Joel Houston is a busy man these days. Not only is he one of the leaders of Hillsong United, a praise-and-worship team that tours globally, but he is also a key cog in Hillsong’s newest movement: a three-part series called The I Heart Revolution. I Heart’s focus is social justice and the messages that Jesus left us with to carry out in His name. A quick trip to www.iheartrevolution.com will give you a few video clips, and you will quickly see that Houston’s passion for justice goes far beyond anything trendy. Centered around Jesus’ famous words, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40, TNIV), The I Heart Revolution is one that desperately seeks out justice and healing—one that asks you to play an active part.
Houston is quick to dismantle and talk of simply being a worship leader. “For me, it was confusing even turning into a worship band—that wasn’t on the agenda,” he said during a recent podcast interview. “[It was] something we found ourselves doing, singing songs that were [originally] just for our young people.”
The I Heart Revolution has been in the works for quite some time. “Basically, we recorded for three years, everywhere we went,” he says. During Hillsong United’s tours across Africa, South America and pretty much everywhere else short of Antarctica, Houston and the rest of the United crew often found themselves in the belly of the beast, walking, talking and eating while surrounded by people enduring unimaginable suffering and tragedy. Of course, once poverty and injustice become real to someone, it doesn’t fade away as easily as it might during a 30-second commercial in between one’s favorite television program. As Houston puts it, “It’s impossible [to celebrate God] unless we’re getting out there and making a difference.” Out of this, The I Heart Revolution was born.
The movement consists of three parts. Part one, With Hearts as One, is a two-disc album consisting of Hillsong worship songs—new and old, recorded from various locations across the world, as well as a live music dvd. Brazil, Scotland, Indonesia, Korea and South Africa are just a handful of the cities that have been brought together by the music of Hillsong Church. “Music has the ability to cross borders and break down walls,” Houston says. “And when its purpose is putting voice to our reason for being alive, something powerful happens.”
The second part, We’re All in This Together, is the visual. It’s a DVD, roughly two hours long, consisting of footage compiled from over the years. “Seeing these streets and these cities and these towns, and seeing the contrast between [the Church and the outside world] and going, ‘Hang on, if what’s happening inside these buildings isn’t having an effect on the streets that we travel down … then maybe we’re missing the point.’” We’re All in This Together is slotted for a 2009 release, and has been polished and fine-tuned by Houston and the other two parts of his I Heart crew. After days, weeks and months of editing, the DVD is of superb quality and does more than guilt the viewer into feelings of hopelessness. The film has many moments that will make you smile, and the underlying message is that there is hope for this world to be made right. Voices from the past, such as that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., resound from behind the images of poverty and brokenness, and verses from Matthew 25 fade in and out of the shots. We’re All in This Together is what brings the reality of the I Heart movement to our attention and further reminds us of our mandate to act.
So what does this look like when jumbled together? That’s where the third part of The I Heart Revolution comes in. Aptly titled The Movement, part three is practical application. Houston has coined the term “Glocal,” which he says is carried out when we are constantly doing the little things well: engaging the people we come across daily, whether at a coffee shop, a grocery store or elsewhere. It’s also about avoiding ignorance and arrogance. “It’s impossible to ignore that everything Jesus did was about others,” Houston says. The Movement is a call to further put that into practice.
Joel Houston might be just the person we need making strides in our global Church. Houston and company have latched onto the calling of love for the oppressed and the poor, and it is more than a fad. As much as consumerism might want to negate the pressing awareness that we need to have, The I Heart Revolution serves as a wonderful reminder that God is at work in this generation. Houston is onto something here—something everybody can be a part of. Something far, far beyond simply a worship band.