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Hillsong NYC: Dishonorable Mentions

I guess Carl Lentz said 2020 three times, because she recently came for him in the shape of a sudden announcement from Hillsong Global Senior Pastor Brian Houston that after a decade as the Lead Pastor of Hillsong NYC, he’d been let go for leadership issues, breaches of trust and moral failures. (The three branches of government.) Setting off a still rising tide of speculation and revelations that have led to the opening of an “independent” investigation to help determine how deep the troubled waters are. So that’s something. What exactly and how much good it will do is unclear, also unclear: how “independent” an investigation can be when the contact email address belongs to a longtime Hillsong Global staff member. I guess we’ll find out. But in the meantime, we all have our stories. And we all have the right to tell them. So if you’ve been wounded by Hillsong NYC, whatever form it took, I’m sorry. I’m sorry we weren’t able to stop it before it got to you. And whatever you choose to do with your story, whether you want to use that email address to add to the investigation, and/or share it with someone you trust, and/or use it as fuel to remove yourself from an unhealthy environment, know that you’re not alone. By the time you read this, I will have already pressed send on an email adding this post, my story to the “independent” investigation. And I’m posting it here to show that there are levels to church hurt and all of it matters.


“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

Anne Lamott

Where do I even begin? I became part of Hillsong NYC in 2010.  I was part of the original launch team. Well… the original launch connect group, let me not overstate my role, because from its earliest days a hierarchy was firmly in place. If I were to comb through my old emails, I could probably tell you the exact date the rungs on the ladder snapped into place; because before the connect group was Hillsong NYC, it was the launch team for Urban City Church. A church plant of R & J, a friendly enough couple, I had first met at Hillsong Bible College. Oh yeah… before being part of Hillsong NYC, I was part of the Hillsong Sydney Hills Campus from 2005 to 2009. So I was in deep. Completely sold on the mission. And was already pre-conditioned to not only overlook, but expect certain nonsense. So the only thing that was really surprising about the way the posture and attitude of R & J changed, was how quickly it happened. Once they no longer had to be friendly to convince people to build their thing, we were no longer friends, we were all servant leaders, emphasis on leader for them, and servant for the rest of us. Being tasked with cleaning their apartment and rearranging furniture (before and after meetings), bringing snacks (“And we know most of you are on struggle street, but let’s do everything with excellence and steer clear of store brands, hey?”) and showing appropriate deference to them at all times. I remember J inviting me to coffee to take me to task for a tweet that she felt was “dishonoring” toward her. Imagine that, me, dishonoring some dumb twenty-something and then being so insufficiently apologetic (because I’m grown and you’re  ridiculous) that she felt the need to tell me, “I’m your leader and it doesn’t matter who ends up leading this church, I’m still going to be your leader.”

Because we didn’t know who the Lead Pastor was going to be at that point. The first time we heard the names Carl and Laura Lentz, they were listed as people who were going to be part of the team, but it wasn’t until weeks later that it was officially announced that Carl and Joel would be the Lead Pastors… and Laura, (kinda?) by default. (Flourish, baby… maybe?) Anyway, I only mention these early early days to point out that the toxic leadership culture of Hillsong NYC was not a creation of Carl Lentz. It’s a preset of the structure. And he, unfortunately, ran with it. We all did. Through actions and through acquiescence. Because to speak up or to question was to dishonor. To not give sacrificially of your time/money/energy/talents was to be half-hearted (and fully dishonorable). And to want to be recognized, paid or promoted, was to be doing things for the wrong reasons (dishonorably). To be ungrateful. Jesus gave his all. And we would too. And lucky for us, Hillsong NYC was there to take, take, take it all. (Can you believe we get to do this?! #BESTLIFEEVER)

So what did I get to do? I got to work backstage, leading the Stage Managing team. I got to be part of the worship team as a BV (one of the ones with a mic, but not one of the ones whose mic was on). I got to lead a Connect Group of wonderful women in upper Manhattan. I got to write: the weekly connect group studies used across all the Hillsong NYC connect groups. I got to ghostwrite: church emails and sermon stuff, first jokes and then hefty portions of messages for Pastor Josh Kimes. I got to know and love Carl Lentz. Working in my capacity as a Stage Manager, I interacted with him all the time in the early days and for whatever reason, we clicked. And knowing that issues of infidelity are what ultimately brought his pedestal crashing down, let me be clear that there was never any of that type of impropriety between us. Any abuse of power in our relationship was the good old-fashioned-irritating-mansplaining kind. So much so, that when I first saw the email about this “independent” investigation, I wasn’t sure about adding my two cents. Because I wasn’t treated that badly by Carl specifically. He was a diva with a tendency to text recklessly (Like… dude, you know screenshots are a thing, right?) and he was annoying, but he was also funny and warm. And the less enchanted I became with Hillsong itself, the less regard I had for his ego. And so I would fight him, about dumb things like his disdain for cats and real things like the issues of inequality at Hillsong NYC. As a single, Black woman who had given so much of myself, my time, and my talents, it stung to watch lesser qualified white boys waltz into positions I would never even be considered for. (Because God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called, right?) But it wasn’t just about me, the lack of platform diversity in the most diverse city in the world was stunning. So I would question him: Women make up more than half of this congregation but only preach from platform 3 or 4 times a year. Why? This congregation is full of people of color and full of single people but every time “God” adds a new pastor to the staff/preaching rotation, it’s a married white male. Why? I would say we have to do better. He would say he agreed, but we had to wait; for “God” to someday bring a single and/or female and/or Black (or POC) person with the skills needed. (Meanwhile, this single, Black female could write studies good enough for the whole church to use and sermons good enough for someone else to preach, but… nevermind,) 

How does that old saying go?… Gaslight someone and they’ll serve for a day. Teach them to gaslight themselves and they’ll serve forever. It works. I kept thinking my frustrations were my fault: I was too arrogant, I was missing the point, my motivations were bad and that was why I couldn’t be used. Plus no church is perfect. And God was testing me. And the best was yet to come. So I should have just been happy to serve. And thankful to have the level of access and privilege that I did. Because most people didn’t. Most people had to line up early in all kinds of weather for a chance at decent seats, because most people didn’t have a seat in the reserved section. Most people never got to meet Carl, much less trade passive-aggressive texts. And most people had no recourse when they were being mistreated by their leaders, while I was able to move pretty freely and the times someone did flex on me, I could get my complaints heard. Not that it did much good, because within the Hillsong hierarchy, people are great at appearing one way to the people above them while being completely different to the people they deemed themselves to be above.

Maybe even me, I hope not, but I can’t say for sure, because I was definitely part of the problem. I let my privilege keep me complicit. By convincing myself the gross inequities and abuses of power were just bugs in a system that was doing enough good to outweigh the bad. Because people were meeting Jesus and that was the main thing, right? And somebody had to speak up about equality and if not me, who? And I had put so much time in, so even as it got harder and harder to unsee how emotionally and spiritually manipulative the Hillsong structure is, I was so close (maybe) to being in a position to effect real change (maybe). In the end, I realized that Hillsong was never going to change. That even if Carl really wanted it to be an equitable place, (and maybe he did) it wasn’t really his call. Ultimately, Hillsong wasn’t his church. And Hillsong isn’t built for equality.

It thrives on inequity. Imbalances of power, access and opportunity. Hillsong is all about being blessed and anointed as evidenced by being prosperous and powerful. So the people at the top are afforded levels of privilege, power and self-importance that keep them too comfortable to ask questions, or to fully engage with the questions of others, about anything that could jeopardize their place in the hierarchy. Goal number one is making sure the church machine has an unlimited supply of souls to grind by perverting the concepts of serving and of honor to take advantage of everyone involved, but especially volunteers. Constantly requiring them to rise above standards that their leaders weren’t required to meet, in exchange for paltry benefits their leaders would never settle for. How many choir members were told we couldn’t afford to give them bottles of water, while the weekly green room spread for the pastoral staff was lush? And then times that inequity by about four thousand for the difference between the meals provided for volunteers for Hillsong Conference and those for the platform guests/VIP visitors. Oof. It was unreal. And unchristlike. Because people can find a million ways to justify those decisions, but they can’t pretend it’s what Jesus would do.

And at the same time, I can’t pretend, won’t pretend it was all bad. Because it wasn’t. Which is why so many of us look back with such ambivalence. Because while being used by people who should have been caring for us, we were bonding with others in the trenches. The majority of my closest friends are people I met at Hillsong, volunteered with at Hillsong, was in Connect Group with at Hillsong. And I wouldn’t trade them for all the healthy spirituality in the world, so… all’s well that ends well, right? Except it hasn’t ended. The trauma is ongoing. Roughly, for every ten people I know from my time at Hillsong, three will still be there, two will be at some other church and five will be nowhere at all. Traumatized from their time at Hillsong NYC and struggling to trust another church. And maybe Hillsong Global doesn’t care because it knows it’s too big to fail, it will keep colonizing its way into sufficiently gentrified neighborhoods and burning through people. Just like any other global franchise – it’s not the healthiest option, not the best, but it has name recognition and it’s predictable. And there’s something comforting about that. So I hope Hillsong Global doesn’t think it’s too big to fix. I hope it doesn’t try to pin all the problems of Hillsong East Coast on Carl Lentz. He, like so many of us, was a victim and a villain of the framework he was handed. And he fumbled the ball (and the bag) badly. But culture isn’t taught, it’s caught, right? So even as I write this and know how much it might upset some of my friends who are still deeply sown into Hillsong, I say you can’t have it both ways: A leader CAN NOT be that corrupt within a good structure with nobody noticing for so long.  Especially not Carl Lentz, emotional, spoiled, pampered and coddled Carl Lentz. Bless his heart. This investigation may label him Patient Zero, but if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that denying sickness doesn’t lessen its damage. Whatever he had, we need to be realistic about how many may be infected. Because hurt people hurt people. Empty people empty people. And Hillsong people hillsong people. 

So I hope every Hillsong campus commits to treating its volunteers better; to leadership feeling/acting less entitled and more appreciative. To being more transparent and less manipulative. To stop abusing the concept of honor. And to start making Hillsong a space safe for honest critique, honest questions and honest answers. Or I hope it all burns down. Either way is good with me as long as people stop being abused.


While this is the first time I’ve publicly written this plainly about my Hillsong experience, it’s not the first time I’ve tackled it, for more artful interpretations, check out:

BALANCESa one act dramedy
The Dividea book of spoken word poetry
God Has Not Givena new exvangelical podcast


janithecat

Janice Lagata was born in California, but born for New York. A writer, fighter, igniter and matron saint of cats; smirking is her favorite. She's just a girl feeding herself to the world and asking it to love her - that's a lyric from a song she wrote, you can probably find it and lots of other things she's working on by asking the internets for @jani_the_cat.

123 thoughts on “Hillsong NYC: Dishonorable Mentions

      1. Speaking as an exvangelical there is no redeeming these white evangelical organizations. At their core they are a BUSINESS and operate as a CULT to keep their busine$$ running. No different from Scientology or NXIUM or Calvary Chapel. It’s all so sad and predictable.

    1. Wow thanks for confirming my deep assessment of the whole Hillsong Church corporate culture.

      I’ve been attending HC NY for the last 5 years, observing & often feel unease at the pulpit “representation” vs sea of black & brown greeters + checkers at the long lines of Irving Plaza, PlayStation, Manhattan Center & latest United Palace entry.

      When Carl started to dive into race relation, referencing BLM on sermons, I thought hmmm there might a “price to pay” on him for confronting this. He’s one of the few white pastor who seems bold & genuine about transforming the matter in the sea of many good looking skintight jeans vanilla preachers, WL, singers who might be (forgive my bias) subconsciously uncomfortable to uncover the Deep seethed original sin of slavery & how evangelicals in America message is so unsettling & exclusive (dogma focused rather than holistic).

      As a pastor kid from a far away land, I believe Jesus taught us that There’s no reconciliation without confession, and sad as it is for the Christian community on his latest infidelity downfall, (though he owned his mistake on IG), Carl had started a “listening tour” on black & brown issues which got me more involved in online service during the pandemic.

      I ponder at the language & emphasis used for his termination “leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures.” (Hmm there’s more unrevealed matter)

      Here’s to praying & hoping for HC & other churches organizations to authentically dig deep into the inequality & WWJD conversation rather than some nice cultural appropriation sermons to put butts on seats & advancing the prosperity gospel.

      🙏🏾♥️ Thanks again for you authenticity.

  1. Wow…this sounds exactly like C3 NYC. Right down to the catch phrases. Many, many people would love to see them investigated as well. Check out @c3churchwatch on insta. These Australian megachurches are wild! Brian Houston and Phil Pringle are friends. I don’t see how their church empires can survive healthy dynamics, so I just wish they would go away.
    Hope the investigation is honest, but your skepticism is valid and shared. Thanks so much for writing.

  2. I completely agree it’s the same at Hillsong London. It’s amazing how white, young male boys in ripped jeans are ‘called’ into positions of leadership, but not anyone else. The congregation of women is probably around 65%, however, they are not represented from the platform or even from service team leaders. I have friends on staff and I have also volunteered in the office and it’s like working in a Mad Men office from the 1960’s. The women are making church happen behind the scenes, whilst the men have the only voice of the church. Then there are the cover ups with the male pastors having affairs, I won’t go into this.

    I really do like Brian and Bobbie, I do believe they have their very best intentions for the church. However, I feel the church has grown so big they’ve lost control and are either naive or ignoring what is happening in their churches. I love that there is a Colour Conference for women every year where we come together as a sisterhood and encouraged to be a voice for the voiceless and build the kingdom. However, this is contradictory to how the Hillsong Church runs on a Sunday.

    Thank you for writing the post.

    1. Very insightful article into the dynamics of this church. I was invited there twice and each time I felt something missing– it wasn’t attractive women.

      Hearing about the issue of racism is not localized to Hillsong. Even hardcore Pentecostal churches in the bible belt have this racial bias. More racist than corporate America!

      Regarding the issue of female pastors, I am curious as to how you are able to reconcile this inner yearning with the words of our departed brother and apostle Paul in say 1Timoth 2:12.
      🙏

  3. Hillsong, and not merely Hillsong (this certainly isn’t meant to particularize a critique toward this body of believers), is a product of what I call the ‘evangelical production economy,’ which mirrors the West’s obsession with aspirational vision, achievement — i.e., bigger, better, best life! — franchise it — at light speed. It’s the numbers game appropriated from the corporate economy, a narrative defined solely by a success-by-quantity spirit and mentality. We leave depth, substance, obedience, ordinariness and consistency in the long-game of discipleship and the spiritual life on the cutting room floor for — spectacle, accelerants, paint-by-numbers performance. Can we reject the transactive nature of ministry relationships and fellowship among brethren (i.e., reciprocity, which defines much of our professional relationships) and reclaim our identification with the invisible, the rejected, the meek? Move toward the broken, suffering and work out the call of radical generosity in the kingdom? It would certainly be the most uncool thing ever wouldn’t it — to embrace the heart of Jesus by being around, serve and be served by, truly, the least of these? Bless you for sharing! (I’ve also been there — via similar contexts — so what you say is deeply resonant.)

    1. “Can we reject the transactive nature of ministry relationships and fellowship among brethren (i.e., reciprocity, which defines much of our professional relationships) and reclaim our identification with the invisible, the rejected, the meek? Move toward the broken, suffering and work out the call of radical generosity in the kingdom? It would certainly be the most uncool thing ever wouldn’t it — to embrace the heart of Jesus by being around, serve and be served by, truly, the least of these?”
      YES. THIS. So beautiful and beautifully stated. Thank you for reading and for sharing that.

  4. Hillsong London are the worst for all this too. They need investigating as well. There is a lot to uncover there. The culture is a global problem & needs to be addressed

    1. Agreed about London…I attended there for several years, on teams around leadership, what I saw behind the scenes, makes my skin crawl and very angry. The hypocrisy is revolting. Those of us who attended and served on teams and since left have long talked about our experiences there. None of this surprises me.

      They are about image, happy shiny people, and anything that promotes themselves, helping out those on the street but ostracising or rejecting anyone in the church that needs help in any way, including those who have attended for years.
      Heaven forbid anyone would mention any church-related scandal that did not fit their narrative, they shut that down….ignore it, as if it didn’t happen.

      Make no mistake, it is a cult. There are many people that attend who do not mix with anyone outside of the church. The theology is questionable and very thin, but rather than use discernment, they gobble up everything the pastors and guest speakers say, no matter the inaccuracies. It is disappointing that they are about self-serving, and not true tending of the flock. In fact, once the head pastor and a visiting pastor both said that they are not there to tend to the flock, but to go out into the world and preach….um….seriously?! In short, they were about the platform and not people and certainly not Jesus. I saw and looked after numerous “VIPs” (since when does a church have celebrities?), who must always sit in the front row, and must never be disturbed by the “common folk”, however, they wanted these folks to buy their books, DVDs, etc. Also since when does the church need a security team with dudes walking around in suits with headsets? To protect the special people from the congregation? Really? I have worked in pubs and bars with far less security than a Sunday service.

      The investigation won’t amount to much and Carl will be a scapegoat. What he did was disgusting and self-serving, but I saw a fall coming a mile off. I have seen it happen to others too. He was caught up in his own hype. He once preached in London about Pride…perhaps he should find a recording and listen to it.

      I also think it is hilarious that the surfer son of the head of Hillsong, got “called” to build a church in OC / LA….near some prime surf beaches, not to a land-locked country or in a tough area….funny how that happens. There are far better, Bible-based churches there I have to say.

      Sadly now that Hillsong is infiltrating every country including the holy land, I cannot see it going anywhere in a hurry. There are so many Pentecostal and evangelical churches that are just like this, sadly they are so caught up in themselves, they have forgotten Jesus. Roll on Judgment Day.

      Lastly, while I am thankful that I met some of my closest friends there, none of them attend anymore, which is telling.

  5. Beautiful writing about a frustrating experience. White Christians are always going to whyt. Went to a similar church when I was at university in South Africa same problems. Interesting though when a Black American once visited she was considered utterly more godly and needed no vetting unlike the rest of us suspect local natives! But being Black I knew it wasn’t her fault . It was an accident of having an urban church so close to a campus…. after all we Black people are far too open to others even as they view us with hidden contempt and suspicion. Many of these urban evangelical churches are irredeemably classist, much as they portray PR diversity that draws you in accidentally, in truth it is their fibre that suburban whytness is next to godliness. Everything you describe-them whyt gals and boys waltzing in to power telling you how to serve… a very familiar template … they presume to be so spiritually in tune as to be authorities on how to know ourselves and live our lives when they had barely known our struggles… many of these whyt leaders coming from coddled and politely racist white homes …. nauseating… and then the token men of colour who married whyt women… well that was the ultimate prize… its hilarious looking back at how a bunch of white young adults had the nerve to believe they knew anything enough to tell anyone how to serve … we recognise what you describe that form of intense whyt hierarchicalism that always falls harder on those that Christ exactly reached out… any surprises Australia, South Africa and U.S.? What do they all have in common? glad you are standing so eloquently on the truth you have written… but they need to know we are laughing at them and the whole thing … these churches like to pretend anyone who comments is bitter 😂😂😂… proud of you though i dont know you and this Lentz story was just a silly tabloid scandal until i found your blog💌💌💌

    1. Oof. You are hitting the nail on the head of how deeply rooted, deeply patriarchal/classist/racist so many of the issues are. Which is why it’s impossible to move forward healthily, until we look back and uproot things honestly. Thank you so much for reading and for speaking on these things. (Thank God for silly tabloid scandals, eh? 🤣)

  6. Thank you for sharing, you’re a great writer! I volunteered at Hillsong NYC for 4 years on and off. It really bothered me how most pastors rarely made attempts to have some sort of relationships with the volunteers, to make them feel like they were seen and appreciated: no Christmas parties, no end of year celebrations, nothing. I and many others who served pretty regularly only had a handful of interactions with Carl (combined!!), which I find to be absolutely ridiculous. You’re the lead pastor of a church and you don’t even know the people who are working day and night to make your church run like a tight ship? Selfish. And his posse who surrounded him 24/7 like he was the president or something, they perpetuated this nonsense! I had a short but odd interaction with Carl once that I am probably overanalyzing in my head, (I’m not going to get into it), but let’s just say that the news of him cheating on his wife did not surprise me in the slightest….

    1. Thank you for reading! And just in case no one ever said it: Thank you for serving at Hillsong NYC. I’m so sorry the culture was what it was. And I know you said you’re not going to get into it and you absolutely don’t have to, but if you ever want to/need to, just to clear it out of your head, my inbox is always open. ❤️👊🏾

    2. I am not bitter. I am not even a Christian – I’m an atheist but follow the goings on at various mega churches and cults with theoretical facination. I heard about the dubious Hillsong UK a few years ago and was disturbed by it then. Some very eloquent & articulate commenters here and particularly interested in the South African POV as I lived there with my “coloured” husband and my “coloured” children – I am a privledged “whyte” gurl btw. What I find particularly facinating is, as I see it, the persistence of what are essentially, Colonial like attitudes and practices tolerated by POC, in a religion that was introduced…no, wait a minute…”forced” in the most horific ways, upon your ancestors by white oppressors all those dreadful years ago. How you reconcile that fact is of course your business and I am afterall an atheist who doesn’t get religion in general but I am still mystified as to why any POC, woman, LGBTQ+ people would endorse, attend, support, stay in a church like Hillsong in the first place? There is no question, as someone else pointed out, they are cults that exploit the same techniques to engender such loyality even when the abuses and inequalities are so obvious to everyone else.

  7. Hillsong: six miles wide and six inches deep. Your comment don’t surprise me, at all. I am saddened that your experience got as bad as it did, but I think the culture of the whole of the movement is broken. You see it in the worship videos, actually: the men are tall and handsome, the women are slim and beautiful, and there’s not a soul in them over 35.

      1. I grew up in the AoG in New Zealand that Brian Houston’s father pastored and it was never like this. The problem with culture, I have seen in *several* Hillsong or Hillsong-style churches, including one in the UK. Cynics referred to it as Hill$ong because of the emphasis on money and giving; in Sydney, Australia it was known as the “Till On The Hill”. There’s a lot they need to sort out; they like your service and they love your money, but you as an individual might be another matter!

  8. Hmmm
    Have been at Hillsong for 30 years and in key positions at times.
    We have decided to move on as a family to another church that preaches the gospel.
    Brian and Bobbie are elitist and it’s all about secrets and denial.
    Brian’s father, and 2 best friends messed up and it was covered up for a long time until they were forced to address the issues.
    People make mistakes, but to cover them up is another thing.
    The word cult comes to mind with where Hillsong is heading.
    If you don’t obey the orders you are removed. It is literally a dictatorship.
    Hillsong is so politically correct that they avoid the truths of Gods word and ignore the Holy Spirit.
    It’s a big business that puts on a great show.
    I would suggest an investigation into Y & F, as it has been suggested to me by one of the former members that in the early days there was a culture of Sex drugs and rock n roll.
    I don’t think there is a statute of limitations on this behaviour and if they are truely after transparency and honesty then it shouldn’t be a problem
    to have a look impartially.
    Unfortunately for Hillsong they are to big and have to much to loose to get back to Gods will.
    I encourage everyone to look past the glamour, lights, motivational speaking and concert and ask yourself is it a place where you can grow and mature in Christ to run the race God has called you to run. If not run.
    I am saddened by the downward evolving of Hillsong into a secular, caste society, and pray that God will do what he needs to do to fix it.

    Bless you all

    1. Thank you for reading and for sharing such astute observations!
      “I encourage everyone to look past the glamour, lights, motivational speaking and concert and ask yourself is it a place where you can grow and mature in Christ to run the race God has called you to run. If not run.”
      That is such good, timely advice. Thank you.

    2. If you (or others not ready to write a follow-up on here) are serious about the Y&F claims, float a note to Julie Roys and Dee Parsons on Twitter or email. They’ve been reporting on church abuse for a number of years and have broken stories on Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald, Andy Savage, and others.

    3. Adding to my comment above, that I am still a believer and I had a solid foundation in a Lutheran church before I ran off to the great flashy evangelical life. I love my small family church where we love each other, see each other. We recently moved to a new city and I want so badly to find a church like where I grew up… where each person is seen and known by name.

      Flashy lights and full piece band doesn’t mean it’s a good place to grow in Christ!

  9. I’ve been part of Hillsong in Sydney for 10 years, I’ve been on Hillsong staff for several of those years. Everything you say is absolutely true. I resonated so deeply with what you wrote:

    “ I was so close (maybe) to being in a position to effect real change (maybe). In the end, I realized that Hillsong was never going to change. That even if Carl really wanted it to be an equitable place, (and maybe he did) it wasn’t really his call. Ultimately, Hillsong wasn’t his church. And Hillsong isn’t built for equality.“

    This was a beautifully articulated blog post on the reality of Hillsong Church globally. I truly hope SOMEONE in leadership sees it and is willing to take it to heart. More articles like this one need to be written. Unbiased truth. No awkward attacks or weird pseudo-spiritual false prophet crap…just the truth spoken truly from a place of humility and (dare I say) love.

    For obvious reasons, I can’t leave my name. I divulged my status as a staff member to affirm from “the inside” (to you, and anyone else reading) that your situation is so real and so relevant to so many people.

    P.S. your writing voice & use of key phrases as satire is SO GOOD. More pls.

    MUCH LOVE

    1. Thank you! For reading and for affirming. It’s so good to be reminded that there are some people on the inside, LIVING THE DREAM, but not blind to the nightmarish parts of it all. ❤️

  10. I know people who are part of the hierarchy of Hillsong. All I can say is keep on writing, what you are experiencing is true and real and needs to be told for the sake of the message of Jesus Christ.

  11. Boring. Predictable. I had no time to speak the truth while I was climbing the greasy pole, but now that I am on my ass I need to tell you all don’t bother going to the fair. But the author is not without wit. “God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called”. The moral is, if you think of god as he, it isn’t a huge stretch to think that god is a white dude with a hot wife riding a limo to deliver a sermon.

  12. Every issue you pointed out hits close to home. I was one of the first volunteer in Hillsong Boston. From Mid Week Service til’ we moved to Sunday Services. The hierarchy is real. The culture is very clique-ish. It was weird and awkward. It’s not just Carl who does not mingle to the volunteers but Josh Kimes as well. Maybe that’s how it is?How it works? I don’t know. There are creative leaders who only talks to whoever are part of their “group” and ignores other members. My Husband and I and some of the good people I know had left Hillsong Boston for good about a year ago. It’s toxic culture is too much to bear.

  13. I think one needs to remember that we all have choices in life and you made the choice to volunteer and dedicate so much of your time. When one volunteers so much time to an organization without pay and doesn’t get the acknowledgment they expect, it’s normal that one starts to feel unappreciated. Suddenly those things you love or did for the sake of the Kingdom can become like a task. I have seen many volunteer at Hillsong endlessly and then become burnt out and often leave the church and say it’s the churches fault. But surely one has a choice, no one is forced to volunteer. One needs to guard ones heart. Sometimes it’s the same in the corporate world, where we don’t always get the acknowledgment we think we should. No church is perfect and all have their faults and if one is looking for a perfect church you won’t find it. Only Jesus is perfect. Yes, sure there are areas that Hillsong can work on. The enemy comes to kill, steal and destroy and his plan is to keep people out of church. Church allows us to hear the word and develop community. Sadly so many people leave church and instead of understanding that no church is perfect, allow hurt from a prior church keep the away which is exactly what the enemy wants.

      1. This is victim blaming, plain and simple. Abuse manifests itself in very subtle ways. Like in physically abusive relationships, the aggressor isn’t hitting the partner all the time, just like 5% of the time. And the other 95% of the time, the receiver is hoping it won’t happen again. But the power dynamics lend themselves to staying. They’re not always bad people, they do nice things.

        Clearly this is a learning experience. Not everyone has the wisdom and experience in their early 20s when volunteering for a vision. It takes to realize you’ve been had.

      2. I read that last line, and it was like a guy punch. I understand the intention behind that statement “no church is perfect…”
        And yes. 100% true. But what almost tangibly hurt my spirit is that those are the same words that I have used (when I was on church staff), and many other staff members have used when people would try to address a valid issue or wound I-or other staff-may have caused. It was like our “get out of jail free” card while passively aggressively shaming the complainer because “we are all broken people…even church leaders.” It was a way to dismiss and not address. Because our church culture was much the same, that if you had a “concern” or didn’t mindlessly agree on everything that was said or done…the problem was not the church or staff… the problem was YOU because YOU were being divisive, or bitter or distracting from what “god was doing…”

        And that simply was and is not the case. If the church is one body, we are mutually accountable to each other.

    1. Have you been part of a Hillsong church for more than 10 minutes? The only way to make any friends there is to put hours of effort into it and make sure you’re seen to be committed! No one bothers to talk to you unless you have some utility that they can benefit from.

      So how about you don’t gaslight people and accept that Hillsong is permeating a terrible culture of ‘be useful to be known’.

      No church is perfect – true. But Hillsong church isn’t just missing the mark, it’s structured in a way that ignores the individual to benefit the ambition of its ‘leaders’.

    2. Sure people can choose to volunteer or not, and that is their choice… But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s wrong of the church to say, “You’re doing it for Jesus!” When in reality it’s: “You’re doing it because we don’t want to pay someone…we want to spend that money on ourselves/celebrities. You’re doing it because it’s beneath us and we don’t want to. You’re doing it for us, not Jesus.” It’s manipulative and blasphemous and evidently ingrained in the culture. And I applaud Jani for hoping for radical change within the church because I think the enemy would want us to simply dismiss it as something they could “work on.”

    3. Anon,
      Hi. I have to be honest and tell you that you response seemed judgmental and lacked insight. We are called by the Bible to tithe of our time and treasures and to pray that God would reveal to use where are gifts are best used by the church. For some people that is vetted out by volunteering. To insinuate that the author was at fault for volunteering or over volunteering is the exact mindset that keeps the church sick. This woman was very dedicated and gave an honest account of what she saw and experienced. Your response was dismissive to both those points. The fact that the author had enough emotional maturity to self reflect and question both her ego and any hidden agendas is something I would ask you to also be willing to do. Your mindset is to discount and judge the author rather then taking an honest assessment of the church as a whole. The youth are leaving the church in droves or not entering the doors at all. There is a reason for that. At minimum to plant a church in an ethnically diverse neighborhood and then only have white males speak at minimum shows bad market research, at worst shows an unwillingness to understand your audience. Your post sounds like you are in a leadership position somewhere……open up your heart and ears and reread the blog. You could learn somethings.

    4. This is victim blaming, plain and simple. Abuse manifests itself in very subtle ways. Like in physically abusive relationships, the aggressor isn’t hitting the partner all the time, just like 5% of the time. And the other 95% of the time, the receiver is hoping it won’t happen again. But the power dynamics lend themselves to staying.

      They’re not always bad people, they do nice things, then cycle continues. It takes a long time for one to realize what’s going. You’re not going to leave after a month of thanklessness. Hindsight is valuable and most of us don’t have it starting out.

    5. why should any church that brings millions of dollars per week globally or nationally and especially in a single location have any unpaid volunteers at all? A church should be a means of making members’ lives better and working hours weekly for free on top of having a job or going to school is not making lives better.

    6. Anon I like that you say “yes, sure there are areas that Hillsong can work on”.

      For sure – part of what they gotta work on is within the issues Jani raised. And you are right, People have the choice, but that doesn’t mean then that Church should be exempt from critique. It’s human beings who run it and are bound to err, but in the same way they shouldn’t whip out power such that God and His word becomes secondary to their culture.

    7. Anon, I find your response to be glib, and imho, you have minimised significant concerns under the banner “Under appreciated”.
      I’m weary of this kind of reproach, suggesting that christians cannot speak out about what is really tantamount to, at the very least, a culture that is upside down, and at worst, spiritual abuse. Yes, there is no perfect church, but there is a culture that is broken and damaging and it can and should be analysed and warned against.

    8. We all have a choice, sure, and true, we must guard our own hearts, however an organization such as Hillsong purportedly exists to provide emotional and spiritual guidance and succor. If volunteers are treated as “beneath” the church leaders and regularly feel used and abused, then the fault lies entirely with the organization.

      People seeking spiritual fulfillment and connections with other like-minded folks will initially give the benefit of the doubt to an organization. We tend to be hopeful and forgiving, in my opinion. But it’s misguided to lay the blame on the victims of this awful, un-Christian behavior, that seems to be the hallmark of Hillsong’s leadership around the world.

  14. This is all true for many evangelical churches. Having been through two church disintegration’s, one which nearly wrecked my marriage, what you say here hits close to home. I feel all that pain again and can sympathize. You articulate everything so well and every catch phrase is another arrow hitting the target. Right now I’m part of the “five others” that are just not doing anything. I was on staff, an elder at one point, led ministries etc etc. I truly hope this all births a new church, the true bride.

    1. A very good resource for my wife and I (aside from counseling) was the book “When Narcissist Comes To the Church”. When you read it you will see that this is a problem in many many places.

  15. I appreciated your honesty. Especially about the disparity of leadership positions going to white married me, rather than those who are qualified.

  16. Wow… this really took me back. I was 21 years old when I paid to do the year long “Leadership School” at the Dream Center in LA. It was this to a T – especially with using volunteers. When we joined, we were “dishonoring” if we questioned anything. I went in an eager, spirit filled, passionate for Jesus girl. And I came out so disheartened, so jaded. I went because I wanted to help people – the dream center does a lot of good, helping people and pouring assistance into the poor areas in Los Angeles. But in the projects, it seemed like all of my classmates just wanted to take selfies with little black kids in the projects and post it on Instagram with a #blessed, show all of their friends and family how amazing they are. It felt so disingenuous to me, using kids as a prop rather than looking at them and just SEEING them.

    I remember the cherry on top was when I was required to serve… to set up, wait on, and tear down for a wedding of one of the leaders. We were driven in their old busses, given some expired chips and ham sandwiches and have a 16 hour full day. But it was a blessing to serve, right?

  17. You said this :

    ” So the people at the top are afforded levels of privilege, power and self-importance that keep them too comfortable to ask questions, or to fully engage with the questions of others, about anything that could jeopardize their place in the hierarchy. ”

    And in reference to a particular corporate / church / workplace setting.

    But I think you have explained America’s problem right now in getting past our ugly divide. You have described what I think of as oblivious white people who are unable and unwilling to accept the pain and guilt of fully accepting our past, as a country founded on beautiful words and ideals and Christian concepts, but yet we forgot to even question our views on slavery and how horrible we were to have missed that opportunity to honor our ideals.

    I’m sorry this comment is off topic but I had this conversation today with someone at work. “Too comfortable to ask questions” is a terrible place to be: I have seen it at church, at work, in government, in my family.

    Thank you for putting this forth: it is an enormously important concept in getting from the hot mess we are in, post election, to our hopefuly better future: i.e. great, yes, but for the first time, truly.

    Kindest regards,
    Lisa Bolton
    Nashville TN

  18. I had a friend in a Christian band here in the USA and met another guy from a decently well known band. First guy partied and smoked weed and drank before and after church performances and the second guy said the entire christian music industry was fake as could be.

    So to hear rumors of that isnt surprising.

    That said, I wasn’t surprised by Carl at all. He’s narcissistic. What pastor posts so many pics of himself in barely any clothes? What pastor talks so much trash on social media? Check out his post from a few years back on billy g. I commented about how he lied about a fake story involving two white girls who supposedly walked out in the middle of service (which was never on video) and he admitted the story was fake and started insulting me, then blocked me. he’s since deleted those messages I believe.

    Then other posts you see his wife wearing a super tight dress… which doesnt seem appropriate for a pastor’s wife… and was on there defending them. he’s just a jerk online and not like a pastor at all. I feel bad for his wife and kids though.

    Seems like a lot more will come out. When he and another pastor are partying like that so publicly, that’s an indication that it’s a regular thing. Plus how is anyone not questioning how Carl found time to cheat during a pandemic when he should have been home with his family?

  19. Truthfully, this was quite difficult to read. I’ve had a hard time processing the recent news about Pastor Carl Lentz. My mind has been spinning with the impact of this event on his family. However, I find myself taking comfort in God’s transformative grace and goodness, knowing that it’s available to them, and I’m continually praying for healing for his family.

    I was a volunteer at Hillsong California for close to 5 years. I’m no longer a member, though I left because I was struggling with my faith and not because of the church. I served on multiple teams and often served all day on Sundays. Reading the catchphrases in your article made me giggle a bit because I can vividly hear my team leaders (and myself) say them after volunteering late into Sunday nights. I would find myself with “Lock and Load/Bump In-Bump Out” volunteers at 11:30 pm, exhausted, but ready to roll off multiple heavy production gear from rental trucks and put them away in our storage room. At the end of every Sunday, we closed out in prayer with a weary but cheerful, “The best is yet to come!” or some variation of that. It was difficult, but the sense of camaraderie from watching other volunteers serve wholeheartedly was one aspect of serving that gave me the drive to continue.

    I have seen so many volunteers burn out, myself included. The church employs a system that commodifies service without ensuring proper rest for its workers, and it’s unsustainable. The “sit-one/serve-one” rule is typically broken, leading to people serving with empty gas tanks. Plus, the hierarchy is so incredibly evident that it’s unmotivating to serve “under” people who you feel may not care for you at all. I think that it can instill a pathological “servant” spirit. And worse, it can lead you to believe that you need to work and earn God’s love.

    However, with all of this, I also wanted to share the good I experienced at Hillsong. Much like you, I have met close, lifelong friends there from serving in the trenches with them. It was where I was saved, where I was baptized, and my relationship with Jesus continually became deeper. And though power and privilege were distributed inequitably in the church, I was fortunate to serve under people that I was proud to call my leaders. They listened and were humble enough to receive critique. It felt like they cared for the other non-Hillsong-volunteer part of me.

    I wasn’t sure why I wanted to write this comment. I guess I wanted to acknowledge the experiences you described and share in your truth because I have seen them too. But I also wanted to shed light on the good that I encountered there because it’s disheartening to see so many hurt by the church. Ultimately, I hold onto the hope that when God’s kingdom arrives, it will be just, it will be equitable, and it will be perfect.

  20. Thanks for sharing Janice. It’s the worst kind of affirmation, to find out that you were right about things being so wrong. I’ll keep praying for the healing of all of us through this.

    Oh, before I go, where is Joel Houston in any of this? As co-pastor to Carl and Laura, Joel has been completely invisible in the media scrutiny over the past week. Hmmmm.

    1. Joel and his wife moved out to California with a few key leaders from hillsong nyc back in 2018…. and his wife left a scathing comment on Carl’s insta post before he turned off all comments.

      One of my oldest friends was a key part of hillsong nyc and has since moved on, told me back in 2018 that the plan was for Carl and his wife to move on from NYC shortly after Todd Crews was brought on staff to become lead pastor. For one reason or another, that never came to fruition. I think Joel largely kept Carl in check with the hillsong way of things, and anytime Carl got too “off brand,” he’d call his father and Brian would have Gary Clarke step in… as I would often humorously hear when it came to dealing with issues regarding key global leadership, “Brian gives the hugs, Gary gives the spankings.” There have been numerous times over the years where Carl was forced to “sit” either from platform or on his social media because of complaints getting back to Brian from other leadership.

      Not sure if this helps.

  21. Wow thanks for confirming my deep assessment of the whole Hillsong Church corporate culture.

    I’ve been attending HC NY for the last 5 years, observing & often feel unease at the pulpit “representation” vs sea of black & brown greeters + checkers at the long lines of Irving Plaza, PlayStation, Manhattan Center & United Palace entry.

    When Carl started to dive into race relation, BLM on sermons, I thought hmmm there might a “price to pay” on him for confronting this. He’s one of the few white pastor who seems bold & genuine about transforming the matter in the sea of many good looking skintight jeans vanilla preachers, WL, singers who might be (forgive my bias) subconsciously uncomfortable to uncover the Deep seethed original sin of slavery & how evangelicals in America message is so unsettling & exclusive (dogma focused rather than holistic).

    As a pastor kid from a far away land, I believe Jesus taught us that There’s no reconciliation without confession, and sad as it is for the Christian community on his latest infidelity downfall, (though he owned his mistake on IG), Carl had started a “listening tour” on black & brown issues which got me more involved in online service during the pandemic.

    I ponder at the language & emphasis used for his termination “leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures.” (Hmm there’s more unrevealed matter)

    Here’s to praying & hoping for HC & other churches organizations to authentically dig deep into the inequality & WWJD conversation rather than some nice cultural appropriation sermons to put butts on seats & advancing the prosperity gospel.

    🙏🏾♥️ Thank you for sharing so authentically.

    1. And Carl even got an appearance on the wildly popular “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man” video series with Emmanuel Acho. His life and behavior calls into question everything he said in the past from pulpit to public.

  22. Definitely resonates with my experience of Hillsong London too. I wouldn’t place high hopes on an investigation. Brian let the rest slide and buried them all these years. He only says and do what he is doing now as Carl’s story was going public and the stuff has hit the fan. The investigation is to cover hillsong. Not so much for change or truth I fear.

    The culture permeates all the way to the very top. The men’s club culture. Bobbie using colour to promote images of womanhood linked to looks and big colgate smiles. The worship and promotion of leaders too young and lacking maturity for their platform. Gary Clarke himself is most of time frosty and airy to volunteers and church members. Very far from the picture of a smiley village vicar welcoming church members. As a team leader at Hillsong, I have been asked to cut back on the Jesus content, told team communion spoils the vibes, drum up the hype & cool instead and told to move my disabled volunteers to the back parts of church so to not make awkward for visitors. Given new member recruitment targets to keep adding to their numbers. Got to keep up with the Hillsong cool. 🤮
    So much more hurt I best put behind.

    If true change is to happen Brian, Bobbie and Gary Clarke best get on their knees to Jesus and seek a deep investigation into their own hearts and soul and motivations. Otherwise, don’t waste your energy and hope on this. They are running their own business empire, not God’s house.

    Hope on Jesus always as he is the best and your ever faithful friend and saviour ❤

  23. Reading these comments I can empathise with a lot of you. I myself was on staff with HS for a long long time, after years of disposition to what I believed to be the path I wanted to follow I decided to leave.There were so many things I could no longer reconcile or make sense of. I was so frustrated and angry, at times even depressed, I felt that I had been spiritually manipulated and had given the best years of my life to building someones empire under the guise of “servanthood”.

    Looking back on everything, I have spent some time healing and making sense of it all. After living so bitter and wanting justice I realised that the majority of my issues were coming from a broken place deep within me. I wanted to be acknowledged, I wanted my life to have significance and influence, I wanted to feel and be important in this world/bubble. Sometimes I feel with Hillsong, people want to feel these things as I did, the culture certainly cultivates this, but at the end of the day we are all responsible for what we decide and choose, not HS. HS is actually full of amazing, beautiful people, some of whom like anywhere are bad eggs, but the majority, are good.

    To all the people who have commented on here, I know you are hurt and frustrated, and want justice, I was there, but look deep within yourself and see what it is you are truly hurting over. You have a choice to make the decisions for your life, to be part of whatever church you want, to use your time and talents and money wherever and whenever you want. Im not gonna deny how whack the majority of it is – but i guarantee you at one point we all wanted to see a church rise to such prominence in the world, to see the stadiums filled and the music charts occupied for “God”.

    I guess we have all really got this wrong huh!! Upside down kingdom, subversive and uncomplicated is really what our souls crave. Im grateful to HS for what they have done in my life, I would encourage anyone here who is hurt, to acknowledge the truth, speak up in truth and love and move foward with your life. We all have a choice.

  24. You have described My Husband and I experience down to the letter at Hillsong Brisbane Central The Abuse is endemic and worldwide and comes from the top
    And independent inquiry Nope that’s the euphemism for sweep it under the carpet If there was a judicial inquiry into abusive treatment of volunteers there would not be enough hours in the day to take statements and the line would be miles long with victims We are still standing The Pandemic has been our friend We have moved on It still hurts to think we were stupid enough to allow ourselves to be sucked in chewed up and spat out But we will not be victims Lesson learned

  25. I do love Hillsong, but you’re right there is a cultural issue with the church. It disgusts me how they uphold celebrities such as Justin Beiber and other celebs. The Bible so clearly, unequivocally states not to do this. They say Celebs have a “platform” , Look at the people the church leadership follow on Instagram, all the celebs. It’s sickening, and the leadership and the celebs love the fear of man towards them,
    They lap it up. Well it’s obviously a snare, and it’s great Carl Lentz has been caught out. It’s amazing that Hillsong has fired him…. I hope the culture can shift to something more, I dunno Holy rather than trendy 🤷🏽‍♀️

    Ummm hello,

    James 2 “ 1 My brothers and sisters, practice your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ by not favoring one person over another. 2 For example, two men come to your worship service. One man is wearing gold rings and fine clothes; the other man, who is poor, is wearing shabby clothes. 3 Suppose you give special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say to him, “Please have a seat.” But you say to the poor man, “Stand over there,” or “Sit on the floor at my feet.” 4 Aren’t you discriminating against people and using a corrupt standard to make judgments?

    5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters! Didn’t God choose poor people in the world to become rich in faith and to receive the kingdom that he promised to those who love him? 6 Yet, you show no respect to poor people. Don’t rich people oppress you and drag you into court? 7 Don’t they curse the good name of Jesus, the name that was used to bless you?”

  26. Very good read.

    I was a member of Hillsong London for a few years and can relate to much of what you write. There have been Pastoral issues this side of the pond too – a pastor disappearing off the face of the earth, literally, with whisperings of an affair… and I spotted a viral tweet from a few months ago about a volunteer being harassed by a Pastor’s son and nothing really being done about it.

    The hierarchy was very visible to see, even more so when you’re a volunteer. I remember it all – being overworked at conference and being lucky to even have time to have something to eat, never meeting the lead pastor over the years… but hey, *so and so* was once a volunteer and now they are on staff. I think the last straw for me was when I was late to a meeting and one pastor stood at the door with his arms crossed like a bouncer questioning me about it. Funnily enough, when I stopped turning up to Church, none of the people I served with even reached out to check in with me. It was all good when I was turning up to give my time each week but as soon as I stopped giving my free labour, that was that.

    Hillsong have no business opening up any more ‘rooms’ as it’s clear across their global church there is much work to ensure their ‘house’ is in proper order as it stands. But hey, #TheBestIsYetToCome.

    1. Wow totally relate to all of these. I was at Hillsong London too and feel like we may even be on the same team with similar experiences! Big hug for sharing. I’ve moved to HTB and it’s great 👍

  27. It’s the writing portions of sermons for Josh Kimes for me💀💀💀.
    Anyway, excellent articulation! Thankfully I never fully committed Hillsong NYC during my time in New York… this badgering and non-stop, stalker-like follow-ups when I didn’t attend home group was enough of a red flag for me. 🚩

  28. Thank you for your post, Janice. We attended Hillsong from 2012-2015 before transitioning to another church. The primary reason being the craving for real encounter with God. While Hillsong was a great place to get me excited about Jesus again, it lacked the forum to respond and grow deeper – I always found it odd that there were no altar calls or a chance to respond in the moment. I realize they have since added prayer time following service at the altar, so I’m not here to be critical. Just explaining why we transitioned to another church in 2015. The other factor was definitely the emphasis the church seemed to put on the celebrity angle. Obviously celebrities need Jesus too, so I’m not against that kind of outreach, but over time it just seemed to become too celebrity-focused. Anyway, your post – specifically the areas you talk about the different treatment of volunteers and leaders – brought to mind the following verse:

    “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong? If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

    James 2:1-13 NIV

  29. My late wife and I were there during the initial stages of Hillsong NYC back in 2010. I met R&J in a restaurant in Tribeca and then later in their apartment, even before the church was officially launched. I can honestly say that my 3 girls and his son were the original members of their kids ministry. Carl and his family hadn’t even arrived yet. I agree 200% of what you wrote because I started seeing early on of how cliquish and passive-racist they were. J wouldn’t even talk to us because we didn’t fit the ‘mold’ of people they were hoping to have at HNYC. We are non-white and didn’t dress like them or didn’t bring any giftings (lights, camera work, production) to the table. So we were an after thought and cast aside while more skinny jeans started showing up. The Lord in His mercy kept us from a world of hurt. We left a few weeks before Carl got to NY. I am sorry to hear of all that you went through. I am angry and sad. None of them even know the Christ they preach or sing about. May the Lord have mercy on them.

  30. Thank you for sharing your experience. I am a 61 year young woman who can attest to the truth that there is nothing new under the sun (as Solomon wrote). Years ago, in my 20’s, I got caught up in a Christian cult for 12 years. It was all so mesmerizing because they claimed to “love” me and I was looking for family – a place to belong. Just like you, everything was free for the hierarchy, but cost me my freedom of choice and will. Something that I learned later in life that even God doesn’t take from us – freedom to choose. Blind obedience was expected and no questioning was ever allowed. If a person did, they were arrogantly ostracized and chastised. There weren’t only young people in this web, but all ages. We stayed because most had been saved into this cult and all we knew was how the hierarchy presented the scriptures. Outsiders had to be fully indoctrinated before being allowed into inner circles. We were told the hierarchy was “God” to us. It was sown into us that if we left, we were breaking covenant and God hates covenant breakers; therefore, we risked our eternal salvation. God delivered us through His grace and mercy by the cult falling apart with an outside investigation due to the senior pastor grossly overstepping his authority causing a young child to be raped. For about a year after I left, I visited churches, but I could only stay for the music. For the longest time, it was literally impossible for me to listen to a sermon, because I no longer knew who I could trust. My boundaries had all been defiled and I had never really learned to trust God. But, He never gave up on me! Today, there are still many Christian cults in operation. It breaks my heart over it too just like your story. This is not God’s heart or will that anyone of His kids should be taken advantage of, especially done using Him as the scapegoat to do it. Unfortunately, when people are caught up in these cults, they can’t easily hear the truth and they will fight vehemently for their “truth” to continue. That’s what I did and that is why I am a biblical prayer counselor today. I am here for people to help replace the lies of the enemy with God’s truth. Thank you dear sister for being transparent!

  31. A beautiful soul shared your article with me and a big hug and thank you to her!
    You laid it out so brilliantly. I love how you pose questions that we should all be asking and mostly of ourselves.
    I can relate to ALL of it. But….. let’s talk about your mad writing skills for a moment,please?!!! WOW!

  32. I don’t know the details nor have I heard all sides, but I don’t think I need to. I’ve seen this happen in so many churches like clockwork. Your story is exactly like many others I’ve witnessed and experienced.

    This is plainly spiritual abuse and I’m thankful you’re talking about it and for your courage. I’ve had it up to here with these narcissists hijacking the Gospel for their own power games. They’ve burned so many people and have ruined the name of Jesus.

    The 3rd Commandment of not taking the Lord’s name in vain is what they’ve also they’ve failed on.

  33. I feel like I’ve seen you before as I started attending Hillsong in the Summer of 2011 and was a volunteer and all that stuff. You look so familiar! I’m also Black – chances are we have definitely spoken 🙂 Thank you for this article. I will say this about Hillsong NYC – best thing to happen was that I met my husband there and 8 years and 2 daughers later we are still together. But of course not in Hillsong and strangely enough, not “anywhere” right now in terms of church. But you know, for everything a season. I have my own long, painful history with church. But healing has arrived and for a time it is nice not to be attending a “church service” at all. Thank you for your words. Stay well.

  34. Thanks for writing all this. I’m a Christian in my early 30’s at a relatively small but up and coming church in the US. We’ve partnered with other large churches to bring in guest pastors. I volunteer when I can but also am pretty busy with a lot of other things. My concern is supporting (by attending and financially) a big or mega church that has these types of issues and enables it – even it’s by way of just turning a blind eye. God has blessed me financially and I want to support the church, but I don’t want to support immoral practices or any type of setting which you have outlined and discussed. How do I best practice my Christian values and pour into a Christian community with so much inherent corruption. I also don’t want to label all churches as being corrupt and have the problem of blind evangelism – there are a lot of good Chrstians and good leaders out there. I guess I’d love to hear a response from you about how to best approach supporting a church or getting away from the culture you’ve laid out. Because if Hillsong can’t change, we have to somehow bring up the positive places. Sorry, not proof-red and just a random set of thoughts written out in your comment section.

  35. That is so sad to read but thank you for your honesty in writing it My experience of church has not been as toxic as yours BUT I find more equality ,diversity and friendship and overall acceptance in my gym community than I did in church and that worries me (should it?)

  36. Reading this has made me not feel so isolated in my own church journey and thought processes. I left a church in Texas about 6 years ago as a staff member and have deeply struggled to go back to a church since. Thank you for being so real and honest. I feel like if I ever wanted to talk about this with anyone before I almost had to whisper because “my heart was wrong.”

  37. I had no idea there is ghost writers for sermons?!? I told my husband this and he couldn’t believe it. He’s been a pastor for 15 yrs and the amount of time, energy, and prayer that goes into each sermon is intense. It’s a huge commitment. My husband has rubbed shoulders w/ Lentz and other “celebrity pastors”, on one hand I can see the draw for stardom and being “known” in that world. But my husband and I just could never have a clear conscience using that platform to gain fame. We knew a woman that worked at Rag&Bone in LA and one day a pastor (I will leave out his name) came in and bought thousands of dollars worth of clothes and used the church credit card.-yikes! The whole celebrity pastor thing philosophy is that to be w/ celebrities you have to look the part and wear the designer clothes, shoes etc… anyways, that’s a whole other topic. Thanks for sharing your experience, I hope and pray something changes with not only Hillsong but also the whole celebrity pastor thing.

  38. Trust me – you spoke for the many of us who keep swallowing our words. Thank you for your honesty and side of the story.

    “And Hillsong People Hillsong people” -Janithecat

    This is too deep and breaks my heart. One day many of the silent stories will be out. And it will be too late as the machine keeps grinding at our silence. 😔

  39. Jani, thanks so much for sharing your story. It probably resonates with thousands of people who gave up so much for hierarchical, top down, church planting movements where leaders were chosen for their public persona or ability to follow narcissistic leaders without question. Unfortunately, many involved in such organizations (it’s hard to call them churches) are blinded to the inside issues as long as everything moves along swimmingly. It’s when there’s a blowup, like in this case, that the lid is pried open that people begin to question the systems. And such systems have a way of chewing up people and spitting them out all in the name of building an organization and lining the pockets of the leaders.

    Your skepticism of the investigation is spot on because these “investigators” are from a law firm hired by the church. Such law firms have a fiduciary duty to their clients, not necessarily to the truth. A truly independent investigation would be to bring in a group like GRACE (https://www.netgrace.org/) which according to their founder, Boz Tchividjian, was rebuffed several years ago when issues of impropriety were raised.

    There are probably public relations professionals in the background advising the HS leaders about how to move forward while incurring the least amount of damage. Someone should dig around to see if that’s true. And while they’re at it, follow the money trails as there’s likely to be impropriety and lavish lifestyles lurking in the weeds. And remember that there are always supporters and enablers behind fallen leaders who coverup the sins. I predict that we haven’t seen the last of the ugliness coming from this situation and stories will keep coming out of other sexual sins and coverups. Pray that what was done in darkness will come to the light.

    Finally, it’s easy and tempting to throw in the towel on church and God after such experiences and stories. I encourage anyone who is feeling this way to read the book “Broken Trust: A Practical Guide to Identify and Recover from Toxic Faith, Toxic Church, and Spiritual Abuse,” by F. Remy Diederich. Such a good read from one who’s been there.

    1. Not only is it a likely a law firm hired by the church, but the corporate legal counsel for Hillsong USA is none other than … Carl Lentz’s father, Stephen Lentz Esq. True story.

  40. Very well written piece.

    Yep, Ive witnessed this culture too, in a church whose pastors came from Hillsong. I have never forgotten seeing one young guy being in a state of exhaustion, after church one night. He had been completing an ‘internship’ with the pastors – which apparently meant being treated like an absolute slave. And I still remember the intimidating and frosty reception I received from the youth pastor when I requested to step down from a volunteering role – even though, as a free human being, I had absolutely every right to!

    Now, being someone who is a bit older and wiser, who has now also worked in mental health services, I recognise these behaviours are simply emotional abuse – camouflaged by shallow niceties, catchy sayings, and paternal lecturing.

    Hillsong has done a lot of good things for Christianity – regardless of some people wanting to write them off completely. The influence of Hillsong had on the other church I attended, has made me the person I am today. But this festering culture needs to be brought into the light, and leaders need to be held accountable for their actions. So thankyou for sharing your story.

  41. I live in Va Beach where Carl grew up and was a part of Wave church before going to NYC. I did not regularly attend Wave but would go occassionally to Sunday church and Wednesday night young adult service. Carl led the Wednesday services, this was probably around 2005. How the church was ran even then didn’t sit right with many of us. You had to be someone to sit in the front row, the pastor took a helicopter to get to another campus, always asking for money, heavy male presence, skinny jeans and v-neck tshirt uniform, etc. etc. It saddens me to know this is still happening and on a much larger scale now. Thank you for stepping out and sharing your experience.

  42. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Jani!
    Your reflections are telling and sobering. I have been part of a Hillsong Church for three years and struggled with some of « cultural norms » like volunteer burnout, reserved seating and posy-type social circles even while I have continued to perpetuate the cycle with my own mechanical rhetoric.

    @DJ I 100% agree with your comment about serving AND being served by the least of these. It is not supposed to be an us and them phenomenon.

    Before moving overseas and joining Hillsong, I was part of a church plant in Western Canada in a marginalized and nomadic community. While there I encountered church-culture-changing attitudes that I still hope to grow in and that I still have hope to believe will be adopted by the greater Church in general.

    On one particularly occasion I was offered a hot chocolate by a man who was homeless and declined it because I was fasting at the time. It wasn’t until after that that I realized how Pharisee-like my actions were; this man was homeless, and I had robbed him of perhaps his sole chance to serve that week.

    I think about how our Saviour reacted in similar circumstances. Asking a Samaritan woman for drink, allowing a woman who was a prostitute to pour perfume on his feet and wipe it with her hair. He didn’t have a hierarchy among his followers and friends.

    That Church set new tones but it also wasn’t perfect: there was moral failure akin to the present leadership crisis at HC that baffled me and while the person involved was dismissed and the situation was painful God did not forget his church: that particular church continues to love people in a counter-cultural way.

    We are all flawed in our motives and yet from the people I have met in both Churches, I do believe there exists a desire to share Jesus. We need to be careful not to idolize our leaders because then our perspective on God’s word and authority becomes skewed. We need to constantly check our own hearts and egos and have friends that challenge us. We need to ask our leadership honest questions and most importantly we need to pray for the Church and our human leaders.

    Guys let’s commit to pray for the Global Church together. Pray also for Hillsong NYC…because it is a very difficult situation, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and healing will take time.

  43. I used to be in Hillsong London. They also put me through hell. These pastors are very young. They lack James1:5 wisdom. I got very close with the teaching pastor who strongly persuaded me to start a connect group (without my free initiative) because of my expertise in pastoring men and women with same sex attraction. I have a Catholic background and continue to operate within the organisation that gives me support to live a chaste life. Renaud, a 24-year-old pastor in charge of connect groups, put me on hold for nine months with no communication, literally, when I already had members of my own in my functioning connect group. This to start was embarrassing a best. When I pushed for a meeting, he and my teaching pastor ‘friend’ gave me a third degree on my personal life, though I had already proved integrity of character in persona exchanges. Because I still share the same roof with my former partner (though we haven’t slept together since 2008 and our bedrooms are literally on two separate floors!), Renaud would stalk me, and make m and my flatmate feel like we were under scrutiny – he was not even a member of Hillsong, but a guest! Renaud’s argument was that, since we still ‘sat together’ when I invited him to church events, it was ‘obvious’ we were still ’emotionally attached.’ I was SHOCKED and felt betrayed, after all the intimate and detailed confidence I had shared with my pastor ‘friend’ about my past of recovery from sexual abuse and my determination to live a chaste life after having an encounter with Christ. It was just horrible! Now, if I were in the gay lifestyle, I would understand. But many there knew it wasn’t my case. And the irony is that until then my teaching pastor ‘friend’ had been referring other members with same sex attraction to me for support! Renaud said I wasn’t fit for leadership because I ‘used to’ have sex with my flatmate, even though he ‘believed’ me we were not having sex now. Apparently, in his judgement, I was ‘hiding’ something by not referring to him as my ‘partner.’ This is hilarious, because I was 43 years old, ad already on a journey of healing and helping others with same sex attraction, and he was only 24 years old! If anything, he could have tried to be pastoral and try to get to know me or a least understand my experience, as it was obvious I was trying to do the right thing and had been pushed into leadership by my ‘friend.’ When he asked me: “So what are you going to say when people come to your house?” I replied: What I’ve always done. Have a read at John 4!” I then decided to have an investigation on them too from my local Member of Parliament, Theresa Villiers, but they lied in their response to her, and I had no money for a law suit. I wanted to make a point on the dangers they pose on people’s metal health. So, I am GLAD this came out! May we God bring healing with tings coming to light. Let’s pray for Hillsong, that it may become a real place of restoration and home in truth and practice where the outcast and the lost may find Jesus.

    1. Wow. Thank you for reading and for sharing your story. I am so sorry for the immature leadership you experienced and I join you in hoping for a new, healthier era of church.

  44. Thank you for this post!
    It clarified some of my questions in my mind.

    I attended Hillsong London from 2005 to 2007 when I eventually phased out.

    I also experienced a mean leader on my serving in a team day 1 and decided to stop serving. 😆
    Because the level of confidence that enabled her to tell me off like that made me assess the whole leadership culture there. Ignorance and pulling ranks. Lacking wisdom.

    A few months later, I gave serving one more go then horrified by a pastor’s arrogance (she is long gone) as she spoke to us (servants). I think I walked out while she was still speaking. Disgusted.

    But unfortunately, I don’t recall any church I had attended treated me properly while serving. When the leaders were nice, they wanted some more from me for free.

    I am 36 year old and have been serving since my teen years. And I have lived in 4 countries across the world. White church, Black church, Asian church, multicultural church, mega church, small church. All the same Haha.

    I shouldn’t try and reduce the magnitude of leadership culture issue within Hillsong. They need to change. But so do other churches. When you are new to church, everyone tries to make you stay. When you begin serving, you are their minion. One time a pastor tried to match make me with a millionaire who liked me. She (pastor, not the Hillsong pastor but funny they are both females) said when you marry a wealthy man, you could do anything you want. She was trying to secure his tithing money. He would go searching for a wife in another church if he doesn’t find any here. He was 40 and I was 28. She would make excuses to meet me in person and say these ridiculous things. She turned cold when she realized I wouldn’t comply to any of her requests.

    I could go on mentioning other church pastors and leaders’ ill behaviors but I think you know my point already. Took me years forgiving those church leaders.

    One time I dated a pastor (again, non Hillsong pastor), single, young and aspiring. He wanted to get intimate with me and I said no. He then tried to sexually groom me and I was so disgusted and I dumped him. Even after marrying another woman, he managed to find me on social media, sending me friend/follower requests.

    I was surprised when Carl Lentz confessed being unfaithful on the post he put up his family photo. Was he ready to do that? I felt sorry for the women he wronged. Not just the wife but lady who he was with. Carl should have given Laura time to digest and decide. He also should have properly apologized to Ranin and also give her time. I felt the instagram post was hurting both women.

    What if Laura wants a divorce? According to the bible she has a choice. What about Ranin? She must felt so betrayed after him abandoning the relationship in pursuit of restoring his image, marriage and next career. On that Instagram post, respect and consideration for both women’s feels were lacking. The very thing that many church leadership lacks – honoring others!

    Some people say “I want to honor God” how are you going to do that without honoring other human beings around you?

    How are you going to do that without honoring those in your church?

    Sorry, no more venting.
    I’d rather end this comment with something nice.

    Despite my criticisms, I loved Hillsong. It taught me Jesus that other churches couldn’t teach enough. I wasn’t drawn for their music, lighting and show. I didn’t like them. But the messages were about Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. I was so blessed.

    I now recall there were pastors that preached on stage that emphasized on serving in a team but not much from senior pastors or guest speakers.

    I had enjoyed their messages and listened to them again and again.

    They taught me many good things and I wouldn’t have accomplished amazing things I have so far without their messages!

    The holy spirit was very evident to me while attending hillsong too. I was reading so much bible. Some days the entire book of gospel again and again. It was easy to understand with the holy spirit opening my heart. Also he spoke to me a lot. I saw visions of Jesus.. So dreamy.

    I was angry and hurt on Nov 6th but yesterday I realized God loves Carl so much that He couldn’t let them continue to live in that specific sin. God loves Ranin and Laura too. I hope and pray God will mature them through it. God will teach them how to be more like Jesus. Things they missed are now revealed, God can heal and restore them.

    1. Thank you for reading and for sharing your story and your thoughts. You have experienced a lot, but you haven’t let it strip you of your empathy and that is a beautiful thing.

      1. Sorry, I was typing on my phone way past my bed time.
        Thank you for reading my story and for the encouraging comment! 🙂

        I remember someone on stage that is not white nor a male. We are estranged after I left the country but I recall her as one of the most beautiful heart and soul. I never saw her complain or get offended. When you talk to her, you can feel joy, peace and love. She began serving about the time I began phasing out. She was so happy that she was serving on Sundays though she was invisible. She took it as a privilege being able to serve at house of God it seemed. About 7 years later, I saw her on one of those official Hillsong global photos. I was surprised but remembering her character, I could smile.

        If this was one of the stories they fed you to keep you motivated, I apologize.
        I mention her not to make people who got burn out to think they’ve done it wrong but to offer some solace, If I could. It is very noble of everyone who were serving despite the toxic culture. I dropped it the moment I recognized the mean attitude because I was in a season of life where I needed a healing. My friends at church continued serving for reasons each of them had. We were in different seasons of life.

        Being retrospective made me feel grateful for those who were serving invisibly like my friends and like you, Janice. Because of your devotions, I could receive healing through Sunday services/worship experiences.

        Back to my non white non male on stage friend, I don’t take that she is the winner of the all servants, as some of the manipulative leaders could suggest.
        I feel she is just like the rest of us including me who quit – loved and blessed by God.

        I believe everyone’s journey is unique and we serve others differently whether within a church or not.
        I was happy to see how God honored her heart and devotion and I hope people (who are leaving) realize how God had also honored their work as they walk away and I hope everyone who got hurt get healing eventually.

        Each people may have different personal goals, but for God it could be maturing each one of us.
        Like you said I had gone through a lot (dramas after dramas) but I could stay cheerful because I often questioned myself “what is God trying to teach me in this season of life?” and each time, I’ve matured and received blessings in my heart. And healing comes together with maturity, I could testify with my life.

        Your hard work on backstage contributed church to happen on every Sunday. God will honor that, I believe. 🙂

        Thank you once again for uncovering leadership flaws within Hillsong NYC. Hope Brian and Bobbie also learn the magnitude of this toxic culture they had long overlooked.
        I can imagine how awful it could have been and makes me wanna vomit.

        Saw Joel’s wife’s comment on Carl’s Instagram on another news article. These people seriously need more maturity, humility and kindness. What gave her the audacity for such comments? Not God I am sure. What did Jesus say on the lady who got caught live infidelity? Someone phone her up and tell her to remove those comments. “Christianity is not behavior modification. It is heart transformation.” Well, I don’t see kindness in her heart. Lack of understanding and caring I see.

        I hope you continue to garner supporters like me.
        But I also wish a healing for you. Thank you for your work.

  45. The mega church structure is a very very flawed one but I will say… I appreciate your story but As a an unbiased strong ethnic woman I feel compelled to emphasize that it is not biblical for women to lead in the church

    1. It is biblical to own slaves however. Maybe you should reconsider using the bible as some kind of moral guide for your life?
      Just sayin’.

  46. I am currently apart of Hillsong London, as much as you can be apart of anything right now when everything is online! Have to say everything you’ve written is also ingrained over here too. The culture is toxic.I am currently in a place of seeking Jesus for where i will go. I want be routed somewhere healthy. So am waiting on Him. In the meantime i have had to step back from everything i have been doing in church because it has gotten so bad. I know there are staff members leaving all over place over here because they can’t take it anymore. Not sure there will even be anything to come back to on the other side of this pandemic because many have just fallen away. The online services are desperately sad, all the same people all the same things nothing new & definitely not inspiring. Apart from the hardcore hillsongers I don’t know many who have watched in a long time. It’s a really sad time for the church. If only the Houston’s would look beyond their own noses to see the destruction that is happening around the globe. There are people getting burnt out, people hurting deeply because of the culture. It’s a real shame because there are definitely some amazing pastors in Hillsong around the world. Unfortunately it’s the Narcissists that find their way to the top. Oh lord help us.
    Praying for all those who have a sad tale to tell. May God bless us all.

    1. I think the preaching at Hillsong is very shallow and I would t go there because of that. Sounds a lot like Elevation in Charlotte

    2. Anon wrote, “If only the Houston’s would look beyond their own noses to see the destruction that is happening around the globe.”

      Given the way Brian Houston handled the sexual abuse of children by his own father, I suspect that even if he does see the destruction, he would prioritise protection of “his” church over protection of those who fall victim to it.

  47. Thanks for publishing this. When I first saw the news, I exhaled. As if in relief, I was waiting for the (final?) shoe to drop for Hillsong. I never understood the zany celeb culture in general. Is it an American thing? I live in Canada, but we are not immune to celebrities of course, however we don’t have that where I’m from.
    I’ve been to many mega churches over year, and the one thing I really struggle with, is why do mega churches have (list/promote) pastors only from their family? Or themselves? The bigger question is how can we dismantle the celebrity-driven church of a pastor… in general. Whether it be Hillsong Global (this always was scary to me… even back in the day, I had South African band friends who would get annoyed when I mentioned Hills’ name. They said, “Oh yes every time they release a song, it becomes #1 in churches. Really?”
    Hills and other church mega-celebs now have a global culture. I went to the mega church here for several years, I was in church volunteering more time than not. Again I too was a 20-something, firing all engines in making Jesus/the church famous. Excited because finally the church looked cool. Would that be it? We are trying to look cool for the culture? For America? For the world?
    Although I came back to the same mega church a decade and some years later, I enjoy the messages and teachings, especially in times of covid. And do see other staff(?) members intro videos or pray or whatever. But who gives the messages? The senior pastor and his kids/in-laws. But because they are all married, they all have different last names, other than his son of course.
    I struggle with this. As although I think he has incredible talent for preaching/teaching/ministry, the next ones in the spotlight are the millenials. Like there’s no one else out there who can carry this spotlight other than the senior pastors kids? Is it a power thing?
    Sorry for the monologue. When I heard Joel was moving to NYC with his best friend Carl to start a church.. I think oh ok, cool. Sounded kinda odd for the grung/surfer/musician, but whatever. Father knows best? Then I saw Ben was (wait for it) pastoring on the other coast… whooooaaaaa there. What? Like you have the last name Houston and boom, you get your own church?

  48. Janice! I had no idea it was you who wrote this. I’m so glad it was you. Always outspoken and you gave it everything day in and out. I was sad when you left bc youre an upstanding lady of good character. One of the many I saw leave and with reason. Y’all better believe her bc ppl in leadership feel this and end up leaving all the time. And they’re right to. What they call “culture” is in reality three little words less than that. As for their talk of women in leadership schpiel it’s all crap, they won’t let any unmarried girl who looks slightly attractive be a leader. Now we know why. But the boys we have to look up as leaders run amok all having one night stands and as soon as girl talks about it leadership shuts them down. There’s still ppl in leadership who know about these things and people who have done it themselves. And this “investigation” is feeling a lot like a big scam to calm everyone down. Oh also this is coming from me who’s been at Hillsong NYC for 11yrs and still in there watching how far they’ll take this BS…

  49. Thanks for speaking up about this! I can relate to it so much and it’s the same in Hillsong Sweden. There are a lot of amazing things with Hillsong that I’m so so grateful for! And I do believe that the majority of leaders in the church means well. But some things definitely needs to be addressed and changed. I’m really hoping that leaders will see what you wrote and take it to heart, so that Hillsong as you say, can be a safe place of honest critique, honest questions and honest answers. Hope everyone who’ve been hurt finds a way to heal🙏🏼❤️

  50. I am so sorry that anyone has had a bad experience in any church I have to admit my experiences with churches has not been great and I also tried Hillsong Sydney at their Danks street Campus. I was there I think for at least two years and never took to it for a lot of reasons that have been identified in the media and other places. For a start it was incredibly focussed on donations and getting money out of people every which way and as this campuis in area where there is a lot of people struggling living in government housing I was stunned at this approach. From the start I could not see how they were contributing to these people or the community around them which to me is central to the teachings of Jesus Love thy neighbour we are told is one of the most important commands and here was a church taking in millions from people that were destitute and not returning any of it – I could not see how that fit in with the teachings of Jesus or the God I know. I just could not believe how many ways and places they could put their hand shamelessly out and for me unless I see it going to help gods people I am not handing out his cash. The bible warns that there will be foxes in sheeps clothing and to me that was how I saw Hillsong and still do pretending to be christian to fleece its flock so that certain people have a better life.

    This was really bought home on my final visit when I walked in to see not a message from God on the wall but a quote from Brian Houston – Brian you are the leader of a church – you are not God so why your words are more important than his from the bible I did not get but that any pastor having the choice between a quoting a biblical passage or one from his newly released book would go “oh gotta go with mine it is definitely better” had me staggered, that is delusion of a grand scale.

    Add to this that despite my regular attendance I would be welcomed to my first time at Hillsong when I explained I had been going for a couple of years … I believe that if a church is so big that those whom are meant to be caring for the ones you are meant to be caring don’t recognise those who have been coming for a while there is only one answer – your church is too big.

    I also do not get the “rock star” leader cult the leaders and Pastors never seemed to mingle with the congregation when did that become a thing in the church aren’t they meant to be serving his congregation and his people? That just struck me as weird to see them in a group and not mingling with people and welcoming them and talking to them and being a dsiciple and servant.

    The best of my knowledge we are all equal there are no rock stars in the bible.

    Then there was the whole thing that seemed like Jesus was being marketed when did God, Jesus ever need to be marketed and turned into a rock concert I cannot recall the part in the bible where it says and go forth and market me as a rock concert because otherwise people will not follow – I thought we are meant to believe that “his sheep will hear his voice and follow” I did not know that need to be in the version 6 stacked amplifiers and guitar solos with appropriate visuals. Isn’t that a bit like dressing god up in the hope people will like this version more and if so then where is your belief about the sheep hearing his voice and following?

    I have no issue with Hillsong doing what it does but I do not believe it deserves in Australia to have the tax status of a church unless it starts returning more to the community and I do not mean just by building more church halls and campuses but I mean by actually providing genuine services to the community and resourcing them up.

    My only major issue with Hillsong is the lack of care those at the top have for the congregation and the messages they are sending out that do not go with the bible and Jesus’s teachings in it.

    I am sad that such a well resourced church organisation that could be making a genuine positive impact in the community and really bringing the message of god and showing his love to all his people is destroying that via the fact that they go to church seeking a place of comfort, support through challenges in all shapes that true support takes, feeling loved and valued and like they are the most important part of the church apart from God and come away feeling more distanced and let down by a church and some to an extent I wonder if they will have the courage to find their way back into another one.

    As a Christian I believe church should play an important role and can play an important role in your relationship with Christ. However, it seems to me at the moment that churches themselves have last the plot that those at the top have forgotten what their role is.

    I have been going to another church and been quite happy with it however, its lack of diversity not just in colour but in every way had me wondering what is going on? Why are we not getting everyone from the community in. They started a program reaching out to sex workers which I tried to be a part of after I all I have known numerous sex workers over the years and live where it was the epicentre of the trade and have never thought of them as anything other than people earning a living doing it in a different way too me. I was worried that these very well intentioned people were going to help them be more embarrassed about their livelihood or feel they should be especially when they insisted that they wanted to leave them with a gift. I have no issue with giving someone a gift but I think when you are leaving a gift after having just met someone for the first time and they were not expecting the meeting it can come across as not very genuine and bit like you are trying to buy them (ironic I know) and these people do not need anyone else doing that. They trade constantly with strangers. What they want is a friend someone that does not have a transaction apart from caring about them in their world. However, when I told them that I had even had a sex worker living with me at one time I think that in their minds made me beyond weird and definitely not one to have involved with the sex workers they were working with. I was also told I did not understand the problems they were dealing with being sex workers I am not sure where the evidence for that was? I wasn’t upset that they did not want me on the team more that I could not see how their approach would get them into this very straight laced white upper middle class church when they had no one who seemed to relate to their stories as a rep. Whilst I have never been a sex worker some of our stories I know are close I just ended up taking a different option.

    Consequently we still have yet to the best of my knowledge have a sex worker show up at church which to my mind would be the best place for them and should be. It just came across like these workers were a project and not people and that they were defined more by their job than who they are.

    There is this idea that church leaders are outsourcing the care of their congregations to Connect group leaders what happened to the pastor that would do the visit to members of his congregation? To the pastors (pre covid) shaking your hand as your walked out the front door and then mingled with the congregation? What happened to whole of church gatherings that you did not have to pay for but could if you wanted such as a church picnic, or dances where the whole congregation got to mingle together and have fun and get to know each other? Why are connect group leaders being the ones doing the caring and how resourced up are churches making them I just don’t mean bibilically but with the skill sets and knowledge really required to be in that role or is like from what I have mostly experienced you raise your hand and you become a connect group leader and you are giving the readings and questions each week and maybe have a connect group leaders meeting every now and then but no real investment in your knowledge and skil set for this critical role.

    This year I reached out to what was my current church and I asked to speak to one of the pastors I was told no that I was not allowed to that it needed to be raised with this other person in the church someone I am not comfortable talking with or to. I cannot recall someone going up to Jesus and saying to jesus or god hey can I have a chat with you and him replying no I have outsourced that to this person you will have to speak to them. I was stunned that any church thought that was okay before they even knew why? Or asked why I had asked to speak to this particular pastor.

    It was then followed up by our senior minister telling me I should think how privileged I was that he responded I felt like saying “You know I have a King that talks to me” when did Minister’s become more important than their congregation they are meant to be serving?

    Then finally in this church as in a lot of churches I have seen there is the decision by the church that we need to be grouped by them that we are not able to decide for ourselves if a group is suitable or not or if we want to participate in it the church needs to decide that for us ie there was an annoucement made that a church picnic was to happen however, it was quickly advised that it was only for young families we have a lot of elderly folk who are separated from their kids due to distance it was sad to me that we had families and children being encouraged by the church to not include seniors in what may have been a great activity for both or for all the church what was the problem with having the seniors present but the church unlike the church of my childhood was not going to encourage or help them get to the picnic as it was a picnic for young families – what sort of message is that for a church to be sending when elders are being left out in the cold in their senior years and now we have a church encouraging that rather than seeing this as a great way for kids and families to discover how they can add to such events and encouraged to include them.

    I truly do believe the church has gotten way to focussed on following its marketing gurus and left Jesus behind he is just the means to the end not the focus.

  51. Thank you for sharing your experience and writing this which you did with clarity and grace through it all. I’ve been part of Hillsong college and I’ve seen this and greater issues too well. The structures and the culture are feeding into the egos of plenty of leaders and leading to structural abuse of people. As a volunteer or student your rank is so low. Coming into a situation like that always feeling valued from before you are constantly told how valuable you are but constantly treated as a function more so than a person. If the issues you describe doesn’t get dealt with I hope this mega church with all its branches has all of its dirt revealed so that hopefully people can find a healthy church with a true Bible centered teaching.

  52. In a TED talk by Anne Lamott, she mentioned how God might just be the Gift Of Desperation – and I sometimes wonder if the church, even when paved with good intentions, have managed to capitalize on this for some ulterior motives.

    I have been attending Hillsong Sydney for nearly four years now and have served for the most part of it. I have also done Hillsong College at some point thus feel I can identify with the sentiments regarding the Hillsong toxic culture raised on here. If by church, we mean as the body of Christ, then I would like to reiterate that no, I am not hurt by the church. I do get that people, in our flawed nature, are at some point bound to disappoint as I have disappointed others too. I am, however, hurting for what the church has now become — or at least what these organized religions have now made out of it. Thus leading once passionate Christians, lukewarm; once faith-filled, now jaded; once seeking, now even more astray.

    Some thoughts I’ve had since having been part of this megachurch are…
    1. There’s merit in the work that Hillsong does, but sometimes I wonder how much marketing does Jesus need, really?
    2. Has Hillsong, despite its many Jesus-centered messages, become too strategic to have cultivated a culture where there’s more focus on the messenger than THE message? More focus on the “rooms” than the people? More focus on the hierarchy than sitting in the gutters with its members (whether old or new)? More focus on the praise and worship sets and calling the “feels” Holy Spirit encounters?
    3. If volunteers are secretly happy because of the church lockdown because it means they get to rest from all the doing, perhaps that says something about how you’re “leading” church?
    4. Does the way Hillsong present the gospel become too watered-down, enough to attract and tickle ears but missing the potency for real transformation?

    But I guess that’s the danger when Jesus appears to be packaged as some commodity to fit a lifestyle or sell as staple in a culture. Like when you can choose which combos you prefer when you order fast food. So good, that is, when you’re self-serving. Pun definitely intended.

    I just really hope that with these things being brought to light, that the leadership would create space for real change; to perhaps decide if it first wants to go big or go deep. And I dare say, that has long been an issue that I’d personally like to see addressed: church expansion, rich in resources, yet at the expense of your congregation’s spiritual *health.

    I’d also like to add, in closing, that this is not church persecution as some might tend to shift the narrative. This is coming from someone who actually loves Hillsong and wants it to flourish, as part of the church / body of Christ. That goes without saying that I have met many beautiful people there and some have become cherished friends. But I hate its toxic culture masking politics of climbing-the-spiritual-leadership-ladder for servanthood. I hate it when the cause of Christ tends to get lost in the catchphrase, the lingo, the christianese translation and miss opportunities for depth of geniuine connections.

    So yes, I can love and hate at the same time. What I can’t be is to claim to love Jesus, yet turn a blind eye and fall into apathy.

    Thanks, Jani for your courage and generosity to share your thoughts and experience. It has inspired me to do the same 💛

  53. These words are everything: “And maybe Hillsong Global doesn’t care because it knows it’s too big to fail, it will keep colonizing its way into sufficiently gentrified neighborhoods and burning through people”.

  54. Thank you for writing this- articulate and to the point. I’ve been a member of Hillsong Church, Sydney for 15+ years and am married to a staff member. Brian’s blind spot is in elevating leaders with “charisma” without due process. I often wonder how much influence the Human Resources department have with the number of complaints I hear about narcissistic leaders. For years I have been hoping for an anonymous feedback mechanism for staff members, who as you described are fabulous at honouring and serving “up” but often terrible at treating those they “serve”. What this translates to for the treatment/care of the humble church member is scary.

  55. Thank you for writing this- articulate and to the point. I’ve been a member of Hillsong Church, Sydney for 15+ years and am married to a staff member. Hillsongs blind spot is in elevating leaders with “charisma” without due process. I often wonder how much influence the Human Resources department have with the number of complaints I hear about narcissistic leaders. For years I have been hoping for an anonymous feedback mechanism for staff members, who as you described are fabulous at honouring and serving “up” but often terrible at treating those they “serve”. What this could translate to for the treatment/care of the humble church member is scary.

    1. I too am married to a Hillsong staff member, who’s been on staff for 8 years. In a European country. I can testify to everything you have said & have been separate for a way to give anonymous feedback to the upper echelons in an attempt to bring change. I love our church for many things but sadly the toxic culture that is rife right now is quite frankly killing us & our family.
      Praying for all those around the world who have/are suffering right now.

    2. Wow, this is Hillsong Berlin to a T!!! Before I say anything, I will say I am so I love with God and wouldn’t change it for the world. I came to Christ through Hillsong, but that is it. My relationship only grew once i left.

      I was apart of the connect group before it became Hillsong Berlin and left as I was told by Mark, the head pasture “it’s not his responsibility to help us have a relationship with Jesus. It’s his responsibility to grow the church.” Lost and confused, I left to try another Church as I desperately wanted a deeper relationship with Christ. When I talked to him next, he compared the church to Microsoft and said now that I “worked for apple, there is no way Microsoft would hire me back…” Basically implying o am not welcome bsck. It’s sick to think that it’s a business for him. He saw and still sees himself as God Almighty. He has a special green room that has candles lit, fancy bottled water, some sort of food platter and calming music playing. He has poor people (who legit don’t have a real job) serve from 6am -10pm, come take his dogs for walks daily and clean his house and the office (which looks like it’s out of a magazine by the way, like HOW can they afford to furnish a place to the 9s but not pay their volunteers) and he dines at Soho House like he’s a celebrity.

      Christmas giving was sick – we were given a list of items to buy. If we didn’t buy that exactly item or brand, it was not accepted. What if I wanted to help, but couldn’t afford $15 for a tiny bottle of fancy jam?! i was also told I could not longer help wrap as my bows were not all uniform like the others …

      The worst is the expectation to serve your heart and bank clean because if you didn’t, you’re truly not accepted.

      I will never forget when I left and saw a fellow team member on the streets. I went to say hey, and she looked me up and down and just kept walking. Hurt, I vowed never to return.

      I don’t doubt the blessing on Brian Houston, but I do not think they did a good job of truly watching their team grow and holding each leader accountable for the lives in their hands. Fragile people being taking advantage of to build an empire.

      Mark’s wife, Joyce is a beautiful soul and a lady in Christ I truly admire but Mark, I would never ever follow him or get close to him. No wonder all the key team leaders there have just slowly disappeared… When they is happening, something is seriously going wrong..

      I am so hurt by the Carl Lentz news. It really rocked me and my spirit and I feel for his kids being in the public eye. But there is a part of me that is hoping this opens up the can of worms and that Hillsong doesn’t just investigate NYC, but also Berlin (or any other campus for they matter. All I can say is Hillsing Berlin is just a toxic, sick, environment. I am so glad I listened to God when he called me out of there. My relationship with him is far better for it.

  56. I fully appreciate the situation you described at Hillsong. But may I suggest, that in general, organized religion functions this way? Big or small, “legit” or cult. They rely on the blood, sweat and tears of the “peasants”. Those in power consolidate their power. To question is to be an heretic.

  57. I was part of Hillsong in South Africa for a decade before I realised that “no church is perfect” didn’t mean I had to stay..! I actually found another church that did not have the toxic leadership/volunteer structure, albeit it didn’t look as ‘cool’/relevant as HS and have all the bells and whistles. It’s a much smaller, but much more authentic community of people, most of whom have come out of mega church systems in search of a place where God’s presence is valued, pursued and prioritized in experience not just in talk, rather than prioritizing programs and serving above all, in practise. I’m every grateful that I “saw the light” and my heart breaks for those innocent and authentic Christ-seekers who are blindly controlled and used by a broken system.

  58. Hi,

    With the NY Times article once again throwing light on this story, I would like to ask where was Joel Houston in all of this?

    Aren’t he and his messy wife Pastors at the Church?

  59. “Perfect churches don’t exist.”
    But HEALTHY churches DO exist!
    Healthy churches do exist!! Healthy churches do exist!!
    ———
    My wife’s ministry is to people who have been burned by the church. I’ll say this: that’s one wide-open mission field.

  60. SHOCKED BUT NOT SURPRISED
    Stop hurting your soul. Your salvation is far too important for you to put yourself through this horrid environment.
    Why allow your soul to be tortured by reprobates?
    Why stay in place where false shepherds and deceptive leaders do not respect the sheep?
    Why stay in a so-called false congregation where the Word of God is not taught verse by verse?
    Why stay in an apostate place for so long?
    Why look for a microphone and a platform in such an environment?
    Don’t Christians know that we are all instantly equipped by God as soon as we are born-again?
    It sounds more like a corporation than a Church.
    THE TRUE REMNANT CHURCH DOES EXIST, FIND IT.
    Fill your soul with God’s Word and the Holy Unction until you find a group where God’s Word is taken seriously.
    The Second Advent of Christ is not far. We do not have the time to waste on such garbage. Eternity is a long time.
    I hope you make the right decision quickly.
    Blessings.

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