Following a recent U.S. preaching tour, disgraced Hillsong founder Brian Houston and his wife, Bobbie, have returned to Australia—and are apparently attempting a comeback.
On November 9, the celebrity ministry couple has planned “An Evening with Bobbie and Brian,” billed as a time of connection, fellowship, preaching from Brian Houston, and prayer. The event will be held at Pioneer Theatre in Sydney—located about three miles from Hillsong’s flagship campus in the city’s Hills District, where the Houstons founded the global megachurch in 1983.
In a Tuesday social post, Brian Houston announced that “all the tickets were gone in less than 2 hours!” and a second, earlier time has been added. Noting that the event will be live-streamed online, the event summary concludes: “Great things start with small beginnings!”
A recent Instagram post suggests one purpose of the event. “We miss the congregation at Hillsong Church enormously and hopefully we’ll have the chance to tell our story sometime soon,” Brian Houston wrote.
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In March, Brian Houston resigned as global senior pastor of Hillsong Church, after an internal church investigation found he acted inappropriately toward two women. Hillsong revealed that Houston had allegedly spent time alone in a hotel with a woman not his wife and had sent flirtatious texts to a Hillsong staffer.
Hillsong, a Pentecostal powerhouse which reportedly still draws over 150,000 people to services in about 100 locations in 38 nations, has suffered giving and attendance declines over the past year. Several U.S. churches have disaffiliated from Hillsong, including in Atlanta, Kansas City, and Phoenix where Hillsong College was formerly based.
The Hillsong global board has distanced itself from the church’s co-founders, including in April removing co-founder Bobbie Houston from any role with the church.
In September, the Houstons put their home in Sydney’s Hills District up for sale for $4.5 million to “reduce debt.” The Houstons also have reportedly sold two, long-held plush apartments in Bondi Beach—Australia’s most famous beach in recent years.
Brian Houston to answer charges in Australian court
The Houstons’ return to Australia is also prompted by pressing legal matters. On December 2, the Downing Centre Local Court in Sydney will begin a three-week hearing concerning allegations that Brian Houston concealed child sexual abuse.
His late father, Frank Houston, faced multiple allegations that he sexually abused nine boys from 1965 to 1977 when he was a pastor and leader in the Assemblies of God denomination in Australia and New Zealand. (The allegations came to light decades later, and the elder Houston was not charged due to his “age and health” according to one account.)
In a sermon weeks ago, Brian Houston referenced the ongoing legal battle during one of his U.S. church appearances. He preached on destiny and inheritance at multi-site charismatic congregation James River Church in Springfield, Missouri.
“Some of what I inherited has been anything but a blessing,” said Houston. “I found out when I was 45 that my pastor father had been a serial pedophile in the ’60s and ’70s.”
He added: “An earthly inheritance may have some degree of blessing, or it may come with baggage that you spend your life trying to overcome.”
Houston did not mention the allegations of sexual misconduct that led to his ouster from Hillsong in the sermon but simply alluded to a recent “transition.”
“This last year, Bobbie and I have been in a transition,” he said. “39 years at (Hillsong) has come to an end. But I’ll tell you something: destiny hasn’t left our lives.”
Certain church leaders cheer Houstons’ comeback
Despite the scandals surrounding Brian Houston, some Christian leaders have expressed enthusiasm about the upcoming Sydney theater gathering.
Longtime megachurch pastor Dave Gilpin wrote, “This is a positive move forwards for the kingdom of God.” (The comment has since been deleted on the original post.)
Gilpin, who resigned from a multi-site UK church in 2020 and is currently an itinerant minister linked to iSEE Church in Brisbane, Australia, recently led a training event for Church of the Highlands (COTH) in Alabama in 2021. COTH is in the process of building a “Lodge” to restore fallen pastors.
Similarly, Debbie Lindell, co-lead pastor of James River Church in Missouri, commented: “Such wonderful news! We are praying for you and with all of Heaven we are cheering you on.”
Other responses expressed a neutral tone. One commenter from Australia stated their plans to attend and added: “Hope to have some answers from you guys.”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to accurately state Dave Gilpin’s current affiliation and add image of a deleted comment.
Freelance journalist Josh Shepherd writes on faith, culture, and public policy for several media outlets. He and his wife live in the Washington, D.C. area with their two children.