The global leader of Hillsong Church has announced a series of sweeping changes to staff and HR policies following a scandal involving one of its most high-profile pastors. New York pastor Carl Lentz was fired from his role in November after it emerged he had been having an affair. Brian Houston said he was "heartbroken over the breaches of trust" that occurred at the church, and promised to introduce a number of measures to ensure similar failings do not happen again.
Houston said that the church "should be a safe place, not one that causes deep wounds", and noted that, under Lentz's leadership, Hillsong East Coast had "failed to be the kind of church it should be".
"On behalf of the Global Board and as Global Senior Pastor, I accept responsibility for these failings and apologize unreservedly," he said.
Houston went on to announce a number of changes to the way Hillsong is administrated globally, with mentions of "strengthening infrastructure" and ensuring "greater accountability and stability" throughout the network of churches.
"Hillsong Church already has strong global standards and requirements for governance, financial stewardship, and reporting that have been in place for many years," Houston said. "Moving forward, our Global Charter will ensure these standards and requirements are maintained, with policies and procedures that require strict adherence implemented across the whole church."
Firstly, Houston said Hillsong would be introducing "additional training for staff and volunteers intended to increase awareness of the specific types of power dynamics that often arise in a church setting".
"Power dynamics are inherent in any organization with a leadership structure, volunteers, and team members who have supervisory responsibilities," he said. "This is especially true in a ministry environment. The responsibility falls to leaders to understand the significance of the position they hold in the lives of others and to use that position as Jesus did, not to be served but to serve. We will ensure additional training for our staff members and anyone in leadership to help them recognize and steward this dynamic."
Secondly, Houston said that the leadership would be reinforcing the Code of Conduct for all staff. "While our pastors are already required to abide by a Code of Conduct, we will implement this for all employees," he said. "This will reinforce our expectations across the lifestyle expectations we require of our staff, including but not limited to the inappropriate use of alcohol or other substances."
Houston also noted that Hillsong East Coast will "hire, compensate and train for each position according to standardized procedures" from now on.
Other measures include a "clear and consistent system for reporting grievances and issues related to inappropriate behavior", "improved financial accountability policies", "improved supervision and accountability of all pastors and staff" and "increased safeguards for staff and volunteers".
A "stringent sexual misconduct & harassment policy" will also be enforced, along with "mandatory training".
"It is clear that our existing policies and procedures, which intend to promote a healthy environment, were actively ignored, failed to be maintained, and were not enforced effectively at a local level," Houston explained. "We will implement a more comprehensive policy with additional safeguards to ensure that all volunteers and staff understand that respectful and appropriate behavior is a non-negotiable requirement for us. Training will be implemented across all locations, and inappropriate conduct of any kind will not be tolerated."
Houston said that the church will "thoughtfully implement these sweeping changes" and ensure that they are "fully understood and integrated into Hillsong East Coast’s culture moving forward".
Last month, Houston announced that pastors Chrishan and Danielle Jeyaratnam would be taking on Hillsong East Coast in the wake of Lentz being dismissed.