more talent, congregations in good faith attach more and more to talent and their convincing authority of scripture. Have we lost our original fear of Eden, or thundering voice of Sinai, or the controversial intent of Jesus whose very words are absolute and endlessly contemplative. The Christian church spans from two inches thick to unplumbable depths… yet so many choose to settle upon transient persuasion of man not the authority of God. My heart aches in prayer for those who run from the Eucharist and liturgy despite the expected 4% of man’s scandalous nature. I do not judge for Mr. Hybels, but pray that he remembers his nakedness before the Judge and realize the loss of vanity and monetary accomplishments are but a dunghill compared to the redemption of a soul by a merciful Divine Love. Be brave my dear Christian brothers and sisters and find your way home to re-contemplate accepting the body, blood and divinity of Jesus-The Holy One of God. Peace I leave, Chris

  • When you begin with human effort, no systematic biblical theology. This is what happens. Female pastors ( unbiblical), secular leaders (unbiblical), … this is what you get.