Last Tuesday, Australian worship team Hillsong United released their 12th studio album, Zion. During the first week of its release, it sold more than 34,100 units, topped the Billboard Christian & Gospel album and digital charts, peaked as the No. 1 album overall on iTunes in the United States, South Africa, Sweden, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Singapore, Ghana and Columbia (beating out even Bruno Mars!), and debuted at No.1 on the Australian ARIA Albums chart, making this album an international hit. Zion is following the lead of TobyMac and Chris Tomlin, two other Christian artists who have topped mainstream music charts recently. The day after the album's global release, I spoke with their worship leader Joel Houston about the group's success and the heart behind their music. As we chatted, I realized that humility and gratitude were two striking qualities that stood out to me most - from a musician who influences millions of individuals every year, that was striking.
Here's a breakdown of the interview - it can be read in full on Today's Christian Woman:
Q: Talk about your recent release, Zion. What are the main themes you want to come across on the album?
A: Zion is a title that can beg a bunch of different questions. The reason we called it that is because we wanted to say that we have the opportunity to realize that as believers, as the church right here and right now, we're a part of what God is doing on the earth. I believe we're not supposed to just wait out our days as Christians, looking forward to the one day when we all get up to heaven. Instead, God actively wants to breathe his kingdom in and through us, right here and right now.
Q: Hillsong produces songs that help people experience the presence of God. How do you encourage listeners to worship with "reckless abandon?"
A: People often come into worship carrying a variety of burdens. We feel challenged by circumstances surrounding us, we feel insecure and compare ourselves to everyone and everything around us, we feel we aren't good enough, we're worried about this and that. And yet we have the idea of coming together in a corporate worship setting and for a moment letting go and understanding that we don't have control. As much as we like to think we have control all the time, the freest place we can find ourselves is to actually let go and say, Hey God, you're in control, and I'm going to trust you. When you find yourself in that place, worship becomes really easy.
Q: How has your understanding of worship changed over the years as you've traveled the globe with Hillsong United?
A: The thing I love about our church is it's really built on the service and sacrifice of many. We live in a culture that loves to shine the spotlight on somebody and to lift up our leaders and all the rest of it, and part of that is just human nature. But I think the important thing always is everybody has a plan and a purpose, everybody's valuable, and everybody is a part of this thing called the church.
I spend my time on the platform leading people in worship, but my revelation of it is that worship is something that is outward. As we occupy our streets day after day, week after week, moment after moment, that's it, or bust. If it becomes about the platform, then the platform's basically going to fall over or become a distraction. The platform should really just serve to see every single one of us empowered to do what we do. Whether it be a mother at home raising a family, or someone working a job that might seem very distant from our traditional concept of ministry, we're all called to be ministers of the gospel.
Q: Why is it important to be part of a church community?
A: I think one of the greatest powers to any church is community. A healthy community should be flourishing together because of a culture of discipleship, evangelism, active faith, and community outreach. I think if any of those things are missing, the challenge is that our church has become inward focused. It becomes about me, and am I growing, am I getting what I want out of this, am I having the worship experience I need. Anytime I ever hear that from anybody I say, "Well cool, I can't help you until you understand that everything we do in our faith has to be outward focused at all times." It's the only way we become stronger and are actually edified.
We have to make sure that our relationships are honest and pure, and that our relationship with God is not something that's just a routine, but is something that is active. It really comes back to being humble, and not being afraid to bear our weaknesses in a way that allows God to be the strength in those circumstances. That's the foundation of our faith: it's impossible to accept Jesus without humbling ourselves. So it starts there, then it's something that we have to choose to get back to every single day. If we live that way I think there's no limit to what we can achieve as a community.
So, in conclusion, and in response to Music Mom's ChicagoNow post, "What is Hillsong United and how can it help you be a more peaceful parent?", I agree, Hillsong is not very interested in self promotion - but they're crazy about Jesus. That love for God shines through in their music, as Music Mom experienced and so poignantly stated in her blog post:
"The idea of a higher being who has a plan and will offer guidance felt almost like a relief. I continued to listen to the other songs with a new perspective, really trying to internalize the message, and it actually did bring me a sense of peace and calm."
God does promise us a peace that surpasses all understanding - and I'm sure anyone who listens to Hillsong's latest release will experience it. That is why it's rising to the top of the charts.