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Israel Houghton: One Man, One Passion

  • Andrew Greer
  • Updated Apr 08, 2009
Israel Houghton:  One Man, One Passion

Christian music isn’t quite sure what to do with Israel Houghton. And for good reason. The man who ministers to thousands on a weekly basis at Houston’s mega Lakewood Church has also created quite a name for himself in the gospel music industry as the founder of the gold-selling phenomenon Israel & New Breed.

In addition, he has written or co-written 11CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing International) Top 500 favorites, a definitive list of the nation’s most-used worship songs; and his new solo record, The Power of One (Integrity), hosts collaborations with tobyMac, Mary Mary and Martin Smith (Delirious).

During a recent rehearsal for his spring tour with Chris Tomlin, the GRAMMY Award winning worship leader visited with CCM about his decision to make a solo record, his personal call to social action and the effort of The Power of One to help the church make a lasting difference from the inside out.

CCM:  What prompted you to record a solo record now, especially considering the final product’s difference from a New Breed record is mere nuances?

Israel Houghton:  What we’ve seen over the last nine years is growth of the vision around what New Breed is all about. New Breed was never meant to be my back-up group. It was always more of a gathering—an empowering and releasing kind of atmosphere. So late last year we did a live record. I’m not on it at all. Of course I paid for it. [Laughs] It was the proudest moment of my life to watch these guys I’ve been training and teaching and mentoring write, produce and put the songs together themselves.

That’s why I did the solo record. To show that space. There are a few things I want to go out and do and express. You’re right. They are pretty nuanced differences. But I wanted to show [Israel & New Breed] do things together; we do things separately, but we’re still one unit.

CCM:  The Power of One seems to center around the belief that “faith without works is dead.” What inspired this emphasis of activity?

Israel:  It’s something that has been burning in me, realistically, for the last three years. Maybe I was late to the party. But getting an understanding that worship and justice go hand-in-hand was new to me.

You read a passage like Amos 5 where God essentially says, “I could care less about the music. I’m not interested in these big concerts and things you guys are putting together if there is not justice attached to it.” For me, it was a very shaking statement. I thought we were just here to have a good time and honor God and get a bunch of people singing.

[Instead], let justice be the prevailing thing that is going down. When all these people come together, in Jesus’ name, what is the action point? Every chance I get to help mobilize and activate the church to action and to justice, I’m doing it.

CCM:  What practical advice would you give to listeners who want to take their social justice commitment a step further?

Israel:  A lot of times when we think justice, we think of big, sweeping, change-the-world-in-one-fell-swoop kind of moments. I’m convinced sometimes the power of one—and being active and pursuing justice—doesn’t always require money. It doesn’t always require a passport. Sometimes it just requires crossing the uncomfortable line that we have interpersonally and showing somebody love.

In order to get a passport, you have to drive past a lot of hurting people. In order to get to the airport, you have to drive past a lot of hurting people. In order to get in your seat in your row at church, you have to step over a lot of hurting people. In your row at church.

We have the ability every morning to decide, “I’m going to do something for somebody else. I’m going to live a life today for others.”

CCM:  I’ve heard you say you were a “black kid who grew up in a white family in a Hispanic neighborhood.” Sounds like you lived diversity. How do you incorporate your own cross-cultural influences into your music and message?

Israel:  It’s almost subconscious now. Even though my parents were the pastors of the church, and it was a bit of a strict environment, when it came to music, my dad was very loose. I was influenced by Andrae Crouch and The Beatles, by Keith Green and The Eagles, Motown, Stevie Wonder, classic rock. So musically, it was this multiple-stream thing coming into my conscious all the time.

I remember this pastor said, “I really like it when you do your black sound.”  With a smile, I answered, “Pastor, when we’re all around the throne singing to God, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty!’ are you gonna’ be in the more black section of that? Or the white or the easy listening section?” He laughed. He realized this is ridiculous when you think about it.

I believe I am existing in this generation to help the church worldwide see that we don’t have to wall ourselves off and say, “This is how we do it, so we’re just going to do it like this.” Worship is not for us. It’s not about, “What can I get out of this moment?” It’s about offering. It’s about sacrifice.

CCM:  You are involved as a worship leader at Houston’s Lakewood Church. What is your response to the criticism your senior pastor, Joel Osteen, has been receiving from Christians–those in the body of Christ?

Israel:  I believe that a tree is known by its fruit. And when God blesses something, I’m gonna’ go with whatever God has put His hand on, not what people have said could not possibly be right.

People who have not been in church forever, or people who have been disillusioned by church, are coming back to God. They’re not coming to Joel. They’re coming back to God. And they’re being introduced to the grace of God like they’ve never seen or heard it before.

CCM:  How is the “Hello Love Tour” going with Chris Tomlin?

Israel:  I’m having the time of my life because I almost feel like a new artist again. I get in front of 75 percent of people who don’t know who I am. They know the songs because they sing them in their churches, but they’ve not made the connection.

Three songs in I’ll go, “OK. Let’s get this out of the way. How many have no idea who we are?” Half the arena lifts their hands. [Laughs]

And suddenly, we’re cool. We’ve connected. And because, stylistically, we’re coming at [it from] a little different angle than Chris does, we’re introducing our audience to him, and he’s introducing his audience to us. It’s beautiful when it’s all said and done to watch the church come together under the same banner of, “We’re just gonna’ worship God.”

For more information, visit Also, be sure to visit Israel’s new social justice site,, where fans are encouraged to be “the power of one” and share videos about what they have done to create positive chance in their communities.

© 2009  All rights reserved.  Used with permission. 

**This interview first published on April 8, 2009