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Carl Lentz in the new docuseries from Hulu.

New series shows the highs and lows of Hillsong Church and Carl Lentz

“The Secrets of Hillsong” uncovers Hillsong culture, abuse and Carl Lentz. The four-part documentary dropped on May 19. Since Carl Lentz’s fall from grace due to his affair with Ranin Karim, many celebrity gossip and media voices have chimed in to tell Lentz’s story. For the first time since the scandals, both Carl and Laura Lentz tell their own stories in the documentary.

Hillsong Church was founded in Australia by Brian and Bobbie Houston back in the 1980s. Hillsong churches are in 30 countries, and 150,000 people attend campuses weekly according to Hillsong.

hillsong series

Carl and Laura Lentz, former pastors of Hillsong Churches in New York and New Jersey.

The first episode shows the rise of Hillsong church and a young Carl in ministry. In the second episode, Carl and Laura give detailed accounts of their life in Hillsong and their journey through the scandals. At the start of the second episode, Carl details the many masks he wore in ministry as he looks through a stack of old “sermon stuff.”

“Got yo have your strength mask so everybody knows you can handle it,” Carl said. “Got to have your happy mask so everybody will always think you’re having fun. Got to have your sex appeal mask — after all that’s your value. All these masks are designed to hide need.”

That need was deep because while Carl preached to thousands, he battled affairs and an addiction to Adderall. Diagnosed with ADHD, Carl’s Adderall prescription quickly turned from help to abuse as he used it to deal with his demanding Hillsong schedule.

Since the inception of Hillsong, expansion has always been a priority. That expansion is what led the couple to America — New York City in particular, where they presided over a church in Manhattan and in the powerful media and cultural hub of Montclair, New Jersey, where they lived. Lentz, a former college basketball player, had a knack for befriending athletes and NBA stars such as Kevin Durant and celebrities such as Justin Bieber. Such relationships also added to his own cultural cache and drew crowds to the worship services.

The Lentz family would do unique things to get church followers — even wrapping Bibles to sneak them into nightclubs to pass out to people. Over time, Hillsong’s expansion also seemed to take priority over the souls of the congregation and their leaders. In some cases, the leaders found little time to reflect on Christ.

“If you have issues in your life, influence, power and position will exacerbate all of them,” Carl said. “Then we hit New York City and the level of pressure, the level of visibility, the level of responsibility was so huge and so quick.”

In the documentary, Carl recounts a conversation where he told Brian he didn’t know if he could handle all the sermons. Brian responded, “When I was your age I was doing 11 sermons (a week).” Lentz says this attitude made him carry on with his duties even though his spiritual state wasn’t the best.

The letter from The Five

The institution of Hillsong seemed to be more important than catering to the needs of the church. Three years before the scandals broke out, five members of Hillsong NYC wrote an email to leadership expressing concern about issues in the church.

Dear Hillsong NYC Staff,

When a church is less like a family and more like an enterprise, Its leaders act less like pastors and more like commanders. This puts everyone in danger, the leaders and the people. There are verified and widely circulated stories of inappropriate sexual behavior among staff and interns. Sweeping messy situations and problems under the rug and lack of accountability. We no longer trust the leadership of Hillsong NYC. The problems and concerns voiced in this letter are desperate, last-ditch endeavors to address and put out small fires which have now developed into a massive inferno. Hillsong NYC should not join the list of other churches and institutions that ignore the repeated outcries of victims until some horrifying scandal takes them down. This is deeply personal to us because this church in this city is our dream, too. We are disappointed beyond measure and fearful for what is ahead if these issues remain unchecked.

Sincerely, The Five

Those desperate pleas fell on deaf ears and remained unchecked. That same year, The Five were no longer part of Hillsong NYC.

A mother’s plea for help

Compassion should be a core value of any church. However, when the main goal is protecting the institution, compassion can be overlooked. A month before Carl’s affairs came to light, his daughter tried to take a bunch of pills, which led to her being hospitalized. A distressed Laura texted Bobbie asking for the details to be kept confidential for the sake of her child.

“I am having an anxious moment as a mum,” she said. “If the way this is announced is detailed it could push our traumatized child over the edge. Our counselor has said that added trauma can put her life in danger.”

A month later, Brian would take private conversations and details to the media.

“There are children involved, and to say such nasty things, it was really damaging,” Laura said.

During that time, Carl thought about vacating the plant.

In a removed Instagram post by Brian, he talked about the wonders Hillsong Church has done over the years:

“Bobbie and I are doing well. We are still fighting and pushing forward for the good days ahead. These are interesting times and crazy slanderous documentaries. The only reason for that is because Hillsong is newsworthy and it’s newsworthy because of all that God has done over the last 40 years.”

While many people still believe in Hillsong and take these accusations as “schemes of the devil,” others continue to tell how Hillsong has changed for the worse. On Brian’s post, a commenter named Beth Dolan told her story.



“I was very blessed at Hillsong for many years (praise God),” she wrote. “But unfortunately, my daughter who was a youth leader and student at Hillsong College wants nothing to do with the church after college. This is because of the abuse of authority and after being neglected by the leader when she needed time out of serving to deal with personal issues. It looks like her problems were not important enough to the leader but her endless serving was.”

“The Secrets of Hillsong” gave voice to the many congregants that felt unheard and left in the shadows by Hillsong.

Brian Houston and other Hillsong scandals

During the height of Carl’s affairs being in the spotlight, Brian did an exclusive interview with Today. When people wondered if Brian’s student Carl was anything like him, Brian made it clear that he wasn’t.

“On one level, if people say Carl was like me, I’d see it as a compliment because (he’s an) incredibly gifted guy, but on another level, I don’t think Carl really is anything like me,” Houston said, adding, “I am ultimately responsible. I am ultimately accountable.”

However, after Carl’s scandal, Brian had some of his own that were similar in nature. The Hillsong founder had allegations of inappropriate behavior from two women. The first incident occurred in 2019 when he went into a woman’s hotel room after drinking. The second incident involved sending inappropriate text messages to a woman.


Brian and Bobbie Houston, leaders of Hillsong internationally.

In 2022, Brian had criminal charges brought against him for covering up his father’s (Frank Houston) sexual abuse of young boys. At the time of his abuse, Frank was a pastor. During a phone call with the victim, Brian allegedly made the statement, “You know this is all your fault. You tempted my father.”

Brian was also charged with DUI in California. He resigned as Hillsong’s global senior pastor. Episodes 3 and 4 of “The Secrets of Hillsong” explore Brian and Frank Houston’s transgressions.

In hindsight, Carl and Brian may have had more in common than he originally thought.

Boston Hillsong and racism

Non-White Hillsong attendees constantly told leadership about feeling “othered” at the institution. Although some White members felt those claims were unwarranted, it didn’t stop racism from seeping into the church.

Pastor Josh and Leona Kimes were Boston Hillsong leaders. While in leadership, Josh was accused of racial discrimination. A church report named “Internal Investigation Report Regarding Carl Lentz and Other Matters” was conducted in 2021 by Zukerman Gore Brandeis & Crossman LLP. That investigation discovered Josh had sent a racist text to people. That same investigation highlighted several racism incidents within the church.

While Leona Kimes didn’t have any racial allegations thrown at her, she was the other woman sexually involved with Carl. She wrote a piece called “Writing My Voice Back,” describing that experience. The couple resigned from Boston Hillsong.

In the documentary, Crystal Rose, a former Hillsong Kansas City member, is shown having issues with leadership. After a friend was fired for bringing up racial issues, Rose was “disgusted.” When she came to church weeks later, leadership called the police to remove her. The incident started because she was “talking trash about leadership.”

“My belief in the church was probably the first thing to go that day,” Rose said.

Dallas Hillsong (theft and sexual abuse)

Pastor Reed and Jess Bogard led Hillsong members in Dallas, Texas. Many scandals surrounded Hillsong Dallas. An investigation into church wrongdoing uncovered that the Bogards and other staff used church donations and tithes to live the high life. The money was spent on luxury apartments, designer clothes and restaurants.

Pastor Reed was also involved in an affair with a junior church staffer. The affair started in 2013 and lasted for a year. Church leaders claimed they knew of the affair. However, it would not be made public until that junior staffer revealed that he had raped her, allegedly.

Hillsong’s Dallas chapter has since shut down.

Churches leaving the Hillsong network

Multiple scandals and leadership distrust have led chapters to leave Hillsong and start new churches. Hillsong Phoenix lead pastor Terry Crist asked for a separation from the megachurch last year. The way leaders responded to the scandals pushed the Phoenix leader to move forward with the separation.

“As information began to leak out as to what was in the (investigation) report, and as the global board made the decision to increase financial controls within the churches, lead pastors were suddenly asked to sign NDAs and non-competes. Some of us couldn’t do that in good conscience,” said Crist in Christianity Today.

Lead Pastor Sam Collier of Hillsong Atlanta resigned because of the scandals.

“It became a lot for our church, for a young church,” he said. “A lot of our members were becoming really fatigued with a lot of the scandals and having to talk about it so much. I say this all the time that trust is the only thing you have when building a church. People have to trust you if they’re going to donate and if they’re going to support it.”

From the congregation to the lead pastors, Hillsong broke people’s trust and faith.

“You know, the church can be a phenomenal blessing in people’s lives, or it can be a sledgehammer of pain,” Carl said.

When churches decide to protect their image instead of keeping their eyes on the Trinity, there can be grave repercussions for people’s souls.

“The church is very triggering for me right now,” Laura said in a tearful voice. “I’m getting better — I still can’t sing. I don’t think I’ve said a word in church in a year and a half. I know God knows my heart and he knows where I’m at. I know it’s a process and It makes me sad. Because I love the church, I love what I was a part of.”

All four episodes of “The Secrets of Hillsong” are available on Hulu.

–Reprinted from ReligionUnplugged with permission.

Princess Jones is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. Jones was a features editorial assistant at the New York Post and has worked for Religion Unplugged and the New York Amsterdam News. She is an alumna of Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennessee and of the NYC Semester in Journalism at The King’s College in New York City.


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