Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit carrying on without Hybels

While allegations of inappropriate behavior toward women by founder and former senior pastor Bill Hybels continue to be examined by the elders of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, the controversy also has impacted the separate Willow Creek Association's 23rd annual Global Leadership Summit in August.

One of the biggest will be the absence of Hybels from the summit's faculty, in the wake of his stepping down as board chairman of the WCA.

"Certainly we'll miss his presence, but not the vision that he started," WCA President and CEO Tom De Vries said Wednesday. "For many at the Global Leadership Summit, they can point to a place Bill had impact. Bill influenced my understanding of leadership."

There will be no one-for-one replacements for either Hybels or actor Denzel Washington, one of three scheduled speakers who have pulled out of the event.

The Aug. 9-10 summit now will feature a faculty of 15 rather than the usual 12. It includes Angela Ahrendts, senior vice president of Apple; T.D. Jakes, founder and senior pastor of The Potter's House; and author Simon Sinek.

Opening and closing the summit will be Craig Groeschel, co-founder and senior pastor of Life.Church, which is based in Oklahoma but has multiple locations around the country.

"People know Craig and trust him," De Vries said. "He has a passion for leadership."

Another addition to the faculty - pastor and author Danielle Strickland - will address "the elephant in the room," as De Vries says, by speaking on how men and women can work together in professional environments.

Given how important the subject has recently become because of the #MeToo movement, its relevance at this year's summit would have been obvious even without the allegations against Hybels, De Vries said. Addressing the topic head-on is a better alternative than pausing the summit for a year, as some suggested.

"We believe it's the time to step up and lean into this issue," De Vries said, adding that plans are in the works for a fall conference that would focus on the topic in greater detail.

While three scheduled speakers backed out, and some satellite locations canceled because of either the controversy or Hybels' absence, the number of registered attendees both for South Barrington and around the world is right on track with previous years, De Vries said.

About 10,000 people are expected to attend the summit on the main campus in South Barrington, while 150,000 will be viewing remotely across the U.S. Another 250,000 in 135 other countries will be listening in 60 different languages.

Despite Washington dropping out this year, high-profile faculty members are likely to be seen again, De Vries added. Past summits have featured former President Bill Clinton, entertainment mogul Tyler Perry, former U.S. secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

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