Hillsong Church, known for its celebrity attendees, has fired one of its top pastors. The megachurch announced Wednesday that Carl Lentz would be leaving his role as lead pastor of the prominent New York City branch, citing “leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures,” according to an email from founding pastor Brian Houston obtained by Religion News Service. The church said it “would not be appropriate” to reveal more details, but Lentz since elaborated in a November 5 Instagram post, writing that he “was unfaithful in my marriage.”
“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,” Lentz wrote. “When you lead out of an empty place, you make choices that have real and painful consequences.” Lentz met his wife, Laura, through the church, where she is also a pastor. It’s unclear whether she is leaving her post as well, although her page appears to have been taken off the church’s website.
Lentz rose to prominence as a spiritual guide to Justin Bieber during the pop star’s dive into Christianity. Bieber lived with Lentz for a time in 2014, and according to a 2015 GQ feature on the church, Lentz baptized Bieber in a bathtub at then–Knicks player Tyson Chandler’s home. Chandler is one of the church’s many celebrity attendees, who also include Kardashians and Jenners, star couples like Vanessa Hudgens and Austin Butler, and other basketball players like Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, according to People. (Lentz himself played basketball at North Carolina State University.) Chris Pratt attends the church with wife Katherine Schwarzenegger, and prominently defended the church after Ellen Page called it “infamously anti-LGBTQ.” TMZ reported a “falling out” between Bieber and Lentz in 2018. Lentz founded Hillsong’s New York City branch, its first East Coast congregation, alongside Houston’s son Joel in 2010. The megachurch began in Australia in 1983; it now has branches in 28 countries and a global attendance of 150,000. Its worship band is also prominent in contemporary Christian music, with the 2013 song “Oceans” cracking the Hot 100.
In a longer message posted to the church’s website, Houston also praised the Lentzes “for the way they have served faithfully and sacrificially since the start of Hillsong NYC,” adding, “We are confident that after a time of rest and restoration, God will use Carl in another way outside of Hillsong church.” However, he assured the church that “this action was not taken lightly and was done in the best interests of everyone, including Pastor Carl.” Lentz echoed those comments in his own post. “This failure is on me, and me alone and I take full responsibility for my actions,” he wrote. “I now begin a journey of rebuilding trust with my wife, Laura, and my children and taking real time to work on and heal my own life and seek out the help that I need.”