The scandal-plagued megachurch takes another hit as it's first African American pastor heads for the door.
Following my earlier report that the Hillsong megachurch’s Australian co-founder, Brian Houston, had mixed drugs and alcohol and wound up in a stranger’s hotel room, comes news that the church’s lead pastor in Atlanta, Sam Collier, has abandoned Hillsong.
Collier, the first first-ever African American lead pastor of a Hillsong church, announced his departure on Wednesday afternoon. This is what he posted on Instagram:
Christianity Daily reports that Collier described the announcement as one that “hurt [his] heart deeply.” He said that his final service will be this Sunday and intends to launch a new church on Easter Sunday 2022.
Hillsong Atlanta began in October 2020 and was described by Collier as a “multicultural, spirit-filled and theologically astute church. He added that the church wanted to “provide a model for how to be unified” and have a ministry that was “multicultural and unified.”
Collier’s announcement came hours after Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston, above, announced that he had resigned as global senior pastor. Houston has been plagued with several scandals, including one about a child sex abuse cover-up involving his own father, Frank Houston.
He has also been accused of inappropriate behavior by two women.
The Guardian reports that Houston stood down last Friday, but following another emergency staff meeting on Wednesday the Sydney-based church issued a brief statement announcing his resignation.
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. 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.
Over two decades, Hillsong grew from a small church in Sydney to a global brand with over 150,000 weekly attendees at its churches in 25 countries. Its brand of Christianity, which focused on rock concert-type services and attracting celebrity parishioners, proved enormously popular.
Wednesday’s statement noted that Hillsong Church “was birthed” out of Brian and and his wife, Bobbie’s “commitment to the call of God” and asked congregants to pray for the entire Houston family “during this challenging time”.
Houston isn’t the only Hillsong Church leader who was involved in a scandal. In 2020, the megachurch’s lead pastor Carl Lentz was fired for his “moral failures,” including having an affair with a woman despite being married. A docuseries on Discovery+ titled “Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed” that was released this week delves into Lentz’s adulterous relationship with Ranin Karim, Variety reported.
In April 2021, former Hillsong Dallas Lead Pastor Reed Bogard and his wife, Jess also suddenly resigned from their positions after they were investigated for their “leadership failures,” which led to the shuttering of the Dallas campus.
Olivia Cavallaro, writing for Christianity Daily said It is yet unclear how many more lead pastors are set to depart Hillsong Church after this tumultuous week.
For Collier, however, his path is clear. The A Greater Story author, who previously served at the Atlanta-based North Point Community Church said that, while he believes that Hillsong Church will weather the storm, he will move on to pursuing other things, such as establishing his own church.
Of particular concern for the participants in the series were mandatory non-disclosure agreements students had to sign before matriculating at Hillsong College.
Student Yolandi Bosch asked:
If you were a church that is open and trusting, why would you get your members to sign an NDA? Unless you’re hiding something, of course.
Trinity Foundation private investigator Barry Bowen, who specializes in investigating religious organizations, said Hillsong raises many red flags, including its use of limited liability companies to shield its assets from litigation. (According to the docuseries, Hillsong has an estimated 44 limited liability companies registered in the United States alone.)
Last year, Australia’s 60 minutes posted a video to YouTube entitled “Hillsong Hell.“