See Hillsong UNITED live in concert tonight, Tuesday, June 18 at Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates (Chicago), IL or Wednesday, June 19th at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, IN. They are wrapping up their USA WELCOME ZION Tour. Don't miss out. Get your tickets now! Then, check out this great interview with Joel Houston of Hillsong UNITED after the first concert of the tour.

- Credit New Release Tuesday



In the moments before kicking off the WELCOMEZION U.S. tour, Joel Houston takes time to talk about the past, present and future—of UNITED, the Church and worship.

By mheternal


AN NRT EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW, Joel Houston's Zion, Part 1 of 2
Joel Houston: "Our job is to just be an ambassador for Christ wherever we find ourselves."
I'll never forget when I discovered Hillsong UNITED, or, as they were called back then "United Live." My girlfriend (now wife) had picked up a couple of CDs from our local Christian bookstore that inexplicably caught her attention.

Upon first glance, I wasn't terribly interested. A pink cover with the words "Hillsong" on it. I expected the contemporary stylings of Darlene Zschech—the kind of stuff that was low- to mid-tempo, and very much geared towards my parents. 

But somehow, that album—King of Majesty—found its way into my CD player, and I can remember my eyes widening as I heard a sound that was foreign to me in terms of corporate worship—sizzling guitar licks, distortion pedals and uptempo anthems carried the message of the Gospel in ways like I'd never heard. 

"Everything to Me" became my play-it-until-you-break-the-CD kind of song that energetically declares: "And I will never stop praising You / For all the things You've done for me / And I'll be Yours forever / Jesus you're everything to me!"

The rules had been broken. The liturgy was turned on its head. The possibilities seemed endless. And in the 14 years since UNITED released their first album, Every Day, the possiblities have continued to be endless. The players have changed, the lyrical themes have changed somewhat and the musical styles certainly have changed from rowdy rock-and-roll to awestruck synths, but the heart of what made Hillsong UNITED pioneers of worship in the global Church remains the same.

I had the tremendous honor of interviewing one of my heroes, Hillsong UNITED frontman and co-founder, Joel Houston, in the moments before he and his bandmates kicked off the 12-stop WELCOMEZION tour with UNITED in my hometown of Portland, Oregon.

It's a total pleasure to be with you. I've been following you since the King of Majesty days. 
That's a long time!
It's awesome that you are here in Portland. How does it feel getting ready to kick off another tour?
It's good. It's full of all very crazy emotions right now because the first night is new to us. It feels new. It's one of those things where you're hoping it's going to be great, but it takes a little bit of time to get the groove. But we're doing everything we can to prepare for it. It should be good.
This is the first U.S. tour in how long?
A while; 18 months at least, maybe longer. August 2011 might have been the last time.
You're living in New York, doing the Hillsong New York thing. A lot has happened since the last U.S. tour. How would you describe the difference between doing the week-in, week-out thing at church at home, and coming out on the road doing an experience like this?
It's one of those things where there is a dichotomy between the two things, but at the same time it's the same thing really through and through. For us, when we do this, we do it with a mindset that is completely focused on empowering what we do at home, even though we're away with other people from other churches. We want to do what we do to empower other people hopefully within their context of church or life or ministry or wherever they be. 
For us, we have to make it one thing, otherwise one starts to compete with the other. I think we learned early on with the growing pains. We've always kind of felt like everything that we've ever done has flowed out of our foundation and our roots [in the local church]. And if they're not strong, if they're not in place, at some point the rest of it will fall over.
You're talking about that vision, that focus. Are you feeling something in the Spirit as far as what kind of vision you're coming out on this U.S. tour? Speak to that a little bit.
I don't know that our mission and vision has changed at all, really. It kind of remains the same. How it is communicated or comes across, I don't know. I want to think it's different. I guess I don't know yet. Going into the first night we don't know. We've put a bunch of songs together and I guess that's the bit as a worship leader you really need to rest in the confidence that the Spirit is going to do whatever He wants to do.

I guess that's the anxiety I have if anything right now is that I don't know what's going to happen tonight because we haven't done it. I don't know what I'm going to say. I haven't prepared a speech or anything. I just go with it. It's one of the those things where I like the risk of that.
We sing about it in "Oceans": "Spirit lead me where that trust is without borders." It is that sense of stepping into the unknown. I feel that way right now. 
You felt this way before, I'm sure, in many different chapters. It never gets old, does it?
It doesn't. It never gets easier, for sure. 
Fill us in on what's happening in New York with the church plant, with you and Carl Lentz.
It's an adventure. It's wild. 
It's been going three years now?
Yeah, probably three years I guess since we started now. I don't keep track of stuff. It's just a phenomenal experience. God is doing amazing things. We have just incredible people. I just love the stories of the people in our church. I'm sure you can say that for every church in the world, but for me that's the prize and the reward is just seeing people come to know Jesus in the midst of all kinds of circumstances, and find a vibrant, active faith in the middle of New York City.
That's been the awesome thing and we've got all sorts of struggles, things like locations and buildings. Not taking away from what happens in perhaps easier towns, but it is a struggle when it comes to just housing, just the people. It's super expensive and political. We're having fun.
Every since I've been following you, you've been constantly creating. Are you still writing tons?
Yeah. We've probably had a little bit of a break since Aftermath, since Zion and since the Glorious Ruins project that comes out in July, I think. But I know that Mattie [Matt Crocker] and I have been talking a lot. Always writing, always thinking about new stuff, but usually the idea is to just sit there and finish until it's like, "OK. Now's the time to lock in." We usually try and get together for a week, just share each other's ideas and see what comes from it. We're looking to do that again sometime after our conference in July.
What are you seeing out there in the Church? In the world, what have you seen God do over time, during all this time that you've been in UNITED? If there's a way to boil that down, what's happened and what's happening?
I feel like the challenge for us as the Church, as Christians really is to just keep our eyes focused on Jesus, obviously, but the Word of God to me is always revealing new things to the Church and it doesn't just happen in one Church. It happens across the board. It's amazing to me. You look at what, whether it be 15, 20 years ago and it's like people's eyes were opened to worship and a new sense of freedom in worship. 
In the back of that it's like across the board people's eyes were open to the fact that God's call is missional and we call it the social justice kind of swing in the Church. At the same time now I feel like things are kind of spinning back to a real emphasis, obviously on the name of Jesus, which was beautiful. It has been the main thing the whole time, but it's like God peels back the layers. The stuff that has been a revelation becomes a deeper revelation for the church.
I feel like now there's a real waking to the Spirit of God and what He wants to do in empowering us to live active lives for Christ that really steps beyond places that the Church has ever been before. I think for us in New York we have this thing Occupy OUR Street—just a real sense that our job is to just be an ambassador for Christ wherever we find ourselves.
It just means loving people and being open-minded and having a spirit that's open. I don't know what's next, really. To me that's the adventure of it all, the unknown. I just think God's taking us deeper all the time.
We face different challenges, the challenges the Church has faced in the past, and I think there are really interesting day ahead of us and challenging. We don't need to be fearful because God is in control and we need to rest in the fact that He's going to do His thing, but He uses us so we have to put our hand out and we have to stand up and take notice.

Make sure to check back for Part 2, where Joel talks about the next generation of the HIllsong youth worship movement, his own musical inspirations and what he still dreams about.

Posted June 18, 2013 | Editor-in-Chief Marcus Hathcock has been a newspaper reporter, an editor and now Community Life Director for East Hill Church in Gresham, Ore. He's also been involved in opera, acappella, a CCM group and now is a songwriter and one of the worship leaders at East Hill. Follow his journey at