02 January 2014
A new breed of worship leader
A multiple Grammy, Stellar and Dove Award-winning American Christian singer, Israel Houghton has been leading worship for well over 22 years.
He is a worship leader at his local church, which just so happens to be America's largest – Lakewood Church, in Houston (the 43,500 people in it are pastored by the renowned Joel Osteen). Israel has also sung with artists such as Aretha Franklin, Alicia Keys, Yolanda Adams and CeCe Winans.
Representing the multicultural heart that Israel has, he and his wife also head up New Breed Ministries, an organisation comprised of world class musicians and singers who serve their local churches but together serve the wider Church.
You are well known for your cross-cultural style of gospel/Jazz/rock music that has a really soulful sound, but tell us a little about your background.
I was a black kid living in a white family [his mum is white and they lived with his step dad from the age of one] in a largely Hispanic area. It provided multiple streams of influence, and I loved the diversity. Today I have a huge desire to draw people of all races, ages and cultures together. When you check into heaven you are not going to be asked what area/musical tradition you want to go to!
How do you balance your busy working life with your family?
Well my wife and I have been married almost 19 years now, and we have three children. It's one of those things where we had to first of all redefine our version of normal – normal for the family. As we started having our family so too our platforms for our ministry grew so we had to say, 'Okay as much as we would love to work a nine to five job that's not our version of normal' so we re-defined that. I travel with my family a lot, we try and make sure the quest for that balance is uppermost – and it is certainly a quest that I'm not sure you ever truly master as there isn't anything predictable about the lifestyle of a worship leader and worship artist. We have our own internal balance. But it comes down to this: I cannot get on a plane and travel all over the world and encourage people to have an abundant life and encourage them in their marriages and family life if mine is all messed up so I have a first ministry – our household. As long as that is prioritised and nurtured properly then and only then can I get out and do what I do.
You've been leading others in worship for many years, what are the visions and passions that keep you going?
I will answer the second part first as I think that is what motivates me – being trusted to being a part of equipping the Church. To sit down and write a song that I hope helps people find the words to prayers, that facilitates their prayers and praise and then months later to get responses back from people that say 'you said in this song exactly what I was wanting to say' to me – that's huge. What drives me now – and continues to drive me – is that moment when you watch the light come on in people's eyes. When you are out and you are leading worship and you see the pain and the emptiness and the struggle that people are going through (you can just tell when you look out) and at some point you watch that switch and that moment of surrender in some people – there is nothing greater than that as far as being used. Being called upon to be a part of any type of metamorphosis in somebody's life is just huge. When you genuinely see God move in an environment, in a concert setting or a Sunday morning worship and you realise 'wow that had nothing to do with my singing and the song it had everything to do with God saying okay I'm going to act' you chase that, get on stage thinking 'God do it again – that was awesome I want to see it again!' As a group we remember cities by such moments that we got to see happen.
What would you like your legacy to be?
We had a friend die way too early recently and it stirred me to drill down my will. But it also made me realise that all I care about when all is said and done is that it is said of me 'this guy didn't just talk about it, didn't just sing about it, he actually walked it out – lived it out'. That could be best explained by my wife and children saying 'he was legit'. I want to be the kind of guy that is a true friend, a great father, a legitimate husband – and a friend of God (not to tip my hat to my own song!) If that's what's said of me than that's a good enough legacy– because if that's what said then all the things you hoped your legacy would be should be in tact. If people can see the character behind the ability, the platform and all of that then we made it!
This interview was conducted at Big Church Day Out.