Thousands of believers who converged upon Sydney for the annual Hillsong conference returned this week to their communities with a greater passion to testify their faith and a stronger desire to make a difference in the world.
"When you look in those hands that were pierced and the side that was pierced and you look in the eyes that flame like fire … and when you look on the eyes of grace, your only response can be 'I offer my life … a living sacrifice,'" exhorted guest speaker Judah Smith, who pastors the youth ministry of The City Church in Seattle.
For four days and five nights, over 25,000 Christians from 21 denominations around Australia and 70 other countries gathered together last week to unite and receive the practical tools to more effectively make a positive difference in their local community and the world.
Attendees of the July 7-11 conference heard from guest speakers including Joyce Meyer, Joseph Prince, Judah Smith, Marcos Witt, Mike Pilavachi and Paul de Jong. Special musical guests included Israel Houghton, Michael Gungor, and Leeland.
"We have maybe ten people here from our church," reported one attendee. "When you hear preaching like that and the Word of God … you can't help but be changed."
"It just inspires you so much more to get out there and be so much more passionate," expressed another attendee.
While Hillsong Church is most well known for its music ministry, the charismatic megachurch's annual conferences is touted as a "gathering of the generations" – of "[m]en, women and youth, whose passion is to make known and famous the God of their Salvation, and effectively communicate His Gospel to a searching, lost and dying humanity," according to conference organizers.
"For over 20 years, the testimony of this gathering has been churches, teams and individuals whose 'rising' has radically changed the world they influence," they stated prior to this year's conference.
And those who experienced Hillsong 2008 believe the excitement and encouragement that was generated during this year's gathering will bring about significant change.
"Leave the windows open, leave the curtains drawn, and let your friends begin to see how passionate you are for your God," exhorted Mike Guglielmucci, youth pastor of Boom Youth at Planetshakers City Church in Melbourne.
"Just keep doin' what God's put inside of your heart to do – regardless of what happens around you, regardless of what happens to you, regardless of what you have to walk through," he said.
Robert Barriger, pastor of a church called Camino de Vida in Lima, Peru, reminded those gathered that they are the Church and that the Church is the salt of the earth.
"And we can make the world better, " he stated.
In line with conferences from years before, Hillsong 2008 offered a variety of electives and practical workshop sessions in hopes of building strong local churches that are helping to bring answers, hope and a sense of community for people. And as the conference had done last year, this year's gathering also highlighted the biblical call for social justice.
"The speakers we've had have been such a blessing," commented Hillsong Senior Pastor Brian Houston after the conference's conclusion. "In fact, every part of the conference has been like God's done something great."
In his closing prayer, Hillsong Senior Associate Pastor Robert Fergusson prayed that God would give the conference attendees "the capacity to make a difference in your world, to bring salvation to your communities, to build a church by His grace with Him – the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ – to extend the kingdom, to proclaim righteousness, to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before your God."
"Go out from this place," he concluded, "love God, love people, love life, and change the world."
Next year's conference, slated for July 7-10, already has a star-studded line up with guest speakers including megachurch ministers Joel and Victoria Osteen of Lakewood Church in Houston, LifeChurch.tv senior pastor Craig Groeschel, pastor Jentezen Franklin of the Free Chapel Worship Center in Gainesville, Ga., and Passion Conferences director Louie Giglio. Award-winning music artist Chris Tomlin is also scheduled to grace the stage.
Registration for Hillsong Conference 2009 is available on the Hillsong website.
On the Web: Invitation to Hillsong Conference 2009 at hillsong.com