Dr. Irishea Hilliard Discusses New Role as Senior Pastor After Inheriting Houston Megachurch Founded by Father, Bishop IV Hilliard

Dr. Irishea Hilliard (Photo provided by New Light Christian Church)

Dr. Irishea Hilliard, the daughter of renowned Bishop IV Hilliard in Houston, was recently appointed as senior pastor of New Light Christian Church. With this new position, Dr. Irishea, as she is affectionately called, will historically be one of the very few women to hold a senior pastor position at a megachurch. Bishop Hilliard literally passed on the baton to Dr. Irishea and she was officially installed on Friday, February 23rd. She is poised to lead the multiple-location, 20,000-plus membership congregation and will be the first female to do so solo.

We recently interviewed Dr. Irishea who gives us insight into her leadership style and her vision for New Light Christian Church.

Define the role of a senior pastor.
The role of a senior pastor is one who holds the highest ranking or serves as the lead minister with the responsibility of shepherding, providing visionary and administrative authority in the local church.

Why did you become a pastor?
I became a pastor in 1999, and my calling to pastor was initially to minister to youth. I wanted to see young people have an encounter with God and develop a relationship with Him.

Who are your mentors?
My first mentors are my parents. In addition to them, I have several friends who are senior pastors of churches their fathers pastored – so I lean on them for advice in this new season of my life.

Describe your father.
My father is a man of integrity and intelligence who is led by God. His love for God, people and his family is amazing. He’s a builder, visionary and walks in boldness to obey God. I could go on and on in describing my father because I think he is a great man.

Tell us about your family as a whole.
My family is the culmination of enjoying life at every age and season. My two sons, Ivan (21) and Jonathan (15) keep me busy with their sports activities but yet we maintain a level of love and fun in our home that is full of excitement. My sisters and brother in love, Tina (married to Terry) and Preashea, are my friends, support system, and have my back fully as we work together to fulfill God’s plan for our lives. My mom is the president of her children and grandchildren fan club, and she makes a point to call me daily. Our family vacations are filled with laughter and future planning.

You are one of the few women to hold a senior pastor position at a megachurch. What are the obstacles you’ve had to overcome?
One of the obstacles I have had to overcome is gaining the trust and support of our male parishioners. It’s a fact that most churches are filled with mostly women, but our church has a strong male presence. I wanted to make sure the men in our church knew that as their pastor I can still be a voice of hope, guidance and direction. It’s been amazing with the launch of our men’s ministry, Light Keepers, to rally our men to stick with the vision and support me as their pastor.

Define Dr. Irishea Hilliard’s leadership style.
Exciting and inclusive. I think when you create an atmosphere where people enjoy where they work then they will do whatever it takes to complete assignments and they can be more creative. As a leader, I am willing to use unconventional methods to teach, lead and train my team. The inclusive style of my leadership refers to my inclusion of my team to bring ideas and assist in carrying out vision objectives. As the visionary, I am responsible for casting the vision but I depend on my team to carry out the vision and be an extension of me in touching the people.

What is your vision for New Light Christian Church?
My vision for the church is we continue in the mission that my parents declared 33 years ago, to build people of purpose, power and praise. While we will respect the legacy of our ministry I will lead our church into using new methods to reach others and build relationships. Our church is made up of seven generations and my vision is to bridge the generations together and lead them into an intentional and intimate relationship with God that will transform their lives and those they come in contact with. I desire to show people through our ministry how to apply God’s word to their lives and enjoy the journey.

Did you have to make any major adjustments to move from COO to the senior pastor?
I would say I had to make major adjustments because a senior pastor has to be more than a preacher they must also be an administrator. So my role of COO has prepared me to handle the administrative side of the senior pastor role.

How do you handle the challenges?
I handle challenges with prayer, seeking wisdom and counsel from my parents who have not retired but have restructured their lives and are available to me for advice. When challenges arise it is always my goal to analyze the fact at hand, and through counsel, past experiences and seeking God’s wisdom I am able to handle the matter accordingly.

What drives you?
My calling. I want to live my life in such a manner where God is proud and the legacy of our church, family and ministry progresses based on the calling he has placed upon me as a senior pastor.

How do you stay encouraged?
My personal devotion and study of God’s word keeps me encouraged. I start my day speaking “life” over my day, church, our members, my family and myself. I am encouraged by what God has promised me and I know that every day is an opportunity for me to live my life of impact and intentions.

What upsets you or makes you angry?
Dishonesty … even if the truth is distasteful or hard to hear, I would rather deal with the truth than someone’s dishonesty.

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SOURCE: Rolling Stone – Yvette Caslin