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How the Power of the Feminine Heart Can Become a Catalyst for Change and Make the World a Better Place
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We don’t need to look far to realize that not all women live with the same opportunities and confidence. The Sisterhood invites women to explore and expand what they believe about God, themselves, and their responsibility to the world around them. Tracing the rise of Hillsong Church’s global Sisterhood movement, author Bobbie Houston challenges women to join her in creating a new era of outreach. Readers will learn how to embrace their individual gifts and value as women, growing seeds of change into greater possibilities for women everywhere. If one woman can change her world, then only heaven truly knows what an entire company of women can achieve.
Table of Contents
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• one •
IT BEGAN WITH A WHISPER
A number of years ago I sensed a whisper from above—a whisper that arrested my heart and became a compelling conviction in regard to the beautiful daughters of planet Earth (my way of saying "every female"). A whisper that awakened a new era and created a shift on the earth: "Tell them… tell them that there is a God in heaven and a company of others on Earth who believe in them!"
This book is an endeavor to peel back the layers of that whisper and describe a journey that I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams, a journey that has since proven that when we create an environment that cultivates a divine belief in womanhood, the ceilings and containments that rob so many women of their potential and dreams are removed.
For those of you who don't know me, allow me to introduce myself.
My name is Bobbie, and I live in Sydney, Australia, with my husband, Brian. Our immediate family consists of sons and daughters and a growing handful of adorable grandbabies. We have three adult children. Joel is a musician, a songwriter, and a really tall human being. He surfs and divides home between Sydney and New York City. In recent years he met, fell in love with, and married an equally tall and beautiful young woman called Esther, and they have welcomed their first son, Zion Alexander Charles, into the world.
Ben is lovely. He is kindhearted and caring and has been blessed with four women in his world—a beautiful wife by the name of Lucille and three little girls called Savannah Winter, Lexi Milan, and Bailey Love. They also divide home between Sydney and the United States. Our daughter, Laura, married a young man who said he fell in love with her when she was six years old—he was all of seven and he apparently spotted her on the playground swings. He says he remembers what she was wearing and that she had an apple in her mouth. He fell in love with her then and there and decided he would marry her. Fifteen years later he did, in a tiny chapel on an exotic, sun-kissed island in Fiji, and today she and Peter lavish their love on a little girl called Willow Mae and a little guy called Jack Arthur. Together as a family, and with many others, we pastor a church called Hillsong.
I am outrageously blessed to be sharing life with an astounding company of people and am surrounded with literally thousands of fabulous women of every age, status, and background who make up this "Sisterhood" that we are about to explore. Their diversity, creativity, individuality, and gifting add color and meaning to life, and their relentless passion and capacity to experience life in all its fullness are unleashing enormous possibility and enabling change to come to the world they inhabit.
However, in an age that boasts emancipation and empowerment of women, one doesn't need to look far to realize that not all women alive "for such a time as this" (Esther 4:14) live with the same opportunities and confidence. The world is complex—it's full of wonder and goodness and it's also full of injustice and despair. There are women on this earth who are correctly loved and cherished, and there are women and girls who are so wrongly despised and abused. A distortion regarding value has plagued our collective existence throughout time and history and has tragically affected many.
The days in which we find ourselves are challenging. On so many fronts the planet we share is groaning under the weight of some pressing unknowns—a depleting environment, financial instability, and threatened global security are prevailing issues that affect almost everyone and disturb the soul of many. But perhaps the greatest unknown is that which assails the certainty, confidence, and preciousness of personal value and worth. Despite living in an enlightened age, many good and wonderful people still question the very basics of life and cannot answer the all-defining questions of "Who am I?" "For what purpose am I here?" and "Why is the world like it is?"
A Divine Plan
A divine plan and dream concerning you and your future does exist, and my prayer as you turn these pages is that the truth found in an eternal, just, and caring God will lead you into a world beyond your wildest imagination. My hope is that as each of us matures in revelation about our own personhood and that of feminine humankind, we will see a new day dawn for countless thousands of women across the earth—a new day not only for those captive to an unhappy or impoverished soul, but a new day for multitudes who are literally captive to forces beyond their control. The sanity, freedom, well-being, and hope of these women hinge on our—yes, you and me—collective awakening.
I hope that your senses are stirred and that you, dear friend, will open your heart and mind and stay with me for the journey. For me personally, it has gently unfolded like a good book that can't be put down. It's been a pilgrimage through an ever-changing and exciting landscape where we have discovered the wonder and romance of being the Daughter of a King—a journey where heaven's blueprint for womanhood has become known, and a journey where the power of an emerging and rising Sisterhood of everyday women from all walks of life has brought strategic influence and change.
I have sought to write about this journey for several years, but in many ways we've been so consumed with discovering and then living it that writing has been held back till now. However, everything has its season, and regardless of how imperfect or incomplete I feel this book may be, it is time to commit to paper something that articulates the spirit of this message and "the spirit of Sisterhood." Ultimately, what has the potential to emerge is a stunning company of women, whose ever-increasing, ever-perfecting, and ever-defining sense of value and worth has the capacity to reach beyond what they may have imagined or hoped for, to make the world a truly better place.
Part One invites you into "my story" within this greater story. A friend once told me that women love to identify. Unlike men, who often want only the headlines or outcome, girlfriends are different. They want to know the where, the why, and the how of the revelation, or the aha moment that caused the lights to come on and the world to change. Have you ever had a friend say, "Hey, back up, babe, more details… Now, where were you, what happened (what were you wearing), and how did it feel?"
Part Two is a little journey through the "wonder years," the essential and critical years that framed and shaped the why and the what. Then Part Three describes a time when the stakes dramatically changed and increased—for myself, for our church, for this Sisterhood as a whole. At that time, destiny and a new era of awareness and awakening began to profoundly and miraculously unfold, and the message began to engage (at a whole new level) the lives of those it was intended for. All these parts are intricately interwoven and intrinsically important to the gold within the story.
No end of words now frame this story that began with a whisper two decades ago. However, in 2009 I penned a declaration that I believe positions us all within its pages. As I launch into what needs to be written, this declaration frames us individually and collectively. As an individual woman, to be able to say "I AM SISTERHOOD" is liberating, but as a company of diverse and fabulous women across the earth, to collectively say "WE ARE SISTERHOOD" carries power beyond imagination.
So take a deep breath with me as I commit words to paper. I believe many of you will see and recognize yourselves within these pages. My prayer is that as we engage the true spirit of Sisterhood and the future before us, we will realize that we are not only one, but many. My prayer is that we will be impassioned with a desire to watch over one another and be one another's keepers, and all that heaven has intended for our lives will become a stunning reality.
"I AM SISTERHOOD" is a declaration, a declaration about value and identity, purpose and mission. It is a declaration intentional in reach and embrace. It transcends culture and creed, age and status, prejudice and preference.
It is a declaration that positions itself amid awareness and responsibility, concern and care, injustice and solution—a declaration ultimately concerned with the welfare of the world and her inhabitants. It has courageously woven its way through time and history and continues to weave itself across our lives and future.
It is our collective here and now—and it belongs to any feminine soul who somehow believes that she was born for more than what is temporal and fleeting. It's for women of all ages and backgrounds, of every personality and style, color and vibrancy. It's for the bold and bodacious, the demure and unassuming. It's the Sisterhood that perhaps heaven imagined when a very intentional Creator created His girls. It's strong and beautiful, feminine and gracious, authoritative and gentle, and above all else, it welcomes the broken, discarded, and forgotten.
Whichever way it is seen or understood, it is a growing movement of women across the earth—a movement of down-to-earth and normal women whose desire is to take what is in their hand and genuinely use it for good—a movement of women united in heart and spirit who believe that together we can make the world a better place.
With love and affection,
• two •
A BRANDING IRON
(A Divine Moment)
I was the daughter of slightly older parents—my mum actually had me at forty-three years of age. She had been desperately ill for several years and, of course, the prognosis for well-being was to have another child. So that's what my parents did. They had another baby, and apparently, when the health of my fair-skinned, auburn-haired, and gentle-spirited mother was further threatened, my father refused to allow the doctors to abort this prescribed and special baby.
As a child and teenager, there was nothing within me that sought public attention or profile. I have gorgeous friends who as children dreamed of being astronauts or stars on the stage, but by nature I was extremely shy, retiring, and happy to be in the background. Even now, as the wife of a well-known pastor and leader of a prominent church, I can still easily slip into the realm of "reluctant leader" and allow others to take the spotlight. It is only my convictions about certain things that push me over the line and compel me to stand up and speak up.
So to find myself speaking into the lives of others and entrusted with a directive that has grown into a movement of women of all ages and backgrounds around the world is hilarious, to say the least. But having said that, there was always something deep within me, even as a little girl, that knew my life would be overshadowed with favor and that it would contribute to something noble.
A Heartbeat Moment
I got radically saved at fifteen. I was completely clueless that the "God world" I now know and love existed. I was christened in the Anglican Church but my dear parents were not regular church people. They were exceptionally good people, who selflessly gave my sister and me a solid foundation to build our lives upon, but as a family we did not attend church. Often, however, that deeper longing for something more found me leaning toward what was eternal. So at fifteen, when a friend invited me to a Sunday-evening service at her church, my little heart quickly responded. Not only did I respond to her invitation, I also responded when I felt God knock on the door of my heart.
Amid an ocean of tears that rolled down my face and an appeal to entrust my life to Christ, I threw the door wide open and began my personal journey of salvation and discovery. On a clear, crisp autumn evening in Auckland, New Zealand, I gave my life to Jesus Christ. In a heartbeat moment and with a heartfelt prayer, my eyes opened, my heart understood, my past was forgiven, my future was sealed, and I began down a path of discovering who I am, why I am alive, and what I have been called to.
Not long after that, something happened that would shape my life in the context of the Sisterhood—a moment that added a quickening and a glimpse within my spirit to the whisper I have briefly described.
I can't recall if I was fifteen or sweet sixteen, but somewhere in those early days of my newfound faith I found myself reading the book of Micah in the Old Testament of the Bible. I was a new believer and everything about the Bible was profoundly exciting. When I made my decision to follow this newly discovered Savior, I had found a "confirmation Bible" in our house. I think it was my sister's. She wasn't particularly interested in her baby sister's newfound faith, so she wouldn't have known that I had quietly commandeered it as my first-ever Bible. I remember the day I decided to trade it for a more substantial study version.
My girlfriend Shelley and I caught the bus into the city and made our way to the big Bible shop that was full of witnessing tracts, Maranatha! Music (the music of the day), and Jesus stickers, which already profusely adorned my schoolbag. It was the early seventies, and the Jesus Revolution sweeping America and different parts of the world was also being felt in New Zealand.
It was a Friday night, and I can still remember walking out onto the main street of Auckland with my precious new purchase—a mammoth, black, leather-bound Thompson Chain-Reference Study Bible. I think my friend and I went to a movie. I don't remember the movie, but I do remember sitting there in the darkness of the theater, flicking through the beautiful new pages and separating the silver edges that stick together in a new Bible that has yet to be opened, consumed, and loved.
For those unfamiliar with the Bible, the book of Micah is prophetic in nature. For some reason, I found myself within its pages, when suddenly God's Spirit quickened some of the words. It was as though they jumped from the page and penetrated my heart. In fact, it felt like they were burning a hole into my very being.
The chapters and verses related to the Last Days, and the house of God (the church) being so magnificent that people were streaming toward it. It spoke poetically and prophetically of the church laboring to bring forth like a woman in travail and childbirth and of a threshing floor (or harvest) involving many souls. And then, like a branding iron, the words that opened the fifth chapter pierced my spirit in a way that still affects me today: "Now gather yourself in troops, O daughter of troops; a state of siege has been placed against us" (Mic. 5:1 AMP, emphasis mine). Gather the daughters in troops, oh daughter of troops.
At that moment, as a young teenage girl, I felt divinely marked for something—something that related to my future and the path I would walk, but something also that my young heart couldn't (and wouldn't) fully comprehend for many years.
To be honest, I didn't really understand most of it at the time. All I understood was that these words were like fire in my spirit. I was a brand-new believer with no theological background, yet these verses became so strongly seared into my being that whenever I read them, I would again sense that they were intrinsically connected to my future.
I had been taught that the Bible is seen and understood in two lights. As ink on paper and bound into covers, it is known as the "Logos" or "written Word." For years in our home, a huge family Bible had sat as exactly that on the shelves next to the television. But when the Bible is opened and read with a spirit of faith and genuine inquiry, the Spirit of God will come alongside and make it alive. It then becomes the "rhema" or "inspired Word." It suddenly becomes quickened and active in the human heart.
Well, I think that is what happened to me. God's Spirit, He who knows the beginning from the end, He who knows the individual plans and purposes of heaven for all our lives, pierced my little teenage heart with a divine quickening and a divine moment that would, over the ensuing years, become a revelation regarding my own life and more importantly the daughters of planet Earth. Many years later, the same Spirit would add to that Micah-moment, quickening the whisper I have spoken of and revealing a glimpse into the future relating to value and the well-being of multitudes of women across the earth.
Those ancient verses in Micah actually speak of the coming of Christ. They prophesy a woman laboring to bring forth a Messiah and the reality that humanity would remain in captivity until He comes. Yet something in the words about gathering in a troop resonated within me in context of a literal company of women within a rising and magnificent church.
Nowadays, we are bold and confident in our statements because we have grown in understanding. Gathering the daughters makes complete sense, and "from a whisper to a shout" rolls off our tongues and has adorned conference invitations and openers. But it was a journey that unfolded line upon line, precept upon precept, and chapter upon chapter.
A Story Within His Story
Gathering the daughters has become a beautiful story within His—a story that in His perfect timing has swept many into its embrace, path, and wake; a magnetic and compelling "once upon a time" that has been in play for many centuries. And this story remains in play because, while many may now be familiar with all that's been said and done, there still remain multitudes of precious and fabulous women who have yet to experience the freedoms that many of us enjoy.
For me personally, the quickening many years ago that felt like a branding iron was a critical moment that set in motion something that would define me not only as a woman but also as a daughter and woman of God. It was also a moment that set in motion a divine plan beyond my wildest imagination that has in turn affected many. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that it is not the length of life but the depth of life that matters. In this context:
I never knew a whisper could carry such depth, magnitude, wonder, and beauty.
I never knew it would carry such challenge and stretch, embrace, and healing.
I never knew that at times, it would demand incredible courage, strength, and stamina and yet also be the source of incredible joy, reward, and rest.
I also never knew that it would become a force—a force that would issue from God's very own nature and deeply affect all it touched. The ancient Scripture and prophecy in Micah had found its mark in our generation, and God's unfailing love story—now wrapped anew in heightened revelation of value and belief—was about to become a catalyst of change for those near and far.
On a personal note, dear reader, your own heart may have just leapt because you relate to a moment in your own journey where you also felt marked for something noble and great. Or perhaps it has leapt for the very first time. Perhaps your heart has accelerated because you are sensing that there is more to life.
As we travel these pages together, my prayer is that God will ignite and water His divine plan in your life. My prayer is that you'll find courage to step out, press in, and press on. My prayer is that the One who begins something profound in all our lives will continue and bring that work to "a flourishing finish" when Jesus one day returns (Phil. 1:6 MSG).
The Bible also says that "iron sharpens iron" (Prov. 27:17). A branding iron is a little different from a sharpening iron, but allow me license to say that God desires that all of us be marked, strengthened, and sharpened in context of his will—marked with his divine calling and purpose, strengthened for the journey before us, and sharpened for the territory to which he beckons us all onward.
"Onward" is a beautiful thought, so let's turn the page and step into my story. I can't tell you what I was wearing (memory fails me on that detail), but I can tell how it all happened, how I felt, where it has led, and the lives it has miraculously embraced, inspired, and influenced.
• three •
I THINK GOD JUST SPOKE TO ME
(A New Day)
Wendy, I think God just spoke to me. I think He just told me to create a conference… a conference, Wendy… for younger women and older women."
That year, I had just turned thirty-nine, and we were in the Homebush Stadium in Sydney. As a team and local church, we were seriously pumped because this was the first time we'd taken the Hillsong Conference to such a venue. The stadium seated about five thousand, which at the time seemed enormous, and the date was July 1996.
The atmosphere was electric. A vast array of people (including pastors, leaders, and young people) had gathered, and there was tangible excitement because "the church" was venturing into these larger venues. As the conference heaved and resounded with music and song, I recall being captivated by the faces of the young women in the choir. From where I stood in the stadium, I had a perfect view of their beautiful young faces lifted heavenward. They were singing their little hearts out, and for the life of me it seemed that their youthful countenance was brighter than normal.
Suddenly I felt God whisper something into my spirit. In fact, it was more than a whisper—it felt like a clear and precise directive. And with it I experienced a split-second glimpse of something that took my breath away—something that could only have belonged to the future. In that moment where spirit and soul, intellect and emotion collided, I had seen a large stadium filled with thousands and thousands and thousands of women. It flashed before my eyes and seared itself into my memory as something that I can still see, feel, and almost taste all these years on. And with this sight, the following words took form within my spirit: "Bobbie… Create a conference for women… a conference and environment for young women, but girded about with older women… and tell them… tell them that there is a God in heaven and a company of others who believe in them."
The moment was weighty and exhilarating and yet it also felt seamless as it landed in my spirit. It was something my heart understood only in part, but with the passage of time it would reveal no end of miraculous wonder.
It Had to Be God
I'm not one of those people who say they regularly hear God's voice in audible tones. In fact, I don't think I've actually ever heard God's voice in audible tones. I value His leading and I have sensed His beautiful presence on many occasions, but my faith, which now spans more than four decades, rests comfortably in the fact that He speaks loud and clear through His written Word, the Bible. But on this occasion, in that stadium, amid the noise and bustle, the impression on my spirit was so strong that it felt almost audible. I knew it had to be God, because it propelled me into a realm of response that was completely outside my personal comfort zone and natural ambition.
As I launched my little proclamation ("Wendy, I think God just spoke to me") at my unsuspecting friend, she swung around and gave me the gorgeous all-consuming smile she is famous for.
The Wendy I'm speaking of is from Seattle. She and her husband, Casey, were our invited guest speakers at this particular Hillsong Conference. We were standing together, having fun together, singing and worshipping together, when I abruptly interrupted her private space with my little announcement. In all honesty, I knew I had to voice it to someone, because in voicing it I disarmed myself from drawing back with trepidation or doubt that what I had heard was what I had heard. Remarkably, the woman standing next to me was the perfect person to tell, because God had already used her to profoundly influence my life.
It had been Wendy whom God had used a couple of years earlier to nudge me over some personal (containment) lines, relating to confidence, that would prove critical to this story.
Casey had invited Brian to speak at their Christian Faith Center Conference in Seattle, and somehow I had gotten to accompany him. Casey's and Brian's worlds had miraculously collided, and I think the tall redhead (Casey) decided that he just liked this crazy Australian with handlebar mustache and ponytail. And for those trying to imagine, it was the nineties! So here we were, leaders of what had become Australia's fastest-growing church, Seattle-bound, into an awaiting world of new friendship, new adventure, and new stretch.
As the plane descended through the clouds and landed in the lush green of America's Northwest, to say I was a little out of my comfort zone is a total understatement. I was completely and utterly out of my comfort zone! I recall thinking, while the plane taxied toward the terminal, that if this plane took off again and flew twenty hours back to Australia, I'd be happy. In my travel-weary state of mind, I may have literally imagined the plane landing, rolling along the runway, and then taking off again, much to my delight. Have you ever been in a situation where everything inside of you wants to just go in the opposite direction? Well, that was definitely how I felt that day.
Brian had told me that they—whoever "they" might be—dressed up in the sanctuary and I might need to think about what I wore on this trip (God bless him). Okay, dear friend, we're Australian and we have a fairly laid-back, relaxed culture that for the most part dresses for comfort and doesn't put pressure on people about what is appropriate or not for church. I'd been attending church since I was fifteen, and despite appreciating the beauty of godly reverence and holiness, nobody from where I come from referred to church in terms of "the sanctuary."
- "Every woman can find herself written in the beauty and strength of The Sisterhood."—Lisa Bevere, author, advocate, minister, Messenger International
- "I have been waiting for this book for twenty years. It is more than a message. It is an invitation to every woman on the planet."—Christine Caine, founder of the A21 Campaign
- "[Bobbie Houston] has championed God's daughters around the world, reminding us of the beauty and grace of our calling. This is a book for this moment in our history."—Sheila Walsh, Bible teacher and bestselling author
- "Bobbie Houston's words are poetic and her passion is contagious."—Holly Wagner, pastor of OasisLA
- "Every time Bobbie speaks, she paints a prophetic picture of the church, and as church leaders we are grateful for her voice to be heard through this book."—Judah and Chelsea Smith, author and pastors of City Church Seattle and Los Angeles
- "Sisterhood is a fragrant kaleidoscope of laughter and tears, dreams and visions, the young and the old. Sisterhood knows no color: we are one, we are many."—Serita Jakes, First Lady of The Potter's House
- On Sale
- May 2, 2017
- Page Count
- 272 pages