Willow Creek’s Lead Pastor Heather Larson Resigns, Elders to Step Down Before Year’s End; Church Urges Hybels to ‘Publicly Acknowledge his Sin’

Bill Hybels, Heather Larson, and Steve Carter
Bill Hybels, Heather Larson, and Steve Carter

Heather Larson, the lead pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, and one half of the two-member team that had succeeded Bill Hybels, has announced that she is resigning from leadership immediately. The church’s teaching pastor Steve Ryan had announced his resignation on Sunday. 

At a special congregational “family meeting” on the eve of the Global Leadership Summit, the elders of the embattled church also said that they will resign in an orderly fashion before the end of the year. According to Christianity Today, the elders “admitted… that church leaders had failed to appropriately handle recent allegations of sexual misconduct against their founding pastor” Bill Hybels.

Elder Missy Rasmussen said, “We trusted Bill, and this clouded our judgment.” She also apologized for the church’s skepticism and defensiveness as allegations of Hybels’ sexual misconduct came to light.

On behalf of the board of elders, Rasmussen apologized by name to each of the women who have accused Hybels of wrongdoing

She said:

Our entire elder board has had to come to grips with the areas of our hearts, minds, and souls that blinded us to the pain and suffering of the women and their advocates. We ask forgiveness from God, our congregation, the women, their advocates, and those who have been calling us to repent.

We are sorry that we allowed Bill to operate without the kind of accountability that he should have had. Our desire going forward is to retain what is good and pure about Willow, but to drive out the dark places that are unhealthy.

We believe that [Hybels’s] sins were beyond what he previously admitted on stage, and certainly we believe that his actions with these women were sinful. We believe he did not receive feedback as well as he gave it, and he resisted the accountability structures we all need.

We exhort Bill to acknowledge his sin and publicly apologize.

We are here to acknowledge our missteps, and turn towards God.

Our board never acted out of malice, and tried to serve the church we love faithfully. But the reality is we feel the failure of the board to move our church through this in the way we should have calls for action to be taken.

We as a board know Willow needs a fresh start, and the entire board will step down to create room for a new board.

In her address to the church, Heather Larson said:

I know I’ve made mistakes, and there are things I wish I could go back and do differently.

I simply have not been able to get the momentum that we need to address the issues that need to be addressed and to bring about the fresh start.

I am stepping down from my role as lead pastor. Because this is really important. Trust has been broken by leadership, and it doesn’t return quickly. There is urgency to move us in a better direction.

It’s the job of a leader to define reality, and it’s the job of a leader to put the team and the organization first, and I am absolutely committed to that.

Both Larson and Elder Rasmussen received a round of applause after their statements.

–Joshua James