Celebrity pastor Carl Lentz fired for 'moral failures': What to know about Hillsong Church

Taryn Ryder
·Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
·7 min read

Hillsong Church, the Christian megachurch that has counted Justin and Hailey Bieber, Selena Gomez and Kendall Jenner as worshipers, is in the news as one of its lead pastors was terminated.

Carl Lentz, a former spiritual advisor of Justin’s, was fired from Hillsong’s New York City location because of “breaches of trust” and “moral failures.” Lentz, 41, spoke out on Thursday and admitted he was unfaithful to his wife.

“This failure is on me, and me alone and I take full responsibility for my actions,” Lentz wrote in a lengthy Instagram post. “I now begin a journey of rebuilding trust with my wife, Laura and my children and taking real time to work on and heal my own life and seek out the help that I need.”

Hillsong, an Australia-based church, has been something of a pop culture namesake due to its famous friends and congregants.

Here’s what you need to know.

What happened?

On Wednesday, Hillsong founding pastor Brian Houston announced “that we have terminated the employment of Pastor Carl Lentz.”

“This action was not taken lightly and was done in the best interests of everyone, including Pastor Carl,” the statement read. “We thank Pastors Carl and Laura for the way they have served faithfully and sacrificially since the start of Hillsong NYC and for contributing so significantly to the countless lives that have been transformed for Jesus Christ through this ministry. They have a heart for people and we are confident that after a time of rest and restoration, God will use Carl in another way outside of Hillsong church. In terminating his tenure, we in no way want to diminish the good work he did here.

“This action has been taken following ongoing discussions in relation to leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures,” the statement continued. “It would not be appropriate for us to go into detail about the events that led to this decision. Our focus at this time is to honor God and pastorally care for our East Coast church community as well as the Lentz family.”

Houston concluded by noting that Hillsong will not be making further public comments on this matter.

Who is Pastor Carl?

Known as a “styled-up pastor to the stars,” according to a GQ profile, Lentz and Houston’s son, Joel, began Hillsong NYC in 2010. Justin became the congregation’s most famous face as he previously credited Lentz with helping turn his life around.

In 2014 amid a string of negative headlines, Justin moved in with Lentz during what he called his personal low point. The singer explained to Vogue last year that he abused Xanax and was “being super-promiscuous” before detoxing at the pastor’s home in New Jersey. There, Justin refocused on his religious faith and said he has not ingested a drug since. Lentz even baptized Justin in NBA star Tyson Chandler’s bathtub.

“This boy is 21. He’s in a horribly toxic world,” Lentz told GQ in 2015. “He is trying to do his best to figure this out. He has never been anybody but who he has professed to be, which is a work in progress.”

Lentz reportedly helped counsel Justin and Gomez during their on-again, off-again relationship. According to People, the pastor guided them in 2017 so they wouldn’t “repeat the same patterns as before.” The singers ultimately ended their relationship and Justin proposed to Hailey Bieber (née Baldwin) months later. Around the same time, TMZ reported there was a “major falling out” between Justin and Lentz.

Hailey has been a prominent member of the Hillsong community, speaking glowingly about the church during a conversation with Miley Cyrus.

“I’ve found a church community that works for me where I feel supported and loved and accepted,” the model shared earlier this year.

What is Hillsong Church?

Hillsong was founded in 1983 and is self-described as “a contemporary Christian church.” According to its website, Hillsong has churches in 28 countries around the world and has an average global attendance of 150,000 weekly. Its mission statement is “to reach and influence the world by building a large Christ-centered, Bible-based church, changing mindsets and empowering people to lead and impact in every sphere of life.”

Lentz helped make Hillsong NYC the “cool church” due to the slew of stars photographed in and out of the center over the years.

“People say we cater to celebrities,” Lentz told GQ. “And I say, yes, we do. Celebrities deserve a relationship with God. Celebrities deserve a place to pray.”

Although Justin has been the star most closely associated with Lentz and Hillsong, many celebrities have reportedly attended services, including, Kylie Jenner, Kourtney Kardashian, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Vanessa Hudgens, Bono and Chris Pratt. It’s unclear who, if any, are still regulars.

Wait — does Hillsong have something to do with Chris Pratt being dubbed “the worst Chris?”

Sort of. When Pratt was getting dragged on Twitter a few weeks ago, some people brought up how his church doesn’t support gay rights.

In 2019, Ellen Page called out Pratt for promoting Hillsong which she described as “infamously anti-LGBTQ.” (In 2015, Brian Houston wrote a blog post about how he believes in “traditional Christian thought on gay lifestyles and gay marriage.”)

In a rebuttal, Pratt said “nothing could be further from the truth.” He also pointed to how his church community helped him through his divorce from Anna Faris.

“Despite what the Bible says about divorce, my church community was there for me every stop of the way, never judging, just gracefully accompanying me on my walk,” Pratt wrote. “They helped me tremendously offering love and support. It is what I have seen them do for others on countless occasions regardless of sexual orientation, race or gender.”

Hillsong has also come under fire for being “culty.”

Post Malone lamented to Rolling Stone in 2017 about how friend Justin Bieber turned “super-religious” and “real culty,” claiming the pop star donated $10 million to Hillsong.

“It’s nice to support something you believe in, I guess,” the rapper said. “But people are spending so much money, and God doesn’t care that your church has a f***ing gold roof.”

Lentz blasted the claims to the magazine: “I put no stock in comments made by people who know absolutely nothing about the subject they are speaking on.”

Both Lentz and a source close to Bieber denied the singer handed over $10 million.

“I do not know Post Malone, and I have no idea why he would say reckless things about our church, which he has never visited,” Lentz added to Rolling Stone. “Justin has not given our church $10 million, and we do not have gold ceilings. We do not even own a church building. So that gives you a little insight about how serious you can take his observations about anything to do with us.”

What has Pastor Carl said about his firing?

In a candid post on Instagram, Lentz addressed his moral failure.

“When you lead out of an empty place, you make choices that have real and painful consequences. I was unfaithful in my marriage, the most important relationship in my life and held accountable for that,” he wrote.

“I am deeply sorry for breaking the trust of many people who we have loved serving and understand that this news can be very hard and confusing for people to hear and process. ... I pray you can forgive me and that over time I can live a life where trust is earned again,” he added.

View this post on Instagram

Our time at HillsongNYC has come to an end. This is a hard ending to what has been the most amazing, impacting and special chapter of our lives. Leading this church has been an honor in every sense of the word and it is impossible to articulate how much we have loved and will always love the amazing people in this church. When you accept the calling of being a pastor, you must live in such a way that it honors the mandate. That it honors the church, and that it honors God. When that does not happen, a change needs to be made and has been made in this case to ensure that standard is upheld. Laura and I and our amazing children have given all that we have to serve and build this church and over the years I did not do an adequate job of protecting my own spirit, refilling my own soul and reaching out for the readily available help that is available. When you lead out of an empty place, you make choices that have real and painful consequences. I was unfaithful in my marriage, the most important relationship in my life and held accountable for that. This failure is on me, and me alone and I take full responsibility for my actions. I now begin a journey of rebuilding trust with my wife, Laura and my children and taking real time to work on and heal my own life and seek out the help that I need. I am deeply sorry for breaking the trust of many people who we have loved serving and understand that this news can be very hard and confusing for people to hear and process. I would have liked to say this with my voice, to you, in person because you are owed that. But that opportunity I will not have. So to those people, I pray you can forgive me and that over time I can live a life where trust is earned again. To our pastors Brian and Bobbie, thank you for allowing us to lead, allowing us to thrive and giving us room to have a voice that you have never stifled or tried to silence. Thank you for your grace and kindness especially in this season, as you have done so much to protect and love us through this. We, the Lentz family, don’t know what this next chapter will look like, but we will walk into it together very hopeful and grateful for the grace of God..

A post shared by Carl Lentz (@carllentz) on

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