The hidden Houston


Brian Houston writes…

“In the years after he passed away in 2004, I grieved for the dad I’d known growing up: the loving man who was my hero and role model; the brilliant preacher and evangelist, the man who gathered crowds and had them screaming with laughter one moment and weeping the next as he told incredible stories of faith. And I struggled to come to terms with the realities of the man I never knew, the one who committed acts I could never have imagined. Finally, the stress became too much and I found myself sliding towards depression. Outwardly, my life was going well: our church was flourishing in Australia and taking off globally, the impact of Hillsong Music was on the rise, our television ministry was experiencing unprecedented growth. And yet, I was imploding.

With growth came a level of scrutiny that we’d never experienced before. I felt removed from my life, from my passion and sense of purpose. I was going through the motions, often lost in my thoughts, uncertain how to regain my joy and peace. I was travelling an enormous amount, ministering abroad and building our global campuses. I started using sleeping tablets to get over jet lag. Then I found I could no longer get any restful sleep without taking them.

My family began to ask me if I was OK. I told them I was and tried to keep going as long as I could, preaching and speaking, travelling and leading, as Hillsong continued to grow. However, the physical toll began to manifest as my mind became scattered, and I wasn’t speaking with the same confidence I once had.

Then one day something collapsed within me. Bobbie and I were visiting our campus at Noosa after a whirlwind two weeks of conferences and travelling. I was scheduled to speak that night, and although I’d prepared my message I felt physically weak, and my knees buckled as I walked toward the podium. My words came out ­jumbled, as if I was speaking gibberish.

Back at our room later that night, I found myself in a state of fear and panic, and I began struggling for air. I felt my heart jackhammer in my chest. I began to sweat and my mouth went dry. A million thoughts raced through my mind at once. I exclaimed to Bobbie that I thought perhaps I was going to die. She knew immediately I was having a panic attack. Even though it was after midnight, she phoned a faithful member of our ­congregation, a doctor, who was able to talk me through this terrifying episode.

I was subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and other doctors suggested I might suffer panic attacks for my whole life, but I determined in my heart that that was not going to happen. In some ways I was shocked by the diagnosis. Surely the doctors weren’t talking about me! I had always been strong enough to handle everything; I was never “that guy” who buckled under pressure. I could not believe I had allowed my life to get to this point.

I took a few days off to think on my priorities, and I changed the way I had been living and leading. I made some big decisions about the way I approached both travel and ministry, I stopped taking the sleeping tablets that were modifying my behaviour and negatively impacting my emotions, and I let God take control of the stresses that were weighing me down. During this time I knew there were many people praying – I have always been blessed with an incredibly loving and supportive family. By the grace of God, I bounced back quickly. I have never had another panic attack and expect I never will…..”

Edited extract from Live Love Lead by Brian Houston (HarperCollins $27), out June 22″


4 thoughts on “The hidden Houston

  1. Greg

    This is from Leadership 101. Brian needs to express a level of vulnerability to allow himself to appear human, authentic and relatable to give him ‘street cred’ as a Leader..

    He has done this well and in such a way that does not expose too much that he may appear weak and give too much information away that detractors may use against him. (How could a neurotic mega-church Pastor really be up to the job?).

    Ironically, even Corporate psychopaths can become better corporate psychopaths by learning and applying the principles to best manage the tension between appearing authentic or weak.

    How to Express Vulnerability

    As a coach, I’ve helped many individuals in management and leadership positions learn how to express vulnerability in the workspace.

    The first important thing to understand is that it’s a gradual process. You gradually get out of your shell more and show your weak spots. You notice the effects, which will most likely be positive, and this encourages you to come out even more. Thus, step by step, you express more vulnerability and you become more comfortable with it.

    How do you actually express vulnerability? By talking about your flaws, fears and failures. These are the things we usually try to hide, when in fact it’s a good idea to expose them.

    Talk about the mistakes you made and what you learned from them. This makes for great inspirational stories. When you realize you lack the competence to handle something, say so and ask for help. When something worries you, express your worry instead of keeping it to yourself. Others probably know you worry anyway, but they also want you to say it.

    Last but not least, it’s useful to understand that expressing vulnerability is contextual. You don’t just start talking about your failures all of a sudden in a meeting. But if for instance, there is a discussion about a certain project where you believe you made a bad decision, say so instead of hiding this, blaming others or pretending you were right.

    Expressing vulnerability may seem easy enough, but it’s actually a complex skill, which you develop with practice and by becoming comfortable with your imperfections as a leader.

    I often say that the only person who is asking of you to be perfect is yourself. So perhaps it’s time to let go of your perfectionism and allows yourself to be a leader with a human face. The results will astonish you.


  2. Depression and anxiety are the worlds leading psychological problems…none of us are immune. Really glad Brian felt he could share this part of his life to encourage others: however! How lucky for him that he never had another one…he’s had one panic attack and now what? He’s the anxiety expert? The depression guru? His experience is not the experience of just about EVERY other person who succumbs to depression and anxiety.


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