Now the megachurch may have a ChurchToo problem, one that pits cofounder Bill Hybels against some of his longtime friends. A group of former pastors and staff members has accused Hybels of a pattern of sexual harassment and misconduct , the Chicago Tribune reported tonight. The group includes John and Nancy Ortberg, well-known pastors and authors who are both former teaching pastors at Willow Creek and longtime friends of Bill and Lynne Hybels. There still to this day is not evidence of misconduct on my part.
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Now the megachurch may have a ChurchToo problem, one that pits cofounder Bill Hybels against some of his longtime friends. A group of former pastors and staff members has accused Hybels of a pattern of sexual harassment and misconduct , the Chicago Tribune reported tonight. The group includes John and Nancy Ortberg, well-known pastors and authors who are both former teaching pastors at Willow Creek and longtime friends of Bill and Lynne Hybels.
There still to this day is not evidence of misconduct on my part. The fact that they have been dredged up now and assembled in a calculated way demonstrates the determination of this group to do as much damage as they possibly can. Nancy Beach, a former teaching pastor, told the Tribune that she traveled to Europe with Hybels in and that he asked her to stay a few extra days.
She declined. But during the trip, he allegedly said his marriage was unhappy. Instead of work, Hybels wanted to have long dinners and walks on the beach. One night, he allegedly asked her to his room for a glass of wine, then gave her a long, lingering hug. She did at first and then stopped. Vonda Dyer, a former Willow Creek employee, told the Tribune that Hybels told a joke about oral sex while they were out on his boat with another staff woman—a claim Hybels denies.
She also says he repeatedly asked her to come to his hotel room. One occasion he allegedly started caressing and kissing her.
Hybels allegedly told her she was sexy. Hybels again denied the allegation. She is telling lies. Like many MeToo cases, the allegations against Hybels have been brewing for some time.
And the allegations are not simple. Nor are they clear. At a goodbye party, a friend and former Willow Creek staffer told Leanne Mellado that she had had a long-term romantic relationship with Bill Hybels. Mellado learned the alleged relationship had lasted more than a decade. At first, she supported this friend and talked through what had happened.
Then Leanne Mellado felt she needed to tell the elders at Willow Creek what she had learned. She later told Mellado there was flirting and insinuations but no relationship. Willow also said the woman apologized personally to Lynne Hybels for lying. The WCA board also learned of the allegations. The WCA board voted against calling for an investigation, in a split decision. Not long after the vote, Ortberg, Powell, and Wallace resigned. Since that time, Nancy Ortberg and others have continued to work behind the scenes to address the matter.
The Ortbergs and Mellados were once close enough to Bill and Lynne Hybels that the three couples were part of a home Bible study. Now they are estranged. The former staff members say they still believe in the ministry of Willow Creek, but they fear the church has lost sight of its ideals. They say Bill Hybels often taught that churches are only as healthy as their leaders—and now they fear the church they loved has become ill.
The entire process has been painful, John Ortberg told the Tribune. He said that Hybels has accused him and other of plotting his downfall.
Some of the alleged victims of harassment did not participate. The investigation cleared Hybels. The report has not been released.
The Ortbergs and Leanne Mellado say the allegations against Bill Hybels are serious enough to require a third-party investigation, They say the church has consistently avoided taking action to hold its founding pastor accountable.
That flies in the face of everything Bill Hybels taught as a pastor, say the former staffers. They say he always taught them to do the right thing—even when it was hard. Hybels made the same claims in public. Actor Denzel Washington headlines the summit this August.
The church, founded in the Willow Creek Theater in Barrington, Illinois, also remains an evangelical powerhouse—and a model for churches around the country. The allegations will have ripples far beyond the church. For decades, Willow Creek has been touted as a model organization by pastors and business leaders alike, says Scott Thumma, a sociologist of religion and a megachurch researcher at Hartford Seminary.
Willow Creek been studied by researchers from Harvard Business School; Jim Mellado even cowrote a famed case story while at Harvard in the s. And its leadership summit gives the church a worldwide reach.
Which makes the allegations against Bill Hybels all the more concerning. The fallout from them could be significant, Thumma said.
If these allegations are true, he would be guilty of not just betraying his family and congregation, but the larger Christian world to whom he preached these standards. But they fall harder, and with more consequences, because of their outsized influence both in the church and the broader culture. Yet they are often seen as untouchable. The church has named two staffers—executive pastor Heather Larson and teaching pastor Steve Carter—to succeed Hybels in October Bill Hybels has been known for having a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to sexual misconduct.
Our sole purpose is to turn irreligious people into followers of Jesus Christ. I hate the way these lies have affected the wider church community.
But she wants the truth to be known. I credit him for that. These demands included the following: These couples non-Willow members would approve the choice of the investigator. These couples would be able to choose the witnesses who were interviewed, and all people interviewed would have full indemnification.
The investigation reports would all be public regardless of the outcome. These couples would insist that there be a public admission of anything that they not the investigator or the Elders deemed inappropriate.
It has become clear to us that they have decided to spread this sentiment through rumors and now through the media. They aggressively shopped the story to multiple media outlets.
These actions fail to live up to biblical standards, and they have caused much pain for many people. We have deep sadness over the broken relationships with people we have respected and people we love. We are grieved for Bill and his family. After 42 years of faithfully pastoring you and me, our congregation, and after his family giving sacrificially, this has been painful beyond words for them.
Willow Creek also sent an email to its massive congregation about the Tribune story, and plans a meeting Friday to address the accusations. The Chicago Tribune just published an article that is extremely negative toward Willow Creek.
It is based on false allegations resulting from a campaign by a group of former church members who want to damage the reputation of our church and our senior pastor.
They have mounted a campaign to accuse Bill of inappropriate behavior. In the spirit of honesty and transparency, we have cooperated fully with that local media outlet because we have nothing to hide. The story does not represent the hard work of our Elders or the thorough investigations. Click here to listen to statements from our Elder Board Chair, Pam Orr, and from Bill, which tell the true story about the allegations and about the rigorous investigations that cleared our pastor of wrongdoing.
We will have a church family meeting on Friday at 7 p. Bill and the Elders will directly address the accusations in the story. We deeply appreciate you, and humbly ask for your prayers.
Book Review: Axiom By Bill Hybels
In a interview with the Chicago Tribune , he pointed to an experience at a Wisconsin summer camp as a teenager that crystallized his understanding and personal embrace of Christian belief. Hybels was captivated with the vision and abandoned his business aspirations for ministry. After youth waited in line to be led to Christ in a service in May , Hybels and other leaders began dreaming of forming a new church. One hundred and twenty-five people attended the service. The rent and other costs were paid for with 1, baskets of tomatoes, sold door-to-door by teenagers. Hybels spoke on "New Beginnings. Hybels apologized for the example of his relentless schedule and overemphasis on grace.
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