Carl Lentz
Carl Lentz appears in an interview, in New York on Oct. 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Carl Lentz, pastor of Justin Bieber and Hillsong NYC, terminated for ‘moral failures’

By Roxanne Stone

Hillsong today announced that Carl Lentz, the high-profile pastor of Hillsong New York City , is being terminated for “breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures.”

The announcement came in an email this afternoon from Hillsong founding pastor, Brian Houston, to church staff and members of Hillsong East Coast.

“I know this will come as a shock to you, but please know that this action was not taken lightly and was done in the best interests of everyone, including Pastor Carl,” Houston wrote.

“Please understand that it would not be appropriate for us to go into detail about the events that led to this decision. However you can be assured that this decision was made in order to honor God and pastorally care for you, our East Coast family, Pastor Carl and his family,” Houston continued.

Lentz, 41, was one of a number of pastors GQ Magazine has described as “hypepriests” who lead churches frequented by celebrities. Friends and congregants include Justin Bieber and his wife Hailey Baldwin Bieber, as well as the Jenner sisters.

Lentz along with Houston’s son Joel, began the first Hillsong East Coast church in Manhattan, New York in 2010. The church, part of the global network of Hillsong churches, quickly drew attention for the long lines waiting to be “let in” on Sunday mornings — and for the demographic waiting in those lines. The worshippers who flocked there were — like their lead pastor — young, hip and dressed looking more like they were headed to a rock concert than to Sunday morning church. Indeed, their venue, Irving Plaza in the Gramercy neighborhood of Manhattan, was a church by day and concert hall by night.

Lentz, relatively unknown before taking the helm of Hillsong NYC, drew the attention of major media outlets for his hipster dress, his tattoo covered arms, and his celebrity parishioners, including Bieber, who according to GQ was baptized by the pastor in the bathtub of Tyson Chandler, a New York Knicks player at the time.

Lentz was raised in Virginia and played basketball at North Carolina State, where he told the New York Post he was “doing my own thing, being my own god.” He moved to Los Angeles to attend King’s College and Seminary, then headed to Australia to join Hillsong’s training program, Hillsong College, where he met his wife, Laura. He worked in youth ministry in Virginia Beach before moving to Brooklyn’s trendy Williamsburg neighborhood to launch Hillsong’s first U.S. location, according to media reports.

“While I have no doubt in my heart that this is the right course of action, I must mention Bobbie’s and my personal sadness, as we have known Laura her entire life and Carl for well over 20 years,” Houston wrote in his letter.

Pastors Brian and Bobbie Houston founded the original Hillsong Church in 1983 in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia. It now has locations in 28 countries around the world and, pre-pandemic, saw an average 150,000 attenders each week, according to its website.

Hillsong is also known for its popular worship music and conferences.

Neither Hillsong nor Carl Lentz immediately responded to request for comment.

This story is breaking and will be updated.

UPDATE: In addition to the email below, Hillsong has published a statement online.

Email from Pastor Brian Houston:

Lentz Terminated Email

 

Roxanne StoneRoxanne Stone is the managing editor for Religion News Service. She formerly served as editor in chief for Barna Group, editorial director for RELEVANT Media Group, as well as at Christianity Today and Group Publishing. Roxanne lives in New York City.

Emily McFarlan Miller contributed to this report.

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17 thoughts on “Carl Lentz, pastor of Justin Bieber and Hillsong NYC, terminated for ‘moral failures’”

  1. I recently saw a story on Hillsong and Carl Lentz-very interesting. They interviewed him at the venue and videotaped him preaching. I remember thinking, he is almost too hip and charismatic. I kinda wondered what might happen. It takes a very strong, grounded person to withstand certain temptations as a celebrity, hipster pastor. Not many people seem to be able to handle celebrity well. I am reminded of the poet who said, “Give me neither poverty nor riches.” It tends to keep ones feet firmly grounded.

    I am not judging Carl, but I know the challenges a young guy would face in his situation.

    May the NYC church experience Christ’s grace during such a time.

    1. CowgirlbytheBeach

      It takes far more than the ability to withstand certain temptations as a hipster pastor. Really?! As if the church required tattoos and hanging out with “A”, “B”, and “C” list celebrities in order to effectively preach the Gospel? Seems as if Lentz, and too many “pastors”, conveniently ignore biblical mandates for pastors, elders, etc. In the end, Lentz returned to “doing his own thing”, “being his own god”. And he got caught.

      May God, and the Holy Spirit, bestow wisdom to Hillsongs’ congregants to see how they’ve been duped – and the mercy and providence to escape the “church club” for a Bible-saturated place of worship.

      1. I was being somewhat charitable and a bit tongue in cheek, as I was sharing some thoughts when I first encountered Hillsong NYC.

        The founder is not without his own ethical issues.

  2. Well said Vance. The poet you reference is Agur, son of Jakeh, whose inspired words are recorded in Proverbs 30:8-9.

    Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.

    Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
    Or I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God. – NIV

  3. Well said Vance. The poet you refer to is Agur son of Jakeh whose words are preserved for us in Proverbs 30:8-9:

    Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.

    Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
    Or I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God.

  4. Anyone can survive failure. Few, very few, survive success. It is as the prophet Obadiah wrote; “Though you soar aloft like the eagle, though your nest is set among the stars, from there I will bring you down, declares the Lord.”

  5. This is very sad to me. I see nothing to gloat or say “I told you so” about here. Carl – and others like him – have a preaching style that doesn’t necessarily resonate with me, but I appreciate its ability to reach the unchurched (or those who have been turned off by “traditional” church). Yeah, we can judge the “hipster” style and tattoos. But let’s not only look out the window; let’s look in the mirror: a big reason Carl (and others like him) appeal to the young and unchurched is due to the church’s snooty, judgmental attitude towards those who look and sound like Carl. (And then, God forbid that person have a career in the entertainment industry. I grew up in the church and have seen it myself. I still cringe when I hear the church make blanket statements about the entertainment industry as if to work there is to work for the devil himself. Real talk: I attended university with people who are now in the entertainment industry – and have seen them take their love of the Lord with them to NY or LA. Likewise, I went on to work in consulting and have had c-suite clients that are among the most unrepentant and greedy among us.)

    Having a clean-cut attire with no tattoos, preferring to only sing hymns, and refusing to watch/listen to any non-Christian entertainment do not make us better or “more spiritual” than Carl. Self-righteous “I told you about those hipster/celebrity types” attitudes do not make any of us better or “more spiritual” than Carl. As a matter of fact, the way we respond to Carl in this moment is a bigger indicator of our walk with the Lord than any of that. And those “young, tattooed hipsters” are watching.

    1. I am grateful for your deep thoughts and humble spirit. I have heard Carl’s preaching online before. Just wonder why they could not have him resign first?

      Yes, please all pray for Carl and Laura, especially for the people who have been part of Hillsong NYC. I have family members who like him, and may the Holy Spirit bring comfort and stability to His own church there! May God send a mature and holy shepherd there!

    2. I think you are jumping to conclusions. Who mentioned anything about being more spiritual than those who look a bit different? Who said “I told you so?” I am glad you judge our hearts since we are clueless. I made my observations based in being around the block a time or two. I have had some involvement in entertainment and understand the pitfalls. I stated that I did not know him but was not surprised as I saw the the reporting on Hillsong. If you have been around as you say, then you understand the spirit of this age and the fixation on Christian “celebrities” and how this has had a devastating impact on the Church.

      Your being presumptuous in stating we are clean-cut with no tattoos who refuse to listen or be entertained by quality filmmaking and music.

      1. Vance,

        I am speaking about the many threads throughout this and other similar blogs that do speak in a condescending manner about those like Carl. If that’s not you, then Amen.

  6. It seemed strange years ago when Carl Lentz was in a video with Justin Bieber talking about being in the illuminati. What kind of pastor joins a satanic group like that?

    1. We have to be very mindful when we follow a man that proclaims to be sent from God. The bible says, that you’ll know a tree by the fruit it bares. I never cared much for the Hillsong ministry, because for me, I said for me, it was very over the top in its presentation of the word of God. I personally, prefer my pastor to not look like the guy in the clubs or concert hall. I’m sorry for whatever happened to this young man. But, if he’s his own god, then he gets just what every other person who has proclaimed the be a god get.

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