It was so good to have Chris Parkes – our Guern in Oz – to plan and arrange for us a week visiting Hillsong Church in Sydney Australia. Chris has been studying at their ministry training college and working in the church there for over three years now. He is coming to the end of his Degree course having previously completed what can be best described as a Diploma in Ministry during his initial year in Sydney.
Hillsong is well known in most of Charisendom if not the wider Evangelical world, firstly for its prolific worship and song-writing output as a community which began dramatically to influence beyond its Sydney based church in the early 90s with songs like This is My Desire and Shout to the Lord. Since then the trickle has turned into a torrent of wonderful, catchy, Jesus-centred worship songs of which you’re now very likely to find peppering song set-lists from Littlehampton to Little Wanganui.
We arrived in Sydney late at night and were met at the airport by Kim Drew, a lovely South African friend who used to live in Guernsey. Kim attended an Alpha course we were running a couple of years ago after which she joined our church but sadly only for a few months before her husband Colin’s job moved them and their family to Australia.
I had never met Colin nor their children, and so it was very gracious and generous of them both to have us to stay, initially for three nights, but in the end, as other accommodation fell through, for a whole week! It was thoroughly fortuitous also that the Drews live in Cherrybrook, a suburb of North West Sydney which is about 10 minutes drive from the main Hillsong Campus in Baulkham Hills.
This massive suburban district North West of the city is one residential new-town after another, and is collectively known as ‘the Hills’ district because so many of the residential clusters in this region have the word ‘hill’ in their title, and also because… well, they’re hilly, I guess. Anyhow this is the reason the church has the name ‘Hillsong’, it was originally founded in the early 80s as The Hills Christian Life Centre. As an affiliated Assemblies of God church (in Australia the denomination is known collectively as Australian Christian Churches) it was part of a generic “Christian Life Centre” movement in the AoG which was a kind of renewal and restoration movement and as such influenced Europe also.
Hillsong thus started off life as a kind of suburban church plant from the Christian Life Centre in downtown Sydney which has now somewhat ironically become the city campus of Hillsong Church. Brian and Bobby Houston, the senior leadership couple in Hillsong Church are a bubbly, trendy, fatherly-motherly couple who set the tone for much of the culture in this massive church of over 20,000 people. It was Brian’s father who was the pastor of the original Sydney Christian Life Centre which is now the Hillsong city campus.
Chris (Parkesy to his friends) lived only a few minutes drive from Colin and Kim’s place too, so he was able to pick us up each day and taxi us around which was just great. Chris is fully engaged in Hillsong Church and loves all that he does there, which includes the theological degree course that he’s been on the past few years, but this is only part of the picture. When I say fully engaged I mean fully. Chris is also a Connect Group Leader (i.e. home-group leader), and as one of the Powerhouse leaders (no, not primary kids for any Rockers reading this, in Hillsong this means young people aged 18-25) he also oversees a Tribe which consists of around 400 people – a collection of around 40 Connect Groups, and of course he is involved with leading and serving at at least two weekend services, as well as the Powerhouse midweek service!
Chris does all this voluntarily as thousands of others do, but he also does a small part-time paid job for roughly two days a week in Hillsong’s international conference office which is often manned 24 hours a day. So together with college lectures, study and course-work, Chris has a pretty full week! But as with so many we met who are equally full-on engaged in church life, Chris loves Jesus full-on too, inside-out, enjoys everything he does, takes responsibility seriously, wants the world to see the glory and excellence of the Lord Jesus through the church and seems thoroughly satisfied! What a joy it was to be with Chris and so many others like him at Hillsong all week. It does your soul good to be with such energetic, uncynical, Jesus-centred people who love and enjoy God, love loving people with the love God gives, and love the abundant life he has given us fully too!
This was the overriding theme weaving through our Hillsong experience in Sydney – we felt so welcome from the moment we arrived, we met such genuine lovers of Jesus who took time and effort to make us welcome all week and clearly enjoyed doing so, and we met people whose lives have been transformed through being wonderfully ‘sucked in’ by this welcoming unworldly love and have thereby met Jesus. As one guy, now a youth leader, expressed it to me – “I know now that the Saviour sought me out and found me through the overwhelming love and joy of this powerful community of friends called Hillsong”.
Wow! And double wow!
As we talked together and prayed at the end of our time at Hillsong Judith tearfully summed it up like this, “I don’t think I have ever met so many genuine, uncynical, loving, passionate people!”