Darlene Zschech is probably the greatest praise and worship leader of our generation, in my personal humble opinion. Her albums The Platinum Collection Volume 1: Shout to the Lord and The Platinum Collection Vol. 2: Shout to the Lord 2 are simply unsurpassed in their popular reach into the churches of the 90s and early 2000s, and many of them sound pretty good musically, and the lyrics are Biblically sound. I can personally say that I’ve felt the presence of God at church during Pentecostal worship while singing a lot of those songs. In 2011, she co-founded a Pentecostal church in New South Wales called Hope Unlimited Church, which she now pastors alongside her husband Mark. I don’t know much more of their story than that, but I suppose if I were to read her book The Art of Mentoring, which came out that same year, it would shine more light on why they felt they needed to leave the Hillsong network and start their own independent church network.
Leaving the Zschechs to their own ministry endeavors, I can bless them with a clear conscience, and do not see them in any way as causally connected with the abuses that are revealed in Discovery+’s 3-part documentary Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed. This documentary is right to say that it was her songs that catapulted Hillsong Church into the international spotlight; and this is certainly a part of Hillsong’s story. But it would be wrong to say that she was part of the patchwork of abuse that was perpetrated by other male leaders there. Most of the documentary centers around the 10-year ministry of Carl Lentz, from 2010 to 2020, which is incidentally the same time that the Zschechs started their independent church. I think this suggests that the Zschechs saw something was wrong with the Hillsong leadership at this point; and they wanted to keep their eyes on Jesus, and not get tied up with the man worship that Lentz was promoting. Man worship. Idolatry. That’s exactly what it was.
Lentz became the pastor of a church plant in New York City which was called Hillsong NYC. Following seeker-sensitive and church growth principles, the church used a lot of hype and entertainment to attract the young, the beautiful, and the famous into the church, the most notable being Justin Bieber. Once this was achieved, the “celebrity church,” as it came to be called, made sure to exploit Bieber’s attendance as the greatest marketing strategy that Hillsong has ever employed. It made Hillsong NYC to grow like crazy, because people wanted to come to church to see Bieber and other celebs in a non-concert setting…or was it a concert church? But it was a theologically barren one: if anything, it was antinomian. Some described it as having a “nightclub” type of environment, with a VIP section in the front where Bieber and other celebrities could sit. James 2:2-4: “Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” There’s nothing new under the sun, but in the church this should not be. Lentz, in order to fit in with Bieber and others, also bought designer clothes in the thousands of dollars range, sweaters, shoes, and the like, for which he had embezzled the church’s funds. The man had a massive ego. Lentz and Bieber, are seen in one photo, taking shots at the bar! Bieber influenced Lentz more likely than the other way around. I think that Lentz simply became intimidated and enamored, by his newfound status as a celebrity pastor in the media spotlight, and he didn’t know how to emotionally handle it. This stress, and pressure, and his exalted, inflated sense of ego, are probably what led him to commit adultery with the girl mentioned in the documentary. He must’ve saw her as a form of escape from his crazy life at Hillsong NYC. There is a clip that seems to suggest that Lentz used to cuss in his sermons also. Lentz was a reputed womanizer in his ministry and was party to many cover-ups, and emotional abuses, in which lack of acknowledgment and lack of apology became a pattern.
Lentz’s adultery scandal in 2020 was the bomb that went off, that exposed ingrained problems of pastoral abuse and cover-up, which had been going on in Hillsong Church for many years. After covering Lentz’s ministry, the documentary proceeds to show that not only were there other incidents of sexual assault among pastors in this church network, but also that the founding pastor of the entire church, Frank Houston, had a history of pedophilia. It has come to the point that the senior pastors Brian and Bobbie Houston have been fired from Hillsong Church, which they have led for over 30 years. Brian Houston is now facing the possibility of serving a prison term, because he failed to report his father’s sexual abuse to the police. Houston had also authored You Need More Money in 2000, which many Christians have critiqued as promoting the prosperity gospel, materialism, greed, and luxury-loving. Instead of encouraging the Puritan middle-class balance of “neither poverty nor riches” in Proverbs 30:8, he simply urged poor Christians to swing the pendulum to the other extreme; and try to grow as rich as possible. What an incredible tragedy! May God bring healing.