Bill Hybels, one of the country's most influential mega-church pastors, resigned Tuesday night following allegations of misconduct.
"It has been extremely painful for us to see this controversy continue to be a distraction that is hindering our Elders and church staff," Hybels told the church during a "family meeting" Tuesday night.
According to the Chicago Tribune, claims surfaced that Hybels engaged in inappropriate conduct with women at Willow Creek Community Church. Hybels repeatedly denied the allegations.
But now Hybels is resigning six months earlier than planned.
He said, "Going forward, I feel the need to humbly look deep inside myself and determine what God wants to teach me. I intend to continue surrounding myself with wise counselors and trusted friends and to ask them to speak honestly into my life so that I can learn every single lesson I need to learn from all of this. I have complete peace about this decision and will not rush this process. Your prayers would be much appreciated during this upcoming season of reflection."
Hybels fought back tears as he apologized to churchgoers.
"I apologize to you, my church, for a response that was defensive instead of one that invited conversation and learning," he said.
Hybels has admitted to placing himself "in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid," but he maintains his innocence.
Executive Pastor Heather Larson will step up as chief executive of the church.
"The local church is the hope of the world," Hybels concluded his public statement. "If you are wondering if I am going anywhere, after a season of reflection, I intend to rejoin all of you here in the Willow congregation. Willow will always be my home church."
A video of the church announcement can be viewed here.