Hillsong pastors splurged tithes on luxury lifestyles, former members say

Carl Lentz, pastor of Hillsong NYC, speaks during the Hillsong Conference in New York City held Oct. 16-18, 2014, at The Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Carl Lentz, pastor of Hillsong NYC, speaks during the Hillsong Conference in New York City held Oct. 16-18, 2014, at The Theater at Madison Square Garden. | Hillsong Church

Months on the heels of a sex scandal that rocked its Hillsong NYC location, Hillsong Church is now facing allegations of financial abuse as a number of former members accuse pastors of splurging tithe money on lavish expenses.

Former members of the church, including Hillsong LA Service Pastor Nicole Herman, told the New York Post that many pastors at Hillsong NYC frequently used tithe money loaded on debit-like “PEX” (pre-paid expense) cards on things like expensive restaurant meals, designer clothes and weekly manicures while living in a high-priced building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Herman, who left the church two years ago, told the publication that she personally loaded the funds onto the PEX cards as directed by leaders.

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“I was instructed to fill them,” said Herman, who helped found Hillsong’s California branch in 2013. “We had a team count the tithes after every service and they would allocate X amount of money for the PEX cards.”

The cards, which were reloadable, were given to volunteers to make purchases for the church and pastors, said Herman. Church staff like former Hillsong NYC Pastor Carl Lentz, who was fired last November over “leadership issues” and moral failures, including being unfaithful to his wife, also received their own Hillsong credit cards.

Herman said her ex-husband was the CFO of Hillsong LA, “so everything on the PEX cards had to be refilled through him.” She said “none of that money was coming from anywhere else.”

The Christian Post reached out to the U.S. branch of the Australia-based church Wednesday morning but officials did not immediately respond.

The global church announced in November that it launched an independent investigation "into the inner workings of Hillsong NYC/ East Coast" after hearing concerns from people affiliated with those churches. 

Other former Hillsong congregants like Jenna Babbitt, 27, who began attending Hillsong NYC in August 2011, said she provided childcare services for several pastors, including Reed and Jess Bogard, who resigned from the Dallas branch of the church earlier this month. She said she was given a PEX card to purchase food for the kids she cared for but was recently contacted by lawyers involved in the internal investigation of the East Coast branch of the church in the wake of Lentz’s firing.

While business transactions normally require some sort of justification, Babbitt said she was never asked to explain purchases.

Herman confirmed with the New York Post that the church did not normally seek reimbursement for personal use of the cards, which were phased out from Hillsong LA in 2016 after the Bogards were found to be overusing them. She was unable to say if the cards were discontinued by the other Hillsong chapters.

“The exploitation of free labor while these pastors are making bank is just crazy to me,” Babbitt, who spent months working without pay for the Bogards, told the Post. She said she left the church in 2017 and now works at a Dallas nonprofit.

Brandon Walker, 28, who helped the Bogards plant Hillsong Dallas in 2019, said he witnessed “a lot of toxic activity,” including $1,100 a day Airbnb rentals.

“There was a lot of eating out, a lot of Airbnbs — very nice Airbnbs,” rented for guests and staff who were between homes, Walker alleged.

Walker recalled one day while he was out with Jess Bogard and two of his friends, she bought them matching $100 jackets before taking them out to dinner at a “pretty nice, pretty expensive Italian restaurant,” called North Italia.

“I think the bill was $600 to $700,” Walker recalled. “It was just, like, ‘Wow. [She] just dropped over $1,000 for no reason.’ ”

He also noted that when money was used on volunteers, it was done manipulatively.

“I was paid once, for one job,” Walker said, recalling how Reed Bogart once gave him some $600 “as a favor,” when he needed some cash.

“That’s a tactic a lot of these pastors use to keep their secrets,” he charged. “Buying us expensive gifts, giving us money, like, ‘I got your back, so when I need you to have my back, this is something to remember.’”

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