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As Three U.S. Churches Split from Hillsong, Phoenix Pastor Calls Out Global Board

By Josh Shepherd
terry crist hillsong board
On March 27, Hillsong Phoenix pastor Terry Crist announced church leaders have decided to disaffiliate the church from Hillsong. (Video screengrab via YouTube)

In the wake of the resignation of Hillsong founder Brian Houston, three large U.S. churches are separating from the scandal-plagued global church—Hillsong Phoenix, Hillsong Atlanta, and Hillsong Kansas City.

In a scathing indictment of Hillsong’s Global Board, Hillsong Phoenix Pastor Terry Crist on Sunday blasted the board for its heavy-handed control and secrecy, saying some members “have protected the institution and not the people” in their churches.

This included forcing senior pastors to sign non-disclosures and non-compete agreements, Crist said, and refusing to release the results of Hillsong’s independent investigation into alleged misconduct at its New York City location.

But according to Crist, the main bone of contention between him and Hillsong Global was the Global Board’s refusal to allow Hillsong Phoenix to establish a local board to govern the church, rather than submitting to Global Board governance.

“We wanted to continue with returning governance and accountability, but even continuing with the banner ‘Hillsong Phoenix’ for many reasons, including our love, our deep love for Hillsong College,” Crist said. “Sadly, the board refused our request. And I was told this last week, it is—quote—’all or nothing.’”

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Crist also pastors satellite Hillsong locations in three Arizona cities (Mesa, Scottsdale, and Tucson), and another in Las Vegas. It is unclear at this moment whether those locations will leave Hillsong, as well. Hillsong Phoenix also serves as a campus of Hillsong College. The legal and financial steps to split from Hillsong were not outlined during the service. 

The Roys Report has reached out to Crist for clarification on these matters but has not heard back.

Similar to Hillsong Phoenix, Hillsong Atlanta and Hillsong Kansas City have announced their intentions to leave the global church. The churches plan to relaunch and rebrand under new names.

Relaunches planned for Easter Sunday

Hillsong Phoenix has not yet announced its rebranded identity, but two other former Hillsong churches have.

Sam Collier Hillsong split
Pastor Sam Collier (Photo via Facebook)

On Sunday, Hillsong Atlanta Pastor Sam Collier announced that his church will rebrand as Story Church and officially relaunch on Easter Sunday.

“Same people, same goodness, new name,” Collier is quoted as saying in news reports. “We want you to be a part.”

Hillsong Global Senior Pastor Phil Dooley offered a video message supporting the Atlanta pastor and his wife, despite their church splitting from Hillsong.

“I just want to say, we love Sam and Toni Collier,” Dooley said in a video on Facebook, which was also played during Sunday services. “We just want to give you guys our absolute blessing for the next season that you feel to step into . . . From us to you, God bless you.”

The website and social profiles for the former Hillsong Kansas City have been rebranded as Kingdom City Church as of March 16, too. A relaunch is set for Easter Sunday.

Kingdom City posted a video, stating its mission is “Building people who bring heaven to earth, hearts fully alive to Christ. Planted in the house of God, bringing hope to the world.”

In recent days Hillsong Kansas City and Hillsong Atlanta have disappeared from the Hillsong USA website listing. However, Hillsong Phoenix (along with its satellite Arizona locations) and Hillsong Las Vegas are still listed as of Tuesday, with Crist and his wife noted as lead pastors.

The Roys Report reached out to all the churches or their pastors, asking about their transitions, but did not hear back. We also reached out to Hillsong USA but did not hear back.

Phoenix pastor: Hillsong board has lost church’s confidence

Crist signaled his distrust of Hillsong Global, and dismay over revelations of founder Brian Houston’s misconduct, in a message on March 20.

The Phoenix pastor said that Hillsong churches have been “struggling across the planet with shock and shame.” He recounted a recent conversation with Houston, who had assured him in a phone call that Hillsong Church has never covered up sexual assault and that Houston has never committed adultery.

But Crist also told the church that Houston had been less than forthcoming. “I found out the following day that, while we believed those answers to be true, there was a story that was about to break that Pastor Brian elected not to share with me in that moment. Since then, he has apologized for not being transparent with me.”

This past Sunday, Crist said of Houston: “His continuation as our senior pastor was not tenable. It has become clear that we cannot continue in our global family, as much as we love it. So, we have chosen this week to withdraw from being Hillsong Church.”

Crist also called for an investigation into the Hillsong Global Board and for sweeping reforms.

“I believe it is in the best interest of Hillsong Church to conduct an internal investigation as it relates to board conduct,” Crist said, “to immediately restore the Sydney eldership, to make the findings of that public, and to dismiss the board members who have protected the institution and not the people.”

In a public statement last week, Hillsong board members stated they “committed to an independent review of our governance structure and processes” but did not provide details of a timeline or potential outside partners for that assessment.

Hillsong Global Senior Pastor Phil Dooley also outlined five board governance reforms steps during his Sunday sermon at Hillsong Church in Sydney. He touted the steps as fostering a “healthier structure” of church leadership.

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.



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22 Responses

  1. They split from their mother ship. The Hillsong hierarchy is collapsing, But will they recognize the sin of clergyism that drew them into this pecking order ritual which is also sin – disobedience to God’s instructions? They are still wearing their exalted Pastor title, so evidently not.
    Matthew 23:8-12 (ESV)
    8 But you are not to be called rabbi,
    for you have one teacher,
    and you ARE ALL brothers.
    9 And call no man your father on earth,
    for you have one Father, who is in heaven.
    10 Neither be called instructors,
    for you have one instructor, the Christ.
    11 The greatest among you shall be your servant.
    12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
    and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

    EVERY clergy rationalizes this restriction from JESUS into the trash. They WANT the “exalting” and WANT to ignore their “BROTHER” status with the rest of God’s people. And so do the laity and the board. They have been taught this is godly. They want to OUTSOURCE the expression of truth to one man in one way communication. They want to play the role of dumb silent sheep rather than grow to “the full stature of Christ”. This 500 year old clergyism ritual can be FULLY EXPOSED with the Bible that clergy twist and ignore. This was not fixed at the Reformation. We can fix it now IF anyone is waking up to the corruption that brings shame to the name of Christ and dysfunction to His people who are to accomplish the great commission to the glory of Christ.

    1. Christian leaders focus on Paul (which is laden with hierarchy ideas) to the exclusion of Jesus. There’s no money, power, or control much less careers in Jesus.

      1. Scottie – You gave no example of your claims. “No money” – are you aware Paul ministered “free of charge” and “everywhere in every church”? “power” – are you aware how many times Paul taught serving and no ministry he did was reserved for him? Are you aware Paul never “controlled” anyone? He “begged” them if they rejected his instructions. Where did you come up with these Paul accusations?

      2. scottie d,

        Finally someone else sees this Paulinian worship in today’s churches, thank you. This issue has also cropped up in my Bible study groups/home church, where the overall belief is that whatever Paul taught overrides what Jesus taught.

        1. Andrew, There is no contradiction between Jesus and Paul. Paul ‘IMITATED ” Christ. If there is any difference, it is most likely a clergyism translation pushed into the Bible on the words of Paul. Example:
          1 Timothy 5:17, 18 KJV, NKJV, ESV,
          “Let the elders who RULE well…”
          When translators choose “rule” to translate “prohistemi”, they insert a direct contradiction to Jesus. There is a Greek word for “rule,” and Jesus used it to reject ruling by leaders.

          “You know that the RULERS of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,”. Matthew 20:25,26

          This Greek word for rule is not in 1 Tim. 5:17 for Pastors / Elders to practice. Would Paul contradict Jesus? No, but clergy will. This translation choice is used to force into the future, traditions from the past that grease the wheels of men who want authority yet posture it as godly. They nullify the specific instruction from Jesus. As clear as Jesus rejects “ruling,” and as clear as “ruling” is not in this text, hired leaders will expect to use some “ruling.”

          1. Tim A,

            What I am referring to is that a lot of pastors no longer teach from MMLJ and rely solely on Paul/OT. Paul’s words are twisted/manipulated/taken out of context. When you attempt to clarify by using Jesus as the foundation, you are not allowed to question the leaders because Paul supersedes anything Jesus taught.

            That is worshiping Paul, not Christ.

    2. This is another example of men who are trying to be bigger than the word of God.
      What if God didn’t really exist and all this time you were following the Bible. What did the Bible teach you to do? It taught you to love all people, be kind and giving, to have good morales and values and to be good to each other. It taught you that you should have remorse for the bad and evil things that you have done and to love your wife (if you have one) and children and for children to obey their parents. What have you lost? But what if the Bible turns out to be true and you didn’t give your life to Jesus Christ, what will you lose? (YOUR SOUL). Christianity and believing in God isn’t the problem its people manipulating the word of God for their own evil good. That’s where the problem lies.

  2. How does one man “pastor” five churches in two states? That seems impossible.

    But whatever, I wish all the ex-Hillsong congregations the best.

    1. Cynthia,
      That was my thought too. Maybe “speaker” would be a better word. I think to lead a flock you have to physically be around the sheep.

      1. James Ekbom, I think that some churches have made a foundational error in conflating the roles of “speaker” and “pastor” (and often “general manager”), expecting many different skills plus “holy man” from the same individual. If a system keeps breaking down in the same way, perhaps rethinking the system is in order.

  3. Anarchism (as you see in the rant above) isn’t the answer, and it isn’t Biblical. Certain people are given to the Church by Christ as pastors, teachers, and evangelists, elders and deacons (Ephesians 4:11-12, 1 Timothy 3), and the Scripture says they have authority to lead (Hebrews 13:17). But not unconditional authority, or authority that may break the Scripture, or isn’t answerable to the Church. The problem with Hillsong — or, one problem among a long list — is that it’s set up as a corporate empire. It was the same way with Chuck Smith, or is with the the New Apostolic Reformation, or Driscoll. Christ taught that the *congregation as a whole* is the highest administrative authority in a church (Matthew 18:15-17). Scripture sets the rules, but the congregation has to carry them out. Even Paul acceded his authority to discipline to the local congregation (2 Corinthians 10:6). If you set up a church as a corporate empire, you will always, always get these abuses.

    1. So If Tim disagrees with you and gives Jesus own words I’m an “anarchist”? That’s an ad hominem logical fallacy.

      Where does the scripture say leaders have “authority”? Did you check to see if “authority”, the Greek word for authority is in Hebrews 13:17? Some translations put it in the English but it’s not in the Greek. Even “Obey” is a bogus translation. The Greek word for “obey” is not there. You are at the mercy of translators who want clergyism baked into your Bible. No clergy will help you see this corruption. I can, and “free of charge” and in “one another” orientation – no sermon, even if you say I”m “ranting”. I’m ok with any exaggerated term you want to use.

      “Even Paul acceded his authority to discipline…” That is an odd claim from these verses. Every pulpit and pew church is a “corporate empire”. You seem to like it with your false claims for “authority” when Jesus said: “exercising authority…not so among you.” Matthew 20:25-28.

  4. As soon as we stop talking about “the steps as fostering a “healthier structure” of church leadership” and start talking about ” the steps as fostering a “healthier structure” of church responsibility” the better.

  5. Christianity Today has a good essay about Houston and Hillsong, by Dr. Michael Bird of Australia. A quote: “ the evangelical world needs leaders who demonstrate Christlike character, not simply public confidence; who grow disciples, not groom sycophants; who see themselves as naked before Christ, not robed in the prestige of their platforms. We need leaders who know that when success becomes an idol, cover-ups become a sacrament.”

  6. I hear little proclamation of Christ by these Hillsong (Megachurch) pastors. Does He even matter anymore?

    The problem: “ Philippians 2:21 (ESV): “For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.”

    The solution: Philippians 3:8–10 (ESV): “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection…” ????

  7. Businessmen, all of them. Leaving a failing business and launching with a new name. Pity the sheep who trust these tricksters.

  8. I’ve seen commercials for Discovery Plus’s Hillsong expose during primetime on a major television network. I can see why they would want to disassociate themselves, and quickly.

  9. This is about the way I feel about the local Pentecostal church I attend (that’s 60 odd years old). which is now under the wing of a more urban church 20 miles away. The church I knew for decades is dead.
    Then again, I’d ask the Phoenix pastor, “Do your satellite churches have their own board? or are you controlling them all…completely?

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