Music, just like God, is so universal. Hillsong United humbly represents both and soon, the world will get to personally meet the worshippers behind gospel songs sung by over 50 million people throughout different countries in an inspiring new documentary that follows the current Australian band members (BM) at home and on the road: Hillsong-Let Hope Rise.
“We’re the biggest band you never heard of,” BM Jad Gillies jokes. They don’t get paid like rockstars, they don’t live like rockstars, and they’re totally cool with that. Drawing people nearer to Christ has been their no. 1 priority since it launched out of a youth ministry at Hillsong Church (Sydney), which was founded by Pastor Brian Houston and his wife Bobbie back in 1998. As the church grew to other cities including Paris, London, Barcelona, Los Angeles, New York and more, so did the reach of the band.
So why do they do it selflessly and without reservation? “We love Jesus [and we have a relationship with Him] and He said that one thing He would always build was His church. We all come from a local church background and we’re all about building His house,” BM Taya Smith says. “He always said, if you build my house, I’ll build yours.”
Michael John Warren, widely known for his directorial debut on Jay Z’s Fade to Black documentary, was tapped to bring Hillsong United’s story to life and says that upon accepting the task, he wanted to make sure the film captured the band’s evangelism. “My job as a documentarian is to dive into a culture, sort of get out of the way and let it be what it is. Whether we decided this was going to be a cinematic worship experience or not, it was going to be one because I was going to discover who they were and present who they were. And hopefully in an unfiltered way.”
Let Hope Rise is comprised of a ball of different emotions pieced together with much intention that circles back to putting God first. While we get to see the international band reunite with their families, motivate each other and joke around on the tour bus, we also get to see how they react to distant relationships, ongoing sacrifice and working under pressure. We also get to see them travel around the world and minister in between a montage of interactive performances sprinkled with lyric captions.
The “Let Hope Rise” title is perfectly fitting for Hillsong United’s movie as their faith shines through to a mass without pressure and without judgement, but with total authenticity and openness. Christian or not, the worship experience pictured is welcoming in a way that makes you go, ‘I want whatever they’re having!’ And they’ll tell you straight up: Jesus Christ!
Below are a few key quotes we took away from an exclusive sit-down with the cast.
Director Warren on what he learned about God hanging with Hillsong:
“Everyone asks me if I’ve been saved – all my non Christian friends – and I say I haven’t been saved but I have been influenced … I don’t think anything’s holding me back [from accepting Christ]. I’m open. It’s the reverse of ‘how do you know God’s real?’ I don’t know. It’s a feeling. I’m not saying God isn’t real. I’m not saying Jesus isn’t the son of God. I’m just saying I’m not as sure as they are about any of that … One of the things me and the band definitely agree on is people should be happy and free. I believe that whatever you do to make yourself happy and free, you should do as long as you’re not doing harm on someone else. So I needed to get past some of my own prejudices with the whole Jesus thing. I was raised as super Catholic and sort of rejected it as a young age. But when you hang around people like [Hillsong] and you see how they treat people and how much they support each other, that feels good. Out of all the subjects I’ve been fortunate enough to make films about, this is the only group or culture that I’ve left that I miss. I feel like a better person having known them.”
…finding out producers Jonathan Bock and Matt Weaver wanted to make a movie about them:
“Why would you make a movie about us? Just a bunch of kids from the suburbs. That’s about as boring as you’re going to get. And I remember thinking, I wouldn’t go see a movie about me.” – JAD GILLIES
…on the reason why they do what they do:
“I feel like each of us have a different journey, but I feel like for me, it has to come out of my daily relationship with Jesus just because there’s a bit of sacrifice in what we do like time away from family and friends and all that, but having a greater revelation of why, Jesus first loved us, and the fact that we could then lavish that love on other people and want to tell people about Him is kind of the basis of why.” -TAYA SMITH
…on how it feels to be the influence of a lot of young people actually coming into faith:
“You realize that people are encouraged by what you get to be a part of and that’s humbling. I think it’s important for us to kind of keep in mind that this opportunity we find ourselves in right now was afforded to us because we are a part of a local church. We all grew up in the youth ministry. We wrote songs for our youth ministry because they needed songs to sing and they wanted them to be able to identify with God and with their culture. So that’s what we did and that’s what we still do. It’s a massive responsibility but I would rather be a positive influence to somebody and have them look for us to take the lead, than not have that positive influence and find it from somewhere else.” -JAD GILLIES
…on discovering their calling:
“When I was young and just trying to figure out, do I have a gift, can I use this to serve God? – I always said that who I am is not defined by what I do. And that was just me figuring out my own identity being a pastor’s kind, growing up in church. And the other part of me was wrestling with the fact that people would see me as a worship leader. Naturally, people love to make Gods of men. And when you’re in that position, trying to figure it out, it’s like, I’m trying to be a man of God. Not a God of men. It’s like this tension that’s really hard to deal with. [The pressure can make you feel insecure]. I never wanted to be a minister. I never wanted to be a pastor and all that stuff because I didn’t feel like I measured up to what I saw those people to be when I was young. What I’m grateful for is that my mom and dad [Brian & Bobbie Houston] never put pressure on me. I remember when I [told my dad] I didn’t want to go into ministry, I didn’t want to Bible college and I wanted to go play rock music in a rock band in pubs and clubs, he gave us the seed money to record our first demo. He backed us. Years later, [I found myself falling]. I did it my way. There’s this moment right before Jesus died on the cross – the most important moment in all of human history – it’s a moment where He was on His knees in the garden crying out to his dad going hey, if there’s any way to take this cup from me, please, I’m still down for you to do something else [laughs]. It was the human in Him. Him going, not my will, your will be done. And He gets up and just goes on about His business. I think it’s in that place where He felt all the pressure of both his divinity and humanity and what He was about to go through. And He had to die before His inner man before His flesh was torn on the cross.” -JOEL HOUSTON
…on memorizing new songs:
“We introduce new songs in church all the time so you’re kind of used to not knowing all the lyrics and taking cues from the screen. You get better at it. You also get better at bluffing. When the lyrics don’t come up, you just make them up.” -DYLAN THOMAS
…on the message they deliver:
“The message of the gospel is strong. It doesn’t need any dressing up. It’s the most relevant truth that exists; we let it speak for itself. There’s nothing exclusive about it. It’s not for the rich, it’s not exclusively for the poor. It’s not just for the hurt or the broken. It’s for everybody. Jesus came for everybody. If we can focus on one thing, then that should be it. So often we can get caught up in the exclusivity of life and this world, but I think what the world needs, is an inclusive message. And that’s what the gospel is.” -JAD GILLIES
…on giving the world a glimpse of their personal lives:
“What we were excited to do when we understood the heart of this film was to really show some of that stuff and I feel like that’s what makes it different. Sometimes we’ll do a bonus feature and you get to see behind-the-scenes of maybe the prayer meeting, but really to show who we are and where we come from – we always kind of joke about how people would perceive us if all they ever see if the big stage and big crowds – the truth is, we are just ordinary people. When we do go home, we serve in the church. We have our struggles, just as every single person does, but to show that when you put your hope in God and understand that He has a plan and that in the middle of a season that might be tough, understand that it is just a season and that you’ll be able to look back with hindsight and the beauty of that and see God in it, that’s what Hillsong-Let Hope Rise really is about. To encourage people that we do have hope in God. Watch what He can do with a life that doesn’t say ‘here I am, here’s my ability, use it.’ No. ‘I don’t feel like I’ve got the ability, but here’s my availability.’ And that’s all God is really looking for.” -JD