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  • Micah Coate

The Unsurprising Fall of Celebrity Pastors

Updated: Apr 27

“Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” — Paul, 1 Timothy 3:1-3

In response to the adulterous relationships that celebrity pastor Carl Lentz recently admitted to, the Guardian posted an article doltishly titled: ‘Why do pastors keep falling?’: inside the shocking downfall of Hillsong church. 1

What’s ironic about the title is that everyone should already know why some church leaders fall into gross sin, especially tattooed pastors who run in the circles of Hollywood’s elites. Plenty of books have been written about the reasons we have seen religious leaders preach holiness and sincerity in their public lives, only to fall prey to unrighteousness and hypocrisy in their private lives.


Simply put, Christian leaders fall for the same three temptations that every other human does: money, sex, and power. The Apostle John wrote about these common temptations we all face on this fallen earth. “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life is not of the Father but is of the world.” 2 The “lust of the flesh” is often gratified through riches, the “lust of the eyes” through unbridled sex, and “the pride of life” through influence and prestige — money, sex, and power.


The other reason the article’s subtitle is painfully unaware is because Lentz’s moral failure is anything but “shocking.” Anyone could have seen a marital breech or some other sexual scandal on the horizon and indeed, those around Lentz should have not only seen it coming, but done something to thwart its happening. Although I believe in personal responsibility, here’s why those surrounding him personally, and those from afar, both failed.


Carl Lentz was a charismatic and gifted teacher. His good looks and trendy tattoos only propelled him further into the spotlight of fame. Understand, I’m not one to begrudge good looks and tattoos, but Carl was encouraged throughout the years to live the lifestyle of the rich and famous more than a humble follower of Jesus — the two are not always incompatible, but almost always are. Consider that his megachurch, Hillsong NYC, roped off sections in the front rows just for celebrities who attended services. (I think there’s a Bible verse about that). Also bear in mind that along his journey, Carl was validated to charge anywhere from 20k to 40k for a speaking fee. Needless to say, many churches, financed by people’s tithes, somehow thought it was worth paying those prices. Charging this exorbitant rate to preach the gospel allowed Carl to live in a 4.3 million dollar mansion. And because more money equals more problems, this large living space needed housekeepers. Reportedly, they were instructed not to look at the pastor or his wife while working. This detail is even more cynical given that the family’s Nanny accused Carl of sexual assault. But even in the work place, Carl had personal assistants whose only job was to respond to his beck and calls. His Starbucks coffee was never allowed to reach room temperature.


All these things are pertinent to know because all along the way Carl was allowed to “treat” and “care” for the famous at his church while ignoring the many more who weren’t. He was permitted to receive a salary far too big for any pastor to accept in good conscience. He was entitled to have personal servants, empowered by media adulation, and validated by everyone else. In the end, while Carl is completely accountable for his actions, under a Christian veneer, he was enabled by his family, friends, and church to get want he wanted. So with the love of money and power gone unchecked, the only one left from John’s three temptations was sex unrestricted by biblical confines.


The tale of pastor Carl Lentz, and disgraced Hillsong Church founder, Brian Houston, not to mention his pedophilic father and pastor, Frank Houston, is sad, depressing, and sobering. But given the permeating atmosphere and culture of prosperity, influence, and fame, their collective fall could be described many ways, but not shocking.

If it's shock and awe that you’re looking for in a church, be pleasantly surprised when a pastor chooses relatively poverty over riches, humility over fame, and faithfulness over unfaithfulness.

Christian, do not seek celebrity either in your own life or those you look up to. Be wary of any Christian leader who has it. If pastors have been gratified with all the money, fame, and power they want, then what makes us think they’ll practice self control when it comes to their sexual appetites?


The Apostle Paul commanded us how to respond with grace to someone like Carl, writing, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” 3 I vacillate between wanting to gracefully restore repentant Christians overcome by the deepest of sins, because I am not ignorant of my own desires; as a wanna be Christian leader myself, I can honesty confess that the temptations surrounding the unhealthy desires of money, sex, and power always need to be governed.

So, on one hand, I have great sympathy because I am painfully aware that I am no better than anyone else. But on the other hand, I want to metaphorically slap those people surrounding celebrity pastors and ask: What were you thinking!?

What they were thinking, we’ll probably never know with certainty.


But what do you think?


Micah Coate, President and Host of Salvation and Stuff

  1. David Smith, Why do pastors keep falling?’: inside the shocking downfall of Hillsong church. The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2023/may/18/hillsong-church-documentary-carl-lentz-scandal, Accessed May 19, 2023.

  2. 1 John 2:16, NKJV.

  3. Galatians 6:1 NIV.

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