Brian Houston, founding pastor of the Sydney-based megachurch Hillsong, announced Thursday it is launching an independent investigation into its New York City branch following the firing of Pastor Carl Lentz.
Lentz, 41, was dismissed by Houston after it was revealed he had engaged in a months-long sexual affair with a woman known only as Ranin.
“We are launching an independent investigation into the inner workings of Hillsong NYC/East Coast,” Houston announced via Twitter. “We need a solid foundation for a fresh start and new beginning. The best is yet to come.”
In a statement shared with Faithwire, a representative for the church said the decision to launch an outside investigation was made after leadership “heard from a number of people about their experiences and concerns.”
“It is important that we establish the truth and then do everything we can to ensure our church is both a safe place and one that seeks to glorify God in all that we say and do,” the statement continued. “For this reason, we have decided to appoint a New York-based legal firm that is not associated or affiliated with Hillsong to conduct an in-depth review and investigation into all concerns and any wider cultural issues.”
The spokesperson added the church is taking the investigation “extremely seriously,” noting the results of the report will leave the organization “better positioned to take whatever actions are deemed necessary to right the wrongs and see Hillsong East Coast move forward in a way that enables many more people to find hope in Jesus.”
News of the probe came after Houston addressed the congregants of Hillsong East Coast, describing the current phase as “a season of transition.”
“It’s a time when I’m so grateful for the team we have there — we’ve got such strong, committed, and deeply loyal people who are part of the team,” the preacher said. “And I must say that not only [are] our key leaders in New York supportive of the decisions that have been made, but they have, in fact, been part of the process.”
Houston, 66, also referenced news about Lentz’s infidelity, according to The Sun.
He told churchgoers: “It’s always a time when there is speculation, rumor, and gossip when change is made, and especially when radical change is made. But I just want to encourage you … stay close to Jesus; keep Him your focus.”
The Hillsong founder said updates to the church’s leadership are coming soon.
Lentz, who became famous as a result of his close friendship with pop star Justin Bieber, whom he baptized in 2014, revealed his affair last week via an Instagram post.
“This failure is on me and me alone and I take full responsibility for my actions,” he wrote. “I now begin a journey of rebuilding trust with my wife, Laura, and my children and taking real time to work on and heal my own life and seek out the help that I need.”
He went on to explain he is “deeply sorry for breaking the trust of many people who have loved serving and understanding that this news can be very hard and confusing for people to hear and process.”
“I would have liked to say this with my voice, to you, in person, because you are owed that,” Lentz continued. “But that opportunity I will not have. So to those people, I pray you can forgive me and that, over time, I can live a life where trust is earned again.”