Last night, Willow Creek Community Church made a promise to its members following the early departure of its founder and senior pastor, Bill Hybels.
“Even though Bill is no longer in his role, our work to resolve any shadow of doubt in the trustworthiness of [Willow] is not done,” the church’s board of elders told members in a Friday evening letter. “With the benefit of hindsight, we see several aspects of our past work that we would have handled differently, and we have identified several areas of learning.”
Last week, Hybels retired six months early after 40 years as leader of Willow Creek, calling recent allegations against him a distraction for the megachurch and its ministries. Hybels denied any wrongdoing. He did admit regretting that he first responded to the allegations with anger.
Yesterday, the elders similarly expressed regret in the way the church handled the allegations.
“We have at times communicated without a posture of deep listening and understanding,” they wrote. “We are sorry that at times our process appeared to diminish the deep compassion we have for all those involved in these matters.”
Likewise, the elders said they would work on “strengthening the relationship of accountability with our church leaders.”
“Bill acknowledged that he placed himself in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid,” the elders wrote. “We agree, and now recognize that we didn’t hold him accountable to specific boundaries.”
The elders also said they wished they had worked harder “to collaborate with all parties,” and promised to “methodically examine our church culture, enhancing policies and informal practices that support healthy and valuable working relationships between men and women.”
Within the next 45 days, the elders will be examining reports that Hybels made unwanted sexual comments and advances to several women, including “allegations that have not been previously investigated by the Elder Board.” The elders said they would “seek wise counsel and work with experts, developing a collaborative process” rather than launching an independent investigation.
“We commit that each woman willing to speak with us will be heard, and that we will respect her story,” they wrote.
The elders also said they would “walk alongside Bill in stewarding his season of reflection well and [we] are committed to working together on appropriate next steps with him.”
The allegations the elder board refers to include new allegations that Christianity Today has tried to ask Willow leaders and Hybels about since before his resignation.
Christianity Today talked with six women who have made allegations against Hybels and reviewed emails and documents about the allegations.
CT also spoke with two former staff members and a longtime Willow Creek elder, all of whom have pushed for an independent investigation of Hybels’s conduct.
On three occasions, Hybels offered to do interviews with CT about the allegations. All three times he backed out.
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Source: Christianity Today