Interview with Bobbie Houston

Together with husband Brian, Bobbie Houston is the senior pastor of Hillsong Church, a role she describes as God appointed.

Australian Broadcast Corp., Australian Story/August 1, 2005

I think my husband’s fairly amazing, but obviously I’m biased, I’m his wife of 28 years, and I think he’s a great man. He’s a great leader. He’s a great husband, a great father and I think he’s, you know, as a person, he’s full of life and full of energy and full of spontaneity.

I think he’s a great leader because he’s real, he’s down to earth. I think he tries to position himself with everyday people and relate to them on that level.

I was raised in New Zealand. So I’m a Kiwi girl. And I had great parents, my father was half Tongan, and my father had this wonderful philosophy on life, he always used to say that of course you can spoil children, as long as you spoil them with love. So I had an incredible upbringing in that regard. My mum was beautiful, she was a very soft spoken, gentle woman of Scottish descent. And you know, I’m just really grateful for the upbringing that I had, I think my parents laid a great foundation and really set me up to do well in life I think.

I was actually christened in the Anglican church, but my parents weren’t actually, like, churchgoers, as I guess I understand that to be now. And so we never attended church. But they were good people, they were great people. I don’t think that they turned me away from truth, but I don’t think they necessarily pointed me to truth either. And when I was about 15 years of age I found myself asking some of those bigger questions in life, like, what is the purpose in life and why am I here, and, you know, somebody please give me a reason for my existence.

And I think that hunger within me drew me, a friend invited me to a church that was pretty similar to what our church is like today, but it was like 30 something years ago. And you know, I just, that night really encountered God in my own life and I think just had an encounter that has really defined my life to this point.

I met Brian when I was 16, almost 17, and he was all of 19. And we were at a Christian convention in Tarong in New Zealand. And I think I spotted him in the crowd, and then that afternoon we all went to the beach, and I think I was taking orders for ice cream on the sand dunes, and he has a memory of me asking him if he wanted an ice cream. And so that’s how we met, and I was obviously attracted to him, he was this kind of tall, gangly, kind of cute guy, and he loved God, and he was actually full of life and full of energy and full of spontaneity. So, I was just attracted to him.

At the time he was.. he was just fresh out of Bible college, and I think he was about to take on like an internship with a youth group in Auckland. And I was working as a secretary in a pharmaceutical company in Auckland.

Brian was raised in the church, his parents were ministers right from the word go. I think they have a background in the Salvation Army. And so he was raised in that whole environment of church and, you know, people and activity.

Obviously meeting Brian was like a defining moment because he’s the man that I fell in love with and he’s the man that I’ve chosen to do life with. And so, you know, it’s defined everything about my life.

He fell completely in love with me, and you know, and has just been like a wonderful person to do life with.

You know the thing that I actually love about him is that when we were first married we were both young, starting out in life, obviously, and he’s always believed in me. So there was a part in me that was very confident in some areas, but lacking in confidence in others, and the thing that I admire about him is that he’s always believed in me. He’s never pressured me to be anything that I wasn’t, or to do anything that I wasn’t capable of. But also at the same time he has at times, you know, nudged me across the line. And I love him for that.

We married in February 1977, so that’s 28 years ago, and you know, dreams and aspirations as a young couple, I mean, obviously we loved God, that was a given in our lives, and we had dreams to do something with our life in that regard. I don’t know if I carried a lot of personal dreams, because the environment that I was raised in with my parents, they didn’t really cultivate dreaming. And so I was quite naïve to a lot of those things. I’ve got friends who dreamt of being astronauts and all sorts of things, and I don’t think I was raised in that environment.

I think we have, after 28 years, I think we have a great relationship and we’ve definitely grown together, and that doesn’t mean that we haven’t had challenges like any married couple, but, you know, we determined at 20 years of marriage, we sat down and we were, you know, obviously celebrating and really happy with the past 20 years, but we actually addressed a few issues in our lives and we went, you know, we made a commitment that we really did want to do the rest of our lives and he’s fully committed to me and I am fully committed to him.

Regarding roles in a relationship, you know, marriage is a partnership, and the Bible says that when a man and a woman come together, it’s like two become one, become one flesh. And you know, I think it’s an incredible opportunity for a couple to come together, be united in heart and vision and endeavour, and you know, that has, those dynamics have actually framed our marriage.

I think health and fitness are really essential. Like, I’m 48 years of age now, and so really those things are not optional any longer. And I think health, fitness, wellbeing, you know, it’s actually about longevity and it’s about staying strong so that you can actually finish what you’ve actually begun in life.

When I started out in life ministry, I can remember being around, you know, 21, 22, 23 years of age, and I’d go somewhere, like maybe to the hairdressers or something, and people would say, ‘oh, so what do you do?’ And I’d go, ‘oh well, you know, I’m a pastor’s wife’. And invariably people would say, ‘gosh, well you don’t look like a pastor’s wife’. And I used to sit there and think, well what is a pastor’s wife supposed to look like. And so you know I think sometimes people have a perception that a pastor’s wife, or people in the clergy or whatever, you know, are supposed to look in a certain way and you know I think we’re just real, I think we’re just current. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that, just freedom and release to actually be yourself.

We came to Australia a year after we were married. And Brian’s father had just started a new pioneer church work in Sydney. So we came to actually visit that. We were just coming to visit. We just fell in love with Sydney and fell in love with the work that was happening there. The church was young and fresh and raw and happening and then later on, six years on, Brian had gone out and we’d planted a couple of churches, planted a church out in the hills district, which we just really felt compelled to actually stay with. And so that’s really how Hillsong Church actually began.

You know Brian and his father had a great relationship, and especially in the early days, they were like kindred spirits. And they just shared this common vision that they had a heart to build a great church in Sydney and see people’s lives impacted with the goodness of God. And they were like the best of friends.

When we started the church in the hills district, it was called Hills Christian Life Centre, and we had come from the city congregation, it was a plant from there, and it was called Sydney Christian Life Centre. So, you know, a few years ago when Brian’s father retired, and we took on the leadership of the city congregation, we sort of had this, you know, discrepancy with names, we didn’t quite know what to call it. So, everybody, around the world and across Australia, used to refer to our church as the Hillsong Church because of the music, and you know, because of the conferences and so, you know, they used to just say, ‘oh you’re the Hillsong Church’. And so when we took on that merger we just thought, let’s just take advantage of an opportunity to actually change the name, and so we just called the church Hillsong Church.

Our roles are that Brian is, you know, senior pastor, and because I’m married to him and connected in heart and soul with him, that I am seen and respected as senior pastor with him also. And I also oversee our women’s ministry at the church as well.

We actually have quite a large staff, a number of people on our team, and quite a number of pastors, because the church is large and we are ministering to a lot of people, and you would probably find that there’s a really even balance of men and women involved in that and, you know, Brian’s a great releaser of women. So we have a lot of girls, a lot of great women contributing to the heart of what Hillsong Church is.

I am married to an incredible leader, and a man with incredible vision. And I remember a few years ago he came home and he said, ‘oh, I’ve taken on another endeavour, another appointment’. And I remember looking at him thinking, honey, are you nuts? Because, how can we add even more to our already full, big life. And he just looked at me and he said, you know, well then, I’m just going to have to learn how to work smarter. And so I think as a leader he has just this incredible ability to actually increase his capacity and actually inspire other people to increase their capacity. I’m sure some people look at our lives or they get close enough to see our real lives and they think, how on earth do you guys do what you do, how do you fit everything into, you know, this life that you’ve been given, and I think it comes down to capacity. I think, you know, we’ve started out with what was in our hand and been faithful and diligent with that, and as you’re faithful to that I think it grows and I think your capacity to actually live this big life grows with it.

You know I think the bottom line message of Hillsong Church, the bottom line of what we’re about is actually connecting God and people. We’re a church, that’s what it’s about, and I hope that we encourage our people to love God, and to love life and to love others and that we, you know, in leadership of that, lead by example ourselves.

You know I think some people out there may have a perception that, you know, that this is religion for a material age. But that is so far from the reality of what it really is, and, you know, we are a church, we love God and you know, our heart is to see the goodness of our God actually go out and impact and touch people’s lives. And that’s actually the real reality of what we’re about.

Like I’m aware that there’s possibly a small perception out there about our lives. But you know, the truth is that we have loved God since we were teenagers, you know, we live by Bible principles, we put God first in our lives, you know, there’s a principle in the word of God about that. We seek to live generously, and the reality is that God honours that in your life, and he chooses to bless that, and so, you know, there is.. we are.. we are blessed…..

We’re heading towards middle age and you know, we’ve worked hard all our lives, we’ve stayed married, and I guess applied, you know, certain good principles in our lives, and so I think our lives have increased from when we began, but I just think that that is actually the fruit and the blessing of doing what is right in life.

I am personally committed to the health and wellbeing of the women in our church. So I have a responsibility to teach them, to hopefully example what a woman of God could look like. So I have a commitment and I teach our women every week. I have a meeting called Hillsong women, it attracts literally hundreds of women, young mums, you know, university students, when they’re not at uni, young people. And we just teach a whole gamut of lifestyle principles, and you know, within that a few years ago I did a teaching on sexuality and basically the bottom line with that teaching was about relationships, how to manage your relationships. I looked at some of the things that perhaps open or close a man or a woman’s spirit. And that was actually the bottom line of that teaching series.

So, a couple of years ago I had a conversation with a journalist who then wrote an article and he actually asked me about some of the teaching resource, and I actually think he went away and actually listened to it and then sadly he misrepresented and misquoted what I had actually said and how I had actually taught and the spirit in which I was teaching, and put a little bit of his own spin on it actually.

We live in a very real world, and people have relationships, they have challenges, they have real issues happening in their lives, and Brian and I are not afraid to deal with the real issues of life, and I think, you know, sexuality, identity, image, these are all very real issues for people, and there’s a lot of fragility out there. And so I think the church has a responsibility to address it with, hopefully, wisdom and integrity and discretion and sensitivity.

Yeah I actually think we have a responsibility to take care of ourselves, and you know, to do the best that you can with what you’ve got. And this is a modern church now, and it’s like people actually have permission to be themselves and to be free and, you know, God is a big, colourful, diverse God, and you know, I don’t think we all need to look the same, and I hope that at Hillsong Church we just give people permission to be themselves and to, you know, wear whatever they want and to be relaxed. It’s actually not about image or any of these things, it’s just actually about being, you know, strong and healthy and I guess the best that you can be with what you’ve got.

Brian and I have been blessed with three amazing kids. So, they’re all pretty much grown up these days, but our sons are Joel and Benjamin, and we have a beautiful daughter, her name is Laura.

Well hopefully we’ve brought them up well, you know, they’re adults now, they’re not perfect, but they’re pretty on track in life and they’re pretty good people and we definitely have raised them to love God and to love life and we’ve believed in their potential and their dreams. It’s great to have our kids alongside of us, and Ben is, he’s a youth pastor in our city congregation. So he gets to look after young teenagers. And Laura has just started. She’s just finished school, so she’s just started working, kind of as a junior in our TV and media department. And Joel is not employed as such by the church, but he’s very involved in the music and the whole creative side of youth.

You know, Hillsong might be seen as being quite different from perhaps some of the more traditional or mainline churches, but you know, Brian always says, we worship a big God. He’s a big God, He’s diverse, and there’s room for diversity, and I think, you know, as long as the bottom line principle is like the name of Jesus is being exalted and, you know, right, you know, true, good principles are being exemplified, then it doesn’t really matter how you worship as long as your heart and soul is in it.

Sometimes people might come to Hillsong and think, oh my goodness, it’s so big and it’s so extravagant, and everything like that. But you know, I actually think we have a responsibility to represent God with excellence. And that doesn’t mean perfection, it just means that we give our heart and our soul and that we actually represent him well. And I think, you know, sometimes people look at that and don’t understand that. But I don’t think they, you know, have an idea of the actually amazing God that we actually worship.

Our message is about actually empowering people to make a difference in their lives, and so of course we want to encourage people to live strong lives, to live influential lives, to do well in life, to succeed, you know, at what their dreams and aspirations. And you know the bottom line is so that we can be blessed to be a blessing, and that is the true heartbeat of Hillsong Church.

I understand that there is a perception about wealth or personal wealth, you know, I understand that that does exist out there. But again, it’s all about resourcing people’s lives to actually make a difference. And the truth is, you know, there is so much need in our city, and our nation, and you know, if you have nothing, you can actually do nothing about it. And so the whole heart of our church is to seriously be resourced so that we can actually make a difference.

I’m happy for my husband to have a Harley, actually. He doesn’t have many vices in life, you know, on the odd occasion that he gets a moment free in his life, brings a little bit of joy to him, a little bit of refreshment, then fantastic. You know, he’ll often be working hard, he’ll be preparing, thinking. I mean he works really hard, and sometimes he’ll just get on that bike and go out for like five or ten minutes and it just clears his thinking and it just gets him refocussed and I think it’s actually fantastic that he’s got that.

Music is definitely a part of Hillsong Church and I think what we’re talking about here is actually the sound of heaven, and I think that’s why it’s God breathed. It’s not just about music and lyrics and bands and, you know, razzamatazz, it’s actually about giving people a medium with which to worship God and to give expression of how they love God. And it’s actually fantastic, and it’s generational. Darlene Zschech has been a great blessing and an incredibly strategic worship pastor and worship leader, but you know she has raised up a generation of young people and there’s, you know, an incredible youth sound coming out of the house as well.

I have a memory of Darlene Zschche and her husband Mark coming, visiting our church right in the early days when we were just like, probably one or two hundred people in the Balkham Hills school hall. And they lived in Queensland and I think they just came down to visit, that’s my first memory of Mark and Darlene.

Darlene would have to be one of the most amazing, genuine, beautiful people that could ever know. She’s just a divine person. She’s real, she’s down to earth, she’s kind. She’s an awesome mum, she loves her children, and she’s just lovely.

Darlene was just one of the faithful girls behind the scenes, so she was like just one of the singers, and in those days, sadly, the pastors used to lead the worship. They used to lead the choruses, and Brian would stand up there and lead choruses and everything, and thank goodness, the times have changed, and I think he wanted to encourage her to kind of step forward. I think he really believed that there was more within her. She didn’t believe that of herself, and there was one Sunday where he just got fed up waiting for her to step forward, so he pretty much led the choruses and then I think he just walked over and handed her the microphone and walked off the stage, and so she had to step forward, and I think that was the beginning.

Darlene without doubt is a renowned songwriter, renowned worship leader, and you know, she would, through her composing and through her copyright or songwriting royalties, you know, obviously, her life has been blessed, but what’s lovely about Darlene and Mark is that, you know, they realise that they’ve been blessed to be a blessing in life and you know, something that was very, very close to their hearts was to actually create a ministry that would minister to young women who are in crisis. And out of that, Mercy Ministries has been birthed and is just a great ministry, helping, you know, countless girls across Australia.

We’ve always had a relationship with Compassion Australia, child sponsorship, and in recent times we just, you know, got it within our spirit. Imagine if we could focus on one whole region and really just, you know, focus our attention there. So in the last couple of years our Sydney church, our London church have joined forces on this, and we have just focussed all our energy on sponsoring as many children as we can in one region. So, currently, there are like over 2600 children sponsored by our beautiful people in the Kassisi region of Uganda.

Brian and I, and Laura, actually, had the incredible privilege of visiting Uganda last May, and truly, just to see the work of Compassion on the ground, and then to actually visit where there are our own children, our own sponsored children, was just one of the greatest highlights of my life. I loved it.

I think Australians are known for being generous and for stepping into the fray when there’s a situation or a crisis. And so, you know, we, we would like to really mobilise the church also to be mindful that when crisis happens, that we can actually make a difference as well.

Well in the past, we’ve been able to contribute as did thousands of other Australians, to you know, relief for the Tsunami. I know that when the bushfires sort of just took the lives and took the property of so many people, Brian actually mobilised our own church and churches right across the nation to, you know, take special offerings on the weekend for that. So we were able to contribute to that. And just basically wherever crisis arise we just want to actually be there as well, to contribute.

One of the great programs that we’ve been able to start in recent times is the Shine program. And basically, it’s taking a whole identity, self esteem program into some of the schools and into some of the Indigenous areas in inner Sydney especially, and just helping young girls believe in themselves, and believe that they’re beautiful, and you know, tragically, there’s a lot of young women these days who don’t have anyone looking them in the eye and telling them that they’re valued and that they’re important, and just I think just being like a mother figure in their lives. And so there’s a whole group of volunteers who go in and do that, and it’s actually just very lovely.

I think that we have an incredible opportunity to create an environment of hope and vision for young people. And so, you know, our church is full of young people, and that’s because they’re embraced, they’re welcomed, you know, we fully release them to be themselves, you know. And we, we just believe in their potential, and we actually encourage them to live big lives and you know, to follow their dreams, their aspirations. Brian openly encourages our young people to seek higher education and to do something with their lives, to make an influence... I mean to make a difference in their lives. So, we encourage that.

I remember when Brian first started in ministry, he was nervous. He would blink, and we make a joke about it now, that it’s really good that he overcame that because otherwise, you know, he would still be the blinking pastor, and we might be the blinking congregation, I don’t know. But I think it comes naturally to him now.

I think the situation with Brian’s father a handful of years ago, was possibly one of the hardest that I’ve ever seen my husband go through. One Friday he proceeded to say that an accusation had come against his father with regard to interfering, I guess abusing, well abusing, minors, and that his father had actually said that there was some truth to this. And I just remember at the time thinking, oh my goodness, this is just the most terrible thing. And actually, I guess being shell shocked with like just shock, you know. And I think for Brian that season was, you know, without doubt the hardest thing that he’s actually ever had to go through. I mean outside of someone telling us that someone we loved or one of our children had died, I think that is the hardest thing that he’s ever had to address. Frank was like his mentor in life and ministry. So he had to deal with it as a son on a personal level and then he had to deal with it as a father, and share him with the three children and share him with me. He had to deal with it with his family, like, Brian’s one of five, and to be honest, the majority of his siblings just completely fell apart. So he had to be their strength in the midst of all of this. And then I had to watch my husband deal with it, you know, as a leader. He had to,deal with it within our own church, he had to confront his father and then remove his father from ministry. And so it was an incredibly taxing and trying season and, you know, I just actually admire him, I fully admire him because I saw him deal with it with incredible courage and also with incredible integrity. And some people may say, a very few people may think that he didn’t deal with it with integrity, but I know that he did, and I just completely admire him.

I don’t think that it has changed him in that he’s a minister of the gospel, he’s a good hearted, kind, generous pastor, and he’s very aware of the real needs in people’s lives. But I think it has softened him, and I think, you know, as a wife, as his wife I know that it’s taken a personal toll on him, but I think, out of it you become a stronger person. Or you choose to become a stronger person. You either fall apart and are destroyed by something like that, or you evaluate life and you live and you learn and you humble yourself and you go, okay, so how can we live our lives in a way that these kind of things aren’t going to affect others.

With regards to the future, there is so much need, there’s so much still to be done on the earth, and I really hope that Hillsong Church will go from strength to strength, that we’ll continue to be about seeing the goodness of God and the message of God’s goodness go out across the earth. And so, you know, I hope that we can continue to raise generations of people who understand that and live for that cause.

I do stand in awe at what God has done. Not what we have done, but what God has done. And just to see him, God move in people’s lives and to see the breadth and potential of their lives is actually quite amazing.

Obviously, there is a degree of satisfaction when you just look at everything that has happened, and you know, we realise that it’s actually not about us, it’s actually God’s done an incredible work in people’s lives. But the thing is that there’s so much out there still to be done, so we don’t have time to kind of just sit around and gloat on what has happened, it’s just we’re too busy thinking about all the things that we need to do that are out there.

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