You’ve heard it before. People often assert that a healthy self-image is a matter of believing in yourself more, looking into yourself to be more comfortable in your own skin.
Brian Houston, founder and global senior pastor of Hillsong Church, sees it differently—actually, oppositely.
We recently talked with Houston about this question, Hillsong Church and his new book, Live, Love, Lead.
Why did you write Live, Love, Lead?
It’s really about living and loving and leading throughout all the ups and downs of life. I was absolutely committed to being vulnerable, being authentic and being transparent in this book. It’s based on Matthew 7:13, where Jesus talks about a difficult path through a narrow gate that leads to life. So, the synopsis of the book is how to have a big life on a sometimes-difficult path.
The Scripture doesn’t say the path is narrow, it says the path is difficult through a narrow gate. That narrow gate is the name of Jesus—Peter says there is no other name by which men are saved. But narrow doesn’t mean “tight” and “restricted,” it’s not narrow-minded or narrow-spirited. As a matter of fact, if you think about the name of Jesus, there is no other name and that name is healing, forgiveness, salvation, freedom, peace, all of those things that are available to us through Jesus Christ.
How much of the book is autobiographical?
It’s certainly not an autobiography, but we definitely talk a lot about my wife Bobbie and my own story, Hillsong’s story. But it’s really about other people’s stories. It’s really pointing to the potential of people.
I’m a huge believer that all of us have a God-given purpose, a God-given destiny, and I’m silly enough to believe that the best is yet to come. Philippians 1:6 says that “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it.” So I just want to encourage other people in their stories and in their purposes.
Something we often hear is “Be your own person, and to find out what that looks like, look inside of yourself.” In your book, you argue the exact opposite. Talking about being “comfortable in your own skin,” you say to look outside of self—to God. Can you talk about that dichotomy?
I’m certainly not saying be comfortable in your skin to be independent or don’t change. To me, what I am saying is be who God created you to be and be comfortable in that. Sadly, if I look at my own life, I spent far too much time, far too many years, worrying about what everyone else thought about me perhaps more than what God thought about me. But it was such a release, there’s such a fulfillment in life, when you stop striving to be anyone else or be ruled by what other people think, but instead really be who God called you to be.
It’s really all about knowing your God-appointed sphere, or your God-appointed zone, and being comfortable to be that. I love Ephesians 1, where Paul starts, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God to the Saints who are in Ephesus.” So I think about that: “Paul,” this is who I am; “an apostle,” this is what I do; “of Jesus Christ,” this is who I do it for; “by the will of God,” this is my authority; “to the saints of Ephesus,” this is my sphere, my audience. Paul knew who he was, what he was about, who he was doing it for. What a great way to live our lives.
In talking about the Church, you state strongly that some things can’t ever change—you say “the Gospel is sacred”—but methods must change. Can you explain how those two things work together?
Well, you sure can’t un-write the Bible or try to change the Scripture or the intent of the Scripture to suit today socially. So the message is timeless, you know we can’t play with that. But I think the methods have to change.
I just feel like the Church can’t die on the vine. I’m intentional about pushing things younger. That’s why we have [Hillsong] Young and Free, as well as [Hillsong] United, who were the Young and Free 10 years ago.
“Relevant” by the way, to me isn’t necessarily holes in your jeans or tattoos or cool lights and videos images in church. Relevance is about the difference between what you say and what you represent and the life you’re living. And if that gap is big, then we’re irrelevant. Relevance comes from us living out the message that God’s given us.
If methods can, what can’t change?
I think in a nutshell, the theology of the Scripture, which based around the fact that Jesus died and He rose again. That obviously can’t change. Hillsong, some people see it as hip and hipsters, but to me that’s not important. Definitely, we’re trying to relate to today’s generation, but I can tell you when it comes to theology, we’re actually quite conservative.
You mention in the book that you arrived at a balance of friends who have credibility who can speak into your life, but then you can also put aside the other criticism. Can you speak about that balance and how you fought through that?
Look, there are people on the periphery of our lives, sadly, who hide behind keyboards and just point errors at other people. If you’re going to be who God’s called you to be, you can’t be swayed by it.
I think about opinion and counsel. So many people they say “If you want my opinion …” Well, to be honest, we’re going to get it whether we want it or not. Counsel, on the other hand, is invited. You get Godly counsel from the people you trust, the people you respect, the people you’ve spent time with. You’ll get opinion from everywhere. And if you live by other people’s opinions, I’ll tell you right now, you’re certainly not going to be strong enough to be pointed where you’re going. But counsel is important.
I think people look at me as a strong leader, but people who really know the way we work on the inside—we have a church board, and elders—know it’s a group effort. I see them as people who put counsel into my life and key friends and close friends. And I wouldn’t be as arrogant to believe that I don’t need that.
With criticism, I think that you should listen to it, and if you can learn from it, you should learn from it. I don’t think we should necessarily just say that’s all wrong. Over the years, I’ve definitely mellowed in certain areas because of criticism that’s had some merit to it.
What does it look like for you for Live, Love, Lead to be successful?
I want to help people, that’s first and foremost—and I can say that honestly. I actually believe in this book, I have no trouble talking about it, because, to me, it’s not some product I’m pushing. I put my heart and soul into it. As I said, it’s got some of our story, some of Hillsong’s story, but it really is pointing to other people’s stories. I’m at the stage of life where I want to take whatever I can to arm other people, to do what God’s called them to do and be who God’s called them to be.
Aaron Cline Hanbury is a contributing editor for RELEVANT. You can follow him on Twitter at @achanbury