Award-winning gospel singer J.J. Hairston says a global pandemic has taught Christians how to return to true devotion to God. He urged Christians to follow Jesus’ example as He was the “first to preach a socially distant word.”
Hairston released Not Holding Back, his 11th studio album at the top of the year. The record was recorded during the national lockdown of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic and the music instructor said the title of the album release represents the theme of everything he and his team did musically.
"I honestly can say 2020 is the most difficult year I've ever experienced. And it's not because I haven't experienced loss or grief in other years. It's just been a collective source of strain for so many people. So even in seasons of the year where we were doing OK, it still hurt us to watch other people's struggle,” Hairston told The Christian Post in a recent interview.
"We wanted to create a record where we can do something, or try to help uplift others that were struggling in their faith, struggling with grief or financially. In any way you found yourself going through a trying season, we wanted to help uplift in that and through our music.”
The Connecticut native shared that he was very excited with the opportunity to record another record but never thought it would be recorded in a pandemic. Despite the restrictions, Hairston reached out to some of his friends in the gospel world and managed to record songs that feature Kierra Sheard, Travis Greene, Rich Tolbert, Jr., Naomi Raine of Maverick City and others.
The title track, “Not Holding Back,” was written by Hairston and Maverick City Music.
“'Not holding back' is us giving God all of our worship, all of our praise without restriction, without reservation, the band playing their hearts out as if we're in a stadium, the singers worshiping as if the house was filled because we're really only concerned with the audience of one,” Hairston described.
He said they gave God “all” of their worship as they praised and even danced.
"It was so empowering and uplifting for us because what we found is, I think for us as worship leaders, we've taken a lot of effort and time in leading people instead of just worshiping God,” he explained. “What this record has allowed us the opportunity to do is not have an audience, [and] just worship God authentically and allow the songs to become our opportunity to minister to others.”
The 12-track ensemble, released by Entertainment One (eOne) and JamesTown Music was the result of their worship.
"For so long we've limited our worship experience with God to our cultural requirements, like 'You have to be in this church building, you have to have this amount of people and that means you're having a worship experience. But what has happened this year is all those things have been taken away,” he noted. “So now, it's just us truly worshiping God. We should have never been focused on the people anyway, our focus should have always been on God.”
"So now we have the opportunity to go back to what the Bible intended, what God intended. Even our gatherings are happening in houses and studios, which is what happened in the original Acts church.”
Hairston said he believes what has happened in 2020 “is God has brought us back.”
“He's even allowed this pandemic, to bring us back to what He initially intended,” the choir director maintained. “Not that He wanted the pandemic to happen, not that He sent it, but God can use anything to get glory out of it. I think out of this situation, every worship leader now has the opportunity to make God your focus again, not to focus on people, not to focus on their reactions, because sometimes those reactions can be distracting.”
Hairston said believers must model Jesus and not hold back in this current season. He referenced Matthew chapter 8.
"Our example is now and will always be Jesus Christ. That's why I always will go back to the Bible. Jesus gave the first socially distant word, people don't realize it but remember there were 10 lepers that approached Jesus. He couldn't touch them. He couldn't come near them. But what He did was He still spoke to them,” Hairston offered.
"I think in this season so many people are going through [and] don't feel seen. They're feeling unheard, they're feeling unseen. Even now, you can't even get to the hospitals, you have to basically face your fears at home, you have to face your sicknesses at home. If you find out you have COVID, it's almost like you are plagued and people are afraid to touch you. They're afraid to come near you,” he continued.
Hairston insisted that in order for change to take place, Jesus believed and the lepers had to believe also to share their healing with the priest.
"I believe in this season, we'll be able to speak to people what the Word of the Lord is, and they will believe what we say. But we have to believe before they'll believe. So it's up to us as the ministers and pastors and worship leaders to believe first,” he stressed. “We can't sing, we can't teach and preach if we don't even have faith ourselves.
“Jesus believed what He said before He spoke to anyone else. So we as the spiritual leaders need to increase our faith and then start to speak our faith to other people.”