Willow Creek Acting Senior Pastor Steve Gillen to Resign in March

By Julie Roys

The Elders of Willow Creek Community Church today announced that Acting Senior Pastor Steve Gillen will be stepping down from his position on March 17. The elders also announced that the two candidates that were being considered for senior pastor have been “released from candidacy.”

“This news is hard and disappointing to share, given the investment of time and anticipation for the next season of life in our church,” the elders wrote in an email sent to congregation. But the elders said they are confident that “the Holy Spirit is at work in this determination.”

According to the statement, the church will continue its search for a senior pastor with Vanderbloemen, adding that the elders already have had initial interviews this week with “six strong candidates.” The elders said Gillen may remain stay engaged beyond March 17 to “support the transition to a new interim senior pastor.”

Here’s the full statement from the Willow Creek Elders:

Elder Update


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35 thoughts on “Willow Creek Acting Senior Pastor Steve Gillen to Resign in March”

    1. Had a meeting with Steve in late 2018. It disturbed me but gave him the benefit of my concern. Steve needs to state what and when he knew about any and all accusations against Dr. B. Please people do not be gaslighted by a conflicted and compromised leadership. Praying for truth.

  1. Why would WCCC Elders not consider Steve Gillen as the Senior Pastor? If he was capable to fill in as Interim Sr. Pastor; why not remove the Interim from the title and have the smooth transition to Sr. Pastor? Who knows more about WCCC than Steve with 23 years of service and 18+ months as interim.

    The money, time and expenses in using an outside firm can be saved for ministry purposes. I trust that the two candidates being considered and “released from candidacy” wasn’t the two Bs – Bill Hybel and Dr. B.

      1. I was always taught at Willow that leaders go first. I didn’t realize that it meant they had reserved seats with the women and children in the doomed Titanics lifeboats. One of the early quotes about this magnificent ship is that God himself couldn’t sink it. Truth floats all boats!

    1. It was my understanding that Steve G did not want to be senior pastor. The plan was for him to return to his regional pastor position. Seems his plans have changed. My best guess was that they were choosing between the three guest pastors whom we saw frequently: Eugene Cho, Albert Tate, and Megan M. Eugene no longer pastors a church, making him the likely choice. Albert Tate would bring a whole new energy and sense of diverse community to the church, but he does pastor a church in California. We’ll know more as we see who teaches/preaches/shows up on the weekends.

      1. Donald Crawford

        Par, when Steve took the role as “interim” Senior pastor. His intentions were to go back to his regional campus after the new Senior pastor was announced. Two months ago Steve confirmed he was interviewing, to continue the Role as the Senior Pastor of South Barrington. The sad thing is Steve is quitting Willow Creek because of the craziness of this new elder board…

        1. Donald, when and where did Steve Gillen confirm that he was interviewing for the role of senior pastor? I am a regular attendee at weekend services but must have missed this announcement. Or do you know this by some insider means?

    2. We don’t know that they haven’t/aren’t considering him. If he wants the job I would be thrilled for him to have it.

      1. Donald Crawford

        Chris, I asked Steve two months ago if he put his name into the interview process for the role as Senior Pastor, and he confirmed he did..

    3. Donald Crawford

      GJ, the WCCC Elders were considering Steve and did not accept him… Steve confirmed with me 2 months ago he had put his name in for the permanent role.. How blind are the Elders to not see he was the most qualified to lead the Church, train new teaching pastor and move the church out of the mess from the past. Now, the elders are going to start the process all over again. Mind you, they had “200” excellent candidates a year ago.

      This mistake by the elders will continue the downward spiral of attendance and tithing. This is a huge Epic fail.

      Do you remember the joke about the Christian family stranded on top of their home during a flood, and a man pulls up in a boat to save them. They refuse to get into the boat because they are waiting for God to save them? They die in the flood and ask God “why didn’t you save us?” He replies, I tried to, but you refused to get into the boat.

      You get it right? The elders are the Christian family praying,praying,praying,praying. And Steve Gillen is right there willing to serve them…

      1. I wonder if you’re on to something, Donald. My guess is the search committee feels Steve isn’t flashy enough or because he isn’t on a Who’s Who list of the most influential Christians, he wouldn’t be a good fit. Or, I suspect Willow would relish in hiring someone other than a run-of-the-mill white male. Hiring a CEO, I mean Sr. Pastor who’s a female or Asian or African American, etc. would be a lot sexier and fit with Willow’s insatiable need to be on the cutting edge of progressiveness.

  2. Nancy Klintworth

    Time to clean house- time to rid WCCC of any pastors connected with Bilezikian or Hybels. Fresh blood, fresh air!!!

    1. Seriously, Nancy?!

      Steve Gillen immediately said yes to the request that he step into the chaos that ensued after Steve Carter (correctly) chose to leave, and the rest had to resign in disgrace. Someone needed to do the job, and Steve graciously agreed to leave the church he was pastoring to serve.

      Personally, I don’t think he wanted the job at South Barrington. My sense is he prefers a smaller congregation, even though Willow North Shore is considered large by many.

      After 18 months of serving admirably in a position he wasn’t seeking until a replacement was found, I can’t blame him for saying “enough”.

      And I’m sure that the recent critique of his email sent to Willow staff — not the public — didn’t help. I don’t know what Steve knew about the specific situation regarding Ann. I’m sure he was aware of, and probably personally experienced BH’s harshness. I’m also sure he learned a lot more than he ever wanted to know about a lot of things during the past 18 months.

      I have been an outspoken supporter of the women who have come forward. What BH and GB have done is despicable. And those who supported their evil deeds and looked the other way will have to live with the guilt and shame of their shortcomings until they repent or stand before the Lord.

      While our leaders need to be held accountable, the rest of us need to remember that in God’s eyes our single white lie (let alone any pride that we ”are not sinners like they are!”) makes us just as “filthy rags” as those who’ve committed outrageous offenses.

      A little more grace toward those who had an uncertain knowledge of or role in past events would be appropriate.

      My thanks to Steve for serving in a most difficult and unpleasant situation… and to his family for the sacrifices they made in supporting the work he felt called to do. May God bless him, and them, as he goes on to the next thing God has for him.

  3. Find-the-positive

    Steve is a wonderful man. He willingly stepped into a tough situation and has done a wonderful job. I pray that God has another great job for him to do. So blessed to have seen his work.

  4. Donald Crawford

    What an Epic fail by the new elder board. The one most qualified has been leading the entire organization for the last 18 months, and was willing to lead for the next 10 years. The Elders are making it way to complicated. Steve was perfect to groom a couple new teaching pastors, who could then lead Willow for the next 25 to 30 years. But instead, they fill Steves’ life with craziness, so much, that he want’s to Quit… Unbelievable!!!

    And yes, Steve did throw his hat into the interview process for being the Senior Leader. He told me this himself two months ago….

  5. My guess about what’s going on here is that the elder board believed that a church the size of Willow Creek requires a man of extraordinary magnetism/ability/etc.. to keep pews filled and the mortgage paid (so to speak), and that rightly or wrongly, they didn’t think that Steve Gillen was that man.

    It’s one reason I’m leery of monster churches; you’ve got the perception that to keep pews filled, you’ve got to have that perfect man up there. Can’t just hire a faithful MDiv in your theological camp with good gifts and a history of faithful ministry, and hence your leadership transitions can take forever and destroy the church.

  6. Thanks to Steve. His sermons were good. Willowcreek has a problem. A 7000 seat auditorium. The upper level is closed on the Sat, and Sun 9am service due to low attendance. The Mezzanine has very low attendance at all services. Low attendance was a problem even when Hybles was pastor. Now even worse. The good news is that the building is paid off. Maybe a dying church…

    1. Jeff – yes attendance is down… But the growth of the regional campuses drew away regular attendees at the South Barrington to a campus closer to their homes. This was noticeable long before these issues surfaced and Steve Gillen stepped into the interim head pastor role.

    1. Hey Smacky?

      Why not take things up a notch??
      What about Kathy MacDonald???

      She’s a woman, professes to know Christ, lives large, and like the Hybel’s family, has lived in Inverness.

      What more could you want?!?

      1. Mike, l like your idea but you forgot to include the entire clan of James, Luke and Landon. Make it a family affair and put another church $40 mil in debt.

  7. After reading the letter, my first thought was that perhaps the 2 candidates withdrew themselves from the process in light of the revelations about Dr. B. The letter was full of vague “church letter” terms and verbiage. The candidates might have just said, “Peace out”. I mean, who wants to walk into that?

  8. (Post February 1 & 2, 2020 Weekend Thoughts after services at Willow)

    Willow, there have been so many, many moments of absolute connection to God – where you, the leaders of our church and your skills take thousands of people, sometimes with glad hearts and spirits, now with broken ones in doubt – and galvanize them in “it is well” for the Lord.

    This weekend was one of the finest moments in the history of Willow Creek Community Church.

    ALL churches and ALL people go through what Willow is going through. In a digital age where everyone’s voice enters the equation of public awareness, sometimes very Godly and directionally aligned to truth and other times less so and very unvetted, this weekend was an outstretched hand by us to God.

    God will receive our hand. We will be better. We will go through this again at some point after a season of joy.
    God will be there throughout…always…

    “Thank you, Lord, for Willow Creek Community Church.”


    1. Amen, thank you for that Greg. God is still on his throne and he is still ” King of our hearts…” Please everyone pray for our church. Thank you for my church of 42 years. I trust in our elders, I believe in consensus and have hope that God will place the right people, biblically minded people in the leadership positions at Willow.

  9. I, too, sensed a difference this morning, particularly during the prayer after sharing the update regarding GB. Perhaps a little more humility, a little more contrition, a little more penitence.

    Even though the letters were read to the congregation, I understand that it was a means to ensure that everyone hears a consistent message. And having the words spoken gave some “life” to the words. They sounded different than reading them to myself.

    I thought it was also appropriate for the change in the service order to spend a significant time in guided prayer.

    I am hopeful that today represents a turning point for Willow. Time will tell. May God touch the necessary hearts and provide the needed guidance to carry the church through the difficult journey of repentance, healing for the wounded, and, ultimately, restoration.

  10. Working under the interim tag for too long is tough. It’s hard to build a future you aren’t going to be part of. I can understand him saying enough.. I think Willow should remove the interim tag. Is Steve Gillen as gifted/charismatic as Hot Pastor X with the 1 million twitter followers? Who cares! If the elder board is concerned with magnetism to keep south Barrington at capacity, that has to be the wrong motivation. I think by his heart to step into an absolute disaster and serve under intense fire as best as he could is enough reason to remove the interim tag and let him be pastor and grow into the role. He’s got the history with the church and I think is more than just a bridge to the future. I don’t imagine that they could hire a better pastor than the one in front of them. If he put his name in the hat, I hope the elders would reconsider their rejection. I’m assuming he’s qualified for ministry and has nothing to do with Willow’s organizational sins, other than being the current lightning rod for the church.

  11. Have any of you read the qualifications WCCC is looking for in a Senior Pastor. I laughed when I read it. The only thing left out was “Walking on Water” and “Feeding 5,000 with a few loafs of bread and a couple fish”.

  12. If diagnosed with cancer would you ask your surgeon to remove the obvious tumors but leave the rest of the cancer? Where is the scriptural basis for denial? Are current attendees, members and tithers worshipping the church or worshipping God?

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