Interview with Mike Cosper

Mike Cosper1

You do a lot… Pastor of Worship and Arts at Sojourn Community Church in Kentucky, songwriter, founder of 930 Art Center, producer, writer, and executive elder; not to mention a husband and father to two. How do you manage to keep it all balanced and remain sane?
Well, you’re assuming that I’m sane. I’m not prepared to make that statement for myself.

Seriously, though, I have an amazing team. The leaders I get to work with carry a lot of the load, and in many cases, I’m sort of a consultant; a source for direction and input. But the team takes care of the leadership.

As an executive producer you have worked on several albums of re-tuned old hymns, what is your take on the effect of hymns in our culture today? How should we revisit traditional hymns and make them accessible for the current church?
I think there’s a gravitation towards hymnody because of a hunger for depth, weight, and significance. Hymns tell stories. They develop complex ideas in ways that contemporary praise songs just can’t; they simply don’t have a structure that allows for as many words.

We should embrace the hymnal because of both the emotional breadth and theological depth of its songs. But we should also be aware that we live in a culture with far less biblical and theological literacy. So, much of the language of the hymnal is going to be beyond the comprehension – especially in the space of a song – of an ordinary congregation.

We need to hold it in tension. We should embrace the hymns because of the riches they offer, but we need to be careful not to throw an entirely unfamiliar dialect at our congregations. We need to embrace the vision of the hymns – the desire for language that is both clear and deep.

You lead worship leaders from your church, what does that look like? From personal experience, what would be helpful for other pastors to know in their relationships with worship leaders?
This is a great question. Most church musicians and worship leaders have the unique temperament of gifted creatives. It’s tempting to try to impose a lot of bureaucracy and control over these folks, asking them to punch a clock and log to-do lists. But if you look at the broader creative marketplace – the world of graphic design, or film, or music – you see that it doesn’t work that way. Creatives need a long leash – a lot of freedom – in order to do their craft well.

For this reason, I think pastors and leaders in worship departments should seek to remove obstacles for creativity. We should eliminate, as much as possible, the distractions and roadblocks that keep worship leaders from leading out of their gifts.

We try to cultivate an atmosphere of collaboration and community. We try to have a lot of fun while in the midst of planning and coordinating for the 11 services we lead each week across campuses.

What does your day look like on a regular week as a Pastor of Worship and Arts ? What lies on your plate in how the church functions?
For the last year and a half, I’ve been serving as the interim executive pastor. Carrying that responsibility on top of my normal sphere of responsibilities – music, visual culture, and contributing to the church’s overall vision – has made things pretty hectic. I’m an early riser; I like to be up by 5 and working by 7. I spend most of my time meeting with leaders, helping them to develop their ideas, and keeping projects moving along. I know that sounds vague… but it really is so different from day-to-day.

With all that you do in the church, how are you gearing up for Easter?
We’re excited about Good Friday. All of our campuses will gather at one location for three evening services. I suspect it’s going to be standing-room only at some of them.

On the other hand, Easter Sunday is kind of like any Sunday. We’re liturgical – so in a sense, we’ll do what we do every week: we’ll remember that a Holy God has invited us into his Kingdom, that we’re sinners, and that Jesus rescues, renews, and sends us. On Easter, we do all of that… with lilies.

Tell us more about 930 Art Center, an art gallery and music venue you founded. How has it been an outreach and built community in your city?
We just recently closed the 930. We ran it for about 5 years, hosting a variety of musical acts and artists from around the country. It was opened initially as a way to serve the city (there were no all-ages venues at the time), and for a while, it really served a need. We faced some push-back from the local arts scene because of our Christian orthodoxy, and had some opportunities to share what we believe in local papers as a result. We also built a lot of relationships through the 930, just by being consistently hospitable and hosting good shows and art.

In August, we moved to a new facility – a renovated neo-Gothic Catholic Cathedral -  and it’s not as conducive to the full-fledged gallery and art center as the 930 was. We opened a new Gallery, just titled the Sojourn Gallery, and we’re still hosting local and national artists there. We aren’t currently hosting shows, but we have talked about the possibility.

What we are doing is launching a new ministry platform called Sojourn Arts and Culture. We want to provide a variety of resources to Sojourn and beyond for engaging thoughtfully in the culture around them, with an eye for both the “arts” as traditionally understood, and pop culture more generally. That blog and website should launch soon, and we’re talking about hosting a conference next fall.

Tell us about the new record Songs for the Book of Luke that you produced for The Gospel Coalition (and will be released at TGC conference). What does it contain? What was the unique process in putting this album together? How will it be used for The Gospel Coalition and how can it be used in the church?
Ben Peays, the director of TGC, asked how I thought we could bring some attention to the good, grassroots music that’s coming out of churches in their sphere of influence. So I pitched this project, and he’s been behind the scenes helping make it happen.

We did a national call-for-entries, and more than 200 songs were submitted from people all over the English-speaking world. From that, we narrowed down to the 13 that are on the record. I hand-picked players from churches all over the place – Miami, Vermont, Chicago, Seattle, and a couple from my hometown – and we gathered at a studio out on the Texas/Mexico border for a week to make music. Those guys were all pro players, but they also are church musicians, waking up in the wee hours on Sunday mornings to serve their churches.  It’s a record by the church, for the church.

We cut the record with Craig Alvin (who worked on the Gungor records, as well as artists like Amy Grant, Sovereign Grace Music, and many more), and the we flew vocalists into Louisville to finish tracking.

The songs are all inspired by the book of Luke, and they have a rich, diverse voice. Listening to the record will expose you to much of the breadth of the book of Luke – the way it highlights the deity of Jesus, the power of the word, the fulfillment of prophecy, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

I think the album has a unique sound – it’s warm, singable, and listenable. I wanted a record that drew you in, rewarded repeated listens and would appeal to people who listen to music of all ages. Of course, I’m biased, but I think we succeeded.

((To download a free mp3 and chord chart from this new album, click here))

How do you stay replenished?
I’m fortunate to have a church that encourages rest. When I hear the word “replenished” I immediately think “30A”, which is a backroad in Florida lined with quiet little beach communities. My wife and I go there with our kids in the summers, and this year we went for New Year’s. When I take time off, I shut everything down – email, phone, social media – and escape into other worlds. I love literature, and I could sit by the ocean and read for days on end.

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