Worship Leader’s Alex MacDougall caught up with Chris and Darren to discuss the subject of worship, and the release of their newly released book entitled, “Holy Roar”. The book, co-authored by Chris and Darren, examines the “7 words that will change the way you worship”. Darren Whitehead serves as senior pastor of Church of the City, Nashville, TN. The genesis of the book came from a sermon that Darren Whitehead preached several months ago. The “Good Good Father Tour,” featuring Chris Tomlin, Darren Whitehead and Matt Maher, is currently on an 18 city tour. Darren will be sharing from “Holy Roar.” For information, please visit ChrisTomlin.com or HolyRoar.com
WL: I read “Holy Roar” earlier this week, and I just wanted to say congratulations. I think it’s awesome.
Chris: Thank you.
WL: And I think it’s great for the following reasons: One, you and Darren’s book models a great partnership between a pastor and a worship leader. Secondly, it explains to worshippers, why we worship and how we should worship. It also removes denominational labels from certain worship practices or expressions, and it says it’s okay to be vulnerable in public, and I believe this book creates an invaluable resource for worship teams to read and discuss together beyond merely connecting at early morning, Sunday rehearsals.
Chris: Well, I appreciate you saying that. I love that this book could be talked about with Worship Leader Magazine because I feel like there’s just a massive target for this group. Obviously, it’s for everybody. It’s for every church and for everybody in the church. This message is universal. Praise is universal. Worship is universal. It’s all of us, and it’s what we’re created to do. One of the things I felt that would be unique about the book is that it would be an amazing resource for worship leaders. I have led worship the past 20 years in different churches, planted 3 churches, and have had so many different teams, I know what it’s like to try to round the troops and rally everybody to be on the same page…the bass player, the drummer, the keyboard and the guitar player to be on the same page as the singers and everything. It seems like there are not a massive amount of resources out there that help in that, resources that are very practical and easy for a worshipper to go through and for a worship team to go through. I think that with this book, they can grab on to the discussion questions, study one of the seven words, and they can understand praise. Darren and I had this in mind when we wrote the book.
WL: So there are 7 Hebrew worship words explained in the book?
Chris: Yes. You can go through one of the words each week and really dive in and be on the same page with what it is to worship and understand praise itself and what it really means. For me, it’s been a game changer. When Darren gave this message about these seven Hebrew words, I kept thinking, “How have I never heard this? How did I not know this?” I was embarrassed. I was thinking, “I should know this. This is what I spend my life doing.” I wanted to know more about it, and immediately phoned Darren and said, “Everybody needs to hear this. You need to write this book.” And Darren responded, “Well, let’s write it together.” I said, “I don’t know what I would contribute”. But we figured out how to do it together. I have been so excited for people to get this. I think that this is a book that is not just for the moment. It’s not just a book for this year or the latest thought. This is way bigger than that. It’s about helping people understand these timeless truths of God and what praise is. I’m excited for worship leaders, especially, to grab onto this and go through it with their teams.
Darren: I would add that one of the reasons that we’re particularly excited is that this could be a resource and an inspiration for worship leaders. There is a connection between knowledge and worship, so fresh thoughts or fresh information about God provokes fresh worship to God, and the more you learn about the nature and the character of the faithfulness of God, the more your heart grows for worship. Jesus said in John 4 that we worship in Spirit and in Truth. And the Father in heaven is actually seeking a certain kind of person, a certain kind of worshipper. It’s the only time in the Bible where it says the Father is seeking a certain kind of worshipper, and it says it’s those who worship in spirit and in truth.
So as we grow in truth, it provokes a brand new expression of worship in spirit, and sometimes people get a little bit tired or bland or numb in their times of worship, and I think the anecdote to that is to grow in truth, and then you again have this fresh encounter with spirit when it comes time to worship.
WL: So the words of Jesus specify that the criteria for true worship are spirit and truth. It is not simply limited to a genre of music.
Chris: That’s very true. I’ve always said that the Spirit of worship is eternal, the styles come and go. And so it’s spirit over style, right? And everybody prefers their own style. That’s normal. That’s human. That’s just the way we’re wound up, but the spirit of it has to be—-that’s what’s eternal. That’s what is connecting us to God.
Darren: Some people would refer to this as a “theology of Christ”. Sometimes in church, our understanding of praise is as unsophisticated as shouting at a football game. But that’s a little bit reductionist. What we have in this particular book is a deconstruction of the ancient world and how they approached God, praising Him. And there is so much that is lost in translation. You know, we read the English version of the Bible, and English translation of the Bible, and when the Hebrew people would read the ancient texts, they would read these seven different words.
They all understood that each word meant something different. Well, to us in the English-speaking world, we read the same word over and over again, and so there is a lot that is missing. There is nuance, and there is distinction, and there is specificity in the way that we bring out praise before God.
And I see uncovering all of these particular truths has been like discovering treasures, and it provokes a whole new collection of response in praise, but people, particularly people who have been in the church for a long time and they had the response like Chris has had, like, how have I never heard this before? And it provokes this new kind of expression of praise and worship that comes out of new knowledge and new thoughts about God.
WL: “Holy Roar” also chronicles some “stories behind the writing of the songs”. Can you comment on that?Darren: You know, when Chris tells the story about “We Fall Down” or about “How Great Is Our God”, and the origin of these songs, I sing the songs completely differently after I hear these stories. It’s really beautiful.
Chris: What’s amazing is, when I did not even know about these seven words and yet, when I was writing these songs years ago, I did not know that “We Fall Down” was related to the Hebrew word, “Barak”. It’s amazing to see how these songs really amplify a lot of these seven words. Retelling these stories and remembering where they came from has been so powerful for me. I think when people understand where they came from, in so many of them, I wasn’t just trying to write a song. It was a response that was coming out of my heart; it will be fun for people to read, and I think, interesting, too.
WL: What do you hope happens in people’s lives as a result of this book?
Darren: You know, we’re all in different places in our spiritual journey and even in our expression of our praise and worship before God. I tell the story about being very, very uncomfortable because I grew up, Chris and I both grew up on opposites sides of the world, and yet we grew up in similar church environments; very conservative and very reserved, and any sort of outward expression of enthusiasm was culturally shunned.
And so then when I got invited to a church that was far more enthusiastic in their expression when I was in my teenage years, I didn’t know what to do with it. I was warned about these kinds of churches. And so when I walked in, I was partly repelled and partly attracted to all that I saw going on.
And I remember saying to my friend, “I’m really uncomfortable with this. I’ll see you back here next week.”
And there was a contradiction going on in my soul with all that I was seeing.
But I was strangely drawn to the beauty and the spirit and the passion and the energy that was going on, and over the course of the next several months, I changed teams. I came in as a guy with my arms folded, and I ended as a guy with my arms in the air, and there was a transformation that took place in me. In many ways, I went from a singer to a worshipper.
It’s been one of the most significant changes in my spiritual life, ever. One of the most exciting parts of sharing this message, and I shared it in so many forms prior to writing the book, but over and over again, I would have people stop me after a service, and they would say, “Today was the first time that I ever raised my hands. I will never forget, and Chris will never forget, the first time that we had the courage to lift our hands before God in a public place and sort of push through the uncomfortable, self-conscious or whatever.” To think that those kinds of moments are happening as a result of this message is something that Chris and I get so excited about. It’s like a spiritual milestone moment that these people are going to remember forever. And it’s very personal.
WL: Given the tight timeline in publishing this book in just a few months’ time, was it a struggle to bring it to a reality?
Darren: It has come very naturally. This project’s come as a result of just a friendship, you know? It wasn’t a strategic plan. It was far more serendipitous. It was Chris saying, “Hey, that needs to be a book”, and then we ended up turning it into something.
So that’s what this project has felt like. It has felt like a project that we have really sensed the spirit on. We really sensed God’s guidance. We’ve described it a little bit like, “We felt a tailwind behind this book project the whole way”. It just felt like it had God’s favor. And what’s been such a joy is doing it with one of my dear friends.
WL: Do you have any final words of encouragement for our readers?
Darren: Do the work of the Kingdom of God and do it with people that you love, and I would encourage people to be thinking about things that you could do and then who would you love to do it with? Who are your friends? See how God blesses that.
Chris: This book has been the easiest project that I have been a part of. There’s nothing easy about writing a book, but even in the hurdles, it’s was just fun figuring it out together and doing this together, and I think that’s just great. As Darren said, “It’s a great example of working together for one goal, for people to meet God.”