Brian Houston writes: Dear Church 'I accept responsibility for these failings', Hillsong makes changes

Hillsong details lesson’s learned, changes they are making

In an email message, Hillsong’s Global Senior Pastor discusses past failings and future hopes for Hillsong’s East Coast USA branch. The Carl Lentz situation has been covered in Eternity stories here, here and here.

Dear Church,

In my last email to you, I shared that the independent investigation of Hillsong East Coast has concluded. Today, I want to follow up with you and provide details of the actions we will take moving forward.

As the events of last year unfolded, there was a lot we didn’t know. Now, thanks to the courage and honesty of many of you, we have a much clearer understanding of the state of Hillsong East Coast. Thank you to all of you who have enabled us to reach this place.

As the Global Senior Pastor of our church, I am heartbroken over the breaches of trust that have been revealed. A church is supposed to be a place where pain is lifted, freedom is found through Jesus, and everyone is treated with respect, kindness, and care. It should never take advantage of the valuable time invested by members and volunteers. There will always be an element of disagreement in any environment where people are gathered, but a church should be an example of how to fuse fractures. The church should be a safe place, not one that causes deep wounds.

We know that Hillsong East Coast has 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.

Moving forward, we are committed to taking the necessary action to confront these failings. We will be making significant changes to address the serious shortcomings and empower our new East Coast Lead Pastors for the days ahead.

As part of this, we are committed to strengthening our church’s infrastructure to ensure greater accountability and stability through the implementation of a Hillsong Global Charter across all of our campuses. Hillsong Church already has strong global standards and requirements for governance, financial stewardship, and reporting that have been in place for many years. 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.

We will endeavor to be open and clear about all new policies and procedures. The changes we will be making are essential to ensuring the wellbeing of staff, volunteers, and members as our church continues to grow globally.

Finally, I want to express how hopeful I feel about our new East Coast Lead Pastors Chrishan and Danielle Jeyaratnam as the church enters this new season of restoration and change.

That said, I fully understand that new leadership is only one step in the process of rebuilding trust, and I want to assure you that we are not afraid to do the hard work of bringing our culture back into alignment with the biblical standards and Kingdom culture that has been the heart of Hillsong Church from its beginning.

Here is an outline of how we plan to move forward:

With love,
Brian Houston
Global Senior Pastor

Announcement of changes

This list is worth reading, as it reveals areas where Hillsong’s systems broke down. It may be useful for other churches (Eternity Comment)

To address the issues and misalignment of the culture and practices at Hillsong Church East Coast, we are making significant changes. As our church has grown in unprecedented ways globally over recent years, we recognize the need to continue to strengthen infrastructure to ensure greater accountability and stability. These changes will aim to address the lapses that have affected the culture of our East Coast campuses, and prevent the strong policies, that we do have in place globally from being ignored. These additional protections are to ensure the wellbeing of volunteers, staff, members, and everyone who calls Hillsong home or visits one of our churches.

One significant change in this regard will be the implementation of the Hillsong Global Charter at Hillsong East Coast, which will bring more oversight, compliance, and uniformity of expectation and culture across all our locations going forward.

Further, we will begin implementing the following changes immediately and hope they serve to start restoring trust as we begin rebuilding Hillsong East Coast together:

1. 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. 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.

2. Revised and reinforced 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. 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. And we will implement accountability structures to ensure the expectations we place on staff members are followed.

3. Uniform HR policies, procedures and training

In accordance with global policies, Hillsong East Coast will hire, compensate and train for each position according to standardized procedures.

4.  A clear and consistent system for reporting grievances and issues related to inappropriate behavior. 

In other countries, we have whistle-blower, grievance, and complaints policies to protect those who are reporting issues to be addressed by leadership. Although some elements of those policies have been implemented in the United States, we will enact more comprehensive policies that more closely align with our churches globally.

Our new system will ensure that any person with a complaint will be able to anonymously or confidentially submit their concerns. We are also introducing procedures to ensure greater accountability.

5. A stringent sexual misconduct & harassment policy and 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. 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.

6. Improved financial accountability policies

Although we had comprehensive policies and procedures in place, they were not always followed. Where possible, we will implement standardized procedures to add another layer of accountability through our Hillsong Global Charter. This will clearly outline the expectations we have of our Lead Pastors and churches for transparency and good stewardship. We will also increase awareness, training and accountability amongst our leaders to ensure that our existing policies are closely followed.

7. Improved supervision and accountability of all pastors and staff 

Hillsong Global will increase training and supervision, focusing especially on Lead Pastors and their key team members. We will ensure that Lead Pastors, and all who work alongside them, align with existing policies and procedures with the understanding that the purpose of these safeguards is to ensure a healthy environment for all staff, volunteers, and members.

8. Increased safeguards for staff and volunteers

Hillsong Church highly values the time and the talents that staff and volunteers invest in church activities. To ensure that team members are treated with kindness and respect, we are increasing training for all who supervise people that will communicate the specific role of each staff member or volunteer. Each leader will be required to understand and clearly articulate an appropriate scope of responsibilities for each position. This process will also detail what is considered an inappropriate scope of responsibilities, including personal work.

We will thoughtfully implement these sweeping changes. And we will ensure, to the best of our ability, that they are fully understood and integrated into Hillsong East Coast’s culture moving forward. We are grateful for the people who have brought issues to our attention and for the opportunity to do better in the future and ensure these standards are upheld. We acknowledge that we should have addressed many of these areas earlier.

We cannot change the past, but we can and will learn from our mistakes and use this knowledge to build a better future. That’s our commitment



Some prayer points to help

This is a good time to pray for Hillsong church, whether you go there or not