Joel HOUSTON reveals …

from an interview with Christianity Today (June 2007)

[United is the youth division of the HILLSONG Inc]

[Joel is Creative Director of HILLSONG as well as son and heir]


So being at the top of the charts isn’t your thing.

Houston: The desire is to reach as many people as we can, so that’s probably demonstrated when more people buy the albums. But that’s not the business of what we’re doing. What we’re doing is reaching as many people as we can with the message that we have.


United has struck a chord with young people, in part because of its euphoric live shows and powerful moments of praise. How do you make sure the rock show aspect doesn’t overshadow the worshipful context?

Houston: For us, it’s being true yourself. The idea is that the Holy Spirit does his job, and as long as we are in the right place, people see that. A lot of people have come to our shows with criticisms, but walk away with a different perspective—through the journey of the night they notice the difference. Occasionally, you’ll find an audience where you feel like their attention is on everything that’s happening on stage. Especially in South America—it’s a pretty wild culture, more so than in the States. But by the fourth or fifth songs, we tell them, “Alright guys, this is why we’re here.”

A lot of times the Holy Spirit does that job for us. But [the key] is just getting in that place yourself. Sometimes people try to put layers on—like they’re trying to appear to be spiritual or whatever. But for us it’s like, “Take the layers off. Let people see us truly worshiping.” Because by being transparent, people can see God in us. That’s the whole mentality.

Houston demonstrating some of the “bigger initiatives” for United during a missions trip at an orphanage in Rwanda.

With so many adoring fans of United’s work, is there ever a temptation for you to become the focus of worship?

Houston: There’s always that temptation, for sure. Human nature is self-centered. You see it all the time in the Christian music industry—people get caught up in themselves. It’s a big tool of the enemy. But we have an incredible support network. We’re all really honest with our guys and we do a lot with each other. I think what’s really great for us is that the momentum for how big this has become, is so much bigger than any one of us individually. As long as people bring what they have—the sum of their parts multiplied by the grace of God—then it’s a really humbling opportunity.

Your calling is to write songs that the church can sing. But your new album All of the Above is more mission focused than congregational in writing style. Why?

Houston: My revelation of worship is outwards. If we’re truly a worship band, I feel that we need to communicate both: we need to write songs that glorify God lyrically, but also write songs that glorify God in the way we live our lives. People talk about this worship revolution that’s occurred over the last ten years focusing only on worshiping God in song. Coming out of that season, I think the testimony is that we’ll be judged by how the church lived as far as becoming the hands and feet of Jesus and helping those in need. That’s a revelation that’s been real strong for our church. What we do in song is a reflection of where experiencing at home.

Tell me about the “I Heart Revolution.”

Houston: It’s about creating a global snapshot of culture and people living real lives—different circumstances, different backgrounds, yet living for the same God, the same cause. The whole idea is to motivate the local church at getting good at what I was just talking about: loving God in song and with our lives, but also living it out by reaching our community. The whole concept is, if young people in Australia get fired up about worship and reaching their community, and if young people in South America do the same, if that happens all over the place, then the worldwide church together can pursue bigger initiatives.

What sort of bigger initiatives?

Houston: The whole message is really about turning our back on individualism and not living self-focused lives. We’re looking at how that’s relevant to every context and every culture. How worship and justice relate to kids in South America, or how worship and justice relate to kids here in the United States. The movement aspect of it is putting together resources for local churches and young people to do things that are really simple, yet really big. In a nutshell, it’s helping people that need to be helped—local focus, global impact.