Brian Houston is founding and senior pastor of Hillsong Church—based in Sydney, Australia, but with multiple campuses on several continents—with a combined weekly attendance of more than 30,000. He is also president of Hillsong’s International Leadership College and hosts a weekly TV program. He is author of more than a dozen books, including his newest, Live, Love, Lead. He was interviewed recently by Executive Editor Michael Duduit.
Preaching: Many Christians around the world know Hillsong through your influence on contemporary Christian music. How do preaching and music work in partnership at Hillsong?
Houston: There are many times when songs have emanated from the messages I’m preaching, and other times when I have preached from the songs we are singing. I believe the songs we sing come from the heart of a healthy church, one that knows the balance between worship and preaching. Worship opens people’s hearts and prepares them to listen to the Word of God. The words spoken in our church from the preaching platform and the themes of new songs very much work hand-in-hand.
Preaching: What is your approach to preaching? If we visited your church in Sydney one Sunday, what might we expect to hear when you stand to preach?
Houston: I often meditate on thoughts on planes, in cafes, when I’m out exercising…I start with Scripture and believe every point made should be based in Scripture. If you can’t prove it, don’t say it. The platform is not for your opinions; it is God’s Word that matters. Every Scripture reference must be in context and within the tenure of Scripture.
I encourage all our preaching and teaching team to be authentic, Bible-based, life-giving and faith-filled. When you come to Hillsong Church, you will hear a sermon that is applicable to your daily life. I’ve always said to my team, “Preach to people’s Mondays, not just their Sundays. Give them something they can take home or to their workplaces, something achievable and encouraging. I intentionally approach every service by trying to create an encouraging environment. The world doesn’t input positive messages into people very much. Between the newspaper and the television, people are starving for messages of hope and encouragement!
After 40 years of preaching, I put more time into preparation than ever before. People often ask me how long it takes to prepare a message, and I tell them, “So far, 61-plus years and many hours each week!”
Preaching: Do you primarily preach in series?
Houston: Yes, I like to preach in short series. Recently, I have been preaching my way through James 1, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I always will preach if I am home in Sydney at Hillsong Church. However, for the weeks I am away, we have developed a preaching culture and have many great preachers and teachers on our team, overseen by our teaching pastor, a great man of God, Robert Fergusson. He often will sit down with our platform team after each weekend and give constructive feedback about everything from their content to their communication.
Preaching: You have a new book called Live, Love Lead. What’s behind the title, and what encouraged you to write it? Did it grow from a sermon series?
Houston: Live, Love Lead is my own story about how I believe God wants each of us to follow the roadmap marked out for us in the Bible, specifically a passage in Matthew 7. This passage shows us how God intends for each and every person to live a big life on a sometimes difficult path…that there is one name and one narrow gate (Jesus) by which we can walk through and be saved, but narrow doesn’t mean constricting. As we walk that road, God has for us a glorious future here and in eternity.
The book follows many of the highs and lows of my own life and ministry journey. It is a candid look at the early days of Hillsong Church and is coupled with encouragement and teaching for each and every person to live, love and lead in the manner of the greatest example who ever walked the earth—Jesus.
Preaching: There’s a Hillsong movie coming out this fall called Let Hope Rise. What do you hope will come out of this venture? What’s the value of movies in reaching an emerging generation?
Houston: The incredible story behind this movie—entirely financed, marketed and distributed by Hollywood—is a miracle in itself. We never would have thought anyone would want to sit down and watch a movie about us! However, I believe the result is a film that truly exalts Jesus and gives real insight into the heart of Hillsong Church.
Already we’ve seen God do what only He can by stirring the hearts of influential people in the film industry to spiritual curiosity and opening doors of opportunity we never sought or could have imagined.
Film and television is an enormous cultural opportunity to influence an entire generation and has the potential to take us places we never have been. I certainly don’t have aspirations or see any other films about ourselves in our future, but our TV and film crew already has begun working on an exciting opportunity to produce a film on another amazing story.
Preaching: Going back to preaching, what do you find are your greatest challenges, and what is your greatest joy?
Houston: One challenge for every pastor is not allowing busyness to crowd out your time alone in prayer, meditation and preparation. We never should be too busy to put the hard work into preaching, and there is never an excuse to stand up without being fully prepared.
My greatest joy undoubtedly is when someone in our congregation— a businessman or stay-at-home-mom—approaches me and says that he or she simply is applying the principles learned in church to a work or home life and has seen great change, fruitfulness and success. I love seeing the Word working in people’s lives, and we are blessed to have a church that leans into the preaching and is hungry for the Word of God.
Preaching: What is something you have learned about preaching that you wish you had known when you were first starting?
Houston: I think if anything I have become increasingly aware of what an honor it is. Preaching is a great opportunity, and I take the responsibility so much more seriously. People could be doing so many other things, but they choose to come to church and receive the Word. I also have learned the importance of being comfortable in my own skin, confident in my calling and being myself.
I also think one never should assume anything. It is an enormous responsibility when it comes to carrying the message of Christ to this world; ignorance is never an excuse. It is so important to apply wisdom and understanding to the message on your life and the platform you have been given: Prepare, prepare, prepare; and don’t step outside your authority.
The greatest change since I planted Hillsong Church 32 years ago is that the platform carries so much more weight than it used to, and every pastor needs to be reminded we never are preaching solely to the room we are in at the moment. Years ago, one would be speaking to those in attendance and perhaps those who bought the cassette (Ha, the good old days!), but today—apart from live stream, Periscope, YouTube and multiple ways to record—you have to consider how things will be construed by those who weren’t there. The old saying, “You had to be there,” doesn’t hold much weight anymore.
Preaching: If you knew you had one sermon left to preach, what would it be?
Houston: Jesus: always, ever, only Jesus.