Exclusive interview with Hillsong Church’s Brian Houston on his new book, There is More
Brian Houston is a pastor with global reach. As the founder of Hillsong Church, he has created an international system of churches with hundreds of thousands of people worshipping in over a dozen countries. The dozens of music albums Hillsong has produced are listened to by tens of millions and even took home a Grammy Award this year.
His new book is called There is More: When the World Says You Can’t, God Says You Can. The book is about how to live the dreams God has intended for you. He is launching the “There is More Tour” which is a combination of religious sermon, rock show, CD release party, and public speaking event. World Religion News was able to chat with Pastor Brian Houston about his book, Hillsong, and the nature of faith and being a dreamer.
World Religion News: In your book, you mention sitting down and writing out what you wanted for Hillsong Church over the next 20 years called “The Church I See.” If you were to write that phrase again for the next 20 years what would it say?
Brian Houston: That is what I have done. In 1993 and I wrote “The Church I See” and it was an audacious dream that 20 years on looks like a self-fulfilling prophecy. In 2014 when Hillsong was 30 years old, I wrote “The Church I Now See.” We are just only really starting on that, and I think it is equally audacious and scary.
WRN: You talk in the book about passion vs. a job. Why is Christianity seen as a job for many people?
BH: Passion is the keyword. When someone has a sense of purpose and a real direction for their lives then you have something to get up for in the morning, then you have that reason, that purpose. It takes the drudgery out of it. When I wake up in the morning, I don’t feel like I go to work. I feel like I get up and do what I’m called to do.
“Passion is the keyword. When someone has a sense of purpose and a real direction for their lives then you have something to get up for in the morning, then you have that reason, that purpose.”
It is all a matter of living our lives with a sense of purpose. Some people bring God into their devotional life, but not necessarily into their vocational life. It should be every day. We try to preach people into their Mondays not just their Sundays. We try to ensure that they are serving God in their business, their career, raising children, whatever it is.
WRN: And so speaking of that, what would you describe the fundamental differences about Hillsong to be?
BH: I see our church as a youthful, Christ-centered church. Many years ago we came up with a mission statement, which was to reach and influence the world by having a Christ, Bible-based church changing mindsets and empowering people to lead and impact in every sphere of life. So we said that 30 years ago and we really want to try and raise once in a generation leaders to lead.
In fact, in every sphere of life, understand that we don’t just say we are saved, that we are Christians for heaven. We are saved for here, we are saved for purpose. I would see a lot of our church as really encouraging people to go after their God-given plan and purpose. We do spend significant time with programs globally and nationally, helping the poor and the needy and the hurting. We do spend a lot of time growing that position and we are expansive. We’re always expanding and building somewhere new and increasing the vision. Hillsong is a lot of things. It is quite hard to explain in a short sentence.
WRN: Speaking of that, Hillsong Church uses music as a form of religious expression and to popularize your message. Your church has released dozens of albums, numerous ones that have gone to number 1 on the iTunes Music Chart. Given that popularity, why isn’t Christian music more popular in the mainstream?
BH: I don’t know. Sometimes it’s going to give glory to God for the opportunity to give this and the doors He opens, but we have always put an emphasis on music since we were a very small church. I have always wanted to have a church that influences the way that people do church. I’m a huge believer in the potential of the local church. And so we always put our worship as an arrowhead for a healthy and local church.
I’ve always believed that our church stays healthy and the worship is just a reflection of the heart and spirit of our church towards God, then God would use the music. God would use the worship. And that’s exactly what happened. I mean, we won a Grammy, so we didn’t start out to win Grammy awards and so on. The whole lot of it is just a miraculous story.
WRN: Yet sometimes you and your church have been criticized for doing things in a way that is not traditional. In the past, you have been criticized for riding a Harley, and Pastor Carl Lentz has been criticized as well. Why do you think those images exist and what do you say to those people who might mention that to you?
“Hillsong is a lot of things”BH: I pretty well ignore the critics unless they have something constructive to say, but look, to be honest with you, I think that we’re just out there. We’re doing it. We’re large, it challenges a lot of people. I think there have probably been some jealous people out there. We are just going to do what God’s told us to do and has worked well for us so far. The vision goes on. You know I haven’t heard anything about the Harley in over a decade. It is part of life. Honestly, anything that does well is going to get criticism, it is part of the journey.
WRN: Is that the Tall Poppyseed Syndrome you have talked about?
WRN: So in the book, you mention God-sized dreams. Could you give a bit more description of what that means?
BH: I grew up a dreamer. I believe in the power of a dream and the ability to will a dream to come to us and I think that the world around us tries to rob people of their dreams. There are so many dream killers that come in the way of discouragement or just lack of encouragement and so on. I love the story of Joseph. Joseph was a dreamer and he did not stop with one dream. He dreamed another dream, the Bible said and he was persecuted for his dream. And yet, ultimately it led him to the promise of God and a place of leadership.
“I grew up a dreamer. I believe in the power of a dream and the ability to will a dream to come to us and I think that the world around us tries to rob people of their dreams.”
We live in a world where sometimes dreaming is almost frowned on. Certainly in academic circles. In university circles and political circles in Australia, they talk about working-class suburbs as aspirational, almost like it is a negative. I want people to aspire. I want them to aspire to be something, to be something significant and great because you have a lot to offer. God gives people so many gifts and talents, and I don’t think He makes us one way to use a different way. God is not schizophrenic. He gives us gifts and talents for His glory.
“God is not schizophrenic. He gives us gifts and talents for His glory.”
So I really do encourage anybody and everybody to live your life not being afraid to dream. Life has a remarkable ability it seems to get very close to your dream even if you don’t reach your dream, if you dare to dream. But if you aim at nothing you can’t hit anything.
WRN: You mention in the book that “you never search more for yourself without first discovering more of Him”. Are there particular Bible verses you mention to people to help them? What do you say to someone who asks what the first step is?
BH: Ephesians 3:20: “God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!” I am a believer in that. I believe that what God does when we cooperate with him goes beyond anything we could ever ask or think.
I like to encourage people towards that. I think the first step really is to dare to dream. Do what I do.
Sit down with a piece of paper write down those things in your heart, the things that you would love to see happen in your life. Have the courage for God to bring those things to your heart. Sometimes it is not going to happen in five minutes. I am sixty-four years of age now and much of my dream is only coming to pass now and a lot of it still hasn’t happened yet. It is not a quick fix. It takes a lifetime of consistency and commitment, a longevity that enables us to see what only God can do in our lives.
“Sit down with a piece of paper write down those things in your heart, the things that you would love to see happen in your life. Have the courage for God to bring those things to your heart.”
WRN: And you talk about the importance of obedience to God. What if someone says, “how do I make sure that I am obedient, but I avoid any negative influences, of people that I am dictated by the Bible to follow, like my parents.” So parents might be hurting at some level my dreams.
BH: God always does reward honor. Honor is a beautiful thing. I think it is possible to honor your parents and honor authorities and so on without having to compromise. To me, the will of God is the thing that comes first in our lives. We pursue what God has given us to pursue.
WRN: What if those people are religious leaders or fellow Christians. You wrote “Well-meaning Christians steer people down the wrong path of regulation and ritual instead of one of living in the grace of relationship with Christ.” What are some examples of this that come to mind?
BH: Obedience is not a very popular word in 2018. The kind of obedience that Abraham showed, where he was prepared to honor God at any cost, and of course ultimately God honored him well and truly back again and gave him the life of his son back.
Obedience is something that God rewards and obedience is just an important part of staying the course, and people may be more caught in religious practice and legalism. I think that is an absolute curse. I think it holds so many people back from the freedom of loving Jesus and living the life that God wants you to live. I think its so important not to allow certain people to use legalism and bondage and pointing the finger that we don’t let that voice stop us and we listen to the voice of the holy spirit so we are free to determine what God has determined for us to do.
“Its so important not to allow certain people to use legalism and bondage and pointing the finger that we don’t let that voice stop us.”
WRN: Would you say that is why Hillsong focuses most of its sermons and output on positive messages and avoids divisive issues?
BH: We want to be known for what we are for, not what we are against. I want people walking out of church feeling better about God, God’s work, and them. I want them feeling better about life than when they walked in. I try to encourage people, to love people, to put hope in people. But in more recent times, with some of the racial trouble here in America I know that Carl Lentz has stood up and made some firm stances.
So if we feel strongly enough we will make statements and teach people and lead people and pastor people through it. We do have nights called “Heart and Soul Nights” which is exactly what it sounds like, the heart and soul of the church. There sometimes we will address issues, but we are definitely not the type of church that gets up on a bandwagon and gets up every week to criticize whatever it is in society that we don’t like.
WRN: Speaking of issues, you have churches in over a dozen countries. How do you deal with cultural differences when preaching?
BH: Well we are very much about the message of Jesus and believe Jesus is the way, the truth, and the light. The amazing thing is that we are committed to being ourselves no matter what country we are in. And so you can go to Moscow, you can go to Kiev or you can go to Capetown or Barcelona. And even though there are different languages, different cultures even within countries it is incredible, even with the different demographics people see us equally as vibrant and joyful and it always amazes me that no matter the culture or language you think “wow this is Hillsong.”
“It always amazes me that no matter the culture or language you think ‘wow this is Hillsong.'”
WRN: As you are getting ready to begin your book tour what is one question that you wish you were asked more, either generally or about your book?
BH: One thing I want to make clear is that it is not about stuff and things and acquisition-minded, it was the last thing that was on my mind. It was more about the will of God and fulfilling your God-given potential. So I guess that’s what I would love to be clear about when it comes to this book. And I just really pray that it’s a that book gives huge encouragement to people. I talk about a lot of things.
I talk about that appointment and disappointment. And so God has an appointment for all our lives. Prophets were appointed, priests were appointed, and God appointed many people in the scriptures and disappoint, the only other direction. So the devil would love to use disappointment to get people off track with their God-given appointment. And I just really do want this book to encourage people to step up and have the courage to be what God called them to be. There’s another line in the book, a little phrase that says “about you, more about others, and all about God.” And I think that is a good summary of the book.
WRN: When interviewed, what is the one question you wish we could move forward from to focus on those issues?
BH: Well, something that the media seems to like to focus on would be celebrities and that celebrities like to come. It is true we have people from all walks of life come to church. When you come to Hillsong it is not about those people it is about every person; it is about connecting people to God. So it can be little things like that. Certainly, in my experience, the media has come a long way. Some of the things we were criticized for and some of the things we were asked, people are just not asking those things anymore. I feel as if we made some great progress in those areas.
WRN: What has been your favorite part of the book tour so far?
BH: It has all been fun. I have been enjoying all of it. Actually I am looking forward to a break (laughter), but that is a little way aways.