Hillsong Phoenix pastor separates from Hillsong Church, calls for investigation of board

Brian Houston of Hillsong Church.Hillsong

Hillsong Phoenix Lead Pastor Terry Crist has called for an investigation of the global board of the Australia-based Hillsong Church after announcing Sunday that he has formally asked to separate from the megachurch network due to a governance dispute in the wake of the resignation of founder Brian Houston.

"There are many reasons why we can't continue … chief among them is our loss of confidence in the global board to continue leading us as a congregation," Crist told congregants during a service in Phoenix.

Crist said that when his church decided to become a part of Hillsong Church in 2016 after being a Hillsong network church for several years before that, it was agreed that he and his wife Judith would stay in Phoenix and have the option to re-evaluate the terms of their relationship with Hillsong Church in the event that Brian Houston was no longer leading the denomination.

Houston, who co-founded Hillsong in 1983, resigned last Wednesday after it was revealed that two women made serious complaints of misconduct against him in the last 10 years. His resignation also followed a series of misconduct scandals involving other Hillsong Church leaders in the U.S. and Australia.

Last Friday, The Christian Post also reported how less than two weeks after Reed Bogard abruptly resigned as lead pastor of the now-defunct Hillsong Dallas in January 2021, an internal investigation commissioned by Hillsong Global showed that the married father of three was accused of rape by a junior female staffer with whom he had a monthslong affair while serving at Hillsong NYC years earlier.

Crist said that even though he has much respect for the work of Hillsong Church's Interim Global Senior Pastor Phil Dooley, he has wrestled with the global board over several issues in recent years, such as the need for transparency and accountability. In recent weeks, Crist said, he reached an impasse with the board over governance issues.

"Over the past year, following the sin that was exposed at Hillsong Church New York City and the subsequent investigation that was conducted into sexual misconduct and into financial misappropriation, I encouraged the results of that report [conducted by the church] to be made [public] in some general form," he said. "I asked that the report be redacted so names could be protected. I asked that the report be synopsized so we could embrace accountability and transparency. And for whatever reason, that request was denied."

Crist contends that as more information about misconduct in the church began emerging publicly, Hillsong Church took steps to protect the church's brand.

"As information began to leak out as to what was in the 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," Crist said.

"This had played out in recent weeks. It came down in recent weeks to the demand that we sign non-disclosure agreements and non-competes, meaning that if we were removed from our positions, we could not plant churches again within our community for at least one year," the Phoenix pastor continued.

After failing to come to terms with Hillsong Church to reseat their local board, Crist said they formally asked that their church be released "back to us" last Saturday.

"Specifically, that simply meant the release of our church to be governed by a local board and also to include a couple of non-Hillsong pastors who are wise and credible and have proven ministries to also be seated on our local board for the sake of accountability by non-vested pastors who have nothing to lose by speaking truth to power," he said.

"I was told this week, it is 'all or nothing.' We either had to allow the global church to govern our church and to own our properties, or we had to leave. And so with great sadness, I chose to leave," Crist added. "I am heartbroken."

The pastor said he is also heartbroken for everyone victimized during their time at Hillsong Church. He called for an investigation of the global board and the punishment of members who have done more to protect the institution over the people.

"It's in the best interest of Hillsong Church to conduct an investigation as it relates to board conduct, to immediately restore the Sydney eldership, to make the findings of that public and to dismiss the board members who have protected the institution and not the people," he said.

"I am a global apostolic leader, and I am not going to shrink back from that mandate on my life to lead not just our church but the Church in general in our generation. We have to get it right," he added. "There is so much riding on the Church of Jesus Christ in getting it right. When secular corporations are more transparent than the church, and when secular boards hold their employees and directors to a higher standard of accountability, we have failed the injunction that judgment must begin at the house of God so that the people of God [can] stand as a prophetic kingdom witness to the nations of the earth."

Crist said somewhere along the line in his relationship with Hillsong Church, he departed from his long-held practice of being transparent as the church grew. He repented for the times he also put the protection of the Hillsong Church brand above the well-being of people.

"I repent for my own ambition to do something great for God at the expense of people who are the mission. Not easy to be a pastor and to be an employer. Not easy to care for people and require work performance. And I've gotten it wrong at times. And I repent for that," he said.

"I'm committed as a leader to do a lot of soul work in this season. I'm committed as a leader to looking back over the past decade and asking God, counselors and pastors in my life to help me become what God expects of me as a leader in the church," he added. "My heart is broken for everyone who has left our church, for everyone who has walked away from our staff for various reasons."