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

Tell your friends.

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 (insta/twitter/spotify/your mom) for @jani_the_cat.

119 thoughts on “Hillsong NYC: Dishonorable Mentions

  1. 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.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. 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.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. 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?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. 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…

    Liked by 3 people

  4. 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🙏🏼❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  5. 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.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. 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 💛

    Liked by 1 person

  8. 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”.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

    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.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. 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.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. 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?

    Liked by 1 person

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