Did new Willow Creek interim pastor want the job? 'Not really'

Steve Gillen told the Willow Creek Community Church congregation Saturday evening that he reluctantly accepted the role of interim lead pastor Tuesday.

“Last Tuesday when they asked me if I wanted to lead the church, I said, ‘not really,' to be honest,” Gillen told the congregation in South Barrington in the first regular weekend service since he took over as lead pastor.

Gillen had served as the lead pastor of Willow Creek's North Shore campus in Glenview since 2008, though he's been part of Willow Creek's staff for over 20 years. He said he would have preferred to stay at the North Shore branch but he knew how much pain the main church in South Barrington was going through. He said he had been in ministry for 25 years but had never experienced a week like the one Willow Creek was experiencing.

“I don't think our difficult days are done,” Gillen said. “I think we need to show our character and our faith through this whole thing.”

Lead Teaching Pastor Steve Carter had announced his resignation Aug. 12, after he said he was “horrified” by a fresh round of allegations against Willow Creek founder Bill Hybels in a New York Times story. The allegations, which Hybels has denied, were made by Hybels' former executive assistant, Pat Baranowski, who claimed he repeatedly groped her in the 1980s. Carter's departure soon was followed by the announcements Wednesday that Lead Pastor Heather Larson was stepping down and the entire elder board will depart by year's end, some members by Aug. 15. Gillen was selected to step in as interim pastor to help assemble the church's new executive team.

All of the week's events had followed the revelations of allegations of sexual misconduct by Hybels over 20 years, leading to his own resignation in April.

Gillen said Saturday evening he wasn't even planning to speak in South Barrington, wanting to perform his service at the North Shore branch instead. But “I woke up this morning at 4 a.m. and got the sense from God that I needed to be here today,” Gillen said.

Larson spoke Wednesday of her faith in Gillen.

“He has helped lead and pastor many Willow ministries and regional campuses through times of transition, and I have complete confidence that God has already prepared him for this role,” she said.

When Gillen spoke to the same gathering at the South Barrington church Wednesday night, Gillen looked to the future.

“We are doing an unfortunate dance of grief and sadness,” he said. “And I am praying for the day when we are overwhelmed with joy again.”

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  New interim Lead Pastor Steve Gillen prays with the congregation after leaders of Willow Creek Church resigned Wednesday night in South Barrington. Steve Lundy/
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