The senior pastors of the multi-campus Grace City Church in Lakeland, Florida, have announced their disaffiliation with Hillsong Church following Brian Houston resignation over alleged misconduct with women.
Andrew Gard, co-pastors of Grace City Church Florida, with his wife Christina said that they were heartbroken over the scandals that have plagued the global megachurch in recent years and Brian Houston resignation.
“It impacted us in that these are people I love. Carl Lentz was and is a friend. So it’s devastating, it’s heartbreaking,” Gard said. “We feel bad for everyone that is involved.”
On April 1, the Grace City Church website removed its statement stating that it was a Hillsong family church. The affiliation had been ongoing since the Florida’s church inception on September 15.
At the same time, Gard asserted that Grace City Church florida, has always been “our own nondenominational church” and that Hillsong was considered an emergency contact for him.
“If I had a moral failure, our local church council could have gone to Hillsong to see if this is restorative or does Andrew need to be fired,” he explained. “Or number two, if my wife and I were killed in a car accident and they had to find new senior pastors, our council could have worked with Hillsong to help us in that.”
Andrew Gard also revealed that he saw the Discovery + three-part docuseries Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed, released in late March. The docuseries highlighted several controversies within the Hillsong church network, including the downfall of former Hillsong NYC Pastor Carl Lentz and Brian Houston‘s alleged coverup of child sex abuse crimes committed by his father, the late pastor Frank Houston.
Despite watching the documentary, he shared that Houston’s resignation as Global Senior Pastor in March ultimately prompted him to end his affiliation with Hillsong.
“We’re heartbroken and sad like everybody,” the pastor said. “I don’t think it’s reflective of not just our church but churches in general. I think there’s a lot of amazing people doing a lot of amazing work.”
“Decisions have consequences, and we understand that,” he continued. “Character matters in what we do, and rightfully so. Our church for the last few years has operated in a way that’s above reproach and above board.”
According to the New York Times, Hillsong has lost nine of its sixteen churches in the U.S. in recent weeks because of scandals within the church network.