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

Celeb pastor Carl Lentz, ousted from Hillsong NYC, confesses he was ‘unfaithful’ to his wife

By Roxanne Stone

In an Instagram post on Thursday, Carl Lentz, the lead pastor of Hillsong NYC, admitted he was “unfaithful” in his marriage, ending a day of speculation as to why he had been fired.

On Wednesday, Hillsong founding pastor Brian Houston notified staff and members of Hillsong East Coast by email of Lentz’s termination. The email, which was obtained by The Roys Report, cited “leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures” as the reason for the firing but did not reveal more details, saying to do so “would not be appropriate.”

“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.

In his Instagram post, Lentz admitted to being “unfaithful in my marriage, the most important relationship in my life.”

“This failure is on me, and me alone and I take full responsibility for my actions,” according to the post.

“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,” Lentz said in the post.

He expressed gratitude for his time at the church and said leading Hillsong NYC “has been an honor in every sense of the word.”

“This is a hard ending to what has been the most amazing, impacting and special chapter of our lives.”

In a statement Houston posted on the church site later in the evening on Wednesday, he repeated much of his initial email but added praise for Lentz’s work at Hillsong and said he was grateful for the years of service Lentz and his wife gave to Hillsong NYC.

“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,” the statement said.

Lentz, in his post, also acknowledged a need for rest, for rebuilding trust with his wife and children and “taking real time to work on and heal my own life and seek out the help that I need.”

In his statement, Houston assured readers ministry would “proceed as usual,” and the leadership team was “praying that God would bring about an exciting new season for our church and this region.”

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 Hillsong NYC, the first Hillsong East Coast church, 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, became a darling of major media outlets for his hipster dress, his tattoo-covered arms and his celebrity congregants, including Justin 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.

Lentz, in his post, apologized to his congregants and expressed a wish to tell them in person “because you are all owed that.” But he acknowledged that he could not. 

“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,” said the post. “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.”

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 requests for comment.

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.

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23 thoughts on “Celeb pastor Carl Lentz, ousted from Hillsong NYC, confesses he was ‘unfaithful’ to his wife”

  1. How sad for all of them. It appears that Mrs. Lentz did everything to be the perfect Christian Instagram wife, but it wasn’t enough for Mr. Lentz. There’s probably a larger lesson here …

  2. “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.”

    How is it that adulterous pastors, when found out, can come across as though they are the victim of their efforts to ‘build the church’.

    The soldier entangled himself in many civilian pursuits, the athlete did not follow the rules and the farmer toiled in the wrong field- not the Word but the world. The artisan gave himself to irreverent babble, the honorable vessel was defiled and the gentle servant was immature, full of youthful passions, restless and discontent. (2 Timothy 2)

    We must expect more from our shepherds- too often they seem like boys rather than Christian men.

  3. Such a mess, such a hideous mess is the state of the Lord’s church in this country. I’m certainly not going to throw stones, as I have my own sin issues that have haunted me since I’ve been a young boy. The book of Romans, chapter 8 comes to mind; I want to do what is right, but I ultimately do what is wrong. Who will deliver me from the body of this death? Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

  4. Michelle Coleman

    Praying for the Lentz family, the one whom he had the affair with, and the church. The enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy. None of us are above that. Praying that He comes to encounter God more intimately than ever before. Praying that Christians can surround them with support during this painful time.

  5. I actually believe that Lentz’ repentance is real. And it isn’t for us to decide– it’s for his wife to make that call. May God give her discernment. I’ll pray she has lots of support.

  6. There is a time when one is “burnt out” but unfortunately, you are not self aware and you do stupid stuff. Mine manifested in anger. Upon looking back, I did not understand how angry I truly was. I am not condoning his actions. He did apologize, in a way that fallen clergy usually do, but I would say that burn-out is a problem with pastors.

    On the other hand, you are supposed to have staff and board members that support the Pastor. A lot of times people are intimidated to bring issues up-especially when a pastor is popular and brings in the dough and supplies paychecks. Ravi got away with it until he was an old man.

  7. Was Laura Lentz also on staff at the church? As is the case with the Houstons, sometimes both spouses are pastors. If she was, was she also asked to resign? The victim should not be made to resign. More information about Laura would be helpful.

  8. SEXY DEFINITION: ‘Arousing or tending to arouse sexual desire or interest’…
    Looking at the photo of his wife, this is dress is inappropriate as a pastor’s wife, unless you are in the world and your goal is to entice others. She’s responsible to lead by example. Christian women who think bearing as much cleavage & skin to be viewed by all, are not thinking of pleasing God but man. How could they possibly think this would be pleasing to the Father/Son/Holy Spirit? I hear these women from church talking, constantly, about how ‘SEXY’ their outfits/hair/shoes/nails/cars/furniture/whatever are. They’re obsessed. Their tweens girls are being taught to talk like this – and they do. Good Lord. What the heck is going on? You can’t differentiate the world from Christians sometimes. Showing more flesh is not a sign of beauty. And tasteful modesty doesn’t mean unattractive. Sex-y is supposed to be for your spouse’s eyes, not the luring & leering consumption for the world (read Song of Solomon). Yet ppl justify, excuse, or deceive this behavior as normal. This is a huge flag if a pastor’s wife dresses provocatively.

    1. I must admit, she is a looker. Not that I noticed too much :)

      I have a daughter who wears things that I sometimes cringe at, but she is an adult and out on her own.

    2. I totally agree. I’ve been telling people for years. There’s a dress code for women who serve God. Or just as a Christian period. Men also, shouldn’t dress like the world. Tattoos, body piercing, sagging pants and both smoking weed. I’ve been in a church were I observe this kind of behavior. I was taken a back by the complacency of the church and the leaders.
      Who will stand up for God? Who will say that, your behavior is not becoming as a child of God? I’m disturbed by so many things that are done in the name of Jesus that I often become saddened.
      Sam, these tattoos up celebrity preacher are in a mode of fame building. This man had the audacity to say “he’s his own god”
      Small g got just what he deserves.

      1. Carl has tattoos – so what???? I said it in my prior post – the preaching and personal style of Carl and others like him does not appeal to me, but having grown up around the snooty, judgmental condescension of church people, I understand how it can attract the unchurched or the young. I’m in my 40s and grew up in a very conservative church in the south, and I still remember the cutting words, judgmental tone, mocking voices, and downright shaming from church people over attire, hair, tattoos, slang, and more….especially of young people. Then those same church people would wonder where all the young people were going and why. REALLY?
        I’ll say this again, too – your attire, hair, or clean-cut style does NOT make you more spiritual or in better standing with God than someone else. I have a body piercing and would stand up to any of you who challenge my walk with Christ over it.
        Sheesh. I’m so glad God looks at the heart, because clearly me and my body piercing wouldn’t “make it” if left up to any of you. This is such a good reminder to live for HIM alone.

    3. What does her clothing have to do with her husband inflicting a wound on this poor sister in Christ( she is a victim) if you take the bible seriously she has just had her soul raped by the one person on earth who is meant to lay his life down for her( as Christ did the church)
      Her modesty or ones opinion on it has nothing to do with the horrific injustice this dear lady has endured.
      I don’t care if she is Pentecostal, Baptist, even atheist, she and her children are victims betrayed by there Dad and husband

  9. So let’s see, you are fired from your Church for moral wrongs. Why not leave it there? Why then does this “pastor” then need to go onto social media and tell the World that he was unfaithful. Why not leave it alone. But it is all about him I suppose so he needs to post it to the World and further embarrass his wife and family.

    The proof of his sincerity in the future will be does he submit himself to real accountability and not shepherd a flock for a good period of time (in my opinion at least 1 year) while he focuses on repairing his family, or will he continue to post for all to see his healing process, and form his own Church so he can obtain his narcissistic supply.

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