Worship. The word conjures up different thoughts in different people. In the church, we commonly consider worship to mean the time we come together as a people and sing songs to God, recognizing Him for who He is, honoring Him for His lordship and thanking Him for what He’s done. Eventually, the songs end, we move on to the next phase of the service and worship is forgotten for another week.
For Israel Houghton of the GRAMMY®- and Dove Award-winning Israel and New Breed, worship is not limited to a handful of songs on Sunday morning. Indeed, he speaks often of “a lifestyle of worship,” which he describes as going beyond, “‘Okay, I’m going to sit here for 30 minutes this morning and sing these songs to the Lord privately.’ I think that has something to do with it, but I think it has to do with how we conduct our lives and how we do our best to be imitators of Christ.”
As one of the worship leaders at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, for the past seven years, Israel sees the importance of authenticity among worship leaders. “A genuine worshipper is somebody who has the fragrance of Jesus on them,” Israel says. “You can just tell this person has been hanging out with Jesus. It’s something in their countenance that cannot be faked. It’s the real thing.”
Israel isn’t content with just giving worshippers an experience they can feel good about. Rather, he wants fellow worshippers to embrace issues and people that God embraces, having concern for the poor and for social justice— notions not often popular in the sometimes me-centered culture of the American church today.
“Early on, I knew I was sort of a voice crying in the wilderness—‘Hey, guys, this is bigger than our stylistic preferences,’” Israel says. “When you’re talking about, ‘Isn’t it great to be in God’s presence, and don’t you hear His heartbeat’…well, I’ll tell you what it’s beating for.”
Though he is on the road a great deal—performing with New Breed, plus at various events where Lakewood’s Senior Pastor, Joel Osteen, is speaking— Israel still finds time to lead worship at Lakewood on a fairly regular basis. “I’ve had a very unique relationship with Lakewood. From the very beginning, it was agreed that what I was developing with New Breed would remain unimpeded,” Israel says. “I let them know that was important to me, and Pastor Joel was the first to say, ‘I see that. I get it. You go for it.’ For the last seven years, I’ve averaged being lead worshipper for two weeks a month. Obviously some months I do a whole lot more than that.”
In addition to regularly leading worship, Israel is involved with the music ministry team, working closely with others in planning the worship services. “I’m involved in all the staff meetings pertaining to the worship on the weekends, even when I’m not going to be there.”
When traveling with New Breed, Israel keeps in touch with others at Lakewood on a daily basis, for work-related issues as well as accountability and community. “I very intentionally surround myself with pastors and leaders and people who can pretty much know where I am at all times and can ask me anything.”
As for the importance of community, Israel says, “I’ve always known the power of community. I think the most elusive thing for any megachurch is how you maintain a sense of connection.” He adds, “At Lakewood…we’re meeting at least twice a week and trying to connect beyond work…connecting on a prayer level and an encouragement level as well.”
— Johnston Moore is a screenwriter living in Long Beach, California. He and wife Terri are the parents of several adopted children.