Exclusive Interview with Thomas Miller

 

Please share  a little of your personal story and how you have come to your position as worship pastor.
When I was in high school, I felt a calling from God for ministry. Yet at that time, my parents asked me if I would first go get a career degree that was outside of the ministry vocation. I actually love engineering and I love aspects of math and architecture, so I went and got an engineering degree. But when I graduated, I still had a calling for ministry.  So I worked in the field for several years as an engineer, waiting to hear from the Lord. I think it was in 1995, I felt like God was saying to go to Christ For The Nations.

My senior pastor gave me a cassette tape, and before even listening, I saw “For more information about Christ For The Nations, call this number.” It was a 1-800 number, so I called it. When I was hanging up the phone, I felt like the Lord said “that’s where you’re going to go to school.” I prayed about it a lot, I was already married by then, so I talked it over with my wife, and together we decided to come to Christ For The Nations. And after I graduated, I was on staff there for a few years, and I really felt planted there. After being there for several years, I started the school worship there, and then in 2001  I met Pastor Robert—the senior pastor at Gateway. I quickly felt a real strong connection and prayed about it … it really felt like the Lord was saying, “this is where you go next.”

I came to Gateway in December of 2000 when the church was only about eight months old, and probably had about 120 people attending. And I’ve been here for 12 years. 

Over the span on 10 years the Gateway Church has grown from 200-20,000.  How do you prepare differently in leading worship for the smaller and larger church setting?
Well a lot of the principles actually stay the same and they should stay the same. For instance, the values that I had from the beginning were: we’re going to be strong in our character, and we’re going to be strong in our craft. In other words, we’re going make sure that we hold a premium standard for the lifestyle of worship we live. As well, we’re going to use the talent that God has given us with the greatest ability that we can for his glory.

So having-having people with a-a strong understanding of why we’re doing what we’re doing has always been a key thing for me as well. And today, the three main things that we value at Gateway are our core, our character, and our craft. Core being, “the biblical aspect of why we do what we do.”  Character being the way we live our lives.  And the craft being how we function in a worship setting here at the church. All three of those values have stayed the same from the beginning until today, even when we were just a-a church of 120 people.

What is differentiated has been more the implementation aspect of that. Now that we have multiple teams doing multiple services at multiple campuses, we’ve had to make sure that we are more purposeful in developing stronger lines of communication and are intentional about relationship. In the beginning we had strong relationships because there was just one worship team—it was a small group of 10 people or less. So we knew each other, and we loved each other. I didn’t have to be as purposeful because it was just there. Today, in a church of 20,000, we have to be very purposeful with our communication. Both in relationship and vision for the ministry, so that it matriculates through all the campuses. And it becomes something that is part of all that we are.

We have been hearing a lot about the responsibility of the worship leader to squelch a culture of worship “celebrity.” Is this something you have to take into account? What do you do to mitigate that in your team and church?
Part of the celebrity status or celebrity syndrome that’s found sometimes in worship ministry is simply because people separate themselves too much from the people.  In other words, once the worship ministry is done, once the worship leading is done, we’re going to go our own little space.  We’re not going to cultivate friendships or we’re not going to pastor—truly pastor—the people in our church; we’re going to say separate. And the result is the celebrity status is accentuated.

I think what’s interesting as well, because we’re a recording group, our CDs go out beyond the confines of our church.  Quite often the music publishing world has a hard time promoting a certain artist or a certain band if the band is not wanting a celebrity status. Of course our duty as worship leaders is to always draw attention away from us and on to God—away from our personality toward his personality.  Just like John the Baptist said, “I’m must decrease.” 

And really that’s our duty on the weekend.  It’s our duty whenever we lead worship.  It’s our duty in life.

In reality we’re here to wash the feet of the congregation, just as Jesus showed us. We have no idea what mud and junk that they’ve walked in throughout the week.  And when they come in on the weekend their feet are dirty.  They’re metaphorical feet are dirty.  And they so desperately need to be washed with the water of the Word, and that’s why we’re there.  Not to get accolades, not to get the approval of man, but to serve them and to wash their feet, so they can leave invigorated.  They can leave the place being in God’s presence, hearing God’s voice, experiencing the presence of God. They don’t need to hear from me.  They need to hear from God.

Gateway has a solid history of creating worship albums, what are some of the elements that every worship record should have?
I think every project should have songs that really speak to the church.  If it’s going to be a worship project … just speak to the church.  I believe God is passionate for his bride and passionate for his body. I believe the hope of mankind is the body of Christ.  It’s actually Christ living his life through his body, and so songs that are on any worship project, at least on Gateway’s projects, are songs that speak to our body first. These are songs that resound and resonate within our own church. One of the main questions we always ask God is, “What are the songs, what are things that you would like to hear your people sing to you?”  And so these are the songs we want to write.  

What would you say are the prominent themes of Gateway’s new release, Forever Yours?
I think the overall prominent theme is actually the title of the project: Forever Yours. If you listen to the songs there’s just such a resounding message that even before we were concieved, even before time began and spanning until we see him face to face throughout all of eternity we have always been the apple of his eye, the very center of his affection. The song “Forever Yours” says it so clearly that when Jesus was hanging on the cross when he said, “It is finished,” basically what he’s saying, “No longer will you have to worry.  No longer will you have to fear.  Now you’re forever mine.  You’re forever mine.”

A peace and joy really that comes from knowing that we’re his.  

What has been your greatest lesson learned as a worship leader?
I have learned a lot. Probably the greatest lesson I’ve learned is that what I do in terms of planning and preparation and leading worship, standing before God’s people—all of the macro and micro elements of leading and preparing—as important as they all are, at the end of the day it’s not about me. It’s not about anything that I do.  It’s about people just experiencing God, and when they do nothing else matters.  If I can get out of the way or if God can use me in a way I think both of those things are important. 

Whether it’s God can using me in a certain way to draw people close or me getting out of the way so he can draw himself closer to his people, then I’ve done what I need to do. … At the end of the day, people need to hear from Him.  They don’t need to hear anything I have to say.  They don’t need to know how much preparation went into the worship. I love  all the practice and preparation and I love refining my craft and skill, my songwriting, and all the different elements that go into presenting what we do on the CD, but I know at the end of the day it’s not about my songs. Although all of these things God can use for his glory, But at the end of the day, they’re all just tools that he chooses to use or chooses not to use.

I remember several years ago in a worship setting at Gateway, I was encouraging the congregation.  It was in-between a song of worship when I heard Holy Spirit say to me, “Stop talking.”  And I stopped talking.  The Lord told me in that moment, “Sometimes it’s a lot easier for me to speak to my people if no one else is talking.”

I know God uses the words that we say as well, but we have to be open to whatever he decides to use in a moment. And be prepared to get out of the way, if needs be.

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    3 comments on “Exclusive Interview with Thomas Miller

    1. Pastor Thomas I always feel our Lord’s presence enveloping me during worship. It is such an amazing spiritual time, I thank you for helping me to open my heart wider and helping my heart to become fuller! Until I came to Gateway I honestly had no idea about worship…………now I find myself singing and praising and worshipping the Lord all the time. You are an inspiring teacher. Thank you and God bless you and your family!

    2. Wonderful interview by one of my most favorite groups! I live in South Africa and have most of their worship albums. What is wonderful is the genuine worship hearts of the leaders. They remain humble, they keep Jesus as their focus, and they walk their talk. I have 3 books by Pastor Robert Morris, including The Blessed Life. I once contacted Gateway and asked them to take an offering off my credit card. They said that is not the principle of the church, that people go into debt in order to give, so they do not accept credit cards for offerings. I had to find other avenues. What I can say is that not many churches will even think about declining an offer of money just because someone might go into debt. In fact, most ENCOURAGE people to give when in debt. That is the acid-test of right hearts – if you can say no to money. Real People, Real Integrity.

    3. Thanks Tom for dealing with the issue: “We have been hearing a lot about the responsibility of the worship leader to squelch a culture of worship “celebrity.” Is this something you have to take into account?” This is important to hear and act upon.

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