Hillsong Church is shutting down operations at its Dallas campus, following reports that the previous pastors there were using donations to fund their lavish lifestyle.
According to The Daily Mail, Hillsong founders Brian and Bobbie Houston announced the news to members of the Dallas church in an email. The Houstons said there were “many factors” that led to the closure of the campus, but mainly cited two.
One was the behavior of former Hillsong Dallas Pastors Jess and Reed Bogard. The other was the coronavirus pandemic.
“Early in our process, the Bogards decided to resign from Hillsong Church,” the Houstons reportedly wrote. “We accepted their resignations and acknowledged the time that the Bogards spent establishing our Dallas location.
“It was very disappointing to learn that, while some of you experienced the Bogards as dedicated pastors, many others have experienced leadership that failed to meet the commitments and standards of Hillsong Church.”
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The Houstons added: “As we were establishing Hillsong Church in Dallas, the pandemic swept across the globe and quickly changed the shape of our growing church in the city . . . Many factors, all amplified by the pandemic, have resulted in the difficult decision to pause all operations at Hillsong Dallas for now.”
The Bogards resigned from Hillsong in January with very little explanation. The couple merely said that 10 years of church planting had “taken a bit of a toll” on them and their family and they needed “time off” to “get healthy.”
Shortly afterwards, however, former staff and members of Hillsong reported that the Bogards and other Hillsong pastors used church donations to fund their lavish lifestyles.
A former Hillsong pastor, whose husband was CFO of Hillsong LA, told the New York Post that she personally loaded church funds onto expense cards for Hillsong pastors. The pastors then reportedly used the cards to buy things like four-wheeler ATVs, luxury presents, and meals from upscale restaurants.
Brandon Walker, a 28-year-old who helped the Bogards start Hillsong Dallas, told a reporter that he remembers “a lot of eating out” and renting “very nice Airbnbs,” including one that cost $1,100/night.
Walker added that Hillsong kept the finances secret because the expenditures were so excessive.
The Roys Report reached out to the Bogards for comment, but they did not immediately respond.
In the Houstons email, the couple apologized “to those who felt disappointed or hurt” and said they are praying “that God does a swift work in bringing peace and healing.”
However, Janice Legata, a former Hillsong insider who served with the Bogards when they were at Hillsong New York, expressed skepticism concerning the Houstons’ statement.
“I don’t understand how Brian Houston keeps getting to have it both ways,” Legata wrote in an email. She noted that the Houstons called people “gossipers and nay-sayers for speaking up about the abuses in his organization,” but when forced to admit those abuses, has failed to take responsibility.
“Traveling the world as a leadership guy, a leader of leaders, but claiming to have no idea of the bad things happening under the leaders he produces and then taking no responsibility, no accountability for the consistent themes of abuse that keep emerging—Brian Houston is either an extremely ineffective leader or a scarily effective one.”
The Houstons have also been accused of misusing donor funds. In 2010, The Daily Telegraph reported that the Houstons used a nonprofit, called Leadership Ministries Incorporated (LMI), to pay themselves and others millions.
According to the Telegraph, LMI funded a $1 million “fringe benefits tax-free expense account” for five people, including the Houstons. LMI also funded vehicles worth more than $120,000 and paid Brian Houston a $150,000 salary. This was in addition to Houston’s $150,000 salary at Hillsong and his wife’s salary, which was not disclosed.
LMI also reportedly engaged in property deals with the Houstons that earned the couple $1.4 million.
The Houstons’ current salaries are not disclosed.