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Brian Houston returns to pulpit: ‘There is so much more in me’

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Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston, who resigned as global senior pastor in March after the church revealed that two women made serious complaints of misconduct against him in the last 10 years, insisted in what appeared to be his first pulpit appearance since the resignation that God doesn’t write people off as men do and that he still has “so much more” to give at the age of 68.

In a message billed “A Legacy That Outlasts You” delivered at the Christian Faith Center in Seattle, Washington, last Monday, Houston encouraged churchgoers not to allow their mistakes, failings or brokenness to define the legacy they leave behind.

“Legacy is just a commitment that you’re going to live according to God’s purposes in your life. When purpose and destiny and legacy collide, it’s like a combustible force. When we attach our lives to God’s purpose, it creates legacy. It’s the most wonderful way we can live our lives,” Houston said.

“We can decide, my mistakes, my failings, my failures here, my brokenness over there, the fact that I got ripped off here, I was offended over there, we can let those things decide our legacy. But that’s not what should determine our legacy. It’s so much more than that.”

Houston initially stepped down from the boards of the Australia-based global megachurch he founded in 1983 last September after he was charged with “concealing child sex offenses.”

Hillsong Church announced in January that Houston stepped down from his role at the church’s helm for all of 2022 as he faced criminal charges related to allegations he concealed sex abuse committed by his father decades earlier. Houston denied wrongdoing. 

He completely resigned from the church on March 23. Hillsong Church said Houston violated the church’s pastoral code of conduct by entering the hotel room of an unidentified woman for 40 minutes while under the influence of alcohol and prescription drugs during the church’s annual conference in 2019.

Houston doesn’t recall having sex with the woman, and the woman did not say if they had sex. Interim Global Senior Pastor Phil Dooley said their accounts of what happened are not entirely reliable because they were impaired by alcohol. Houston was also reportedly under the influence of anxiety medication.  

In a second incident, Houston is said to have exchanged an “inappropriate text message” with a staffer in 2013. According to Dooley, the text message was “along the lines of, ‘If I was with you, I would like to give you a kiss and a cuddle or a hug.'” The staffer resigned shortly after. Hillsong Church blamed Houston’s actions in this case on “sleeping tablets.”

Multiple sexual and financial misconduct allegations by other pastors in the U.S. and Australia under Houston’s leadership have emerged in recent years. 

In his Aug. 22 message, Houston stated that setbacks and failures in life shouldn’t define someone’s legacy.

“Legacy can take a lifetime to build and we can damage it. We can dent it in just a moment. And the thing about legacy is it never comes without a few twists and curves,” he said.

In September 2018, citing the growing global nature of the church, Houston, announced that Hillsong Church had split from Australia’s largest Pentecostal denomination to become a denomination of its own.

Hillsong Church had been a part of the Australian Christian Churches, a branch of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship, the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world.

At the time, Hillsong Church had 123 campuses and locations, with 263 different church services on any given weekend in 24 countries worldwide.

Hillsong Church’s brand and Houston’s legacy have weathered a slew of scandals beginning with the firing of Hillsong NYC Lead Pastor Carl Lentz in November 2020 and Houston’s resignation in March.

Houston pointed to the biblical King David from the Old Testament to drive home his message that someone’s failures should not define their legacy.

While David never lost a war in the Bible, he argued that David lost the battle “with his flesh” when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and “dented his legacy.”

“But I got to say, David’s legacy wasn’t determined there. God didn’t write him off. He cried unto God create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me,” Houston said.

“People are harder on people than God is by far. Cancel culture will write you off. Maybe social media trolls if you get any of them because I get none,” he quipped. “They might write you off, but God won’t write you off.”

He urged the congregation not to allow life’s setbacks to keep them from moving forward. He noted that even at his age, as long as he is alive, he intends to do the same.

“I’m 68 years old, but I realize there is so much more in me. So much still here. That’s how we should live our lives,” he said to applause. “So through legacy, we can outlast our critics, we can out-love our detractors, we can outlive our mistakes and our failures. Don’t underestimate the power of legacy, but as I said, it always comes with a few twists and turns and unexpected things and setbacks.”

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