Church Worship

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10 Questions With Israel Houghton

  • Christa Banister Contributing Writer
  • 2006 12 Jan
10 Questions With Israel Houghton

It’s not easy to track down Israel Houghton these days as he’s been busy, busy, busy with the release of his recent live offering, Alive in South Africa. Now as catches up with Israel, we get the skinny on this unique recording experience and more. I understand that recording in South Africa was the fulfillment of a long-time dream for you. Did it meet or exceed your expectations?

Israel Houghton: We had high hopes and high expectations, and it more than exceeded any dreams or expectation. I think what really blew our minds was the overwhelming response of the people there and how they loved the old music we had done, but they really responded to the new stuff. So I just think the way just poured love out to us made us feel very welcome. As an artist, that just has to be the best feeling to connect globally like that. It would be enough of a rush, I would think, to have U.S. audiences know your music, but globally, that would be even more incredible.

Israel: That is so fulfilling, and it is kind of what we live for. It’s one of those things that says “If they’re singing it in Australia and translating it into Chinese and Japanese,” then the real purpose of worship is being fulfilled.

Listen to clips from Live in South Africaa or buy the album from! In the two weeks that you spent preparing for the taping in South Africa, what were some of the most memorable experiences?

Israel: I think in the songwriting process we always have to mindful of “How is this going to translate?” Sometimes the best barometer is just what we feel internally in the writing process. And if it starts moving us, there’s a good chance we’re going to present it in a way that moves other people. That was the really fun part—the creative process of watching songs unfold and develop. I know that picking favorite songs are like picking favorite children, (which I hear is a no-no in parenting), but go ahead and tell us about a favorite track on the project.

Israel:I really enjoyed doing “Not Forgotten,” because I saw how powerful it was performing it in front of these people. Off the second disc, I really like “To Worship You I Live.” I really like where that’s going because it leads into “Alpha and Omega” and these really cool moments of worship. As a worship leader with name recognition and lots of recent accolades, how do you not get caught up in all of that? Is it difficult?

Israel: The way I don’t get caught up in it is I just don’t get around it. I surround myself with people who keep things very normal, real and grounded. I think it would be difficult without anchors in my life because you could get very used to riding around in limos, staying in nice hotels and all of that. So I come home and make sure the garbage is taken out. Or you change a few diapers, and you know you’re back home. Getting philosophical for a moment, what would you say yours is with worship? What are you trying to do when you lead?

Israel: Especially in the corporate sense, though I appreciate the people, worship is not for people. Worship is for God. Just like bait is for fish, you never would see anyone put the worm in their mouth, it’s kind of the same thing. Worship is for God. So I look at every opportunity that I get to lead worship as a summons. I look at it as “The King has summoned me.” Like I’m the court jester with my little guitar, and I’m there to sing for the King. Everything else that happens in the room, in people’s lives, again it doesn’t trivialize the fact that I care for people, and it’s ministry, but if I put my priority on the people, I miss the whole purpose of worship. The overflow of what takes place out of worshipping God ends up blessing the people. That’s my basic philosophy of why I do what I do. With the responsibilities that you have, how do you stay connected to your local church body?

Israel: I’m at my church [Lakewood Church in Houston, TX] twice a month and am still involved in different decisions and meetings. It keeps things on a very normal level. I’m also the second worship leader there, not the main one, so I kind of get to orbit in and out. I love the local church, especially as a songwriter, it’s great to see how the songs are really going to work. So a lot of these songs, we were able to try out at home first and see how they go. But more than that, there’s something about exporting from the local church. I’ve met a lot of worship leaders who aren’t really connected at home, and it shows. I don’t know how else to put it. They don’t really have the pulse, the feel of the local church. So they kind of become these traveling evangelist types, and it’s hard for me to export something genuine if it’s not coming from the church to the church. Although it’s true, sort of the buzz phrase of the past few years has been that worship is a lifestyle. How can speak to that in your own life when you’re so busy.

Israel:Well, I guess what I would say is that worship is not music. A lot of times we look at worship is a lifestyle as there has to be a soundtrack of worship at all times. I’ve condensed that thought for myself as it relates to the soccer moms of the world. I used to look at worship as a lifestyle this way: I was single, I put my piano in my kitchen, and I’d spend five or six hours just worshipping God and weeping. It was fantastic. I loved having moments like that. But when you’re a father and a husband with kids and soccer practice, you’re not going to be spending six hours in your kitchen with your piano. So I look as worship as a life. If I can live a life of worship and what I can do onto the least of these, which means not necessarily the people, but the experiences such as the way I make a lunch for a child, the way I make the bed because I don’t normally do that, it’s worship. It’s a life before God.

Christa A. Bannister is a freelance writer/editor living in Nashville, TN.