FX documentary sheds new light on Hillsong KC incident in 2019

Former worship leader Crystal Rose speaks up regarding racism and manipulation she faced at the local megachurch.
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Crystal Rose. // Photo by Haley Smith

Amid the release of Stacey Lee’s new documentary The Secrets of Hillsong, new light has been shed on a situation that occurred at Hillsong KC—now renamed Kingdom City—back in 2019. 

Crystal Rose was a worship leader at Hillsong KC. She dedicated a good portion of her life to working in various areas of the church, but as she spent more time with the leadership at Hillsong KC, Rose began to have second thoughts about the type of people she was dealing with. 

After several unpleasant encounters with Liz Turner, one of the lead pastors at Hillsong KC, Rose heard from other church members about situations relating to race disparity. She knew she had to approach leadership and attempt to fix the issues. What she had hoped would be a productive conversation on how to improve ultimately led to Rose being forced to leave the property of Hillsong KC. She had been excommunicated. 

[In a statement to the documentary, Hillsong has disputed these events. Their statements can be found throughout the docu-series.]

After speaking out in the documentary, Crystal agreed to chat with The Pitch about her experience and what she has been up to since. 

The Pitch: How did you get to Hillsong? 

Crystal Rose: I had been in church my whole life. Before I moved to Kansas City, I was living in Springfield and had grown up singing Hillsong music. When I was getting ready to move, I started looking for a new church and found Hillsong Kansas City, which was actually called The Cause at the time. I just went and never left, really. 

What was your first impression of Hillsong? 

It was a mixed initial impression. I was definitely drawn there, but at the same time, I felt like I was on the outside. Like I would have to win them over. Everyone was young, around my age, but the majority were white. Eventually, I met some of the key staff members and started telling them about how I had been leading worship my whole life. They got very excited about that and told me that they had been praying for a female worship leader of a different ethnicity, and they were so glad that I had shown up on their doorstep. It was a unique experience, but it also felt familiar because of the churches that I had grown up in. 

How did you get involved in the band? 

After that very short initial conversation, they invited me to band rehearsal. For a while, that was all I would do, I would just go to their practices, and eventually, they put me on stage. This band was all white guys. I was the only girl for a long time. Eventually, I started interning there and leading worship in small connect groups. 

At its height, how many hours a week did you spend at the church between rehearsals, work, service, etc.? 

At one point, I was doing at least seven services on Sundays. I was leading worship on stage on Sundays, I was leading the small groups one night during the week, I was interning at the church, so I was going in a few days during the week to work, and then there was band rehearsal one night out of the week. On top of that, I was also in school at UMKC, working a serving job, and interning at Power and Light. It got to the point where I would take naps in my car at the church because there would be no point in going all the way home since I’d just have to come back in a few hours. 

Did you get compensated for leading worship? 

Definitely didn’t get paid to lead worship; that’s not the norm. There were a few times when they wanted me to do something for them, and I couldn’t get off of work so they would offer to pay me so that I would come to this event. I was probably one of the only people who got paid to do the internship, though. 

When did the friction start at the church? 

It was really when I started doing music outside of the church that I started to think that maybe I should pull back on the time that I was spending there. I was trying to figure out what my next move was, and I started to consider going to Hillsong College in Sydney. I talked with Chris Cole, who was the worship director at the time, and he told me that I should talk to Liz about it. I instantly knew that wouldn’t go well. I knew she would lose her shit. At the time, she was meeting with me privately and counseling me, which you feel a sense of gratitude for, but it was also kind of scary because I knew deep down I couldn’t trust her. I avoided her for a while, and then it got to the point where I just had to talk to her, and everything I had predicted happened. 

She tore into me one day in a pretty public setting, and it was all about the prospect of me going to Hillsong College. She told me that I would get there and be one person in a sea of thousands. I told her about doing my own music, and she told me that I was going to sleep my way to the top and that’s the only way I was going to succeed. She literally tore apart every dream I had. 

When did you start bringing up the concerns you had about race disparity issues within the church?

I had some meetings with Chris, the worship director, and I have voiced my concerns with him. During that meeting, I was very honest, and he was just brainwashed. I had never in my life seen anyone so brainwashed. He suggested that if I felt like I couldn’t trust leadership right now that it was best for me to step down from leading worship. I didn’t really want to do that, but I agreed, and he said that he would help me set up a meeting with leadership which is all I really wanted. I just wanted to talk to them. 

These things I wanted to talk to them about were things that had happened to other people that wanted to remain anonymous, so I wanted to go to leadership on their behalf and tell them what needed to be fixed. 

Had you ever seen them escort someone out of the church? 

Never in my life. Liz has a short circuit. She has very little ability to control her reaction or outbursts. She’s very impulsive. I think that this was one of those impulsive things she decided to do, but then again, it could have been something that they had been planning to do for weeks. I just know I’ve seen her blow up at the drop of a dime. 

After all of this happened, how did it affect your relationship with the church? 

A big group of us left Hillsong KC at the same time, and we started going to a church in Midtown that was very different. Hillsong felt very much like a machine, and I think we all just needed a break from that. It was really hard not to have that sense of community when you’ve had it for most of your life. Worship was the biggest thing I was connected to, but for a while, I would show up late because worship was too triggering for me. 

I don’t go to church right now, but I feel like my faith has expanded so much. I’m really grateful for where I am spiritually wise. 

Do you think the church is facing the same issues?

Completely. Yes. I get sent stories from people who were there before me when it was still the cause, so I don’t think they’ll ever be able to escape it. They can’t not be so fucked up; it’s in their nature. They just sweep it under the rug and keep moving, which leads me to believe the same things are happening today. Even more so, the fact that they haven’t owned up to anything leads me to believe it’s still happening. 

What freedom has this bounce back given you? 

It’s definitely affected my music. Before, I wouldn’t want to talk about certain things or write about them because I was afraid of how people would perceive them. I wrote a song called “House of God” that I submitted to the NPR Tiny Desk contest in 2020 and it was featured top shelf. But I remember being too scared to sing that out in Kansas City. Another one I wrote that was featured top shelf on NPR was “Mad Black Woman,” and I was always scared to sing that one in Kansas City, too. I believe in myself in a way that I didn’t back then. 

You can find Crystal Rose on Instagram and also check out her website. Catch her at recordBar August 19.

Categories: Music, News