Kari Jobe on Songs and Her Leadership Journey

1-Kari Jobe

Read the first article in the series here. 

WL: Because you lead worship in a congregational context, and at different worship conferences and concerts, and you’ve sung many songs, what qualities do you believe are essential for a song that will draw people that may not feel like it into the presence of God?

KJ: I don’t think it is easy to explain except that it’s a faith thing. When we declare who God is, he is magnified and glorified in that and he inhabits the praises of His people: That in and of itself welcomes him into a situation. And it helps people to be more aware of his presence when they are in a place of brokenness or in a place of pain or a place of looking to the Lord when he’s honored—Scriptures tell us that. And so songs that do that are some of the most powerful because they get our mindset and our thoughts off of our selves. As we declare the goodness of our God, he inhabits those praises, he enthrones himself on those praises and in exchange—a supernatural exchange—we sense his presence. We feel him. We are encouraged. We realize we’re not alone. You know, it’s this beautiful exchange happening out of faith and worship. “Revelation Song”—that Jenny Lee wrote—is one of the coolest songs because it’s all about God. People are singing the goodness of God and not saying anything about themselves, but are being filled with more faith by the end of that song because they realize God is real. “He’s living and breathing and moving in my life and, you know, they didn’t say anything about themselves in that worship song.” But the faith that rose up in them is changing them—such a spiritual thing when we worship God.

WL: There’s been a lot of conversation about vertical worship, worship that is just to God and about God. Worship can be “I” focused, “Thou” focused, it can be “I-Thou” with the emphasis more or less on God or us. Is there one type of song we need more than another when you look at the worship landscape?

KJ: I think we need them all. I think that we can look a lot at the song to see if we are on the right track. David has so many songs where he declares, “I am this, I am that, my heart hurts, have you forsaken me… have you forgotten me?” He is lamenting before God. But then he always turns it around and reminds his soul and his heart, “God, you did this. So if you did this for them, you’re going to do this for me.” So, I think we need all of it. Then there are some songs where David didn’t talk about himself at all. He says, “You are mighty and majestic and the mountains worship you and the seas sing of your praises.” Those are beautiful and both minister to people at different times.

It’s a relationship. When you are in a friendship with somebody, there are days “I just love everything about you, you’ve never done anything wrong. You’re the best friend ever.” And then there are other days where it’s, “I need to talk to you about something you said. I don’t understand your heart in this. What did you mean by this?” I think people need to be reminded it’s okay to be honest with the Lord, to be able to say, “I don’t understand why you did this, and I don’t understand why I’m in this place.” And to be able to return to that place of faith, “I know you’re going to pull me through. I don’t know how, but I know you’re going to.” And you keep walking it out. That’s worship, that’s worship to the Lord.

WL: What do you think God’s call and vision is for you at this time in your life?
KJ: I have no idea. I do love what I get to do; I feel so honored that people would let me lead them in worship and that they would respect my heart to lead them. It is such an honor. I think that we gain respect from people when we’re open and transparent and honest. Where we can say, “Look, this is what God’s done in my life and this is where I’ve tasted and seen that he is good.” People respond to that; they respond to brokenness that’s been made beautiful. So, my heart is to minister to people, that’s my number one love, built on a platform of places where I’ve been ministered to.

Leading worship at the Hillsong Conference this last summer was one of the greatest honors of my entire life, because I have been so impacted by every single person that has come out of Hillsong and they have helped me connect to God and helped me to worship. So to go and to be able to pour my gift out there was like, “I can’t believe I get to do some of these things” But I think as long as people want to hear what I have to say and what God’s saying, I want to be a good steward of that. I take it very seriously.

WL: You talked about being transparent and honest. And when you can do that, it connects to the heart of the people you are leading in worship and they feel that they can be transparent with God, is that right?

KJ: That’s right, I hear a lot from young girls through emails or letters and they say, “I love how you openly love on God in front of people, I want to do the same thing with my life.” I think that’s one of the most honoring statements because we’re on this earth for such a time as this—but not because we are here for ourselves. God wants us on the earth at this hour at this time, doing life with these people, in this time in the kingdom, so the greatest thing we can do is just to know God and to know his voice and to obey what he says—to do and to be good stewards of whatever that is.

WL: Also, I was going to ask you because you are a woman and worship and it is an area that historically has been more occupied by men than by women, has that affected you?

KJ: I watched Darlene Zschech as I grew up and was really impacted by her because she was one of the only women leading. I don’t ever see any kind of segregation in it or any kind of problem, I think there is always honor in it because people are honoring of what I do. Now, I might have a different answer if I was younger or if I was in a place where I wasn’t getting to do what was in my heart. But I have had opportunities over the years to probably give up on it because I saw some hardships at different times in the area of serving. And God will always ask us to submit to authority,

We’ll always have an opportunity to submit to other leaders that will be over us, and I think that it is very important for younger women who desire to be worship leaders to keep serving, to always honor, always value, everyone’s gift that’s above them.

It’s “Be a good server where God puts you.” Always serve, try not to let your emotions take over when you are having meetings with lots of men. It freaks them out, you know, they don’t like tears. I have learned a few things over the years, rules of engagement, rules of the game: Men want to be honored and respected. And you can get a long way and be honored in your life if you’ll do that, not just with men, but women, as well.

WL: Well, speaking of learning, where do you think that you have learned to lead? Who are the people and what are the experiences that have taught you how to lead people into the presence of God.

KJ: I’ve learned a lot from the leaders over me through the years. I feel so thankful for every single leader I’ve ever lead under. From my dad when I was a teenager, he was my youth pastor, my mom’s always been such a woman of God, then going off to college and serving on worship teams at ORU and Christ for the Nation. I’ve done a lot of teaching myself as a worship pastor at Gateway Church and I’ve always been pastored well. I’m thankful for that. And even when I wanted to not go to church, I would go to church because I knew it was part of how God pours into us. To do community with people is powerful. Satan likes to isolate people—especially leaders. He makes a lot of leaders feel like nobody will get it, you can’t be accountable: “I could never share this with someone, because what would happen?” But that’s the worst thing that could happen as a leader. So having good Godly leadership, that does life with me, holds me accountable and pastors me well, are probably my biggest lifesavers.

WL: Is there something that you would want to share to encourage Worship Leader’s readers: pastors, worship leaders, vocalists, musicians, tech team.

KJ: Yes, I’d like to encourage people to stay fresh by staying honest and open with people. A lot of worship leaders are tired, they talk about being tired and it seems like they are going through the motions. My encouragement to them is to make sure that the only time they are worshiping isn’t on the stage. I have to be really careful to have my own personal time of worship between me and the Lord, where there aren’t people watching me to keep it real and keep it fresh. And I think that’s always an encouragement to other worship leaders, and also to raise up other leaders where they don’t have to carry all the services every single time. Raise them up. Don’t be afraid to let people fail. Set them up to win, but if they fall and a song flops, let them do it again. I never got it right at the beginning. I still mess up. I messed up these words the other night, I started laughing on stage. Started the song over, and everyone laughed and cheered, and that was probably everyone’s favorite moment because it was human and it was real. Just be okay with being real. Be real with people.

 

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