Aussie Hillsong pastors and their lavish lives of luxury
Pastors from Australia's biggest Pentecostal megachurches are living the life of luxury in lavish homes in some of the country's most enviable locations.
One calls a palatial, four-bedroom clifftop residence with an infinity pool home, while others live rock star lifestyles in properties kitted out with spas, pools and extensive entertaining areas.
Hillsong and C3 - the country's two biggest megachurches - raked in almost $150 million in income during the 2018 financial year, the majority of that in donations from tens of thousands of followers.
The homes of their most prominent current and former pastors stand as a testament to the growing business of belief.
According to Hillsong's 2018 annual report, it spent more than $15.7 million on pastors, leaders and support staff.
Australia's second-biggest megachurch, C3, spent $18 million on employee expenses in 2018, according to financial documents lodged with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission (ACNC).
C3's Best Practice Guidelines look to 1 Timothy 5:17-18 when determining pastor remuneration which states: "The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching".
To keep in line with scripture and the concept of "double honour" the guide says, "Any attitude of keeping the Pastor lesser paid to keep him keen and humble is offensive".
While the document acknowledges it is equally offensive to pay pastors so highly the church suffers, it urges the board "errs on the side of generosity" when determining salary.
Pastors are able to receive tax-exempt benefits which can be used for goods and services, including mortgage repayments, but cannot be taken as cash.
C3's guide recommends its churches pay pastors "no more than 70 per cent" of their remuneration in tax-exempt benefits.
Like C3, Hillsong does not publish its pastor's salaries, but its website states the salaries of its leader Brian Houston and other pastors are "determined independently" by the church's board.
C3 told News Corp the church operated as a "decentralised model" and each church was responsible for setting its own remuneration guidelines.
The remuneration of its founder Phil Pringle, is set by an independent board of directors and he also dervies income from "his private interests as: an artist; an author; and a conference speaker", according to a spokesman.
Mr Pringle owns a luxurious four-bedroom home in Mona Vale which overlooks the beach from atop a cliff.
According to real estate data the architecturally designed home was purchased in 2012 for $3.4 million and features an infinity pool, foyer and rumpus room with a wet bar.
A C3 spokesman said Mr Pringle first purchased a home in Sydney 40 years ago for approximately $135,000 and his current Mona Vale home was purchased with funds "derived from the growth in value of that original property and home asset sale transactions over that period".
John and Danielle Pearce, who are the senior ministers of C3 Church Kawana Waters and the regional directors for C3 Church Australia, own a $1.5 million home on the Sunshine Coast in the coastal suburb of Alexandra Headland.
The three-level home, complete with coastal views, was purchased in 2015.
A C3 spokesman advised the home was purchased "through a combination of Mr Pearce's earnings from his manufacturing business; his salary as a C3 pastor; and capital growth from previous property purchases dating back to 1999".
Founders of the C3 campus in Mosman, Sydney, David and Kirrily Smeallie, purchased a $1.5 million home in the trendy suburb in 2015 before selling it for $2.8 million in September last year after doing extensive renovations.
They have since moved into a $1.9 million home in Frenchs Forest which they purchased in August last year to be closer to their daughters' school.
In a statement, C3 advised the homes were purchased with income Mr Smeallie earns through his role as a full-time real estate agent. He earns no income from the church.
C3 further stated Mrs Smeallie is paid a "nominal hourly rate" for two days work a week at the church, and has done so for the past three years.
"In accordance with Australian tax law and common practice in the not-for-profit sector, FBT (fringe benefit tax) exemptions are applied to any salary Mrs Smeallie earns in her role at C3," a spokesman added.
Hillsong youth pastors Peter and Laura Toganivalu, who is the daughter of Brian and Bobbie Houston, own a $1.3m home in Glenhaven.
The five bedroom home, which sits on a 904 sqm block, features an en suite with a spa bath, a pool with a spa, a three-car garage and two fireplaces.
Hillsong pastors Jerry and Jo Groenestyn, who lead the NSW Northern Beaches campus, purchased a $1.6 million Cromer home in 2017 which has an outdoor spa, fire pit and extensive entertaining area.
Two former Hillsong pastors have also gone on to lead other churches with great success.
Joel A'Bell left his position as a head pastor at Hillsong in 2018 to start his own church Revitalise, at Caringbah in Sydney's Sutherland Shire.
Mr A'Bell purchased a $1.4 million block of land in Greenhills Beach in late 2019 and a development application for the property lodged with the Sutherland Shire Council shows lavish plans for his future family home.
The project is estimated to cost more than $800,000 and plans included a theatre room, butler's pantry, pool, multiple balconies, and four bedrooms all with walk-in robes.
A second dwelling, attached to the main home, is slated to include an open-plan kitchen, dining and living room area, bedroom, study, laundry and deck.
Mr A'Bell's new church has only one location and has not yet had to lodge financial statements with the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profit Commission (ACNC).
A spokesperson from Mr A'Bell's new church said: "Like all charities in Australia they received a fringe benefit component as part of their salaries. Having said that Joel A'Bell currently is volunteering his time at Revitalise Church".
One of Hillsong's greatest exports, Darlene Zschech who left the church in 2011 with her husband Mark to join Church Unlimited as senior pastors, owns a $3.8 million property in Terrigal on the New South Wales Central Coast.
The clifftop home was purchased in 2017 and features panoramic views of the ocean.
Mrs Zschech served as a worship pastor in Hillsong for 25 years and penned some of its greatest hits including Shout to the Lord which was performed by American Idol's top eight in 2008.
Many of the pastors only go by their last names in purchasing records from RP Data, but photos posted to their respective social media profiles confirmed their connections to the homes.