NEW YORK (RNS) — A pastor for Hillsong East Coast has resigned after sharing revealing photos of himself on Instagram stories. His resignation comes at a time when the global megachurch has been rocked by multiple scandals, including last fall’s firing of “celebrity pastor” Carl Lentz from Hillsong New York City after revelations of an extramarital affair.
Darnell Barrett, 32, resigned from his role as a pastor and creative director for the Montclair, New Jersey, Hillsong campus on Tuesday (April 27) after he shared two “mirror selfie” photos of himself shirtless and wearing white Nike compression leggings that left little to the imagination.
He included captions with the photos, describing a recent struggle with depression and anxiety and his pride in “getting to the gym today even if it was a cheap 30 minute workout.”
“One of the insidious things about grief is it’s capricious nature,” Barrett, who is married and has two children, wrote in the caption overlaying a photo taken in a gym locker room mirror. “I’m learning to give myself grace in how I deal with it.”
Barrett sent the photos on Instagram stories to his “close friends” — followers he would have manually selected — but he also included a 30-year-old woman who once volunteered for him at the New Jersey church.
He quickly messaged to alert her what he sent was a mistake. “Hey! I think I might’ve added you to my close friends list by accident,” Barrett wrote. “I’m so sorry. Trying to figure out how the hell to edit it,” according to messages obtained by The Daily Mail.
“Got it. We’re good,” he messaged soon after, then followed up by letting her know he sent “some real raw s—” to his friends.
The woman initially seemed to shrug it off. “Haha that’s alright” she responded but then blocked him. Later, she came back to the messages to unblock him and express decidedly stronger opinions on the matter, saying she was “insulted that you would think I wouldn’t understand what you’re doing.”
She accused the pastor of sending her the explicit photos as part of a “fishing” scheme to see if she would bite and that she was “horrified by the thought of how many other innocent girls you’ve manipulated with this ploy of yours.”
“I’m going to assume you’ve sent this to gauge girls reactions to see if they’d take part in this weird-sexual-online-relationship fantasy you have,” according to the messages.
Barrett insisted to the Daily Mail sending her the photos was an accident and he had no intention of meeting up with the woman. “This was something that was just an honest mistake and I informed my wife as soon as it happened.”
“I was not at all trying to lure her,” he told the tabloid. “I get that she, within the context of what’s happening with Hillsong, that she would draw those conclusions.”
Even so, the Hillsong pastor stepped down from his role at the church, citing “infidelity” in his marriage, and said he and his wife are “working through it.”
“We thought it was best for me to move on. I don’t want to get into the details,” Barrett added.
In a statement provided to Religion News Service, Hillsong confirmed that Barrett, “the creative oversight for Hillsong East Coast’s Montclair location,” had resigned on Tuesday.
“We were disappointed to learn about choices he made that were unacceptable for any Hillsong staff member,” the church said, adding the church has “countless staff members and volunteers who carry their responsibilities with trustworthiness, integrity, and excellence.”
“They represent the heart of Hillsong Church.”
Barrett’s resignation is the latest in a series of scandals, transitions and general tumult facing Hillsong, a global megachurch founded by Brian and Bobbie Houston in 1983 in the Sydney, Australia, suburbs. It now has locations in 28 countries around the world and, pre-pandemic, saw an average 150,000 attenders each week, according to its website.
In addition to the November firing of Lentz from Hillsong New York City, the pastors of the church’s Dallas location resigned amid leadership complaints in January. That church was shuttered indefinitely in April.
Since Lentz’s firing, the megachurch has come under scrutiny for its celebrity culture, with some former volunteers describing a hierarchy that treated pastors as “royalty” and favored celebrity attendees such as Selena Gomez; Justin Bieber and his wife, Hailey Baldwin Bieber; Kevin Durant; Chris Pratt; and the Jenner sisters.