We were in a tiny village in El Salvador last month capturing footage for Celebration of Hope at Willow Creek Community Church. I borrowed a guitar from one of the locals and my friends Bjorn Admusen and Blaine Hogan shot this footage.
Friends, I wanted to share a project with you that we just finished with our church partners. It’s a an album of worship music that we recorded in Zambia, South Africa, Dominican Republic, and El Salvador w/ local church worship leaders, vocalists and bands. You can go grab a free download here.
Or visit www.willowcreek.org/coh
Every year at Willow Creek our church takes a few weeks to focus on the work we do with our partners around the globe. It’s always a highlight of the year for our community. We call it Celebration of Hope and it begins tomorrow!
We had a ball last night in Indiana opening for David Crowder. He’s still one of the greats in my book. And you need to see him w/ his new band. I don’t know how to explain it, but I’ll say this…he opened w/ a Kris Kristofferson tune. I loved his set. Today we’re playing the Fusion conference at Indiana Wesleyan University. Good times this weekend.
Update: Thanks to the wonderful gift of twitter, my new German friend Romina has graciously translated this interview.
Q: Your new album “Kingdom Come” just came out. What makes it special to you?
A: This album is so meaningful because it developed after the death of my father. In my grief I began to write songs and within a few weeks we had several pieces complete that I was very happy with. I really had not planned on a new CD release this year, but the songs just kept coming that I had to let it all out and get them produced. (many of the songs were co-writes w/ my bandmates)
Q: What is something you remember most when you think about your father?
A: I got to experience how my dad was changed by the power of God. When he and my mother brought me into this world they were still just teenagers. It wasn’t until I was 15 when I truly found my faith at a summer church camp. When I got home I began to share my faith w/ my family. I was able to observe how God began to turn my father into this very gentle loving and passionate man…he still retained his rough around the edges personality though. His baptism during my senior year of high school was a true turning point for him.
Q: Does worship always stay the same or does living through tragedy change things?
A: After my father passed away I began reading the book of Job. One verse that really hit me was Job 1:21”…the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” And that is precisely what I have been trying to do ever since. Life is a mixture of pain and promise. Pain is what we all experience day in and day out: sickness, war, suffering, and conflict. Promise is the coming of God’s Reign here on earth. It is here- and yet to come. Every now and then we catch a glimpse of God’s kingdom, but without truly grasping his worth. One day God will come and make all things right. Then there will be no more death, no more war, and no more sickness. So I will praise God in my pain - and toward his promise.
Q: But can you truly praise God in the face of something like this? You sound so positive… Is it not an unbelievably hard battle?
A: I would not know my God nearly as well today if I had not had to walk through that valley. Naturally, I wished my father was still here, but I will not lose myself in this pain. Even though things haven’t been getting any easier: two weeks ago I lost my grandfather to cancer. My father was only 50 years old, my grandpa 70. I always thought both of them would get to see my children grow up. My mother lost her husband and her father within a 10 month span. We are currently going through a very tough phase in our lives. I am simply making the daily decision to honor God, even though there are days when I am nothing but sad and angry.
Q: On your website you talk about the meaning of some of your songs. In your explanation of the song “Thank You” you say that so many of us are so used to the mercy that we often sell it short of its value. What do you mean by that?
A: The expression “cheap mercy” actually comes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. When you have been a Christian for a while, you slowly start getting used to everything. This habit can become a major enemy of thankfulness. And it is thankfulness that causes us to really worship and praise Jesus. Sometimes you just get too used to mercy. I wrote “Thank You” because I never want to forget how costly my salvation was. God became man, walked on this earth, and suffered a gruesome death for me, my friends and the entire world. I just never want to get so used to it, that it loses its power in my life.
Q: have you found a way to retain the thankfulness for God’s mercy in your life?
A: Oh, I just cling to the classics for that. Praying and reading my Bible. Daily. There is really nothing else like it. Show me any old man who is still completely in love with Jesus, and I’m telling you- you will also find him to be a man who loves the Word of God.
Q: You lead worship for the Willow congregation in South Barrington. What makes it tick, the Willow exhibit congregation?
A: I love my church! We are known across the globe to be a place where leaders are raised and creative art is celebrated. Some time ago God has put it on our hearts to take a more passionate stand for Justice. So now we have many volunteers who, every month, take food to thousands of families, volunteers who provide or fix cars for single mothers and volunteers who help repair broken relationships.
Q: So what exactly are your responsibilities?
A: I play just a small part at this great church. I consider myself fortunate to be the lead producer for our midweek service as well as worship leader. These Wednesday evenings are geared toward those who already believe in God hardcore- so to speak. There we spend more extensive and intensive time in worship. For several months we have been going through different books of the Bible verse by verse. We spent all summer in 1 Corinthians. It was awesome!
Q: How do you become a good worship leader?
A: Great worship leaders are also pastors and teachers at the same time. Some people may be excellent musicians, but their pastoral heart still needs cultivating. We are here to serve the church. Not the other way around. My preferences are secondary to that which serves the church. What are the songs, prayers, activities, and parts of the bible that inspire a greater passionate commitment to Jesus for our congregation? This simple change in positioning has altered the way I plan my work and approach my service to this church.
Q: “We love to sing about God’s love, but we struggle to sing about God’s mission for the world.” - that’s what you said about your song “Send Us Out”. Do you think this is a problem that exists simply for songwriters or is it something that extends to all Christians?
A: Haha! I’m really glad you found that quote! Currently many churches are in love with all these “Jesus is my Boyfriend”-songs. We emphasize how how much God loves us and all the stuff he does for us because he loves us so much. Which is all good… But we have to keep our song choices balanced, otherwise we teach an unbalanced theology to our congregations. Honestly, people really only remember the main themes of the message they heard a week ago, but they will remember the songs! They sing them in the car. They sing them in the shower. Worship leaders, and especially song writers have become, in some ways, theologians of today. That’s a scary thought! We need both, songs that drive us to become active workers for God, as well as those that celebrate his love for us. ”Send Us Out” was our little contribution.
Q: Why do we tend to forget about our mission in the world?
A: That’s a tough question. I don’t feel adequate answering that question. Maybe it’s because people have a tendency toward sin. As soon as I have secured my place in eternity, I am suddenly free to kick back and just go back to life as usual. But that is not at all what we are called to in our faith. I think we are focusing so much on uttering prayers to keep us out of hell’s reach, that we forget about the mission from verses like “Go and make disciples of all nations.” and “to look after orphans and widows in their distress” and “love justice and show mercy”.
Q: In the same way the Jugendplus-Kongress 2013 in Wetzlar is meant to rattle hearts out of that daze. “Yes We Are Open!” is the motto - open for what?
A: Open to what God has to say to me. That’s how I take it. I am open to do whatever he calls me to. If you take this another step further, it also means that the church is open to God’s invitation to build his kingdom here on earth.
Q: Why should no one miss the Jugendplus-Kongress 2013?
A: This will be my fourth congress to be a part of, and every time I fly home I am full of humility in the face of what God has accomplished. The Lord is doing incredible things in Europe- and with that in Germany. He has a dream for Germany. And he is bringing an army of world changers together. He fills our hearts with his dreams. He broadens our perspectives. To be completely honest, many of us probably get very uneasy thinking about the sheer size and scale of what we are called to do in this world. But not one who will take the journey will ever regret it! And when you read this interview, you need to know that God uses this congress to build his church - and you are invited to be a part of it!
This is fun. A few months ago we were interviewed for Willow Germany magazine. I don’t speak German but I’m really curious to know what it says. There’s a lot more in here than I remember saying! Check it out.
We had a great time in Louisville, KY at Follow 12!
Merry Christmas! We recorded this arrangement w/ Becky Johnson (vocals). Others involved included Aaron Niequest - producer, Aaron Ruse - engineer, Chris Siebold - banjo/resonator, Laura Cai - cello, Brandon Grissom - vocals and guitar.
This is a track we created for the Willow Creek Advent Project. Each weekend this December, Willow Creek (our church) offers the Advent Project with reflections and worship that center around the coming of Christ from four distinct viewpoints. willowcreek.org/advent
We’re going back to Germany in May! Can’t wait.