This is Part 2 of my series of 3 articles. Please feel free to read my first article below:
Hillsong Insider (Part 1): “My exit out of a mega church… Never to return again”
In this article, I will be looking at how Hillsong asked Oslo Christian Center to join their godfather family in the spring of 2014.
THE HILLSONG TAKEOVER
I was actually not at church the Sunday it was announced to the whole church. One of my friends met me later the same evening and excitedly told me that the church had joined the family of Hillsong.
I thought I wasn’t hearing right! Never in a hundred years did I expect the church to join the “family of Hillsong”!
I thought it was good enough, more than enough, in fact, all sufficient to be a part of the family of God!!! Whatever did it mean to join the family of Hillsong? What were the implications? It sounded like a good ole boys club scenario to me, where you get asked to join the club. It’s like, what on earth had we done to put us in the spotlight, enough to catch the attention of an Australian mega church on the other side of the globe? I realized all the Norwegian church members were really honored and touched that we had been asked to join their family. “Humbled,” in fact, to quote our pastor. That we would make the list and be asked to join was really amazing to the church members. Everybody thought it was very exciting!
I was curious to hear how the decision had played out. Had we voted on it? Or even talked about it? Had I had my head in the sand? How had I not even heard the buzz in the air? Was it really just landed on us with absolutely no warning?
It felt like boarding a train and knowing more or less that you will end up at this-and-this destination, but then midway, without warning, they change the engine and you head off in a completely different direction! You have no idea where the stops will be and much less where the destination is! In short, I felt completely disoriented!
This was a huge decision on the church’s part, international in fact. How was it possible we had not been informed?
AN UNHEALTHY CHURCH MENTALITY
“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” 1 Peter 5:1-4 (Emphasis mine)
I did some research and found out that no, indeed, I hadn’t missed a vote or earlier announcement. A couple of members seemed shocked that I even asked about a congregational vote. They explained to me with a wave of the hand that one can’t have all the grannies getting involved to vote on the color of the sanctuary curtains! One needs a team of leaders to make these decisions because otherwise one would never get anything done! I couldn’t believe that was the explanation they tossed me!
I was seriously concerned about going to a church where the leadership made international decisions that they did not even run by us, the lay people, for some feed back. I asked some leaders if they had had prior knowledge. I was told that one month prior to the congregation being told, all the leaders, such as cell group leaders and various team leaders, were called in to a meeting and briefed on the idea. So first, the very top of the pyramid of leaders had discussed this, and when they had considered all the facts and felt it was a good idea, they presented it to the lesser leaders.
It was naturally presented in glowing terms by the top leaders, like it would only be a benefit to the church. We would of course keep our church name and own identity and operate church as usual. Joining Hillsong family would not affect our finances. But being part of the family of Hillsong would probably give us more access to Hillsong material and speakers and conferences and discounts of sorts. The leaders said at the meeting that they were open for feedback and thoughts around this decision.
It probably felt a bit like being a guest at a wedding. “Speak now or forever hold your peace.” Maybe some of the wedding guests have a certain gut feeling this marriage might not go well or are afraid the couple have not been entirely honest with one another or that they should give the relationship more time before they rush into this decision, but the doubting guest knows that the couple have made up their minds and nothing they say will probably stop them from taking their vows. Also, if they were to speak up and the couple got married anyway and lived happily ever after, then they would go down in history as the doubting guest with no faith in the couple’s commitment. Who is really going to risk their reputation and go out on a limb like that?
So I can imagine it was something like that at that meeting. Any silent objectors stayed silent and hoped for the best! Just sprinkle some good faith over it and it will work out for the best. I mean, hey, what’s not to like about it? It’s a win win situation! It’s a warm wall at our back! I mean, who in their right mind would turn down such an offer? It’s too good to be true! To get to be a part of famous Hillsong but still be our own identity?! Well, I wondered if it was just that: too good to be true.
Sadly, I personally think this decision says lots about our leaders faith and trust in our congregation; our congregations faith and trust in our leadership; and most importantly, how we as a church have put our faith and trust into Hillsong to love, grow, comfort and support us rather than God.
How is joining Hillsong helping us if we are faithfully preaching God’s Word daily? What power do they have that we don’t already have? Why the pressure to join? What are we saying about our church and leadership now that we’ve joined Hillsong? That we were incompetent?
HILLSONG’S OPERATION BEHIND THE TAKEOVER
So what did I know about Hillsong? About what every body else does. They are famous for their praise and worship music. I had an album of their music that somebody had given me and I knew others who rushed to get their newest albums as they cranked them out. We all sing their songs at some point in our various churches of all denominations. It’s this big church and popular Bible school destination. I mean, who with money doesn’t feel God calling them to a year of Bible school in exotic Australia???!!!! That’s really about all I knew about them. I mean, they are way over there on the other side of the globe. There are enough church goings-on to keep up with over here. Why pay any special attention to Hillsong other than their music?
But if we were becoming a member of Hillsong family, that must mean we line up with their doctrine and way of doing church. So I felt I better research the Hillsong pastors and see what they were up to, as I assumed we would be hearing more from them in the near future. As I looked into Hillsong, absolutely everything alarmed me.
Bit by bit I pieced together our involvement with Hillsong. Apparently we had history that went way back. Our pastor had studied at the Hillsong Bible School himself! So did someone at Hillsong Bible School give him the idea that he can convert his church into a Hillsong Church? If so, what Bible School would do such a thing? Why not hand over the church and start his own Hillsong Church upfront in Oslo?
When he returned to Norway, his father, who was the senior pastor and founder of Oslo Christian Center, gave him the opportunity to start a church in downtown Oslo. So the son started up a brand new church that was a branch of his father’s church. They rented Victoria Theater on the main drag in Oslo, a couple blocks from the palace. It was a theater that was a bar and concert venue the rest of the week. As I looked into Hillsong campus churches world wide, I noticed that seemed to be their trademark, renting secular theaters for church services. So we were apparently a chip off the old block! I guess it’s too embarrassing and uncool to meet in traditional churches. I assume this does not really accommodate the whole stage effect that these hip young “churches” are into.
I was told that Brian and Bobbie Houston had been emotionally and spiritually supportive about our young pastor starting this church. They had really prayed over him. Then when the son took over as senior pastor when his father retired they also really prayed over him again!
One year later, after he had been functioning as senior pastor of the three campuses of Oslo Christian Center, Hillsong invited us to join their family.
I hate to be so nonspiritual that I just look at the cold hard facts of finance and business opportunities, but all the same, I found myself pondering some things. Hillsong has a campus in Stockholm and Copenhagen… why not Norway? Norway is the most evangelical country of Scandinavia, so the market is big for a church like Hillsong. We have one of the best economies in the world and the highest standard of living. From a purely financial point of view, who wouldn’t want a piece of that pie?
Well, we were already here. So we would have been stiff competition for Hillsong, to be perfectly honest. So maybe Hillsong thought if you can’t beat them, join them. Whatever the case, I couldn’t get rid of this nagging feeling that this was a great strategy on the part of Hillsong.
It wasn’t only our church that joined the family of Hillsong. A few months earlier, Intro Church also located in downtown Oslo, joined the family of Hillsong. We joined the family of Hillsong in the spring of 2014 and that summer, Norway was the most represented country at the London Hillsong summer conference.
A couple months before we joined the family of Hillsong, Pastor Clark from the London Hillsong campus, spoke at our leadership conference. That must have been a key weekend for all the leaders that were in the know! The following year after we had become members, they had three Hillsong pastors as speakers at the leadership conference: Hillsong pastors from Stockholm, Copenhagen and London.
The latest checkup on the OKS.no website shows that they now have various groups you can join, such as, “The Creative Team,” “The Kingdom Builders,” and “The Sisterhood.” These are ideas that come from Hillsong.
IS OUR CHURCH LOSING IT’S IDENTITY?
“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.” Galatians 3:1 (Emphasis mine)
I remember the first Easter service I was at the church, the sermon our pastor preached was really good and strong. It was an excellent service and had an impact on many. In fact, the people that I invited to that Easter service ended up coming back because it made such an impression!
But a year later, around the time we were joining the Hillsong family, the Easter service was very different. First of all, our pastor did not preach, even though he was present. The pastor from Stockholm Hillsong preached. I just didn’t understand why the Hillsong pastor wouldn’t want to be preaching at his own church on Easter morning. And why would our pastor move over on such an important Sunday? This is the big Sunday they encourage everyone to invite guests and people that maybe don’t normally go to church. If I had invited anyone to church that Sunday, they wouldn’t have gotten an impression of our own pastor. The sermon was so unmemorable. I can’t even remember the main points.
But worst of all, was that they had a trapeze artist swinging from silk scarves hanging from the stage ceiling as the praise and worship band played. It was a total show! It did not at all help me to think about the real reason of “Resurrection Sunday.” The show took over and as our pastor got up to do announcements, he said, ” Wow! What are we going to do next Sunday to compete with this?!!” And I thought, “Yes, what are you going to do? You have whet an unstoppable appetite. The show must go on. You have brought cake and circus to the church. Now you are going to get up and bore us with a sermon? Well, at least keep it short and sweet and peppy and fresh!”
When they tantalize our senses with so many experiences, they do not prepare us for a serious sermon. We just want more of the fun stuff. Oh please!
Don’t we have enough entertainment on our T.V., internet, Facebook, and iPhones? Do we really come to church for more of the same stuff? Like trapeze artists swinging on silk scarves to the music of praise and worship? Talk about caving into the carnal desires of the flesh!
WHY can’t we stick with the simple Gospel? The King of the universe was born in a stable. When Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, came to Jerusalem for the Passover, which we now refer to as Palm Sunday, He rode in on a donkey. Just one Easter service at our church cost more then both of those events put together! I couldn’t help thinking about the churches being burned in Pakistan and Egypt. Our dear brothers and sisters in Christ suffering and being martyred for the sake of the Gospel. Meanwhile we just pumped more and more money into presenting the simple Gospel to wealthy, high-maintenance western Christians.
That was one of the last Sundays I was at that church. The next Sundays I came only to fulfill my cafe duties through to the end of the spring semester. I simply could no longer with good conscience support the theology which is of course the backbone of any church–what they believe and stand for and put the focus on. I want to follow Jesus and not be a part of some big namebrand church that pumps loads of time and energy and money into entertaining the crowd.
HEADING DOWN HOUSTON RD
It was easy to see where Hillsong was headed. The Hillsong Praise Band has performed and worshiped with practicing Roman Catholics and partook in their pagan rites at the national Catholic World Youth Day, Sydney Australia.
That is called ecumenism. Hillsong work with other faiths that teach things that are not in the Bible, like praying to saints, and worshiping Mary. And then the Catholics in turn let all other forms of faith on the stage, like Buddhists and Hindus and Shamans.
Hillsong also shared their stage with Brian and Jenn Johnson of Bethel in Redding, California. Hillsong let Brian and Jenn Johnson’s praise and worship band open up their 20l4 summer conference in London. Brian Johnson openly joked in an interview at a Hillsong praise and worship workshop, that the “Glory cloud of God” mostly shows up when it’s his song!
I find it toxic to be in an environment that openly laughs and jokes about holy things like the presence of God. The glory cloud of God is no laughing matter! We need to get back to, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10).
Hillsong pastor of the New York campus says he has “conversations” about a sin like homosexuality. There is no “Thus saith the Lord” unless it’s important issues to them like tithing and new prophetic statements. Also, how anybody can find the Hillsong promotional video for their 2015 summer conference inspirational, I will never understand. They make God sound very far away, as if we can hardly hear Him in the “violence of silence, brutalizing the senses”. We are “drawn by a whisper that waits for our response.” What does this mean? It’s nothing but pagan mysticism presented as Christianity!
At no point do the creators of the promotional video say we actually have the words of God in our hands. A book called the Bible. A living book that we are meant to open and read. And every “whisper” that we hear blowing out in this vast universe is meant to line up with the word of God. And if it that “whisper” does not line up with the word of God, you chuck it out!
Hillsongs vision for 2015 in their own words is a “dangerous declaration, a new manifesto.” I would have to indeed agree with them: Hillsong has a new dangerous declaration that I want to stay far away from. Their new manifesto is another Gospel, another faith and another Jesus.
There is nothing ethical about the way Hillsong is undermine and take over churches like mine. These are people’s lives after all that will be affected. We need to be careful who we put our trust in. I personally, feel betrayed with my church’s conduct. I felt pressured and manipulated and I am sure others felt the same way.
To me, I wish my church was more forthcoming about this takeover in advance. Why could they not trust their congregation in voting on this very important issue? Why did the congregation blindly hand over their trust to the pastors to make this decision for them? Why the secrecy? While I discovered that it wasn’t hidden knowledge that my pastor studied at Hillsong and met with Brian Houston on some occasions, why was it decided that the entire church would be influenced from the top down in secret?
Everything was so carefully managed and orchestrated. Was our church informed about Hillsong’s history in Australia and New Zealand? There had been some scandals involving Pastor Frank Houston, Brian Houston and other Hillsong leaders. Are we to embrace their theology?
And what would happen if we became a proper bonefide Hillsong “Church”? Who will own the assets? What if my pastor realised that he made a mistake? Will Hillsong simply see him as an asset and discard him the way Hillsong has dealt with leaders or troublemakers in the past?
These are tough questions that I hope I will find answers to.