Geoff Bullock: No Longer the Golden Boy
As the former worship leader at Hills Christian Centre, Australia, Geoff Bullock became a household name in Christian homes throughout Australasia.
New Zealand Christians love to sing Geoff's songs. He has three New Zealand gold discs to prove it. Songs like The Power of Your Love, The Heavens Shall Declare, Have Faith in God, You Rescued Me are all firm favourites in our churches. But while Geoff may have known the joys of stardom he has also come face to face with the depths of man's sinful nature and, concurrently, with the grace of God.
It is 6 o'clock at the Lower Hutt Town Hall. In one and a half hours Geoff Bullock will be on stage and already the crowds are gathering at the doors. Some have been waiting since 5 o'clock.
As I enter, the sound of a male voice accompanied by a Roland keyboard reverberates around the empty hall. In the distance a lone man, short of stature, with greying hair, stands on stage behind the Roland and a standing mike, making a tiny island in the middle of an otherwise deserted expanse of blackness. Who is he, I wonder - perhaps a sound technician? It is several minutes before it dawns on me that this small man is the legendary Geoff Bullock whom I have come to interview.
Geoff Bullock is no longer the super-hero of Australasian Christian worship. He is, by his own description, a man who has a profound sense of his own brokenness. "Let's face it," says Geoff, "when you think of the name Geoff Bullock you think of two things. One is a headline - and the other thing has to be grace. And grace, the grace of God, is why I am here."
For many New Zealand Christians 'the headline' is a mystery.
"What happened to Geoff Bullock?"
"He left Hills Christian Centre didn't he? I don't know why. Do you?"
"I would love the facts to be made known to the churches," says Geoff, "so people know how it was. My biggest fear is that people will think 'Oh, he's just stuffed it all under the carpet'."
However Geoff is also at pains to protect the others involved. Several times during the interview and our discussions after it he would request that details not be spelled out: "I need to protect the many others who have been drawn into this sad time and not to presume to talk on their behalf."
"I left Hills purely because I came to the unshakeable conclusion that God was saying to me 'Go!'. There was, and still is, no agenda in me leaving, contrary to what people may say who knew me at the time, or have presumed to speak on my behalf.
"When I decided to leave it was just because God said 'It's time to go' and so I followed my conscience and left. If I couldn't do that then how could I continue to minister, let alone live with my conscience?
"Of course there were difficulties, but we always endeavoured to work through them, we journeyed through them together. I would constantly pray through issues when they would arise, and God would always say 'Don't change the circumstances, change your reactions'. And so I would try to change my reactions.
"The best way I can describe it is this: if I joined the Labour Party in Australia, and rose to the position of cabinet minister, there would be a whole series of things that the Party would decide en masse to do and I would have to play my role in the Party. Now if I was struggling in myself and feeling this deep sense of failure, that would be a constant problem.
"And that is what it was like. I just always thought I was failing. There was this longstanding frustration that I could never be the person that I felt that people needed me to be, that I needed me to be in that place.
"People have said that Hillsong 95 was my highest moment - the heights from which I fell. Yet if someone asked me what was the worst experience of my whole ministry career it would be Hillsong 95, because I felt so out of my depth.
"I kept thinking, 'I don't know what I'm doing here, I'm unable to be the person that I need to be'. I just can't be Mr Charisma and Mr Excited. That's not me. I'm a quiet, introspective, melancholic type of guy. I struggled throughout the week trying to lead the worship, but feeling very much that I was failing. I really fell apart emotionally within a month of the conference ending.
"My face was on all the posters, I was writing songs which everyone was singing, but inside I was asking myself 'Why am I always struggling? Why can't I just rise up in faith and be the man of God that everybody else says I should be, that this movement says I should be?'"
Losing His Marriage
Geoff's marriage was terminally damaged before he left Hills.
"It was over before I knew it. I was just too busy to even notice what was happening. People say, 'Weren't there signs?' Of course there were signs. But we just thought OK, we'll just have to work harder - serve God harder - we'll do more for God and he will bless us.
"We separated within weeks of leaving Hills. It was a very hard time and it got worse as the months went on. I had to face the fact of my failure as a husband and a father.
"Suddenly, although it was very important to others, leaving Hills was not very important to me. It was not the main issue. The greatest tragedy was the consequences that years of poor stewardship and a woeful lack of priorities had visited on all of us.
"After about ten months I fell in love with somebody I'd known a long time. I was so despondent, and disappointed with the way everything had gone, that basically, when I hit a rock in the middle of a raging stream I held on to it. And it just . . . it happened. There are no excuses.
"We broke many lives, we disappointed many friends, we hurt many people. As the dust cleared, we realised that we couldn't go back and 'fix' what was broken. All we could do was slowly work through all the consequences. We still do. We always will."
Leaving His Reputation
After this Geoff's sense of brokenness was overwhelming. Within days he cancelled all his ministry engagements, resigned his credentials as an Assembly of God minister, wrote to the Christian book stores who sold his product and to 8,000 churches - telling them of his situation.
"I had got to the point where even my integrity had deserted me. At that point I had no desire to continue in ministry because I had disqualified myself, and I didn't need anyone else to tell me that. I just had to find a way of stopping all my engagements and then getting the news out as best I could without uncovering everybody's story. We hoped that then we could deal with all the consequences privately. The trouble is it didn't happen that way."
That was two and a half years ago. Today Geoff is married to his old friend and is returning rather reluctantly to public life.
"I can't shake the impression that God has pushed us back into the spotlight so people can see his grace, not just the fall of one man. The reason we are here is not to vindicate ourselves. We are only vindicated by the blood of Jesus. Our sin is as great as any others, and our righteousness is, and always has been, as great as Christ's could possibly be.
"Our story is the story of redemption - a very public example of it. And as painful as it has been, our mourning has finished, a time for rejoicing has come. The restoration that God has done in our lives - in each other's love, and in his love - is overwhelming.
"We're here simply to talk about the grace of God. I didn't want to come back into ministry. I thought I was finished, I wanted it to be over, but God has a job for us to do."
Living in Brokenness
Brokenness is something we run from. Yet its work in us is very valuable. Does Geoff still carry the sense of brokenness? Is the change in him permanent?
"Absolutely permanent. The challenge every day is to have faith in God's grace. It's harder than any 'Faith' doctrine I have ever adhered to. I value it more highly than I ever desired gifts and miracles which obviously, as part of that movement, I longed and prayed for. This faith journey of grace is the only one I know now."
The Bible tells us to confess our sins to one another, to live openly before each other in our weakness. Isn't this what true Christianity is about, understanding our own sinfulness and glorying in God's grace?
"Yes, that's exactly what it is about, but we don't do it. We refuse to admit our sin to one another. Instead we tell each other about everyone else's sins and we keep ours a secret."
So when disaster strikes and we are forced to realise our own sinfulness, and accept it, we are able to be Christian in a way that we can't be if we are 'heros' and doing everything perfectly.
"You hit the nail on the head. When we accept that we are sinful we can then accept others.
"You see, that was me. I was the 'hero' if you like. I was the 'poster boy' who stood behind the microphone and played the piano.
"But it wasn't me. I knew who I was. I knew God knew who I was. I was always disappointed that I could never rise to the standards that I so desperately wanted to attain, and I was just waiting for someone to unveil the hoax.
"I kept thinking 'I'm not this person, why is this happening?'. I remember in my dark times, wondering 'Is this some kind of cosmic joke? There's this person out there who's empty inside, he's just a little shell. He looks like he is such a success and yet he feels such a failure. He's a puppet out there, a performer, singing and dancing, but inside there's nothing and eventually it's going to self destruct.' And it did.
"I never let the real person be there, because he wouldn't have been accepted. I couldn't accept him.
"The world likes stars because it's easier to measure success by works than to measure acceptance by grace. When grace is given for absolutely no reason other than unmerited love, then we can't feel worthy in ourselves. We need works to measure ourselves by, to make us feel accepted.
"We much prefer to have a ladder to climb because then we can look where we're going, and see where we've been. We can have some sense of power over the people underneath us, and we can play games with the people above us. That's mankind."
But that's not the model we want in the church.
"No. It's not the gospel. But the gospel and organisational Christianity - the administrative side of Christianity - have an uneasy marriage at times. It's easy to say let's build a church out of good services, good praise and worship, good preaching, an 'if you do this, God will do that' philosophy. Then all we have to do is show you what we've got in God and say, 'You do this and become like us'. It's easy to advertise that - it's successful, it's attractive.
"People want to be part of the winning team. It's easy to say, 'Come to our church. We have great lights and great music.' I used to say that. But I never said, 'Listen. Come and meet the people who know what pain is like, and what brokenness is like. Come to meet people who are going to make you feel at home with your failure, because they're not pretending to be anybody. And come and meet Jesus, the person who gives us the ability to keep starting again and not feel so despairing that we give up.'"
Excellence and Worship
So where does the emphasis on 'excellence' fit in to all of this?
"The problem is, we have combined art and worship and made it the one thing. People think that what I do is worship, but what I do is an art. I'm an artist. I am also a worshipper, because I respond to Jesus in the panorama of my life - and part of my response is that I write worship songs, but that is my art.
"Now we can have excellent art, because art is communication, and the best art is when you paint such a clear picture that people see beyond your words - the vessels of your communication - and actually see what you were looking at. That's especially important for us if we're trying to show them Jesus.
"So if you want to have a Christian arts group and do performances - seek excellence. But if you want to talk about worship, then you've got to come back to brokenness and the good news and the bad news.
"The news about God is better than we could have ever dreamed, and the news about man is worse than we ever allow ourselves to realise. The only thing we have is grace, and grace is available for us all.
"When we understand that, then worship is our response. The good news is too good to be true. It's like winning the lottery when you didn't even buy a ticket. Our worship should be a response to that."
Brokenness and Healing
"The Church needs to be sharing this message of the bad news and the good news with the world - the message of brokenness and healing.
"The world is locked into Amway, or politics, or office politics, or keeping up with the Joneses. Everybody's trying to get out of a Mazda and into a Honda, and then out of a Honda and into a Lexus. Is the Church just showing them another way of doing it? Have we lost the plot? Are we in such a hurry to proclaim what we do for God that we have hidden what he has done for us?
"The only thing we have to offer the world is grace. At the moment we're in danger of offering them works and a show. Good works and a good show, certainly, but if you want to show them Christ, good works and a good show is not going to do it. In the end to see Christ in me you've got to see the brokenness.
"In my brokenness Jesus met with me. It wasn't so much me walking with him, but rather him walking with me. I didn't hold him, he held on to me. I wasn't faithful, he was faithful. I had nothing to offer, he had everything to offer.
"I remember saying, 'God I'm so sorry', and always he would say, 'It's OK'. And there were times I really felt I heard God's voice terribly clearly. 'It's OK Geoff, I understand'. And he wasn't condoning, he was accepting. And he'd say, 'Trust me'. That's all he'd say. For weeks he'd say, 'It's OK Geoff. I know, I understand. Trust me'.
"And it's still like that now. I still say the same thing: 'I'm so sorry'. And he still reassures me."
"What I really want to say to people is: can we please stop looking at each other. Can we just have one hero and a whole lot of villains. We're all the villains, the cross shows us that. Can Christ be the only hero? And can we never ever think that we'll leave that role of villain behind?
"The wonderful thing was when I suddenly realised that as far as my righteousness was concerned, nothing had changed. I had just started to feel guilty about the fact that I was a sinner.
"At last I was realising who I really was. And I had no nice comfortable middle class job to make me feel good about myself. So now I could really deal with sin, and what it feels like to be a sinner.
"When I look at the righteousness of God from that viewpoint - and realise that he imputes that righteousness to us - it is overwhelming.
"This is what Christianity is about, and yet we keep it a secret. Why? Why don't those we treat as outcasts, those whose sins we just can't stomach, know what the gospel is really about?
"Whenever they hear about Christianity they think of placards, and people who ask God to rain on their parade. But what's the difference between any man's sin and mine? Nothing. If we could understand that, boy oh boy wouldn't church be a healing place!"
Being Honest about Unrighteousness
"If we were so honest about our unrighteousness that when we saw someone suffering feelings of shame and pain we didn't judge them, but we had a great sense of compassion for them, because we knew how they felt - the same damning guilt and shame and abhorrence that we feel - wouldn't it make a difference?
"Honesty is a wonderful thing. When we admit that we are wrong, when we recognise that we have nothing to lose - nothing to protect - then we have everything to gain. And we gain it by journeying toward the truth. I am trying to learn this, I am not brilliant at it, but I have made a start. The grace of God compels us to make a start.
"People say I fell from grace. I didn't fall from grace, I fell into it. If you try and prove yourself and make yourself noteworthy by works, eventually your works will led you to exactly where mine led me. Works will always fail you. The end of the law is death. But with grace you never stop finding deeper water. It just keeps getting more wondrous."