- Worship leader, artist, former SONICFLOOd lead singer, and now professor at North Central University, tells us more about the unique program at NCU and his views on worship
You are now the Worship Arts Specialist and professor at North Central University in Minneapolis, MN, what does that look like for you on a daily basis?
I am at NCU just about every day of the week. I teach classes like Worship Leading, Songwriting, Music Ministry Philosophy, Performance Preparation, etc. I also work with and train up most of our worship bands, in particular Worship Live and One Accord. One Accord is our highest level touring worship band. I work closely with them to help them grow in the areas of leading worship. I help them craft new songs, produce a CD together with them in our McPherson recording studio, and then I send them out on the road to minister all over the country. I also personally lead worship in chapel from time to time as well as at some of our larger on-campus events, and then I produce a live worship CD every other year – Glory to God is the first of these. I also head up plans and preparations for our weeklong national worship conference called the Pure Worship Institute.
As a mentor to young artists and worship leaders, what sort of outlook on creativity and worship do you hope to impart on those in the program?
Freedom and expression – many churches have programmed the Holy Spirit out of their services. We teach our students to prayerfully create set lists and programs, but to plan to be interrupted by the Spirit – to watch for his changes in the service, and to follow where he leads – to look for the “sweet spot” and linger there. We teach our students to be free and creative and to lead the congregation in spontaneous moments of worship too. We also stress one of the biggest challenges they will face as leaders is the natural tendency for people to get complacent – it doesn’t matter if it is something good or bad, we as people tend to want to get somewhere and stay there – and if left this way, we easily lose our vibrancy and passion for seeking God with fresh passion daily. There are many ways to counteract this, but knowing the issue is the first step. Then we train our students to change things up (order of service, arrangement of songs, tempo of songs, placement of free worship moments, etc.) We ask them to be creative in the way they play songs – especially “cover” songs. We feel it is often the best approach for the congregation to NOT do the songs the way they have always been heard – knowing that people can easily fall into celebrating songs and people instead of the Creator, changing the arrangement can help “shake them” out of a robotic worship mode. We service a great creator, and he has made us in his image. We must use creativity as well as the anointing to stir people for God’s Kingdom.
What was the process in making NCU’s new album just recently released, Worship Live? What part did you have in it?
I produced the entire project. I’ve been working with these students for 2 years in different capacities. We’ve been writing songs and preparing for this recording for some time. When the time was right, I hand-picked the best of our musicians and lead worshipers and began tweaking songs and working on arrangements. My role as producer was not to do everything, but to assemble the best possible team, including our live and studio engineers, both faculty and students. It was also my responsibility to cast the vision to our marketing team at NCU and to help lead the charge to create the album packaging that best represented the recording. I am very blessed to have many gifted leaders in all of these areas.
There are a total of 12 songs on the project. 4 of these songs are ones I wrote or co-wrote for previous albums of mine. I also co-wrote 2 more with our current students. The other 6 are songs written by our students with minor help from me. I sing on 3 of the 12 songs on the project, while 4 other student singers lead the other 9 songs. The entire band is made up of our most talented student musicians, all of whom have been trained in one way or another by me.
I am extremely impressed with our students in the making of this CD. Their preparation and creativity was off the charts. Their commitment to excellence and yet their strong desire to Jesus lifted up and to see the Holy Spirit take the lead was incredible.
How do you see the relationship between worship in the church and artistry changing as a result of this new generation of college students that will be rising in leadership in the church? In what ways are you both excited and hopeful for what’s to come in this aspect?
I believe this next generation is less consumed with being famous than the generation I was a part of – partly for spiritual reasons and partly for practical reasons – and maybe that also means they don’t see fame as a sort of prerequisite to transforming the world that God has placed before them. At times, they actually seem adverse to the idea of being in the limelight, which can be a strength and a weakness, as sometimes they tend to shy away from bold leadership for fear that they are “performing”. They, like every other generation before, need much training. Musically they are way ahead of where I was when I was in college, but they still desperately need all the spiritual and leadership training they can get. They are more passionate, more open minded, and ready to do whatever God has for them. They love and want to serve all types of people, no matter their background or “hang-ups”. The best thing we can do for them is to believe in them and to be there with them as they take the world by storm!
You have been leading worship and writing music for a long time now, what are the some fundamentals from personal experience that you stress in the education of alike young minds at North Central?
There are of course many things I teach students while they are at NCU, but some of the primary concepts include:
-Worshiping and loving God when you feel like it
-Authenticity – Living for God on and off the stage
-Digging the well – understanding that if we want to have a powerful public display of God, the only way to achieve it is to cultivate a powerful private walk with God
-Servant Leadership – realizing that leading worship is a service to people – it is not our time, but it is a time to help others know and connect with Jesus – Like a waiter, “Would you like more Bread of Heaven with that?” “Can I get you some more Living Water?”
-Worship is not just about loving God – it is also about loving people – lots of leaders think they have the loving God part down, but 1 John 4:20 reminds us that if we don’t love people, we don’t really love God, and if we do love people, that is a huge part of loving God.
-Balance in worship – some people approach God as king and others approach him as friend. We stress both sides and teach our students to come to God with reverence and intimacy, honor and friendship, fear and love, quietness and explosiveness.
Many religious colleges veer away from the concentration of majors such as “Recording Artist” (a major at NCU), cautious to appear irreverent and pay heed to the music industry. How would you approach this situation?
We realize there are many different callings in music, and instead of shying away from some of the more controversial majors, we strive to be there to help all kinds of musicians with any dream God has placed on their heart. It seems we lose a lot of our most talented artists to the world because we don’t disciple and train them. At NCU, we believe it is just as spiritual to play in an orchestra, as it is to lead worship in a church, as it is to be on a big tour singing pops songs for the Lord. We see everyone at NCU as a minister of the Gospel, whether they are a business major, a missions major, a music major, or a math major. Some musicians feel called to minister mostly to the body of Christ (Eph 4:12-12) while others feel called to minister mostly to the world – to the pre-saved. This is similar to how Peter was mostly called to the Jews, while Paul was mostly called to the Gentiles (Gal 2:6-10). We want to be smack dab in the middle of training up the singers and musicians today that will make a difference for the Kingdom tomorrow – no matter where that may take them.
How has the flourishing program of worship at North Central affected the chapels, the student body, and the school as a whole?
When I came to NCU the first time, I knew there was something special here. I have ministered of many Christian Universities, and honestly have found it to be challenging at times, almost as if complacency has set in and the passion to worship God through music has grown cold. But when I led worship at NCU for the first time, it didn’t take any coaxing at all before the students exploded into passionate singing and worship. A huge part of what happens in our chapels is a result of many of the faculty and staff pouring their lives into our students and continually stirring the pot. We all refuse to settle for ‘a few songs and a nice service’. We want JESUS!!! We certainly don’t have it all together, but God is moving on our campus, and this is a big part of the reason we wanted to capture some of what happens when we join together to sing and worship God at NCU.
What about you? Are you working on any Jeff Deyo projects?
I just released a brand new CD in August of last year called Moving Mountains. I believe it is one of my best ever! I am still hugely passionate about leading worship, so I still travel with my band. I have become a “coach” or “father” of sorts to many young people, but I still feel passionate and relevant, and I love stirring up people to love their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. I was in a movie a couple years back called, The Imposter (with Kevin Max and Kerry Livgren). That was great! I have been preaching a lot more as I travel, and I have developed a huge passion for this. I recently wrote a chapter in James Goll’s book “The Lost Art of Pure Worship”, and I plan to write several more books over the next 20 years, including a textbook on leading worship, one called “Worship Redefined”, “The Authentic Worshiper”, and the Pure Worship series.