You are thought of as one of the founders of the contemporary worship. Look back on how you got started in ministry and tell what it was like then in comparison with now.
It was radical, it was new, it was controversial (especially when gifts of the Spirit, raising hands or dancing featured!), it was a new generation finding its own voice, it was the '70's, and it emerged from numerous 'streams' of spiritual renewal across the world. There was little or no publishing infrastructure; songs traveled the world via the grapevine. There were no worship seminars or conferences; we learned by trial and error and sharing experiences and ideas. It was rougher and less sophisticated. Overhead projectors were the latest technology.
Previous to it, services often lacked a sense of drama and congregational engagement, and could feel like a cultural time-warp. Often it was little more than a sing-along of favorite choruses out of the songbook. Songs tended to be about God, not addressed to God. There wasn't a sense of engaging with the Holy Spirit in a special moment. Part of the problem was cultural. Our established English "churchianity" was of a more cerebral variety and suspicious of emotion.
This began to give way to an expectation that through the preaching of the Word, and as we worshipped, God would visit us, and we'd experience his presence in a tangible sort of way. That dynamic was one of the main things that drove the development of what we now call "worship leading" along with the discovery that even when you had prepared your list of songs, the worship could veer off in almost any direction as the Holy Spirit led and faith was exercised.
I started out in a band doing evangelistic work and then after college launched out as a singer-songwriter in the CCM artist mould for many years. Then my life was opened up in the area of worship Even so, I resisted the suggestion of leading worship when the need first arose at a large Christian festival. I saw myself singing to people - not leading them in singing. And to be honest, I rather looked down on it. But increasingly I saw that God was doing something new in the area of worship, and that many of the skills I'd learned in performing could be used to serve what was happening. Events like Spring Harvest, which continues to draw around 60,000 people each year, created a platform and a demand for new songs. A whole generation was expressing itself differently and doing church differently.
What has been the greatest challenge you've faced in ministry?
To love God for himself rather than to love the work he gives me to do.
What has been the most profound lesson you've learned about worship over the past few years?
That whatever skills, experience or natural gifting any of us may have, it is the 'anointing' of the Holy Spirit that gets God's work done, the anointing that reaches out to the people we are serving and back to the God we are worshiping. To me one of the saddest and scariest stories in the Bible is that of Saul losing the anointing; worse still, he did not know that God had left him. Perhaps this is why his successor David prayed so fervently in his Psalm of repentance after the exposure of his adultery with Bathsheba: "Take not your Holy Spirit from me."
What is the most profound lesson you've learned about life over the past few years?
That I've learned nothing unless I've learned to love.
What is the most common misunderstanding about worship you see in the current worship climate, and how have you tried to reshape it?
The equation that singing contemporary worship songs = worship. You can sing without worshipping and worship without singing. I've tried to correct my terminology to avoid giving the impression that we're not worshiping until we're singing, to publicly affirm other ways of expressing worship, and styles that are different from mine, to encourage reality and honesty and to test practice against the principles of scripture whilst determining to always look for what is good.
What does 'worship lifestyle' mean to you?
In my view an excellent definition of worship lifestyle is found in Romans 12:1-2 (NIV): "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is, his good, pleasing and perfect will."
To which I would add these two quotations:
"Fundamentally, then, worship in the New Testament means believing the Gospel and responding with one's whole life and being to the person and work of God's Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit."(D. Peterson, "Engaging with God," Apollos, Intervarsity Press)... and... "Christian worship consists both in obedient service to God and in joyful praise of God ... authentic Christian worship takes place in a rhythm of adoration and action." (Miroslav Volf)
This is kind of the desert island question. What are the five essentials you could not do without in worship ministry?
Being a worshipper, being a servant, being real, being prayerful and knowing the bible.
How do you explain the powerful connection between music and worship expression?
Perhaps more than anything else, music reaches down into and expresses the deep places of mind and spirit, and I believe that is how God designed us as human beings.
Describe one of the most compelling, most powerful worship experiences you've had and tell how that affected you as a worshiper and as a leader since that time.
I was listening to our senior pastor teaching a theology of the Trinity, with his characteristic mix of scholarship and passion for knowing God. There was a moment when he was opening up an aspect of God's Triune nature, and it seemed as if the presence of God filled the room. It was a holy moment as if God turned up to say: ' Yes, this is who I am'. It strengthened my conviction that we need more of the revelation that flows from teaching the Word of God in our worship, and that our worship will rise in proportion to it.
What compels you to write new songs for worship?
It's what I do best and seems to be the way in which God has used me most. New songs are a sign of life as they arise when God is at work in people's lives. Also the command to sing a new song appears many times in scripture. I try to hold before me a vision of the church singing a new song which releases their hearts to God and inculcates an aspect of truth, perhaps even capturing the essence of a new season of the Holy Spirit's emphasis. It is a discipline of hard work as well as a delight. And much of my songwriting, in particular when I am attempting to write lyrics that are poetic, singable and theologically satisfying, all at the same time, can be likened to mining for gems. A jeweler once told me that for every carat of diamond that ends up on a piece of jewelry, around 25 tons of rock has to be dug out and processed. It sure feels like it sometimes!
What makes a song or any act for that matter worshipful?
The right motive: when it comes sincerely and genuinely from the heart of a true worshipper.
The right relationship: Jesus taught the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well that the Father is seeking true worshippers not just true worship. True worship is the overflow of our hearts as we discover and pursue relationship with God the Father.
The right means: Worship that is offered through Christ, by the Holy Spirit.
By Melissa Riddle, Editor Songs4Worship.com