Hillsong repents and regroups

‘Our church is built on Jesus, not just on any one person’

The interim global leader of Hillsong Church, Phil Dooley, has made an emotional apology to complainants and to the church about pain caused by the actions of Hillsong’s founder, Brian Houston, which breached the church’s moral code of conduct for pastors.

The apology follows an email sent to Hillsong Church members on March 18 from the church’s global board, which revealed two complaints of inappropriate conduct that had been made against Houston in the past ten years.

Brian Houston

The first complaint referred to Houston sending “inappropriate” text messages to a staff member a decade ago, while the second incident related to Houston going into a woman’s hotel room after Hillsong Conference in 2019. In both incidents, the board says Houston was affected by prescription medication.

In the email, Hillsong Global Board assured church members that the “investigations into these complaints were treated extremely seriously”; that it worked “closely with Pastor Brian to ensure he received professional help to eliminate his dependency on this medication”; and it apologises “unreservedly to the people affected by Pastor Brian’s actions and commit[s] to being available for any further assistance we can provide.”

“I want to say we are sorry for anyone who has been a victim of any form of harassment.” – Phil Dooley, Hillsong’s interim global senior pastor

Dooley began his address to Hillsong’s morning congregation on Sunday, March 20, with repentance.

“I want to start by saying we as a leadership of Hillsong Church have repentant hearts in this season. I want to say we are sorry for anyone who has been a victim of any form of harassment. Some of us here, or wherever you are listening, understand the pain as you’ve experienced it yourselves. And others of us are doing our best to empathise with you.

“Where you’ve been hurt, we pray for healing, strength and courage to move forward in your life.

“We’re a church community that desires that everyone who comes through our doors at any one of our locations will feel safe, and we will continue to respond to all that we are facing with love, grace and truth.

“As a church community, we are having to deal with a whole lot of pain, sorrow and hurt. And I know this is not easy for any of us. There’s levels of confusion and disappointment – all of those emotions. But I pray that we can and we will get it through this together,” said Dooley, fighting back tears.

He continued: “We will continue to pray for pastors Brian and Bobbie and for the entire Houston family at this time. And we believe for God’s grace, love, peace and hope to be upon them.

“I believe for us that we heal better in community than we do alone. And I want to encourage you that I may not get everything right today, but we’re going to be back here next week. And hopefully, over the time that it takes, you will see the hearts of those who are doing their very best to lead our community and to take us forward in relationship with Jesus – living for him, serving him and serving the world that he has asked us to do that for.

“We need each other at this time to show love and kindness, grace and tenderness. To give someone a hug, to offer to pray with each other and for our church.”

“Where trust and aspects of transparency have been lost, we will do our best to rebuild that.” – Phil Dooley

Dooley acknowledged that “there are things that do need to change in order for our church to be led well and to move forward.”

“Where trust and aspects of transparency have been lost, we will do our best to rebuild that,” he said.

“Jesus is and always will be at the centre of who we are as a church – always has been, always will be.

“In this season, health and healing are our focus. That’s what we’re committed to. We will seek to honour God in all we do … And we will lead his people to the best of our ability.”

Dooley stressed that the church is in Jesus’ hands, and that he wants to “continue to build a beautiful, unified church” for future generations. He referred to the Bible verse Job 14:7: “At least there is hope for a tree. Even if it is cut down, it will sprout again and its new shoots will not fail.”

“Through all that is going on at this time, I’ve never lost my hope that God is still at work in all of us,” said Dooley. “That God loves his church – that he loves you and he loves me. And he still has a plan for our church – Hillsong Church – for our lives as we move forward together.

“And let me remind you, our church, as I said, is built on Jesus, not just on any one person – beyond a board, beyond an eldership. We need these elements, they matter and we want to make sure they are done well. But our hope and our trust is in Jesus. We are guided by the word of God and the Holy Spirit of God. And we will continue to ask God for wisdom and guidance and strength in this season.”

Houston remains on a period of leave. Hillsong Global Board is encouraging any church members who need support to contact their pastoral care team through the church office at your location.

“We also believe this is a time to focus our attention on the God who restores and rebuilds, and encourage you to continue to meet together regularly not just on Sundays but in connect groups,” the board’s email concluded.