Episode | January 22, 2024

Transcript for Cavlin Nowell’s the Walk Podcast

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Calvin Nowell: Life audio. I’m excited that people want a new sound. I’m excited that people are embracing diversity. I’m really excited about that. I see people come together and they’re just like, we don’t really want it the same way that we had it, not to discredit it, but we’re looking for something different. And I like that people are trying to explore.

What diversity looks like in their church as it relates to worship.

Joshua Swanson: Welcome to Conversations on the Walk. I’m your host, Joshua Swanson, and today we have a fantastic episode lined up for you. But first, this episode is brought to you by Planning Center and the Worship Leader Institute. Joining me is the incredibly talented Calvin Noel, a man who wears many hats with.

Equal finesse. Calvin’s journey in the music industry is both inspiring and diverse, having worked with legendary artists like Stevie Wonder, Michael McDonald, and our very own Michael W. Smith. Calvin covers hearing from the Holy Spirit, diversity in the church, and other interesting topics.

Here we go.

We started at the beginning and asked who was it that first saw your potential in music.

Calvin Nowell: Well, the funny thing about me is, is that I didn’t grow up singing in high school or elementary school, so I was never really known as a singer. So I didn’t start singing until I got to college. And in college, I joined the gospel choir just to meet friends, not because I thought I could sing.

Um, and so I met some friends there and I was doing that. And then I started. At the age of 18, 19, I did this thing on campus where there was a personality contest and I won the personality contest, but the main thing that I had to do was a talent. And so when I did the talent, I won the talent competition and my family was like, Oh my God, did you know Calvin could sing?

And so that was the first time my family even knew I could sing when I was in college. At that particular age as a worship leader, I needed someone to show me how to do this. And so this is a really funny story. I worked at a telemarketer firm and I, during the telemarketer firm, um, they would take a break and the manager would say, okay, we’re going to take a break, 15 minute breaks from the calls.

And there was this girl named Dion Rhodes and the manager was like, Dion, would you sing us during this break? And I’m like, oh my gosh, here we go. Why is this girl going to sing during in between calls? And she sang so amazing. It floored me. I was, I was, I was stunned. She immediately became my favorite singer.

And it got to the point that I asked her, I said, Deon, I remember I had a cassette tape. Can I just record you singing in my cassette tape? And I recorded her singing. And I was so blown away. And I asked her, I said, how do you do that? She’s like, what do you mean? I’m like, it’s that thing that you’re, it’s when you sing, it just that, what is that?

What is that? How do you do that? And she said, I just concentrate. And so as a brand new singer, I just was told that you need to concentrate. In other words, you need to mean what you sing about. So when I started to sing for the first time, I would always sing and think about what I’m singing about and in my heart, it would come out a little bit different than the people that are around me.

And I remember when I first moved to Nashville at my first big session, you know, recording session here doing background vocals, some of the top singers came to me the second day of the recording. They said, It just seems like when you sing, you mean it on the ad libs and that really, that really impacted me.

So, from the beginning of me starting as a singer to becoming more of a worship leader that travels and everything like that, I just really try to focus on what I’m singing about and make sure that it comes out authentically.

Joshua Swanson: We asked Calvin if he had a mentor.

Calvin Nowell: When it comes to having a mentor, I didn’t have a particular mentor, um, I always desired it.

Like, I always wanted someone to teach me and show me the way. And I remember a pastor telling me years ago when I first started to sing and lead worship, he said, Calvin, you desire mentors. And he prophesied over me and he said, I don’t think God’s going to give you one right yet in this season. He’s going to show you and then you’re going to show it to other people.

So sometimes I’ve had to learn by observing people from a distance. It wasn’t that I was close up, but it was that I observed them. And so I would say when I started, you know, to do music professionally, I used to travel with Michael W. Smith over 20 years ago. And so I would observe him and I would observe the simplicity of his heart, you know, from that worship album.

And what I love about him was that he knew how to disappear. When he leads worship, he knew how to get out the way. And so I would say I would always observe that. And I just said, you know what, I can do all the acrobats and all that other stuff, but I just rather let my heart lead more so than my voice.

So I would say Michael David Smith is probably somebody that I watched by being in the room. So I would say, yes, he’s mentored me in that regard.

Joshua Swanson: Reflecting back, we asked Calvin, what’s one piece of wisdom or insight you wish you had known at the start of your music career?

Calvin Nowell: When I started out, I just wish somebody would have just told me to relax.

I think in starting out, there was this thing of perfection and I would compare myself to other people and in doing that, it would, it would always hinder me. You know, where I wish somebody would just say, you are fine just the way you are. Don’t worry about trying to be this person or that person and I got to that point But it took me a little while, but I wish somebody would have just told me you’re blessed as you are You know and you don’t have to worry about competing and because I’m not a competitor But there’s that natural if you’re a perfectionist you want things to be done right in an excellence and if you’re around a lot of great people Yeah, they’re rubbing off on you, but at the same time, you need to have the balance of just saying, just relax.

Like, you got it. And that’s what I needed to hear early on, that you got it.

Joshua Swanson: More with Calvin in a moment, but first, are you a worship leader feeling like you’re on a deserted island navigating the challenges of ministry alone? Well, I’ve got some great news for you. The Worship Leader Institute is excited to introduce our new community groups for mentorship and training. In these online gatherings, you’ll join a group of your peers, all led by one of our experienced coaches.

Imagine a place where you can speak freely, a safe haven where you can process your experiences without the pressure of being evaluated. Our curriculum isn’t just about music. It’s about nurturing your spiritual and emotional wellbeing As a leader, with access to all the Worship Leader Institute classes, you’ll find resources tailored to today’s worship leaders.

So don’t wait any longer. Head over to worship leader institute.com to join a community group and start transforming the way you lead worship. Also, wanna give a shout out, of course to our sponsor and partner planning center if you’re a church leader organizing. Pretty much anything in the church, you should head to planningcenter.

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Okay, let’s get back to our conversation with Calvin Noel. Calvin has been immersed in Christian music for a considerable time, so we asked him, what’s been the key to maintaining your deep love and connection with God?

Calvin Nowell: I always say this, you never know God until nothing else works. So when nothing else works, sometimes you really get to know him.

And, and through many failures and many setbacks and many disappointments, um, God has been faithful to meet me in, in those rough, low places. And he’s been faithful to me, you know. And I’m on the other side of a lot of different things, but I can truly see how God works all things together for my good. My ups and downs, he works it out and that’s just a safe place for me, you know what I mean?

Cause we’re all going to face things in life, but it’s, it’s great when, you know, somebody’s looking out for you and rooting for your rise more than you are, you know what I mean? So I just seen his faithfulness, even in the disappointments. And so I need that. And I don’t ever want to leave his presence because that’s the only thing that got me through those hard times.

Joshua Swanson: What are your observations about what the Holy Spirit is doing globally right now?

Calvin Nowell: The Holy Spirit right now is, is, he’s teaching everything, you know, and what I mean, I know that sounds a little cliche because he’s our teacher, but I always say this, I learned this in therapy, you can’t connect the dots until you collect the dots.

So a lot of times we’re trying to connect dots and we don’t have all the dots you got. And there’s been seasons of my life where I had to go and get the dots. And when I’m in a season of collecting the dots, then I can connect them because it makes sense. Years ago, I would try to be like, wait, this and this, this doesn’t really make sense.

But the Holy Spirit now is helping me to collect dots. The Holy Spirit is saying things to me, you need to work on your mental health. The Holy Spirit will say things to me, you need to pray for your country. The Holy Spirit will say to me, you need to spend more time with your family or your friends or all the things that the Holy Spirit would teach me, it’s starting to make sense in my adult life where I’m like, Oh, so no wonder you work on things together for the good.

I can see your perspective, you know, and I think the Holy Spirit is great as a teacher and that’s what I look forward to because it’s all. What God is doing in the natural, it has, you know, uh, parallels to what God’s doing in the spirit. You know what I mean? And so, I’ve seen that, you know, all around the world.

Joshua Swanson: As you travel and minister in different churches across the U. S., what are some of the unique experiences or insights you’ve gathered?

Calvin Nowell: I’m excited that people want a new sound. I’m excited that people are embracing diversity. I’m really excited about that. I see people come together and they’re just like, We don’t really want it the same way that we had it, not to discredit it.

But we’re looking for something different, and I, I, I like that people are trying to explore what diversity looks like in their church with, as it relates to worship. I get excited when I see the church evolve, but I love it when we honor the past, but I love seeing when we evolve into something new. I’m always looking for what’s next.

You know, Jesus, he would do miracles, and he would never stay at One miracle and be like, man, can you believe what happened today? It was always, he was always where are we going next? Where, okay, this was great. Don’t tell nobody I did this, but this was great. You go on about your way. But it was always about where are we going next after this?

And so I love to look forward to something new like man, this was great. We had our movements. We had, you know, the Hillsongs, the Bethels, the Maverick Cities, but what’s next? And I, and I think that’s what God’s doing in the church.

Joshua Swanson: Diversity in the church has been a slow journey. Why do you think that is? And what are we still missing in our churches?

Calvin Nowell: I think we missed intentionality when it comes to diversity. We just weren’t intentional about it. I had a friend that taught me this. It’s so good. She just would say, you know, sometimes you have to look at your life. If God is made, if God is a God of all gods, of all people, of every nation and every tribe, And he has created everyone in his image.

You have to look at your personal life and say, Who’s missing? Who’s missing in my life? Do I have all of God surrounding me? Sometimes I just have all black people and it’s like, Well, no, you don’t have all of God around you. There’s white people, there’s Asian people, there’s all kinds of different people around the world.

And so, when I started to ask these questions of who missing, who’s missing, I would become very intentional of like, man, I don’t have that many Hispanic friends. And I would be more intentional as I come in around them or when I see them, I would try to, you know, say more things, talk to them more, become friends with them, learn their culture, you know, as I learn their culture, you know, I may learn a little bit of Spanish.

Maybe I might try to lead a song in Spanish, you know, just the course just to honor my new friends. And so that’s where I feel people have missed it. Just the intentionality. Like diversity to me is better. That’s why music is shifting. Cause it’s diverse right now. And people love a diverse sound. And I just think diversity is better.

And my prayer is that people will stay there. And continue to diversify themselves, you know what I mean, and look for how can I be intentional in my life and those around me.

Joshua Swanson: We asked Calvin if he could share about the church tradition that he grew up in.

Calvin Nowell: I grew up in an all predominantly black church, but you know, when I grew up in a predominantly black church, I was more reserved and I would be more, I was more judgmental.

And I used to say, I don’t take all of that. I used to judge it. I see people shouting and, oh, I don’t take all that. And then I moved to Nashville. And then I start going to all white churches. And I’ve been a part of all white churches for 20 years. And then I’m like, y’all need to wake up. Or, you know, this ain’t enough.

You need to do more. And it’s that balance, you know. And I think when we come together. You can see, you can have both in the room. You can have the person that’s expressive, but then you can also have the person that’s reflective and we need both. You know, it’s like eating a meal. You don’t want the same meal every day, but it’s always good when you can have options.

You know what I mean? And so I, I love diversity and I’m just super passionate about it.

Joshua Swanson: Post George Floyd, we asked Calvin, has he noticed any significant shifts or changes within the church?

Calvin Nowell: I’m seeing that we are. Making progress to more diversity for sure, um, it’s definitely something that we’re not, we cannot be comfortable with, you know, I, I do see that happening.

I do see a shift happening in, in our songs and, and, and things that are happening in the music around us in the music industry, but I, I’m, there’s a lot of work to be done, you know, on every front, you know, we all have more that we can be doing. And I think if we stay intentional, we’ll see it. Come to pass at least more than what we had before

Joshua Swanson: What’s something new or different in worship today that really excites you?

Calvin Nowell: You know, I love that churches are doing their own music I think it’s needed, you know, we all have, we, we have our influences and we try to be Hillsong.

We try to be Bethel. We try to be elevation, but now churches are like, what is God saying to our congregation? I like that. I like being a part of churches where they’re writing music for what we are going through as a congregation versus telling me what they’re doing over at Hillsong. Like that’s great that that’s happening over there, but maybe the spirit’s changing things over here.

And I love to hear the song that’s talking about that. You know, so I love that churches are trying to explore their own individual artistry. You got to be careful with that too, because you can get off focus if you’re trying to do too much. But I do think I appreciate the intentionality of people recognizing, hey, we all have a story.

We all have a song. I always tell people, you’re a songwriter if you got a story. And now everybody has a story, and if you have a story, then you have a song. And what’s God saying in your heart about these things that you’ve went through? And so I love when people are, you know, authentic in that, in that regard.

Joshua Swanson: Next we dove into navigating the sacred aspect of writing worship songs. and the secular reality of the music industry.

Calvin Nowell: I’ve learned that I had to, I’ve had to compartmentalize my life, you know, I have to compartmentalize business, I have to compartmentalize ministry, just because they overlap so easy for me.

Um, I was doing it all here and there, and it was just not really working for me. So when I started to compartmentalize, I have a job, I have a marketing agency I run, and then I travel and lead worship on the weekends. For me, it just helps me practically to know how to balance, you know, because I live in extremes.

So, and what I’m, what I’m craving is balance. And so I’ve had to compartmentalize my life, just practically. So that I could have the balance. And now that I have that, I’m really enjoying it. You know, I love being able to wear a different hat over the weekend. And then on Monday, go back to doing something totally different.

I like that. I don’t, I don’t think I would just want to do one thing only. I don’t think I just want to be in marketing only or just a worship leader only. I love the diversity, you know, so compartmentalizing was probably the key for me to be honest. It’s easy to keep worship a little more sacred for me because I know that what really works and what sells is people want God.

They really want God, like, and if you can capture the true expression of God, you’ll win. You know, I believe in creating an environment for maximum impact. You have to create an environment where Everybody wins one, the Holy Spirit wins. God wins. The people win. The pastor wins. The volunteer wins. You have to create an environment so that everybody wins.

If it’s just an environment for you to win, then we got a problem. If it’s just an environment for the pastor to win, we got a problem. But if this is an environment that we can glorify God and he wins. We all win because God cares about all of us. So God is looking out for all of us. And so if I can get in a place where that environment is About him, like I always say this, we are good at recognizing his presence, but we are horrible at recognizing his presence in each other.

So we don’t see the God in people. And so I always tell worship leaders, like, if you really want to be close to God, you will be close to people. You will have a heart for people. Solomon asked the Lord for wisdom to govern people. His dad was David. He was a songwriter. They know music. But that’s not what he was asking God for.

He was, how do I lead people? How do I lead people in life? And I believe God said that. He said, I like your speech. And he was rich because of that. So it’s easy for me to keep worship sacred when you keep the main thing the main thing. I think everything comes in just keeping the main thing. If you keep God the main thing, he will blow your mind.

He will give you the music. He will give you the songs. He will give you the provision. It’s a simple formula, but you have to crucify yourself and tell yourself, like, it ain’t about me. It ain’t about me. People are singing my praise. It ain’t about me. I gotta disappear. I gotta get out the way. I gotta get out the way.

I gotta get out the way. I gotta get out the way. Cause it wasn’t me in the first place. His gifts, the gifts I have are the ability of God. So it’s his ability. It’s not my, it’s not my ability. It’s his ability through me. And that’s how I, that’s how I look at it. You know, if I can, if I can get underneath God’s hood and find his heart, we all gonna win.

Joshua Swanson: With Easter on the horizon, how are you, Calvin, preparing, both spiritually and musically, for this significant time in the Christian calendar?

Calvin Nowell: Man, to be honest I love Easter and I love what it represents. I struggle the most trying to find the right songs for Easter. That’s just the honest truth. I struggle.

I mean, I know that, you know, he died and he rose. I, I, yes, I’m going to always sing those and I love those. Um, but I struggle with creating a new expression of that, you know what I mean? So as a worship leader, I’m always looking for, can we say the same thing in a new way? But then when I find somebody that does, you’re like, yes, you know, and I love those songs.

But I, I honestly, I struggle. What was the question again? What was the question again? Uh, Mr. Songs, Mr. Playlist. I, I, yeah, I struggle with it. I think every day is Easter. Yeah. Every day is Easter. He died and rose. You’re gonna need that revelation every single day. You’re gonna need that revelation in December.

Christmas ain’t good unless you realize that part of the birth, that he died and that he rose. And so I, I try to, I don’t focus as much on the date as I try to say. I need that power that he died and rose with all power. And I said, I need that every day of my life. And so that’s kind of what I focus on more.

So sometimes when it comes to worship songs and sets, I’m like, y’all, let’s just get God here. His presence is going to take, I don’t have to drum it up with a song. That’s like, you know what? I think God wants to hear this today that he died and he rose. He knows he just, he would rather hear me at my heart surrender.

You know, and so I like to sing those songs that like, maybe that’s what God’s asking for today. You know, let serving him is what I would, I would love to be at worship services where maybe we didn’t talk about the resurrection, but man, everybody in that room surrendered their hearts today from whatever they were dealing with.

I think then you’ll see the real resurrection power, especially when you go home. You know, that’s where it really counts.

Joshua Swanson: And last, but most importantly, have you picked out your Easter outfit yet?

Calvin Nowell: No, I don’t do. I never really celebrated it. We just don’t. We just never. I mean, my mom knew that now you growing up, you had to dress.

You got to dress up. You got it. You’re not going to church and your, your jeans or your tennis shoes. That was the day growing up that you would dress up. And so I guess the pageantry of that was fun, you know, growing up, but just no. Culturally, that’s, that was the day that you flaunt your stuff, but it was the day that, yeah, you, you gotta, you gotta bring it.

You gotta come in with your suits and, and, and it was accepted, you know what I mean, at the time. But, you know, like I’ve said earlier, sometimes as a kid, I didn’t want that. I, I wanted just simplicity. I would be shocked that I can go to white person’s church and they can just wear jeans and tennis shoes.

I was like, Oh man, that’s what I want. That’s what I’m talking about. You know what I mean? Diversity. No, I don’t dress up on Easter. It’s comfortable. It’s like I need to dress my heart up. That’s the only thing I need to dress up and get the heart right.

Joshua Swanson: Thank you, Calvin Noel, for spending time with us and sharing some of your amazing story.

Again, I want to give a quick shout out to Planning Center for partnering with us and for the Worship Leader Institute for providing great content to all of our worship leaders out there in the form of community groups. It would bless us a lot if you would check out both of our sponsors. If you haven’t done so already, it would also mean a lot to us if you would subscribe to our podcast and leave us a review.

Okay, until next time, I want to thank the team at Life Audio for their partnership. If you go to lifeaudio. com, you’ll find a collection of faith centered podcasts about health and wellness, parenting, current cultural events, Bible teachings, and more. So check them out at lifeaudio. com. Again, I’m Joshua Swanson.

Thanks for listening.