Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston resigns after revelation of misconduct

Pastor Brian Houston appears on stage during Hillsong’s 2014 conference in New York City at The Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Pastor Brian Houston appears on stage during Hillsong’s 2014 conference in New York City at The Theater at Madison Square Garden. | Hillsong Church

Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston has formally resigned as global senior pastor in the wake of recent revelations that two women made serious complaints of misconduct against him in the last 10 years, officials announced Wednesday.

“We would like to advise you that Pastor Brian Houston has resigned as Global Senior Pastor of Hillsong Church and the board has accepted his resignation,” a statement from the Hillsong Church Global and Australian boards published on the global megachurch network’s website said.

“We understand there will be much emotion at this news, and we all share these feelings. Irrespective of the circumstances around this, we can all agree that Brian and Bobbie have served God faithfully over many decades and that their ministry has resulted in millions of people across the world being impacted by the power, grace, and love of Jesus Christ.”

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Houston’s resignation comes just days after Hillsong Church’s Interim Global Senior Pastor Phil Dooley told congregants Sunday that their church is “built on Jesus, not just on any one person.” 

Though Houston’s influence has long loomed large over the Australia-based global megachurch he founded in 1983, Dooley, almost as if he was gently preparing the congregation for Houston’s exit, quietly reminded members on Sunday that the church network was not built on its embattled founder.

“Let me remind you,” he said during Sunday service. “Our church ... is built on Jesus, not just on any one person. Beyond a board, beyond an eldership, we need these elements, they matter and we want to make sure they are done well. But our hope and our trust is in Jesus. We are guided by the word of God and the Holy Spirit of God, and we will continue to ask God for wisdom and guidance and strength in this season.”

Houston initially stepped down from the church's boards last September after he was charged with “concealing child sex offenses."

Hillsong Church announced in January that Houston was stepping down from his role at the helm of the church for all of 2022 as he faced criminal charges related to allegations he concealed sex abuse committed by his father decades earlier. Houston has denied wrongdoing. 

The new revelations of misconduct announced last Friday quickly set off a shifting of that plan.

Hillsong Church said Houston violated the church’s pastoral code of conduct by entering the hotel room of an unidentified woman for 40 minutes while under the influence of alcohol and prescription drugs during the church’s annual conference in 2019.

Houston doesn’t recall having sex with the woman, and the woman has not said if they had sex. Their accounts of what happened are not entirely reliable because they were impaired by alcohol, Dooley suggested in meeting with church staffers last Friday. Houston was also under the influence of anxiety medication.  

Houston also exchanged an “inappropriate text message” with a staffer in 2013. According to Dooley, the text message was “along the lines of, ‘If I was with you I would like to give you a kiss and a cuddle or a hug.’” The staffer resigned shortly after. Hillsong Church blamed Houston’s actions in this case on “sleeping tablets.”

In the statement Wednesday, Hillsong Church officials acknowledged the work of Houston and his wife Bobbie in starting the church and urged prayers for the family.

“Hillsong Church was birthed out of Brian and Bobbie’s obedience and commitment to the call of God and we are extremely grateful for all that Brian and Bobbie have given to build His house. We ask that you continue to pray for them, and the entire Houston family, during this challenging time,” the statement reads. 

Houston’s exit from the church he built is a culmination of a long line of high-profile sexual misconduct scandals that have followed the megachurch and its campuses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Carl Lentz, who led Hillsong Church in New York City and oversaw the East Coast operation of the megachurch in the United States, was fired in November 2020 over “leadership issues” and moral failures, including being unfaithful to his wife.

A month later, officials in the U.S. branch of the church confirmed with The Christian Post that they investigated and took action on a 2018 letter of complaint alleging inappropriate sexual relations between staff and volunteers at the Hillsong NYC location.

Anna Crenshaw
Anna Crenshaw | Anna Crenshaw

Then in February 2021, Anna Crenshaw, the daughter of a Pennsylvania pastor, reported that Hillsong staff administrator Jason Mays, a married volunteer singer and the son of the church’s head of human resources, sexually assaulted her at a social gathering while she attended Hillsong College in Australia. It took a serious fight from Crenshaw and her father to prosecute Mays, who is still listed as creative director and head of sync at Hillsong Music.

Crenshaw argued that Mays should have been fired. But in commenting on the case, Houston argued that “the Lord has forgiven Jason,” and he is just not a “sexual predator.”

“The Lord has forgiven Jason and we felt he deserved another chance after we weighed up the judge’s findings and comments. As well as giving consideration to the suspension Jason had served and the conditions he had met,” Houston said.

“He was restored to paid work and volunteering, which we believe to be in line with biblical principles of discipline and restoration. One thing I do know is that we are not talking about a sexual predator here. We’re talking about a young man, young married man who did something stupid. Got much drunker than he should, which is an issue that we should keep addressing, and got himself in a bad situation.”

In April 2021, it was revealed that former Hillsong Dallas Lead Pastor Reed Bogard and his wife, Jess, were under investigation for leadership failures when they abruptly resigned in January of that year, resulting in a pause of the Texas campus.

Carl Lentz speaks at Hillsong Church NYC in this photo dated January 2020.
Carl Lentz speaks at Hillsong Church NYC in this photo dated January 2020. | Facebook/Hillsong Church NYC

In May 2021, Darnell Barrett, creative director of Hillsong Church Montclair in New Jersey, resigned after claiming he accidentally sent explicit photos to a former church volunteer and confessed that he was unfaithful to his wife.

Other evidence, reviewed by CP, also suggests that Hillsong Church has fended off much more serious allegations of sexual misconduct by at least one former leader.

In their statement Wednesday, Hillsong Church leaders acknowledged that they still had much work to do concerning their governance structure and asked for prayers.

“As you can appreciate, there is still much to be done and our church leadership continues seeking God for His wisdom as we set the course for the future,” the statement said. “We acknowledge that change is needed. We have committed to an independent review of our governance structure and processes, understanding that this is a time of humble reflection and we are committed to doing what is necessary to ensure God is honored, and our eyes are fixed on Jesus.”

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