Multi-platinum recording artist Taya Smith-Gaukrodger is among the most famous voices in worship music after rising to fame as a member of Hillsong United and Hillsong Worship.
Now, on the heels of a pandemic and amid numerous scandals surrounding the Hillsong global church network, the artist, professionally known as "Taya," is gearing up for the release of her self-titled solo album, Taya.
"I count it such a joy that I got to step into this with 14 older brothers in the worship team United," she told The Christian Post. "They're 14 brothers I didn't ask for, but didn't know that I would need. Stepping into all of this, getting to steward songs, it was a new thing for me. But it felt like the kindness of God to have brothers who would help me learn how to steward this and steward songs and getting to glean from their wisdom of so many years."
The singer credited her Hillsong United church family for helping train her up to be ready for this moment to stand alone. She said Joel Houston, son of former Hillsong global Senior Pastor Brian Houston and lead singer of United, was the first to encourage her to make her own album as early as five years ago.
God "knew that I would need someone to really encourage and to say, 'Hey, I think this is on your life,'" she said, adding: "I knew that I was meant to be songwriting. I knew that I had something like this at some point, but I wasn't going to be the person that's like, 'Hey, pick me.' So it was actually Joel who really called it out and was like, 'I think you need to be writing.' Even though he didn't know if I can do it. I hadn't shown him."
Taya said she wouldn't have had the courage to release an album on her own, but Houston helped her find her voice.
"It's so silly; the girl who's known for her voice just struggled to raise it in a songwriting session," she noted.
After hearing a message from a fellow church member, whom she affectionately calls a "brother," she realized her timidness was "fake humility, which is a version of pride."
"It's actually pride, because I'm not willing to put myself out there," she said. "Even if God was the only person who would eventually hear the songs, that's worth it because He's so worthy. There's no such thing as wasteful worship because God's praised the whole way through. Yet I was really timid. Even though I was known for my voice, and I was really confident, this was something that I know I [was] meant to be doing. Timing-wise, God's got perfect timing, it may not be ours, but it's His and it is perfect."
"One of my favorite verses is Romans 12. It says, 'In view of God's mercy, take your everyday eating, sleeping, walking around, ordinary life and place it before God as an offering. That's your true and proper worship.' And I felt like I had done it with maybe my eating, maybe my sleeping, but not the writing and not the other things I felt you had given me as a gift that I was meant to be a good steward of and I haven't been," she added.
The world shuts down and Taya finds her voice
The artist's album was initially slated for 2020 but was postponed due to COVID-19 pandemic. The delay, she said, helped her find her voice in a less invasive setting.
"A silver lining of a season that held so much loss and so much tension for so many different people for different reasons, for me, it was where I found my voice," she said. "I think the album that I have now, it wouldn't be what it is with my words and my melodies if it hadn't started on Zoom because I was still trying to find my voice."
The artist said she wrote songs on the piano her husband gave her as a gift while dressed in sweats pants in her one-bedroom apartment. There, she learned to co-write and finish a song successfully. She also voiced her own opinions and said all of it was "a new experience."
The artist left home at age 21 and headed to Sydney to become a signed recording artist but had no idea how to make that happen again. She worked in retail and joined Hillsong, a local church where she served in youth ministry and would later become a worship artist with Hillsong United.
Before her new solo album, seven years had passed before she'd written new songs.
"Just because I hadn't written for seven years didn't mean that my relationship with Jesus had been stagnant," she said. "It felt like I had seven years' worth of scriptures and stories and things that perhaps needed to marinate in my heart first before it would come out in a version of a song or something."
"It's been so joyful because when you step into something that you believe God's calling you to, He's so kind He doesn't just leave you, but He graces you for it," she explained, "I've just experienced time and time again where God's spoken, not audibly, but it was more like impressions that He would put on my heart for the song that we were to write that day."
God gave the singer the word 'honey' to help her with the creative process. She knew that these songs would be like honey, "sweet, palatable, easy to digest. "
"And then as it goes down, honey has healing qualities. So they would heal some deep things on the inside. Maybe even wounds that we didn't know needed tending to by the grace of God," she said.
Hillsong church scandals
Comfort. Comfort from God is what Taya relied on as she prepared to promote her album at a time when many headlines about Hillsong involve rumors, accusations and the misdeeds of church leaders.
Brian Houston, who co-founded Hillsong in 1983, resigned as the global leader in March after it was revealed that two women had made allegations of misconduct against him in the last 10 years. His resignation also followed a series of misconduct allegations involving other Hillsong Church leaders in the U.S. and Australia.
The global network of churches has also been the focus of documentaries that rehashed a few examples of church leaders' misconduct that were brought to light in recent years.
"I'm thankful that I have, first and foremost, a relationship with Jesus because I don't understand how people do life without Him, a revelation of grace, and of love and just everything that we have because of Jesus," she said. "Without Him, we have nothing. He's a Good Shepherd; He uses His rod and his staff to lead and guide us, and to comfort us."
The "Oceans" singer said she's grateful the Bible doesn't negate the human experience.
"It's honest. Jesus said, 'In this world, you will have trouble but take heart I've overcome the world,'" she said. "So we have the promise of a Savior and a Heavenly Father and a Holy Spirit, who leads and guides, and is an ever-present help in times of trouble."
"I'll just be honest; it's been a humbling time in general. It's been a revealing time. It's been a revealing time of where my foundations are and what they're on," she continued.
"I think in God's kindness, it says in the Bible, 'God works everything together for good for those who love Him, and are called according to His purposes' (Romans 8:28). So first and foremost, I'm grateful for a personal relationship with Jesus because if my faith was built upon a person that isn't Jesus, then I'd be swirling right now. But with humility of heart, I'm just grateful for Jesus because He's the Way, the Truth and the Life. He's the only way to the to our Heavenly Father."
Jesus did enough by "coming and living a perfect life, and dying on the cross, and then raising three days later being filled with resurrection life, and raising to life" and leaving His Holy Spirit, the worship artist said.
"He's interceding at the right hand of the Father for us right now. If He did nothing else, but everything that He did when He came here, then it's enough," she declared. "I have everything that I need. Even though for many different people over this season, there's been so many like head back tilted toward Heaven, like 'God, what are you doing? I don't understand.' But we're called to have faith; we're called to have eyes of faith."
The artist's first single, "For All My Life," was released when news broke that Brian Houston, then her senior pastor, had committed "indiscretions" toward two women.
"Crazy when I think about the timing of all this, which again, not my timing, pretty wild that my first single would come out on the same day that crazy news, that's heartbreaking, also comes out," she noted.
"But at the same time, maybe it's a gift because this other song is a song about faith and about stepping out and trusting not on your own understanding, but leaning on God's understanding. Knowing that He will make your paths straight if you continue to just do everything that is said in the verse before, like to lean not on your own understanding but in all your ways acknowledge Him and trust in Him. So it's been, in a good way with the Lord, a self-reflective time."
Hillsong United has been on tour with Chris Tomlin in recent weeks, which she described as a godsend.
"I've seen God's kindness. He loves us too much just to leave us where we're at. … Where else will we go other than the presence of God? There's no safer place for us to run in the presence of God. There's no safer place to be together as a team, as a family weathering this, and allowing the Lord's all-seeing gaze into our own lives and go, 'Where have we been complicit God? Where are there areas in our own lives that have been pitfalls? Or where sin is so easily entangled within our own hearts?
"Crazy thing is we've been praying as a church for revival; we've been praying for a fresh wind. I think God answered the prayer but just not in the way that we expected. With revival, it's removing all the blockages so we can see God. That's my greatest desire. The [Bible] says, 'Blessed are the pure in heart' in Matthew 5:8 for they'll see God. That's my desire, but for that to happen blockages and things that have allowed us to not see Him, or have gotten in the way or have tainted the way things should actually be, that all has to go first to see God."
The artist continued, "I'm human. I'm sinful in nature, and I have fallen short of the glory of God. But by the grace of God, because of Jesus, I get to stand in the presence of God and experience His grace and His mercy." All must "be holy," she said, because God is holy.
"Of course, it's heartbreaking and shattering when people haven't had the experience of Healthy Community Church perhaps like I've had and praying for healing and praying for restoration, praying for God's will to be had on the Earth because He's coming back for the bride, He's coming back for the church, big C, and that's people. And He's coming back for a holy, pure bride which we're in the cleaning phase of that," she added.
Jeannie Ortega Law is a reporter for The Christian Post. Reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org She's also the author of the book, What Is Happening to Me? How to Defeat Your Unseen Enemy Follow her on Twitter: @jlawcp Facebook: JeannieOMusic