At some point or another, we have all heard the phrase “there is faith in the house tonight!” It is a wonderful and powerful collection of words that causes us to reflect upon what has just happened and to open our hearts to anticipate and expect the incredible things that are about to happen.
Hillsong Conference 2018 was held at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn, New York – one of the greatest cities in all the nation. There was so much “faith in the house” that it was tangible. This massive venue, originally designed for huge sporting events, was brimming with over 10,000 Christians in attendance – each heart open and excited for what God was getting ready to do. There were God conversations being had all over the 670,000-square-foot arena. People everywhere were laughing, smiling, meeting each other for the first time saying, “How long have you been a believer? When were you saved? Really! I love it!” These things could be heard in so many of the surrounding conversations – each person’s testimonial ministering to the other. God was in His people, God was in the house, and God was ready to move. Suddenly, the lights went out, the music came on and faith absolutely filled the house.
It was an incredible three days – an experience that must be had first hand! So, rather than give you a play-by-play of the happenings at the conference, I would like to share with you what I took home: what I took home as an attendee, a worship team member and a worship team leader.
As an attendee, a worshipper and lover of God, I was treated to three days of complete immersion in an atmosphere of faith. For most Christians, Sunday is the day. Sunday is the one day a week that we are able to be completely surrounded by like-minded and, perhaps more importantly, like-hearted individuals. But Hillsong Conference was an entirely different story – the lobby of our hotel was filled with fellow Christians that morning, so breakfast was with fellow Christians. The walk to the venue was with a huge group of Christians, so we waited in line, conversed and shared stories with fellow Christians. For three days in a row…
Despite not knowing anyone personally at first, there was familiarity in the common foundation upon which we all stood. Different stories and backgrounds, but all walking with our same God. The conversations wrapped up as the lights fell, and as soon as the music began, everyone’s hands went up. There was never an announcement or suggestion to do so – in fact, no one waited to see if another was going to lift holy hands – it was simply a huge collective abandonment of self, each and every attendee reaching up in reverence, respect and expectation. What a wonderful feeling to take home – that the very way I worship: eyes and hands up, tiptoeing in an effort to get closer to Him, is a shared practice with people from every corner of the nation. It was an encouragement to continue worshipping in a big, loud and proud way.
As a worship team member: vocalist, acoustic guitarist and (when needed) bassist, this conference served as a masterclass on preparation, leader-watching and synergy. It was obvious that everyone on the team knew their part cold; this level of preparation allowed each member to “let go” of their own parts and listen to everyone else. Because of the fantastic congregation seating arrangement, whereby every seating group was given an opportunity to sit right up at the stage, I was able to see just how often every member watched every other member. There were many moments when instrumentalists closed their eyes in reverence, and because of this, I believe I began to notice something I will call a “checkpoint system.” There were sections, or checkpoints, in each song where the band knew to watch their bandmates and leader to see where they were headed next. It was truly inspiring. The team was fully engaged musically and faithfully – a feat that can only be achieved after great preparation. A team is always most successful when players’ eyes, ears, minds and hearts are wide open. For the Hillsong Worship team, this led to a powerful synergy that strengthened the cohesion of the group – contributing to a sense of “tightness,” enhancing the overall experience of the congregation and increasing, exponentially, our ability to engage in worship and reach out to Jesus! Hillsong Worship is a powerful example of how preparation, leader-watching and synergy contribute to an atmosphere where the musicians disappear and God is able to take center stage.
Finally, as a worship team leader, I was able to witness first-hand, how to lead the band, “move” in and around “moments” and songs, and create positive momentum for the word and senior pastor. Hillsong’s songs are, without a doubt, some of the best congregational songs in the world today. The music creates an air where faith can arise and the lyrics reflect a reverence for God; lifting up the name of Jesus. However, the songs will not play, perform and lead themselves. As a leader, it takes a certain level of preparation outside of regular rehearsal in order to take the band and congregation where they believe God wants them to go. This was accomplished a number of ways on the platform over the three days – my favorite being the hand signals used to signify what part of the song was coming next. While this may be an obvious and commonly used technique for a leader, it is important for leaders to know that they must also teach the band how to receive those signals. What good is a perfectly timed signal if no one knows to watch for them, nor what they mean? Establishing a system of communication is important; both the sending and receiving of signals must be taught.
A good handle on “steering the ship” allows for a leader to create what I like to call “moments.” These “moments” can be a prepared word, a disarming comment or even a Word from God in that very moment. While each of the Hillsong leaders on the platform are masters of this, I want to highlight how simply this was done by Jad Gillies and Brooke Ligertwood. Jad shared from the platform a single line regarding how good it was to be in God’s house. It was all he needed to engage the entire congregation. It wasn’t necessarily the words he used (as I don’t fully recall the exact ones), but the confidence with which he spoke that etched that “moment” on my heart.
Yes, it is important what you say on the platform, but it is also important where those words come from. Leading from a confidence in God, will always trump leading from a confidence in your gifts. With a smile and spiritually-sure comment, Jad was able to completely disarm a room of 10,000 people. Brooke shared a lighting quick word during the bridge of “Who You Say I Am.” The second time through the bridge, after singing “I am chosen, not forsaken… I am who You say I am,” Brooke shouted two words, “It’s true!” That’s all she said. “It’s true!”, and the band didn’t drop a beat as they dove back into the second half of the bridge. Now, if I can be completely honest, sometimes, I can get so caught up in singing a song that I love, that, unknowingly, it becomes about how well I can sing it… but when Brooke chimed in with “it’s true”, it pulled me out of myself and back into the heart and presence of Jesus.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a good word must be a complex word – Jad and Brooke fully understand that it isn’t always the words we say, but from where those words are birthed. These moments are what feed into the momentum on the platform. The Hillsong Worship team exists to worship, lead worship and pave the way for God and the bringer of the Word. The team made sure to smooth out all the transitions between songs and speakers so that the moment Pastor Brian Houston took the stage, the congregation’s hearts were still fully open, softened and excited – ready to receive. While the team may step back and out of the platform’s spotlights, they watch their Pastor like hawks, instruments at the ready… ready at a moment’s notice to go back into the section of the song he may call for. The worship team is the tip of the spear and the leaders are always prepared and watching: the band, their people, their pastor and God – ready to do battle! What an inspiration to see the Hillsong Worship team and team leaders at work.
Hillsong Conference 2018 was an unforgettable experience. If you have even thought about it, I would strongly encourage that you attend. I learned more than I thought I would about worship, leadership, fellowship… I learned even more than I thought I would about myself. The atmosphere was a life-changing one. Faith was truly in the house over those three days, and it was both an honor and privilege to be in the presence of God and what He did.