Willow Creek founder Bill Hybels has stepped down from his position following allegations of inappropriate behaviour with women over several decades.
Hybels was cleared of misconduct in what was seen by some senior figures as a flawed investigation by the church.
According to the Chicago Tribune, which broke the news of the investigation, Hybels announced his decision at a hastily called meeting at Willow Creek's main campus. He said the controversy was proving to be a distraction from his work and that while be had been cleared of all the accusations he regretted reacting in anger when they were made public.
'I apologise to you, my church, for a response that was defensive instead of one that invited conversation and learning,' he said.
His announcement was greeted with groans of disappointment. Several voices shouted, 'No!' across the 7,000-seat auditorium, according to Christianity Today.
He will also leave the board of the Willow Creek Association, which supports a network of thousands of churches globally, and will not host the Willow Creek Leadership Summit in August.
While he denied all the allegations against him, he told his audience: 'I realise now that in certain settings and circumstances in the past I communicated things that were perceived in ways I did not intend, at times making people feel uncomfortable. I was blind to this dynamic for far too long. For that I'm very sorry.'
He continued: 'I placed myself in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid. I was naive about the dynamics those situations created. I'm sorry for the lack of wisdom on my part. I commit to never putting myself in similar situations again.'
He said he was seeking counsel as to his future but would return to Willow Creek as a member of the congregation.
While Hybels' announcement draws a line under his period in leadership at Willow Creek, it does not mean an end to the questions surrounding the circumstances of his departure. One of the woman named in the Chicago Tribune article, Vonda Dyer, published a blog post with further details on Sunday, while a former Willow Creek elder, Betty Schmidt, has denied the church's account of what she said about Dyer's experiences. In a post yesterday, Schmidt alleged 'several untruths' in a Willow Creek FAQ 'Response to local media', which now appears to have been removed from the church's website.