I had the privilege of attending the Hillsong Conference in Los Angeles at the Nokia Theater. A few weeks prior to the conference, I was introduced to Christine and Nick Caine while they were in Nashville. Christine was in town to record The Chat with Priscilla Shirer. They talked about the A21 Campaign that the Caines founded to combat human trafficking. I was already scheduled to be in Los Angeles and they invited me to attend the conference.
I was really glad to have the opportunity to hang out with Christine and Nick along with a few other friends on the afternoon that the conference began. We discussed life in the church, leadership, differences between America and Australia, and lots of other fascinating topics. Christine and Nick were super-gracious to have dinner with me, get me a seat (a great seat!) at the conference, and introduce me to many of their friends that night. I was privileged to talk with Brian and Bobbie Houston. I also met a number of the senior staff members of Hillsong church in Sydney and those who lead Hillsong churches around the world. As an added bonus, I was able to meet Judah Smith and chat with him for just a few moments.
After the evening, I put some thoughts together and reflected on what I saw. Here are six quick lessons that I took away from the experience.
1. Have a strong theme. As soon as the lights went down, there was a palpable sense of anticipation. In fact, several people around me started saying how much they love the openings of the Hillsong Conferences. The thing I simply cannot do is describe all the details of the opening. Anyway, it would be counter-productive. It was the opening to their conference and not the worship services, prayer meetings, and conferences that we might ever lead. Suffice it to say that the theme of the evening was around the ideas of awakening and revival. It involved a woman singing in Hebrew, modern imagery, specified times of prayer, very specific usage of lights, and lots of scripture. For all the noise that has gone on around our Pentecostalism, I can assure you that the gospel was prominently featured by our Hillsong friends. The lesson for me is to know what you are trying to communicate and do it with finesse, power, and focus. The gospel demands it.
2. Produce leaders. Throughout the day, I heard and witnessed how the leaders of Hillsong are replicating themselves. While I was hanging with Nick and Christine in the afternoon, one of the primary worship leaders in their movement was spending time with a local worship leader from L.A. Even with a huge event about to take place, their worship leader had equipped other leaders to take the proverbial ball and run with it. This was the first conference event they held in L.A. and it is leading up to the launch of a church in the city. But even in the midst of it, they are working at reproducing themselves as leaders. The lesson for me is to be ready to pass along the work of leadership even when the stakes are high.
3. Technology is great but never the goal. Make no mistake about it, Hillsong knows how to technologically pull off an impressive event. The lighting, videos, on-screen graphics, staging, instruments, sound, and everything else was pulled off with precision. But none of it ever overshadowed the purpose for gathering: worship. All of these things were tools to facilitate, to lead, and to point. We are tempted to try and be clever in our presentations. But let’s be honest about what we intuitively know. Cleverness and ingenuity sometimes distracts the people and detracts from our purpose. The lesson for me is to always keep in mind what is the tool and what is the purpose that the tool serves.
4. Know when to be quiet. If you are familiar at all with the music from Hillsong and Hillsong United, it is often melodically powerful. And, by powerful, I mean loud. The temptation of large bands in large venues is to overpower everyone with volume. I was amazed at how carefully their worship leaders picked the spots to go all out and then to pull back. Throughout the evening, there were numerous times when they intentionally pulled back from the microphones and let the crowd lead the singing. They knew when to be quiet and lead in prayer. The lesson for me is to know that worship leadership is often most powerful when we step back from the microphone.
5. Be excited… about the gospel. I was once on a mission trip in Athens, Greece and met a young woman from Australia. She was not a believer and upon discovering that we were Christians on a mission trip had only one question for us: “Are you some of those happy-clappy people?” Though she delivered the question as a sarcastic barb, having met the Hillsong team, I think it is a great statement about their reputation. They are genuinely excited about the impact of the gospel on our lives. The church in Australia has well over 30,000 in attendance. They have planted churches around Australia and in places like Kiev, Cape Town, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Paris, and New York City. And they do it all because they love to see Jesus redeem people. Do they get every nuance and the details of theology correct? No. But neither do I. And neither do you. If we spend all of our time theologically policing the church, we will likely never meet an unbeliever and share the gospel. The lesson for me is that the gospel should cause an exuberance that is evident to the world.
6. Humility matters. As someone who is around the people that speak at the conferences, write the books, and lead large churches, I feel like I am witness to the good, the bad, and the sometimes ugly parts of our faith family. I can say – without any hesitation or reservation – that the leaders I met during this conference were some of the most humble I’ve ever encountered. Hillsong is globally influentially and yet they are completely in awe of what God is doing through them. Let me say that this was also true of Judah Smith. Though we interacted for just a few minutes, it was such a relief that someone of his popularity carried himself with such a unpretentious demeanor. Brian and Bobbie Houston were the epitome of graciousness during my conversations with them. And, I cannot say enough good things about Christine Caine. She is a wonderful sister in the Lord and is careful to never think too highly of herself. I am blessed to call her and her husband Nick… friends. The lesson for me is to remember just how blessed I am to be in a place of leadership for the sake of the gospel.