I Asked Hillsong UNITED for Worship Advice

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This interview ended up being about 3 or 4 times longer than most. Here’s why.

I lost my marbles when the Observer asked me to set up an interview with someone in Hillsong UNITED. I sing and play their songs on a weekly basis. I’m a worship leader at my church, so I can’t count the amount of times I’ve sung or led a congregation in singing Oceans, The Stand or Hosanna. To say that worship has had a huge impact on my life is an understatement (though I’ll probably write more on that in a later post). I spend hours a week rehearsing worship songs, or singing to God on my own or with friends, especially my boyfriend. I’ve sung at churches around the country, and so much of what I play is from Hillsong. Not everything, but a lot. Most of the song requests I get are Hillsong songs. And I know some people bash them for having songs that sound the same or whatever, but all I say to that is “let’s see you do better.” Is that mean? Whatever.

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I respect Hillsong United so much because of how well they’ve been able to create music that is cool and accessible to youth while holding on to the heart of what worshipping God should be about. So when I got a call from JD, one of the OG members of Hillsong United, I lost it. I mean, the guy gets to sing to God for a living.

(JD is the guy in the video with long hair and glasses.)

It was early in Australia but late afternoon where I was answering the call. After my initial gush of “omg I love worship too” super professional intro, we dove in with some intro questions like what’s the difference between UNITED and Hillsong Young and Free, and stuff like that.

Some things I learned?

  • JD was 13 when he and his youth group friends started writing songs and formed Hillsong UNITED.
  • When they’re not on tour, they’re part of their worship teams at home and participate just like any other volunteer.
  • Hillsong UNITED is the “original” band, with Hillsong Young and Free being a band that started to focus more on the youth. And Hillsong Worship is their actual church’s worship.

Here’s some snippets from the interview:

JD: Thursday nights we do rehearsals we call team nights and we come together and do devotions and pray and rehearse and then be a part of Sundays. Most of us are, like I’m one of the worship pastors here in Sydney so we just help out. Make sure the church is happening on weekends and there’s a lot of people not in United that are making it happen as well and I just work alongside them.

Isabel: Because worshiping God and playing music is in a way a job, how do you balance that? …

I think what’s been amazing about our journey is we never set out to make a job out of it or that it would become what we do with our lives, we’ve always kind of viewed it as our service to God and our volunteering and involvement of church. The truth is all of us were doing this for years and years before it ever became a job and we’d be working- I remember I did everything from working in McDonald’s and working in cafes and then leading worship and doing our youth ministry…. None of us started this to get a job out of it but it’s been amazing and we’re amazed at God making these opportunities for us. And I think United is really a family and a strong community so we make sure that if anyone’s feeling down we’re able to pick them up and if anyone starts to be a little too high we can pull them down, it’s the great thing about  I think church or family or cumminty. If someone’s going to get a big head then there’s plenty of brothers and sisters there to help that head gets small but more importantly when people are down or struggling we’re there to lift them up and it’s an amazing dynamic.

That’s awesome. So what do you think makes a good worship band?

I think skinny jeans and long hair.

That’s true!

I’m glad you’re laughing.

But I think going off of what I just said I think the desire to bring glory to God, the desire to establish God’s truth here on earth and tell everyone that we can that we have some really good news and that is that God sent his son Jesus so we wouldn’t have to be lost but that we could feel comfort in our pain and the greatest gift of all is salvation. So I think in my mind it’s great to have big dreams and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to write songs that people around the world will sing or people want their songs to travel to millions and billions of people and to go and travel the world to large crowds and that’s great but to be honest that’s the least important thing when it comes to having a worship band. The most important thing is that our lives will bring honor and glory to God. Paul writes in Timothy that we need to live a life worthy of the calling that God has for each and every one of us….

I eventually started asking him questions about their upcoming tour, his musical influences… the typical things you ask when you interview an artist. But right when the interview was reaching to 3x longer than what’s unspokenl-y expected, I ventured to beg for a couple more questions.

Alright, I only have two more questions for you. I could honestly ask you questions for hours but I won’t take up too much more of your time

All good. That’s fine, I wish I had hours as well! I’m glad to talk to someone as passionate about it!

So my worship team is practicing tomorrow night, and I was wondering if you had any advice for a worship band, worship team? Any words of wisdom?

Ugh. Gosh, I could talk for hours on this because I love it and I’m on this journey myself of trying to do the best I possibly can but I think that in what we do as a worship team there’s two elements. There’s obviously the spiritual side of trying to lead people into the presence of God and getting people’s eyes and attention to God and there’s also the practical and physical element of trying to make the songs sound as good as they can and not stuffing it up, singing the right words, hitting the right chords and all that and staying on time and all the things that come. So there’s always this tension of, can I keep up? It’s one eye on God and one eye on the people type thing. There’s that balance of actually worshipping yourself but also making sure all these elements are lining up as well as possible to get people to go to God with as much ease as possible. So I think my biggest advice would be from my journey of doing this is that that’s all important and we got to do it all as best as we possibly can but never, ever, um I would say never ever- I’m trying to word it best as I can but never ever take the focus off trying to honor God and worship who he is ourselves. I think the greatest way we can actually lead people into worshipping God is to worship God. And so the temptation is to perform or the temptation is to sing a song really well or for people to think the service is awesome but to be honest it’s great to do all that stuff but as long as it becomes a very long second to when we’re on that platform in a worship sergice actually worship God for who he is. People see that and that’s contagious. And that’s attractive. And so keeping that pure heart of okay we’re going to worship God first and foremost. You can’t ignore all the other elements otherwise we’ll lose people but don’t get it around the other day where we do everything to set it up to be amazing and then we try to worship God. No, you start with trying to worship God first and people will see that and if you lead someone in worship worship God first.

Thank you so much for that. I know, I said two more questions, but can I ask you one more? I’m so sorry this is taking so long.

That’s alright I’ll give you one more.

I was wondering what your convictions are on the pairing of music and faith and why music is such a key part in worshipping God. I know it’s a big question.

It is a big question and I’ll answer as quickly as possible but it’ll be, number one, because God created it. God created everything to bring glory to worship himself. The Bible talks about how even the rocks will cry out. God created beautiful creation, I think we see even a sunset and a beach, God created that. And it reflects his beauty. Everything reflects it…. I think we can take God’s creation like a mirro… Music in its purest form was created to glorify God. That’s why we all love it and some people out there aren’t using their music to glorify God but even those songs  in the mainstream like big anthems everyone loves that’s a big extension of God’s creation. I think, number one, it’s so powerful because God created it, but I think secondly if you read all scripture it teaches us to sing. It teaches us to break into song. And I think we’re also instructed to use whatever we have to show people who God is. Music is one of those but it’s also kind of a universal language. I can’t remember who exactly said it but it’s that music has a way of entering your heart without asking permission. So I think that if that’s what we love and with UNITED and we sing songs and travel, my favorite is when we hear people who have never set foot in a church or don’t have anything to do with God or maybe had a bad experience when they were younger or have disbelief but somehow someone will play them one of our songs through the beauty of streaming with Spotify or Apple Music and all the rest of it, and our songs find their way into random playlists and people listen to our music without even realizing that it’s worship or Christian. And the testimonies people email us like, I didn’t want anything to do with God or church but there’s something about this song that makes me cry or gives me peace. I think that’s the power of music. And it’s powerful because God created it and it’s at its purest and best form when it’s giving him glory or telling the glory of who God is or what he’s done.

That’s awesome. Wow. Thank you so much for your time.

No problem, it was fun. It was good to talk to someone who is so passionate about worship!

There it is, folks. To be honest, I almost didn’t want to share it because it was just something so special to me. Sure, a lot of Hillsong songs sound similar, or whatever people wanna say about it, but their songwriting has gotten me through a lot and has helped me in my spiritual and emotional connection to God. And for that I am forever thankful.

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