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.