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Willow Creek guts leadership in wake of Hybels scandal

by Lynde Langdon
Posted 8/09/18, 11:48 am

The entire board of Willow Creek Community Church and its remaining lead pastor, Heather Larson, announced at a church meeting Wednesday night they were stepping down. Their departures follow the abrupt resignation of Lead Teaching Pastor Steven Carter on Sunday and the publication of another report of sexual harassment involving church founder and former Pastor Bill Hybels. The New York Times reported Sunday on accusations by Pat Baranowski, who served as Hybels’ executive assistant in the 1980s and said he fondled her on numerous occasions and once had oral sex with her. Hybels denied what was revealed in the report, saying he never had an inappropriate relationship with Baranowski. Hybels retired earlier than planned from Willow Creek in April after the Chicago Tribune and Christianity Today reported he inappropriately touched women, had uncomfortable one-on-one meetings with them, and made remarks about their looks.

In a lengthy statement on the church’s website, the Willow Creek board said an outside governance expert would recommend changes to how the church was run, and a group of Christian leaders would investigate Baranowski’s accusations. Board members plan to exit gradually beginning next Wednesday through the end of the year. Steve Gillen, pastor of the church’s campus in Glenview, Ill., will take over as interim lead pastor.

Hybels founded Willow Creek Community Church in 1975. Today, more than 25,000 people attend worship at its seven locations in the Chicago area, and it provides leadership training to tens of thousands more through the Willow Creek Association.

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Lynde Langdon

Lynde is a WORLD Digital’s managing editor and reports on popular and fine arts. She lives in Wichita, Kan., with her husband and two daughters. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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  •  phillipW's picture
    Posted: Thu, 08/09/2018 02:26 pm

    "and made remarks about their looks."

    What exactly does this mean, and how is this bad?  Was it as simple as saying, "You look beautiful today."???

    Very vague reporting here.

  • momof 13
    Posted: Thu, 08/09/2018 03:32 pm

    Any remarks about a woman's looks should be reserved for her husband. When a man says I look pretty or otherwise comment on my looks I always say "My husband thanks you" in order to insure there is no mistaken appreciation; both in his heart and mine. Yes, it is bad for a man to tell a woman she is pretty unless he is seeking to gain her affections. Christian men of prior, more noble times, understood this social boundary that the secular world has demolished. Don't believe the lie that commenting on a woman's looks has no effect in her heart; it most certainly does. Mr. Hybel commented on their looks in order to gain access to their bodies. That is exactly why it made them uncomfortable. Men, please reserve your comments of beauty for your mother, sisters and wife. No other woman deserves my husband's praise. It makes women feel incredibly belittled to hear their husband commenting on another woman's beauty. Although most men, I believe, are somewhat innocent of any malicious intent, this man used his praise as a tool for his evil plans. If you read their stories it made them feel special that such an important man found them worthy of praise. He should have kept his heart, desires and physical affections (and comments) for his wife alone. My heart goes out to these women who are still going through anguish over his inappropriate and sinful behaviours.

  • Allen Johnson
    Posted: Thu, 08/09/2018 04:04 pm

    Well said, mom of 13. Examining one's heart before making a comment on another woman is essential. "Am I giving a compliment because I want some sort of reciprocity?"
    Women have a sort of in built radar that detects lustful men (avoid). And on the flip side, men have radar that can pick up signals from women on the make (flee). Develop a keen, conscience-driven, Holy Spirit led "radar."

  • TWH
    Posted: Thu, 08/09/2018 08:30 pm


  •  Deb O's picture
    Deb O
    Posted: Thu, 08/09/2018 09:15 pm

    My heart goes out to the women and Mrs. Hybels. She's known all these years and decided to do nothing but live in the pain. He may not have committed adultery, but the hurt of betrayal is the same. And now she lives in disgrace.

  • Evie
    Posted: Thu, 08/09/2018 05:39 pm

    Mom of 13's comments also fit the case of women commenting postively on a man's looks. Not nearly as common, I think, and also mostly "innocent of any malicious intent", but the ability to affect a man's heart with comments of praise or approval is also very real.

  • JerryM
    Posted: Thu, 08/09/2018 06:21 pm

    One wonders if this is the tip of the iceberg?  Whether the "Church Inc." and pastor celebrification phenomenon is associated, more often than we realise, with this kind of behaviour? 

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Thu, 08/09/2018 09:05 pm


    If I interpret Mom of 13's opinion correctly, I disagree with it to a certain extent.  In my experience it is not the words, but the intent behind the words.  There is something about a man's behavior that tells the truth about his motivations.  I have never had any problems with complimenting women, because they know that I do not see them as meat.  When I say, "Nice hairdo!" or, "Cool nails!" I aways get a smile and a "Thank you!"  I even recently saw that one was having a rough day, and said, "I know you are having a rough day, but you still look pretty!"  This clearly encouraged her.  But they also know that I mean absolutely no harm, because they have seen my behavior over time.  I have hugged women at work a few times, but only ones with whom I have developed a good working relationship, and only after asking, "Would a hug be appropriate?"

    And I never say or do anything with which my wife would feel uncomfortable if she were there.  For example, I never say, "You are beautiful," because my wife is the only "beautiful" woman to me.  And I always make sure that my wedding band is visible and talk about her a lot.

    Nevertheless, Mom of 13 is very appropriate to remind people that her husband is her man.  Boundaries are good; and no woman should ever feel like she cannot draw them.

  •  Bobby P's picture
    Bobby P
    Posted: Fri, 08/10/2018 11:13 am

    For a woman, it is most definitely the words.

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Fri, 08/10/2018 12:23 pm

    Bobby P, my experience indicates otherwise.

  • OldMike
    Posted: Fri, 08/10/2018 03:29 pm

    I’m in a marriage I value and intend to protect. For me, anything but the most generic of compliments carries risks. Same for touching.