The Secrets of Hillsong, a new four-part Hulu documentary series from FX and Vanity Fair, explores the rise and fall of a megachurch — and the charismatic pastor at the center of it all.
Most of the public first heard of Carl Lentz over a decade ago. He made headlines as the “spiritual advisor” spotted hanging out with Justin Bieber, who was in the midst of a notorious spree of minor arrests and public altercations (remember the mop bucket?).
Lentz co-founded and served as the head pastor at Hillsong NYC — an offshoot of the original Australian megachurch — eventually becoming something of a star in his own right as A-listers flocked to the casual and contemporary services.
“People say we cater to celebrities,” Lentz told GQ back in 2015. “And I say, yes, we do. Celebrities deserve a relationship with God. Celebrities deserve a place to pray.”
In Secrets of Hillsong,Vanity Fair reporter Dan Adler — whose work with Alex French is the basis of the investigative series — explains how celebrity attention created a “feedback loop” of popularity surrounding Hillsong: “It gave congregants the sense that, if these big stars were attracted to Carl and everything he was offering, why wouldn’t I be, too?”
However, Lentz was unceremoniously fired from his position at Hillsong in November 2020, with Global Senior Pastor Brian Houston citing “a recent revelation of moral failures” after Lentz admitted to an extramarital affair.
The Secrets of Hillsong calls into question the hypocrisy of Lentz’s firing — noting that Houston has been accused of covering up bigger scandals within the church, including alleged sexual abuse against minors by his father, Hillsong founder Frank Houston. However, the pastor’s public dismissal from the church led to a sharp fall from grace, and most of his high-profile friends quietly distanced themselves from the scandal.
So, who were some of the biggest celebs that Lentz got to brush elbows with during his time in the spiritual spotlight?
Lentz’s highest-profile celebrity pal during the height of his Hillsong fame was, of course, Bieber.
“He was going through it,” Lentz said of meeting Bieber at a low point for the singer in the public eye. “He was like, ‘I want to start fresh.'”
Lentz baptized Bieber and the singer even stayed with Lentz, his wife, Laura, and their three kids for a time, doing “normal stuff” in the family environment.
Several other A-list stars who began attending Hillsong services and events came from Bieber’s inner circle. Selena Gomez attended the church for a time when she and Bieber were on-again, off-again, before he met and married his wife, Hailey Baldwin, also a Hillsong attendee who referred to Lentz and his family as her “crew” as recently as 2018.
With Baldwin, came another famous family, as Kendall and Kylie Jenner snapped a selfie with Lentz and wife Laura back in 2014. Sister Kourtney Kardashian has also been spotted attending Hillsong services, particularly in the early days of her relationship with Travis Barker back in 2018.
Vanessa Hudgens attended Hillsong NYC in 2012, spending some time with Lentz’s daughters.
And the High School Musical star’s affiliation with the church continued — she and then-boyfriend Austin Butler joined Lentz for a Thanksgiving meal giveaway in 2013.
The pastor joined Michael K. Williams, the late star of The Wire, for a post-Hurricane Sandy fundraiser in 2012.
Nights out in New York City included nightclub stops with Tyson Beckford…
…fundraisers alongside Amanda Seyfried…
….and a courtside pic with life-long Knicks supporter Spike Lee.
He even sat down with Oprah Winfrey in 2016 to film a segment for her Super Soul Sunday show.
Lentz’s clout even extended to the music world, as he shot hoops and snapped pics with such artists as Drake, JAY-Z, Lil Wayne and Usher.
A college basketball player himself, Lentz had a longtime bond with NBA stars like Kevin Durant and Tyson Chandler — even using the bathroom at Chandler’s home to baptize Bieber in the middle of the night. Through them, he found friendships — or at least photo ops — with many other pro players, including Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love, Iman Shumpert, Chris Paul, Jeremy Lin, Shaquille O’Neal and more.
But Lentz’s circle didn’t just extend to basketball players. He also met up with one of the NFL’s most outspoken players when it comes to faith, Russell Wilson, and caught some waves with pro surfer Laird Hamilton (and Beastie Boy Mike Diamond?!).
Thanks to his rise to fame, Lentz made many appearances on talk shows and daytime chats, getting a chance to rub elbows with all kinds of stars.
Back in 2015, he glowingly posted about getting to “talk faith with an agnostic astrophysicist,” Neil deGrasse Tyson.
And Swifties, please don’t come for us, but thanks to his Bieber connection, he’s also spent a fair amount of time with Scooter Braun.
All four parts of The Secrets of Hillsong debut Friday, May 19, on Hulu.
Carl Lentz Addresses Bombshell Documentary, Where His Marriage Stands
Justin Bieber Says Hillsong Isn’t His Church After Ex-Pastor’s Scandal
Former Hillsong Pastor Carl Lentz Is In Treatment for Mental Illness