Hillsong founder and senior leader Brian Houston has said he was alarmed at pastor Carl Lentz's unwillingness to be challenged and "narcissistic behaviour" prior to firing him for having an affair.
In a leaked phone call with members of Hillsong Church's global leadership team, obtained by the Daily Mail, Houston explained how a number of red flags had emerged regarding Lentz and the culture he was fostering at his New York City megachurch.
"Carl was always a difficult man to have any kind of direct conversation with, because it was always defensive. It would always be put back on the other person, as though they're the ones with the problem," Houston said in the meeting.
Houston went on to reveal that Carl's "bad moral behaviour" had "gone back historically", but that the first news he'd heard of the much-publicised affair was when a church staff member called him to say that a "very compromising chain of text messages" had been found on Carl's computer, prompting the pastor's admission and subsequent dismissal.
Pastor Carl Lentz with his wife, Laura. Source: Instagram/carllentz
Houston noted that if it had been a case of one single moral failure, while that would have been serious, there may have been a way of reconciling.
"If it was just about a moral failure, then perhaps it would have been possible to work with Carl and Laura...to work our way through it and have a period of restoration," he explained. "But the nature of where my relationship with Carl was already up to, and then add the significant nature - the serial nature - of the moral issues, it just meant that the only way to go was to terminate Carl and start with a fresh start in New York."
Houston also revealed that, due to some concerning testimonies from staff at Hillsong East Coat, a "top-level" New York law firm specialising in "corporate governance and employment law" has been instructed to conduct an independent investigation into the internal workings of the church.
Houston added that Carl was "unaccountable" and that stories had emerged from the church regarding him showing "manipulating behaviour", and "mistreating people" alongside other "hurtful things and breaches of trust". He also says in the call that Lentz was "constantly lying".
Pastor Brian reiterated the fact that Carl was an "extremely hard man to confront", which he anticipated caused major relational difficulties during his time leading the church, particularly when people tried to raise serious issues.
"It's a situation where it's almost impossible to get an issue raised without being ruled down on," Houston said of the toxic culture employed by Lentz. "The messenger was almost always the person who became the enemy."
Speaking more about the issue of church culture more broadly, Pastor Houston added that Hillsong Church is "one house and many rooms" but that there had "always been a sense with Hillsong East Coast, that to a degree [they] were running their own race".
Despite the difficulty of the past weeks, however, the Hillsong founder said there was now a critical opportunity to heal the broken culture of the New York megachurch and start something "healthier".
"I believe that with a new foundation, with a line in the sand, we can start a healthier church, a healthier relationship...one where people are valued...where honour and respect go in every direction, not just upwards, but across. Where we genuinely care for and love our volunteers and understand their sacrifices."
"I believe there's a new day for New York."