Worship Leader Series: It's Rising Up

How thriving worship communities are renewing the face of music
Recently, we at Worship Leader asked different artists and leaders what the biblical term “New Song” meant to them. Laura Story (writer of “Indescribable”) replied to us with this: “New song is a fresh musical expression of the people of God seeking to bless the heart of God.…Though God is constant and doing the same redemptive work he began before the foundations of the earth, the manifestation of that work will look different in every generation. And today, I believe this new song is emerging from our local churches. Though worldwide church resources are extremely helpful, there is no replacement for the songs written by church members seeking to minister to those with whom they worship weekly. As each local church walks its own path, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, their worship songs serve as the soundtrack that gives the unique encouragement and admonition they need for the journey.”

In the past 10 years with the rise of the Internet and the decline of the mega-music-industry, the model of success has changed for anyone aiming for a career as a recording artist. And as the production of worship music and its distribution on a large scale has traditionally followed the same necessary path as mainstream music-making, the model for today’s worship recording artist has changed on many levels. In order to illustrate this renewal and explore it on a deeper level, we have gathered eight different examples of communities that are creating music that is affecting the world around them. And while the circumstances and approaches of each differ in many ways, they all share one commonality: vital worshiping communities surround, birth, and propel the music that is being created. Today’s worship artist doesn’t leave their home community for bigger things; bigger things are happening because today’s artist is made vital in and with their home community.

The hope here is that worship artists continue to rise—around the world, around the country, in each and every city, and yes, in your home church. No matter how small or big your community is, it has a voice; your community has a prayer. Help them find it. Then share it with the rest of the world.  And in a way, this post-mega-music-industry feels like a homecoming. In the early days of Maranatha! Music, Jesus songs were born of a community. They were tied to ministry on an intimate level, yet they was powerful enough to unite worshipers around the world. And before that, reaching back to the Psalms and beyond, God has always used worshiping communities to change worlds, to impact individuals, and to sing the new songs of his living, everlasting, ever-renewing, grace and truth. Welcome home.

Hillsong, Sydney Austrailia:
Worship Leader with Reuben Morgan

WL: Please share a little bit about your unique worshiping community. 
RM: Hillsong church services are the kind of meetings you can’t wait to get to! It’s a local church with a global mission founded by our senior pastors Brian and Bobbie Houston in 1983. Over the years, we have grown into a multi-campus church with gatherings in places like London, Paris, Cape Town, and just recently, New York. Bible teaching, strong leadership, a volunteer culture, and worship, are among the things that characterize our church. It is a church where you come and you can’t help but get involved—it’s youthy, vibey, and there’s always new believers everywhere. It’s the kind of place that if you miss a service you are calling your friends to find out what you’ve missed!

WL: In this article we are covering ministries that are creating music that is intimately tied to their local ministries. This idea seems to be basically at the heart of Hillsong music. Why has that been so important to your team and has it been difficult to keep that focus?
RM:
Our worship team exists to serve church family at home and to help enlarge people’s view of God—that keeps us pretty busy. If we ever stray from this as our core reason for being, we totally miss the point. The music, the songs, and the production are firstly from and for the community we are part of, and as an add on to that, we have had the amazing privilege of seeing people come from all over the world to Sydney to see what is happening here—and we’ve seen the music from our house go beyond the four walls too. That has definitely made for an exciting ride for all of us, but this has not been without its challenges for our team to navigate through.

WL: How important is it for worship music to have a connection to a living, breathing, worshiping community? And what are some ways to make sure that connection is happening?
RM:
I think the challenge for any worship ministry is authenticity. I believe serving the local church as a foundation is the only way to stay true. The worship leaders and songwriters I hold as heroes all have a deep passion for the local church and serve locally in their own right. And I believe that the reason for this is that it’s grounding.

In church family, we get challenged and we get supported, and we all need family. I think the way to make sure we are staying connected is to make a habit of going to church every Sunday (if possible, the same church) and to find a way to serve there. For whatever the reasons why not, ultimately the advantages will far outweigh them all—let your roots go down deep.

WL: How are you intentional about keeping God at the center of worship?
RM:
To keep God at the center has to be personal. It comes down to the individual—the challenge is not to allow the people we are called to serve and the community we are called to be a part of to get in the way of a real and a living walk with God. There is always stuff that can make us bitter or disillusioned as well as successes that can distract us—it’s got to be a personal decision. There are plenty of opportunities to displace God at the center and allow other things to cloud our vision of God. For me, friendships that I have built over years and years are my best guard against anything that would cause me to lose God as my goal and passion.

As a team, it’s keeping the Word central in our songs and in our teaching, making sure we are connecting and having fun and believing God to keep us in everything. It’s all a journey, and I’m never really sure we are doing it right. I would say that having an incredible senior pastor definitely helps.

 

North Point Church, Atlanta, Georgia:
Worship Leader with Eddie Kirkland

WL: Please share a little bit about your unique worshiping community.
EK:
At North Point, we really want to create a church for people who don’t like church, which has huge implications in our worshiping community. We have to constantly remind ourselves of the goal of getting every person in our community on board and moving together throughout the service. The last thing we want to do is alienate an outsider that has walked in the doors for the first time, which is very easy to do if you’re not careful. This is a constant tension for us, since as worship leaders it is so easy to use typical, insider-focused language in trying to lead people. At the end of the day, we view musical worship as a part of the journey our attendees go through each Sunday, working hand-in-hand with the hundreds of other volunteers and staff members serving on our campuses. When all of those pieces work together well, and we stay focused on our mission, we see God use our church in a massive way in the lives of insiders and outsiders alike.

WL: In the present landscape of the worship music industry, the model seems to be more of a communal approach to creating music than a single worship leader front person. Why do you think this approach is resonating with worshipers and/or your specific community?
EK:
The communal approach is huge for us, because it serves as a guardrail to keep us away from a “star-focused” culture. The tendency is to always drift that way, simply because culture points that direction and the music industry is built on star power. But when it comes to worship, we work hard on creating a community of leaders that are humble and servant-hearted, a team of people that celebrates each others’ victories and helps each other through difficult seasons. When that unity is authentic and the leaders onstage really care about the lives of the people serving next to them, the congregation really connects more with God than with a face or a personality. The key is the hard work that it takes to make those relationships authentic. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it definitely has its hard times.

WL: How important is it for worship music to have a connection to a living, breathing, worshiping community? And what are some ways to make sure that connection is happening?
EK:
This is one of the biggest things we’ve focused on at North Point over the last few years. It’s easy to get focused on the congregation as a whole and sometimes get discouraged when people just don’t seem to “get it.” But we can’t lead each of those people individually; we have to trust God to do that. Instead, we try to focus on the leaders that we’ve been entrusted with, caring for their hearts, their families, and their walk with God. When we started really focusing on them, thinking about what they really need in their day-to-day lives and how we could help connect them with resources and people that can help, we saw an immediate difference on stage. We are blessed now to see worship leaders that care deeply for our community, and who are completely on board with the mission and vision of our church.

WL: What do you see as the future trends in music globally?
EK:
The Internet isn’t going to stop influencing music globally. Eventually, I think music will end up being more diverse and creative, and far more accessible to people across the world. At the same time, it seems as though God is raising up more songwriters than ever before in the Church. I hope that over time, those songs would not be kept simply within the walls of the church, but that people would become radically involved in their local music community and influence culture as a whole.

WL: How are you intentional about keeping God at the center of worship?
EK: I’m tempted to write an answer about how we have month-long prayer sessions or daily devotions, because that seems like the churchy thing to do. In reality the thing that has continued to keep God at the center of our worship is simply investing in the lives of the people that lead at our church. We care far more about who they are becoming, as people, than what they provide on a Sunday morning. As much as possible, we try to invest in the lives of our leaders spiritually, emotionally, and relationally, and that has helped create a community of friends that love God and love each other well.

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