A pastor at an Illinois church that serves more than 25,000 worshipers at eight locations stepped down more than six months ahead of his scheduled retirement amid allegations of inappropriate behavior with parishioners.
The Rev. Bill Hybels, founder of the Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, resigned on Tuesday after an internal investigation into possible misconduct with female members of his congregation, including employees.
The church cleared him of the allegations.
"I have decided to accelerate my planned retirement date from October of this year to tonight," Hybels, 66, said in a statement. "This decision was mine and mine alone, but after much discussion, my decision earned the unanimous support of the elders and the executive team.
Hybels, who founded the church more than 40 years ago, also apologized for the way he handled the allegations.
"In recent times, I've been accused of many things I simply did not do," he said. "I confess to feeling very angry these last few weeks as I watched harmful accusations fly around without accountability. I felt attacked and knew that my loved ones and this church family would be affected."
Heather Larson, previously the executive pastor, will assume the church's top position as Steve Carter will become lead teaching pastor, according to the statement.
"This is going to take time for all of us to process," Larson said in a statement. "This is not the end of the story. It's not the end of Bill's story. It's not the end of Willow’s story, and it's certainly not the end of God's story."