Christian churches. A polarising topic within Australian society amidst the Cardinal George Pell trial, an upcoming same-sex marriage postal vote, and Census data recording an increase of ‘No Religion’ responses. There is also a change in the air, with attendance at more traditional churches dwindling in favour of more contemporary ones.
Why am I talking about this? Because of Justin Bieber. A singer and performer that divides the public on his past indecent public behaviour. So, it comes as a surprise that the Biebs, for the second time, attended the Hillsong Conference in Sydney. Along with his normal entourage, he was accompanied by Carl Lentz, a senior pastor from Hillsong LA. His attendance caught the paparazzi off guard, and spent a lot of time with people at the Conference, including a dance party. How can we forget the bizarre interview where Justin Bieber is brushing his teeth?
Not long after the event, his tour rep announced that Bieber would be cancelling his last 14 dates on his Purpose World Tour. News outlets and celebrity gossip speculated the reasons behind the cancellations, with Richard Wilkins claiming he was planning to start his own church.
Those sorts of details remain speculation, and are leaving outsiders to question whether it is a good idea for his career and public image. What the public and media sees however, is a young artist seemingly being mentored by friends at Hillsong church to become a better person.
Justin posted to his Instagram account on August 3rd to explain his side to the tour cancellations, saying that, “I want my career to be sustainable, but I also want my mind, heart and soul to be sustainable. So that I can be the man I want to be, the husband I eventually want to be and the father I want to be.”
I hear you say ‘What is Hillsong Conference? What is the big deal with Hillsong Church? Why is Cosmo writing about them? And I thought lots of people, especially younger people, aren’t Christians. Has he been brainwashed?’
Well, let’s go through some information about it. To be clear, this is not a blog to express my opinion about the church (although I do have my experiences) but more of an observation of the overall institution and similar ones through Australia and abroad.
WHAT IS HILLSONG CHURCH? AND WHY ALL THE HYPE?
Hillsong Church is a “contemporary Christian church, a global movement positioned at the intersection of Christianity and culture, founded by Pastors Brian and Bobbie Houston.” The church’s media release states that the church around the world averages an attendance of 100, 000 people, and their original music is sung by an estimated 50 million people. The church was started in Australia but has spread to many other countries around the world. The Hillsong Convention Centre at the Hills campus can accommodate 3500 people at capacity.
What you will see at a typical Hillsong service include: the ‘Welcome Home’ signs, volunteers, a mixture of different people (but with a ‘cool’ vibe), an impressive audio visual setup, a live band with a moshpit, and speakers that aim to encourage and provide hope to those who listen.
The Hillsong churches in LA and New York attract a lot of famous faces, include people such as Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez and Hailey Baldwin.
Hillsong Church is defined as a Pentecostal Megachurch, due to its size and denomination. Some notable megachurches around the world include Lakewood Church in the United States and Yoido Full Gospel Church in South Korea.
THE HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH AND ITS PURPOSE FOR FOLLOWERS
In this brief snapshot of the history of the Christian church, I acknowledge that there is a lot of differences between denominations (and a whole subset created from the Protestant Reformation era). But I am looking at the ‘church’ as an institution that has and does affect people around the world.
Churches and the Gospel throughout history have provided teachings, guidance, community and charity to its followers. In Medieval England and throughout a large portion of history, the daily lives and work of individuals revolved around the Church and their devotion to God. Tithes helped to pay for those who worked in the Church, as well as maintenance to the Church and charity work done in the community.
The Ten Commandments has been argued to influence some of our Western laws around murder and stealing, although some stand sceptical about this.
Being a ‘good Christian’ and attending church on Sundays was, for a long time, the social norm. In the United States in the 1950’s, it was considered a great time to head a church as almost half of all Americans attended church (and brought their finances with them).
Sunday schools and Youth Groups are still popular around Australia, to provide a wholesome and safe socialisation space, and providing a theological educational program for children and young adults. Sunday schools actually originated in 18th century England, to teach children who worked in factories to read and write!
SO, WHAT PURPOSE DO CHURCHES LIKE HILLSONG PLAY IN PEOPLE’S LIVES?
So there is the ‘cool’ factor of the church, but there is generally a different approach to church at Hillsong. Sermons involve less condemning and more messages of love and hope. They are still a Christian church but they attract vulnerable and lonely people to the Hillsong family. Their social media channels (of which there are many) reflect that inspirational message.
Carl Lentz spoke in an article to Christian Today about what Hillsong does differently:
“But, when people hear ‘religion’, they’re not thinking about the kind of religion we’re talking about, which is loving the poor and helping those in need and being totally devoted to God. They think of like, you know, what their grandma said they had to be and codes they had to follow,”
What does this mean for Justin Bieber? I don’t know, and no one knows exactly, but he seems to be embracing the guidance and taking his spiritual side seriously. If this Instagram video on his page is anything to go by, he is loving life and loving God…