Interview: Josh Fox

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Josh Fox is a worship leader at Vintage Faith Church in  Santa Cruz, CA. With an outstanding new worship CD just released, Josh took a moment to share his journey and offer tips on producing a CD as well as staying in worship ministry for the long haul.

Tell us a little about yourself. How did you come to become a worship leader where you are today?
I was born in the land of lumberjacks and marijuana—Humboldt County. My mom is a songwriter and worship leader and would sing me to sleep ever since I can remember. My dad can’t hold a note, but he taught me worship just as powerfully by showing me it’s much more that making a nice sound. 

God got hold of my heart at age 16, and that’s when I discovered music. As a heartbroken teen out of a failed relationship, music became my drug of choice. I started out serenading cute girls with my friend Kevin, then joined a number of bands and played coffeehouses and clubs. When I turned 19, I was asked to lead music for a group of high school students at John Maxwell’s church in San Diego. I was overwhelmed by how God would show up in times of musical worship and wreck me with His love. Seeing students encounter God through the songs gave me a deep love for leading. I felt like I had the best seat in the house.

When I moved to Santa Cruz in my 20s, I got involved serving in youth ministry with a guy named Dan Kimball. Dan and I would go on to launch an alternative worship gathering in our church called “Graceland” which grew and developed into a church plant—Vintage Faith Church. I never thought I would be doing what I’m doing today, and I feel like the luckiest kid on the block for getting to pursue something as life giving as leading others into the presence of God through song.

You have been working with Dan Kimball for nearly 20 years. What are some of the keys to successful worship ministry for the long haul? 
There are the essentials—practicing the presence of Jesus, soaking my mind in truth from the Scriptures, but I think what keeps me going is the mission that Jesus gave us to share Himself with the world. That mission really does drive me, and motivate me—thinking of people who don’t yet know Jesus and what would happen if their lives collided with His grace. That’s a motivator for the long haul. Another thing that keeps me going is the pure joy of music and songwriting. I can’t think of anything more fun and fulfilling than expressing something to God from deep within and joining with a group of people to sing that out. There is something holy and spectacular when the Church expresses her love and total admiration to Jesus in song.

Dan Kimball is an amazing friend and pastor. After serving together for twenty years, he has become more like an older wiser brother to me than anything. I respect Dan immensely and think the world of him, but I think what has kept us moving forward together in ministry for so long is a shared commitment and passion for those outside the faith. We also just have a ton of fun together. I can’t think of anybody I’ve laughed harder with than Dan.

Your new release Rescue both fresh (in a neo-Americana kind of way) and congregational. How do you balance artistic quality with accessibility?
I love creativity and I think you have to be connected with your art, and passionate about what you are creating as an artist. Since we’re called to do everything as unto the Lord, we need to also try and create art that doesn’t stink, so quality has to be ranked high. In the end though, if your goal is to lead people into an encounter with God through a song, whether or not they connect is paramount. 

We also need to keep in mind that we are teaching people what God is like through our songs. We need to be thinking theologically, and asking ourselves, “Are we helping people understand WHO this God is that we’re encountering and what He is like?” We can be poetic of course, but not to the detriment of losing the opportunity for deep truths of God’s word to be clear.

What songs are you specifically excited about or what songs are people already responding when you lead them?
There’s a song called “Your Joy” that’s been fun and powerful. It’s such a simple song, and the message of the song is almost kid-like: that we’re God’s “joy” – his son, his daughter and He is making us new. We did that song at our Easter gathering, held in an auditorium where Johnny Cash and the Ramones once played. It was incredibly hearing a thousand voices sing out those truths in that place. (“Your Joy” is available as a free download here.) 

Another song that has been special for our community is “As We Wait.” The song leans toward lament in its genre and was written from a place of deep anguish. We had two of our key leaders battling cancer, and wanted to write something that could encourage them and the rest of the community in the truth that God’s loyal love will hold us and see us through. The song has been a vehicle of healing and inspiration for me and the people of Vintage.

Worship leaders are starting to get more and more interested in putting together worship CDs for their local communities. What are some things they should be aware of before jumping in?
I love that churches and worship leaders are writing and producing their own songs. Every church is unique and God is doing something special in each community. Here are some thoughts on what to be aware of before jumping in:

1. Determine the goal of the project—what is your goal with the project? What do you hope to see as a result when it’s all done?  

2. Make sure the goose is cooked. If the songs aren’t ready, or have not been “road tested” in a live setting, then you’re probably not ready to jump in to record them. 

3. Pre-production is KEY! Don’t just rush into a project. Map it out. Demo the songs first with simple acoustic or piano and vocal. Map out the arrangement, and instrumentation. Have a clear idea of where you’re going with vocal harmonies and group vocal. The more you do on the front end, the easier and more smooth the entire project will go.

4. Assemble the right team. Gather the musicians who are going to make the songs on the project come to life in the most affective way. If you don’t have players who are experienced in the studio, this can be a great way to develop them but will take a lot more time to finish. If you don’t have a pool of amazing players in your church, hiring studio musicians who understand your unique identity as a church can be a great way to accomplish the goal. 

5. Like any great artistic endeavor, plan on it taking twice as long as you expect. But enjoy every minute of it!

You have said that you are interested desire to “introduce new generations to Jesus through creative expressions of mission.” What does that mean, and what are some practical ways you go about that?
As the Church, we need to continue thinking outside the box when it comes to engaging nonbelievers with the story and Person of Jesus. We’ve done this through multi-facetted art shows, interactive prayer stations in worship, public art installations in our downtown area featuring artists depicting ‘stations of the cross’ and things like that. We launched a coffeehouse called “The Abbey” that is also a art gallery and music venue which draws in hundreds of university students every week to the campus where they then hear about the church as a whole. The Abbey won three awards in our local paper last week for best coffeehouse music venue, best student hangout, and best wifi coffeehouse. We built a music studio on campus that opens next month to the public, which will be used not only for original worship type music, but for local bands, kid’s learning center, podcast, author interviews, etc. Next year, we’re hosting a film festival where every entry will be under three minutes long. Creative expressions like these help shatter negative stereotypes of Christianity and the church, and draw people to the heart of God.

What are you most excited about for the next 20 years of leading worship?
Continuing to sense the presence of God in such a palpable way through music and song.

Expressing what’s deep in my heart in words that others will also feel and want to sing to God.

Being part of the soundtrack of the church rising up to be the culture shapers and world changers that Jesus had in mind.

Seeing the church “come to its senses” with multi-sensory creative worship—fine art, poetry and spoken word, short film, interactive sacred space, and more.

Growing in friendship with other worship leaders and church leaders as we serve to inspire the church on mission for the One who’s rescued and is restoring us.

Josh’s new album Rescue was just released on iTunes. Click here to listen.

For more on Josh, visit, joshfoxmusic.com.

Interview: Carlos Whittaker

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Carlos Whittaker, the well-known creator of Ragamuffin Soul, released his new album, Fight, this week. It is an explosive and expansive recording that lifts hearts in worship as sure as it lifts our spirits in fresh musicality and creative approach. Whittaker took some time to answer the things we had on our mind.

Tell us a little about your new release, Fight. What’s the significance of the title and what would you say are the prominent themes?
The purpose and mission of this next record is the kick the devil to the curb. Lol. What I try to do is to deliver to the listener tools to actually accomplish this mission. Ephesians chapter 6 verse 12 says this… “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers against the authorities against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” The record sits in a space where that is the end goal.

Fight innovates partially because in places it reaches back to a more synthy sound. What can listeners expect to hear on this new release? And what was your inspiration to move in that direction?
The sound is definitely driven by keys on this record. People consider me this creative guy. People hire me to be their creative coach. So I had to stretch my musical style and do something completely different.  The goal wasn’t to just come up with a different sound, but I surrounded myself with people that were farther along in their musical journeys than I am. The thought was not to have a more keyboard driven sound, but in the end the results was this. 

With that in mind, how important is it for you (for any artist) to stretch the creative boundaries inherent in the Christian genre?
I obviously believe that we serve a creative God. If we serve a creative God it is our utmost responsibility to pour our creativity into our arts. I think stewarding this responsibility well, is going to be what drives us to the next level musically

Why do you think there are stylistic “boundaries” in Christian music … worship music in particular?
Stylistic boundaries are found in all music genres. The thing is is that Worship music is still a newborn when it comes to a style. I believe that it will ultimately keep evolving beyond where it is today. But I definitely think the guitar-driven leads and delayed sound is going to be a thing of the past.

What are some of the elements that every worship record should have?
Scripture, Scripture, Scripture, if our songs are not coming from scripture and just from our hearts then there is a possibility that we will lead people astray. I do believe that we need to pool our stories out of our souls, but we must attach them to Scripture.

You have a thriving online community. How has this aspect of your life influenced what you produce as an artist and worship leader?
I believe that my online community is essential to the music that I create. The stories of struggle that come out of my blog comments are so many times the things that lead me to write specifically especially on this record about the fight we are in.

How do you envision a service of worship 10 years from now?
I definitely think that the style of worship service where we try to attract people with production and great music is soon going to fade away. I am finding more and more that people want the simplicity of Jesus, and that alone. This does not mean that quality will go away, it only means that it will not be front and center.

For more info: ragamuffinsoul.com

Hillsong College

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Didn’t know Hillsong Church had a college that has classes for worship leadership? Neither did we. So when we found out, we asked Hillsong’s Aaron Mullay to share a little bit about the program and how it’s connected to the church.

Tell us a bit about the school. 
Hillsong College is a Life-Leadership Training institution that comes out of the life of Hillsong Church & the vision of Pastors Brian & Bobbie Houston. It has been running since 1988. It has 1,100 Full time students plus multiple students in evening college courses & specific leadership. Hillsong College has Australian Government Accreditation in the Vocational Training area and is therefore able to enroll International Students.

What is the general mission/purpose for the school?
Our mission flows out of the mission of our Church: So for us specifically as a college that looks like reaching & influencing the world by building a large-Christ Centered Bible-Based college, changing mindsets & empowering people to lead & impact in every sphere of life, with a specific & purposed focus on the raising, training, equipping & sending of the future leaders of the Global Church.

Where do your students come from?
They come from over 65 different nations including Australia, The United States, South Korea, Canada, Brazil, South Africa, The United Kingdom & many Scandinavian Countries. Over 80% of our students are international.

Why did a Hillsong church decide to start a college? How does that fit into the overall mission?
Pastor Brian many years ago sat down at his desk & began to write the Church that he saw but didn’t yet exist. As part of this “vision statement” he penned, The Church that I see is a Church so committed to raising, training and empowering a leadership generation to reap the end-time harvest that all its ministries are consumed with this goal.” Therefore Hillsong College is as much a part of the vision of Hillsong Church as any other department or ministry. We are ultimately all part of one vision & therefore we don’t have a vision for Hillsong College, we as Hillsong College have a vision for Hillsong Church.

Do students in the music program have the opportunity to play on Hillsong’s worship team? Where else do they get plugged in for ministry purposes?
Yes the majority of our students all have opportunity to either play, sing, mix sound, create videos or dance on one of our Church platforms. At Hillsong we have in our Australia Campuses & extensions 36 services plus youth & Children’s service, so there is plenty of opportunity for our students to be involved. The student body of Hillsong College serves right across the breadth of our Church

What have the graduated classes gone on to pursue? What does this college equip them for in the real world?
We recently received some feedback from numbers of our graduating students across the last 20 years & it was really encouraging to read that the majority of our students seem to continue to Love Jesus, Love people, not only attend but continue to serve faithfully in a local Church, whether that be in a Church-Ministry capacity or in the marketplace. As already mentioned, the outcomes that Hillsong Church is believing for are that all of our people, including our students, would lead & impact like Christ in every area of their lives.  So we have students who then pursue careers outside the church, we have graduates who work with Para-Church organizations & many Alumni Pastoring Churches, leading Worship Teams, leading Dance Ministries & TV Ministries in local churches & beyond.         

What are some of the unique programs you offer, and how does it differ from worship studies at other schools?
We are a skills-based training institution & therefore we give our students the opportunity to quickly apply the knowledge they are learning in classes in a practical way, be that musically, relationally or in a leadership capacity. So for example, a first year student will have a music theory & application class & then not long after, go to our musicians, vocalists or song writers workshop & apply the knowledge they’ve learned, thus turning that into a skill that can bring competently. One of the other unique opportunities for our students is that they become immersed in our Hillsong Creative Team, & this is a significant place where they see the skills they are learning applied in a variety of settings by staff members & volunteers – thus they are immersed into what is hopefully healthy, growing & thriving.

Who are some of your faculty? How intimately is the faculty involved with the students?

  • Pastors Brian & Bobbie Houston are the Senior Pastors of Hillsong Church & Presidents of Hillsong College, without them our college wouldn’t exist.
  • Pastor Mark Hopkins is our Executive Vice President & has been in this role for the past 17 years.
  • Pastors Lee Burns & Catrina Henderson are our Campus Principals, overseeing the running of our Hills & City Campuses respectively.
  • Juliette & Adam Spurling pastor our new students & their initial integration into College & Church Life as well as the Australian way of life

Our staff are very much hands-on in the training of our students, specifically focusing on seeing them raised, trained, equipped & sent as Christ-Like people & people who want to lead in life & make a difference as

What is the next step of action I should take if I were interested?
The best place to find out about Hillsong College & Hillsong Church including our variety of courses would be to visit our websites

1. Hillsong College – www.hillsongcollege.com

2. Hillsong Church – www.hillsongchurch.com

3. The Project – theproject.hillsongcollege.com – this will give you a glimpse into the creative & artistic environment within our college

This should help considerably in answering any questions you might have.

From there please feel free to either contact me at aaron@hillsongcollege.com or give us a call on +61 2 8853 5200.

The Lies We Sing

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By Gary Sinclair  

A few years ago there was a popular worship song in vogue whose main lyric was, You’re all I want, you’re all I’ve ever needed. It was a powerful song with a beautiful refrain. No doubt thousands sang it over the years.

Then just this weekend I actually played and sang in our worship team and we did a newer song that declared, With everything I will shout forth your praise. Many embraced it with great passion and enthusiasm. Its words and melody were captivating and flowed easily from the mouths of those in attendance.

But it is songs with words like these that also trouble me. No, not because they contain some blatant Scriptural error or that the melodies are trite or have lyrics that merely repeat the same thing over and over. Rather, I simply know I can’t sing those songs and totally mean what they say.

Jesus is not all I want much of the time. I want my kids to live near me, a job that provides and good health the rest of my life. I long for people to love me, for my wife to think I’m wonderful and for my ministry to go well.

In addition I can say that I rarely praise God or serve Him with everything. I still hold back parts of me that I don’t easily offer up for His kingdom or glory. And in this life I don’t know that I ever will.

The better or more authentic lyrics, though not particularly poetic or singable, would be, You’re a lot of what I want, but there are still many things that tempt me.  Or, With most of my being I’m trying to praise you right now, but I can’t get rid of the everyday temptations that fight for my attention. 

Put bluntly I lie to God when I sing these worship songs. They’re just not true for me.  I want them to be but they are not in everyday life. I wonder how many others do the same.

So the question is, Should we write and sing songs with similar lyrics that suggest impossible amounts of commitment to God in the first place? 

As both a pastor and former worship leader I would answer with a resounding yes and no!  (Sounds like a pastoral answer doesn’t it?) I say “no” on the one hand because we probably need to spend more time helping people to be authentic and real about what they say, hear and yes even sing. Congregations have been singing hymns by rote for years without grasping the full magnitude or multiple implications of what they sing about.

The title and content of the great hymn I Surrender All come to mind.There are hundreds more just like it.

Perhaps those of us who write songs should consider penning more lyrics that put our struggle, challenge and humanity in context. We could provide more permission to wrestle with the tensions we face trying to become like Christ in this life but not getting there. I John 3:3 suggests that someday we will be like him, but implies that we’ll never totally be there in this life.

Worship leaders could more readily reject songs whose lyrics are off the charts in their blatantly inconsistency with real Christian living.

But on the other hand I also add a guarded “Yes” to still writing and even singing some songs that give us a high standard and a lofty goal to shoot for as a Christian .

The Bible does this, doesn’t it?  Consider the standards for church leaders in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1. The lists of leadership qualities there are long and yet there isn’t an elder or deacon alive who is all of those things all of the time. But the challenge is there.

In the same way I do need to be reminded that following and serving Christ requires that I become more like Him and that I should want Him and Him alone. I do need to be urged to worship Him with everything and to gradually lay aside the chains that slow me down. 

Perhaps what we need from worship leaders and pastors is a greater awareness and more readily spoken word to our congregations that we do recognize we’re simply not perfect yet.  We are still becoming.  Maybe our songs can then more regularly become anthems that rally and encourage real change, a greater passion for Jesus and a new desire to exalt the Father from the depths of our being. 

All I know is that I don’t want to lie any more. I don’t want to pretend that everything is fine. Too many think we Christians don’t mean what we say in the first place. Maybe we can do some practical things in our worship for starters to prove them wrong and live real, genuine authentic lives before them.

 

Gary Sinclair is currently a teaching pastor and the Director of ACFcares at Austin Christian Fellowship in Austin, Texas. He is a keyboardist and singer as well and served as a worship leader for eight years at Grace Church in IL before becoming senior pastor. He writes two blogs, loves the mountains and is grandfather to four grandsons.

Eddie DeGarmo Interview

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Eddie DeGarmo is president of Capitol CMG Publishing which has a roster that includes such influential worship leaders as Kirk Franklin, Chris Tomlin, Casting Crowns, Third Day, Jeremy Camp, David Crowder, Matt Redman, Joy Williams, Aaron Lindsey, Bebo Norman, Tim Hughes, Brenton Brown, and Leeland, among many others.

The following interview is a small preview of the full article that will be in the May issue of Worship Leader magazine where DeGarmo offers more insight from his unique vantage point.

Subscribe today to get the issue.

WL: How does the Christian music business differ from the mainstream music industry?

ED: In mainstream music you find an artist, sign him, and try to promote him through traditional channels, such as radio and touring. In Christian music we have access to the Church and the audiences that gather there. The Internet gives worship leaders the ability to have their songs sung by other congregations and adopted by an audience potentially in the millions. Basically what a Christian publisher or record company does these days is to make that content available, essentially for free. For example, we manage a website called WorshipTogether, which is the number one worship website in the world for new material. The tracks, tutorials and chord charts…we give it all away. We have to figure out more ways to monetize that process, for the business and for the artist.

WL: What are some of the most important changes you’ve seen in Christian music recently?

ED: The industry is much more consolidated these days. It’s about half the size it was in the late ’90’s. As a result it’s become much more sophisticated, more focused. Over the last few decades, for example, we’d been left reeling from the effects of piracy. But copyright protection is a lot better today than it has been and that’s a result of getting back to basics.

WL: How doesthat return to basics affect the artist?

ED: If you’re an artist who’s signed a recording contract, you can pretty much be sure that you’ll be getting a very concentrated and intensive approach to marketing and promotion. The record companies don’t have nearly as many slots to fill these days. They want to make sure that they maximize their efforts with the fewer choices they do make and the chances they take. Because they have such a significant investment they need as much traction as they can right out of the gate. So, out of necessity, they’ve become much better at what they do, which is to make a product highly accessible, adaptable, and most important, marketable.

WL: Is there a difference in the way you market and promote worship music?

ED: Marketing worship music has a different DNA than mainstream or even Christian pop. Christian radio generally is very responsive to worship music. Matt Redman’s “10,000 Reasons” was number one for 16 weeks in the Christian radio format.

WL: Is it possible to have a music career and an active ministry at the same time?

ED: If you know Christ, having a ministry should be foundational to whatever you do, whether you’re a baseball player or a guitar player. But having a career with a public platform always creates issues. You have to be careful of compromising the way you present yourself. One of masters of dealing with the media and the public is Billy Graham. Whenever he was interviewed and someone would ask him about abortion or other social issues he would always bring it back to the gospel. That’s a good example to follow. It isn’t your answers on the issues of the day that bring people to Christ. It’s the Holy Spirit.