If you’re familiar with Hillsong Church, a global evangelical megachurch with a number of affiliates, it’s probably because Hillsong NYC was home to Pastor Carl Lentz, a well-known hipster preacher whose friendship with Justin Bieber generated plenty of headlines and who was fired last year over his “moral failures.”
But now there’s a different scandal with the branch in Dallas. That one was started up by Reed and Jess Bogard (who used to work with Lentz). The married couple abruptly resigned this past January and now the entire church’s operations have been suspended.
The couple had said they just needed some “time off” to “get healthy.” But as Roxanne Stone writes for Religion News Service, there’s more to the story beneath the surface:
The transition, however, is now being characterized as much less benign. “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,” [Hillsong co-founder Brian] Houston wrote in his Saturday email, citing a now-concluded “examination” that involved anonymous participants.
The Bogards had been a part of the Hillsong NYC team under Lentz’s leadership before moving to Dallas and launching the church there. Multiple media reports have painted a picture of money mismanagement at Hillsong NYC, including the funding of “luxurious lifestyles” for its leaders. At the time, Reed Bogard was reportedly the head of finance.
In the most recent email to Hillsong Dallas members, Houston said they had received several complaints about Reed Bogard’s leadership before his resignation, which had led to his suspension and a review of the incidents.
Brandon Walker, who helped the Bogards start that Dallas church, told the New York Post about some of the spending, too:
While Walker never held an official title in his nearly two years at Hillsong, “I was kind of like Reed’s assistant.” He helped with administration and entertaining Hillsong Dallas visitors. In the process, Walker learned that although the institution kept a very tight lock on financial paperwork, the amount of money being thrown around was too excessive to be kept a secret, he claimed.
“There was a lot of eating out, a lot of Airbnbs — very nice Airbnbs” rented for guests and staff who were between homes, Walker claimed of the excesses on which he watched pastors spend money.
While planning an event at one such Airbnb, he learned that it cost $1,100 a night…
The Christian Post also reported back in January that there was an investigation of Hillsong NYC that suggested staffers were using membership tithes on themselves. The results of that investigation were never made public, nor is any investigation of the current crisis in Dallas. Brian Houston used vague terms to describe leadership failures without ever getting into specifics — and that was to the church’s members themselves.
So much for getting healthy. It’s just another story of greed and mismanagement that we’ve seen so many times before, especially in megachurches where the pastors tend to take on roles typically reserved for celebrities. Meanwhile, it’s the congregation that suffers, their money being wasted and their trust being abused. We can probably also expect a more specific, if not highly curated, apology coming soon.
At what point will Hillsong’s leaders admit the problem starts at the very top instead of trying to cover up their own lack of oversight?
(Screenshot via YouTube)