Just after the turn of the century, I was in Argentina with my son-in-law David Plaisted. We were in a city outside the capital, Buenos Aeros, sitting in the church before I was to speak. During a time of worship, I realized, “They are singing songs from Hillsong.” I had similar experiences in other parts of the world, for it seems their songs covered the globe. You would hear them everywhere. More recently, though, controversy has come upon Hillsong in Australia and America. Let me give you my take on it all.
BACKGROUND TO HILLSONG
Brian Houston, together with his wife Bobbie, were the founders of Hillsong back in 1983. However, in some ways, it actually starts with his father, Frank Houston, way before the beginnings of Hillsong.
Frank was a wonderful evangelist and was the leader of the Assembly of God in New Zealand. Around the mid-seventies, he was at home, and one night he had a dream or a vision where God showed him scenes around the city of Sydney, Australia, Bondi Beach, Kings Cross, and so on. Out of it all came a call to move to Australia and plant a church. Obediently, Frank moved to the city of Sydney and planted a church in the eastern suburbs of this large city, not far from where I lived, and had the offices of The Temple Trust, a renewal ministry that Dorothy and I headed up.
Now, to be honest, I did not know what to do about him. I had developed a good relationship with the Assembly of God, but here was Frank starting an independent church. I took a Gamaliel-type approach, thinking if this is of God, it will work, but if not, Frank will simply go back to New Zealand.
Not long after that, I was in America, attending the 1977 Kansas City conference with over 50,000 other people. While I was there, God dealt with me and took me to the woodshed, so to speak. He told me, “I have sent Frank Houston to Australia to do a great work, and you are to get behind him and support him in what he is to do.”
When I came back home to Australia, I called Frank and invited him and his wife, Hazel, to come over to Vision Bible College, which we were leading at the time, for lunch. Over the meal together, I told him the story of how the Lord had dealt with me when I was in America. I told him I believed in what he was called to do and that I wanted to support him in any way that I could.
I wrote up his story of coming to Sydney in our Vision Magazine. I invited him to speak at two of our national conferences, and later, he became a member of the Board of Directors for The Temple Trust. In return, he invited me to minister in his church, which was called Christian Life Center.
In the early eighties, Brian Houston, Frank’s son, went out to plant a church in the northern suburbs of Sydney, and it too was called Christian Life Centre. It steadily grew through the next decade, and in the late 1980s, worship director Geoff Bullock ran successful music conferences under the name Hillsong. The conferences, in time, became part of the church itself. This was the beginning of Hillsong, and the name of the church was changed to Hillsong.
In 1992, Dorothy and I were back in Australia, and we were able to attend the 10th anniversary gala of Hillsong. I did not know Brian well, but we met on several occasions, including with a small group for supper when he was ministering here in Minneapolis. I also was at Hillsong at the time of the opening of the new big sanctuary and attended Hillsong conferences.
Hillsong began to have an impact on the world through its music, starting with Geoff Bullock and such songs as The Power of His Love. However, probably the one that took off was Darlene Zscheck’s song ‘Shout to the Lord.’ According to an article in Charisma Magazine, it is estimated that 50 million people per week sing songs by Hillsong (charismamag.com).
Although Hillsong viewed itself first and foremost as a local church that sought to meet local needs, it eventually became a global church. Brian Houston, who has been the general superintendent of the Assembly of God in Australia for a long time, eventually led the church to leave to become a stand-alone network. In turn, some 150,000 people attended a Hillsong Church weekly in more than 100 locations, including America.
According to Chris Friend, an Australian leader, “Scandals have impacted Hillsong throughout its history. Geoff Bullock. Frank Houston. Pat Mesiti. These historic names all had a massive influence on the church in its early years” (charismamag.com). Then too, Hillsong always had its detractors. “There are the Reformed evangelicals who regularly speak against its theology and ecclesiology. There are the secularists who roar against a church that is big enough to have the ear of the prime minister (who attends a Pentecostal church). And there are other Pentecostals who bemoan the shortcomings of the megachurch model” (charismamag.com).
“Like most megachurches, Hillsong has had its critics. When founder Brian Houston ran into legal problems over how the church handled a horrific problem with pedophilia with his own father in the 1990s, it was suddenly front-page news. After the press reported that Carl Lentz, the flamboyant pastor of Hillsong NYC, was having an affair, things began falling apart” (charismamag.com). As Stephen Strang goes on to write, “Hillsong is not the worst scandal ever. If anything, it reminds us how the media love to criticize Pentecostals (charismamag.com).
Brian Houston did resign in January 2022. The Hillsong Global Board made a statement regarding his resignation, which included the following: “The situation with his father over many years had taken a personal toll that was greater than he had realised, and he needed to focus on his upcoming legal issues. . . . We (also) have sadly been dealing with two complaints made against Pastor Brian over the last 10 years . . . .Following that investigation, Pastor Brian agreed to take specific action, including stepping down from leadership for a period. . . .We apologise unreservedly to the people affected by Pastor Brian’s actions” (Hillsong.com)
WHAT SHOULD OUR RESPONSE BE?
PRAY – First and foremost, we should be praying for Brian Houston, his wife Bobbie, and Hillsong, as a church and a movement. As one writer noted, “Hillsong is hurting now.” As the family of God, we should stand with them. From my perspective, Brain Houston has been a great leader, and God is not finished with him yet, even though it may not be as it was. Pray for God’s grace in it all. Pray also for all who have been hurt by what has happened.
LEARN – Stephen Strang wrote, “To help us learn. Charisma senior contributing editor Lee Grady and I have written about how celebrity status can lure anyone into deception. A successful entrepreneur, politician or athlete can succumb to fame…But bad things happen to good people, and the Bible is full of examples of men and women of God who failed—yet God used them anyway” (charismamag.com). Years ago, I worked with Jim Baker and the PTL Club and saw something firsthand, in this case, how Christian TV impacted people.
LOOK – Look to the future; the work of God may yet be impacted in a negative way at times, but God is still at work in His world today. I believe we are living in the last days, and the promise in Acts 2:17, 21 (NKJV) will be fulfilled,
“That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh…”
“And it shall come to pass
That whoever calls on the name of the Lord
Shall be saved”.
Let us keep this in mind, God is still in control, and even though times may be hard and difficult, God is still working His purposes out. As I always say, “The Best is Yet to Be!”