It soon became very clear during our time at Hillsong that seeing lives transformed was a common thread running through everything that goes on. So many people we met shared their testimony with such genuine thankfulness and joy – finding Jesus had really been for them the life-changing catalyst it should be. Those we met – pastors, students, leaders, serving members, young and old – regularly and unashamedly spoke of the grace of God at work in their lives, and at each meeting there were testimonies of one kind or another, whether on video, personally shared or communicated as prayerful thankfulness by one of the leaders, all inspiring faith and hope that God is in the business of transforming lives today.
It soon dawned on me that we, indeed I, do not do this nearly enough. Many of the testimonies and stories I heard were not revolutionary tales (some were!) but simple recognition of the hand of God by His Spirit at work in ordinary daily life. It was truly an attitude of gratitude – not forced or fake – but in keeping with this cultural lack of cynicism, a real acknowledgment of trust and active joyful faith. I should, we should be more like this. And we can be!
The clear effect of this culture is that it feeds itself, it encourages others, it helps build faith and hunger in others for more. This was not some shallow optimism or refusal to accept pain and hardship – quite the opposite. Several stories were real tales of overcoming, and some were still in the midst of overcoming but displaying thankful hearts for present mercies. This did not seem like unreality, rather the deliberate fostering of a ‘Jesus focused culture’ which was contagious.
Brenden Brown was one person I met with a revolutionary tale; meeting this humble leader who gave up his valuable time to answer my questions and help me understand how the church lives and breathes was one of those occasions when you know you are being changed through just being with someone. At the end of our time talking I simply asked a few more personal questions and quickly I became aware that I was in the presence of someone whose passion for Jesus and to see the Gospel transform lives is backed up by his own testimony of grace. Brenden is married to Jacquie and has a young son, he is now a Pastor at Hillsong and responsible for Frontline (the 25-35 age group).
As an aside, both Judith and I were encouraged to see that the “youth ministry” at Hillsong goes all the way up to 35! By being only 10 years outside the bracket to be included in the youth we felt strangely young and carefree again!
When Brenden speaks he talks with passion about his calling, the people and teams he works with, the outreach they are planning, the care-filled pastoral network that they have purposefully built to ensure that they minimise any feeling of being left out or not belonging. He seems energised and proactive about his whole life. But things were not always as hope-filled and positive for Brenden. His story of how his life was arrested by the grace of God, as he was headed for self-destruction, really touched my heart. To see him now a happy husband, doting dad, and influential leader of an aspiring vital generation of young people was truly inspirational. To hear how the love of Christ extended through Christians at Hillsong had brought him into new friendship, a sense of belonging, a new identity and then very quickly the power of the grace of God lived out through his new family transformed him from the life of a loser to being a leader of thousands – well, I can only say it truly touched my heart deeply.
There is no doubt in my mind that at Hillsong Church you can see all around that transformed lives do transform lives!