You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)
Like all of us, I have been deeply saddened by what has been disclosed regarding Brian Houston.
I didn’t know what God they knew, but I knew from that moment that I wanted to know him, and I wanted to be able to worship him with the same joy and authenticity.
Hillsong has been a significant part of my story. At the age of 17, as an unbeliever, my friend took me along. I’d never heard of Hillsong before, but as I walked into the auditorium, I was met by something profound. I had never seen men and women engage with God in such a personal and authentic way before. I had never seen men and women pray so freely. I had never seen men and women worship so passionately. I had never seen men and women filled with so much joy. I didn’t know what God they knew, but I knew from that moment that I wanted to know him, and I wanted to be able to worship him with the same joy and authenticity.
At the end of the message, the Pastor invited anyone who wanted God to be their God from that day forward to come down the front and be prayed for. I was overwhelmed by emotion. With tears streaming down my face, I couldn’t get down the front fast enough. They gave me a New Testament, and it was through that New Testament that Jesus made himself known to me in a real, personal, and powerful way.
That was 18 years ago now. But since then, I have often looked to Hillsong as an incredible model of what is possible for impactful engagement of people with the gospel. I have regarded Hillsong as a forerunner in matters of creativity and of cultural and personal engagement. I have been inspired by its leadership and by the dynamism it shows as it does so much to connect individuals and communities with Jesus.
As so, I have been so incredibly grieved to see the unravelling that has taken place over the last week. I don’t know what the future is for them, but I suspect things will be very different moving forward. The work ahead is vast: there is so much repentance and healing required; so much reorganising of their enormous team; so much redefining their culture and mission; so many difficult conflicts and fissures for them to navigate.
In the midst of all of this, on seeing yet another leader of a large church fail, I have at times wondered: Is it possible for large and dynamic churches to stand? Is it possible for large and dynamic churches to preserve a healthy culture all the way through? Is it possible to see big visions come to be realised without a downfall to follow?
But I refuse to believe that, just because many have fallen, other churches and their leaders cannot stand firm and remain strong. The reason I believe this is because we have a very big God, and we have the Spirit’s power and help.
As leaders of the church of Christ, we must now, more than ever, resolve to resist sin and cling to the Spirit, no matter what.
Yet as leaders of the church of Christ, we must now, more than ever, resolve to resist sin and cling to the Spirit, no matter what. If the failure of Brian Houston teaches us anything, it must warn us of the propensity of our own hearts to give in to sin; to choose the easy way—the way of the flesh which ends in disaster and destroys many in its wake. Choosing obedience and self-control is hard work. One day, one week, or even five years of obedience is not enough. I must choose obedience daily, every day, for the rest of my life.
Is this easy? No. In many ways, I find the call to leadership in the church incredibly daunting. I am bound to fail on some level, and that scares me. But we are people who have died with Christ and are raised with him, and so we can, and we must, put sin to death. We can and we must, clothe ourselves with Christ. We can, and we must, decide now that when that moment of temptation comes, we will ask for help and that we will make the difficult call to choose Jesus and to say no to the pull of the flesh. This is entirely possible, but only with faith and with the help of God and each other.
As I look at Hillsong, I see a big brother fallen. And as I look on the road ahead, I feel more convicted than ever that we, Christian leaders and churches in this nation, must take this to heart. We must push forward not only in creativity, in innovation, in bold gospel proclamation and impactful community, but also in great faith, in great obedience, in great unity. We must stand together as church teams and challenge one another, love one another, encourage one another, and remind one another of that which is of first importance: being in love with Jesus. We must be willing to confess sin. We must be determined to cling to Christ. We need to seek renewal by the Holy Spirit every day.
I am so thankful for our mission to make disciples of all nations and to teach them to obey Jesus. I believe that as we continue to hold out the beauty, truth, and relevance of Jesus, the church in Australia will see God do extraordinary things. So let us continue together in faith, not straying from the hope held out in the gospel, and be different. Let’s shine as a city on a hill.