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Hillsong Atlanta pastor announces resignation in wake of scandals surrounding global church

Collier
Sam and Toni Collier. |

Sam Collier, the first-ever African American lead pastor of a Hillsong church, has announced he is stepping down from his position as a slew of scandals continue to surround the church and its founder, Brian Houston. 

Collier, who with his wife, Toni, led the Atlanta, Georgia-based branch of Hillsong, announced his departure from the church on Wednesday afternoon.

“My greatest reason for stepping down as Pastor of Hillsong Atlanta is probably not a secret to any of you. With all of the documentaries, scandals, articles, accusations and the church’s subsequent management of these attacks it’s become too difficult to lead and grow a young Church in this environment,” Collier, who is also an author, adviser to the King family, and founder of A Greater Story Ministries, wrote on social media.

“I have no shame in admitting I cried like a baby moments after I informed the Hillsong global pastor of my departure."

Hillsong Atlanta was launched in October 2020 with the goal of reaching and influencing the world “by building a large Christ-centered, Bible-based church, changing mindsets and empowering people to lead and impact in every sphere of life,” Collier told The Christian Post at the time. 

He told CP the church aimed to be a “multicultural, spirit-filled and theologically astute church” — one that models unity in a desperately divided time in history. 

“We’ve kind of dropped the ball, historically, when it comes to unity,” he said, quoting Martin Luther King Jr., who once described 11 a.m. on Sunday mornings as "one of the most segregated hours in Christian America." 

“The world models how to come together better than the church does,” he lamented. “We want to change that. Hillsong Atlanta wants to provide a model for how to be unified. We want to have a ministry that is multicultural and unified so we can help people learn to live together for the sake of the Kingdom of God.”

Collier’s announcement came just hours after Hillsong revealed that Houston, who founded the church in 1983 with his wife, Bobbie, had resigned from his role as global senior pastor.

It was revealed that Houston, who had initially stepped down from the church's boards last September after he was charged with “concealing child sex offenses,” had 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.

“We understand there will be much emotion at this news, and we all share these feelings," Hillsong said in a statement Wednesday. "Irrespective of the circumstances around this, we can all agree that Brian and Bobbie have served God faithfully over many decades and that their ministry has resulted in millions of people across the world being impacted by the power, grace, and love of Jesus Christ."

But other high-profile sexual misconduct scandals have plagued the megachurch and its campuses amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including the 2020 firing of Carl Lentz, who led Hillsong Church in New York City, over “leadership issues” and moral failures, including being unfaithful to his wife.

In April 2021, former Hillsong Dallas Lead Pastor Reed Bogard and his wife, Jess, abruptly resigned from their positions. It was revealed that the two were under investigation for “leadership failures,” resulting in the closure of that campus.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, Discovery Plus will premiere a three-episode docuseries titled “Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed” that purports to highlight how the Australia-based global Evangelical church network has toed the “fine line between cult and culture.”

Prior to pastoring Hillsong Atlanta, Collier, who wrote the 2020 book, A Greater Story, served at Atlanta-based North Point Community Church, led by Pastor Andy Stanley. 

In his statement Wednesday, Collier said he truly loves the Hillsong family and believes “they will get through this storm and come out better than they were before.”

He revealed that this coming Sunday will mark his final service at Hillsong Atlanta, where he plans to share more information about a new church he’s launching on Easter Sunday.

“I have appreciated the Hillsong family and want to thank the Houstons for the love they have shown Toni and me,” he wrote.

Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: leah.klett@christianpost.com

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