Former Staff, Members Say Hillsong Pastors Fund Lavish Lifestyles with Member Gifts
Pastors at Hillsong Church used prepaid expense cards funded by member donations to finance lavish lifestyles as volunteers provided unpaid labor for the church, former congregants and staff members told The New York Post.
The pastors got the reloadable expense cards along with Hillsong credit cards, former L.A. branch service pastor Nicole Herman told the Post. Several church staff members and volunteers told the Post they made purchases for pastors using the cards and were never asked to reconcile or justify what they bought.
Herman, who helped found the Los Angeles branch of the Australian church in 2013, said she was responsible for loading money onto the cards, which also were given to volunteers to make purchases for the church, telling the Post that the money came from member tithes and offerings, and that “none of that money was coming from anywhere else.”
Expenses allegedly charged to the cards included high-priced rental homes and hotel suites for visitors and pastors, dinners costing hundreds of dollars, and annual memberships to a private New York City private club, along with clothing and gifts. No one the Post talked to was aware of a system by which the pastors reimbursed the church for expenses.
Hillsong, the former church home of celebrities including Justin Bieber, has been under scrutiny since New York City branch pastor Carl Lentz was fired after he admitted to having an extramarital affair.
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Brian Houston, Hillsong’s founding pastor, tweeted soon afterwards that the church would launch “an independent investigation into the inner workings of Hillsong NYC/ East Coast.”
“We need a solid foundation for a fresh start and new beginning. The best is yet to come,” Houston said.
The various global churches all report to Houston and a board of elders.
In a statement to Vanity Fair after Lentz’s firing, Hillsong alluded to other issues within the church.
“Since last week’s announcement of a leadership change at Hillsong East Coast, we have heard from a number of people about their experiences and concerns. It is important that we establish the truth and then do everything we can to ensure our church is both a safe place and one that seeks to glorify God in all that we say and do.”
On Jan. 3, the lead pastors of Hillsong’s Dallas branch, Reed and Jess Bogard, resigned in a recorded message during an online service with little explanation beyond a desire to “transition off our staff and take some time.”
Bogard, Lentz, and their wives all attended Hillsong International Leadership College in Australia, where the church originated, and served on the headquarters staff there before moving back to the United States to plant churches in New York City and Los Angeles. The church has its U.S. headquarters in Dallas.
Bieber announced on Instagram he is now attending Churchome, led by pastor Judah Smith. Other celebrities who have left Hillsong over the controversy include Selena Gomez, Kevin Durant, Chris Pratt and the Jenner sisters.