Jenn Johnson: Life audio. An example that my father in law used one time was a dove on your shoulder. If you actually had the Lord on your shoulder in your life, you would make every movement to keep the dove on your shoulder, you know? And so I think like in my life personally makes me emotional. Um, I want my life in every decision from a stage to when no one’s watching to reflect and magnify who I’m carrying.
Joshua Swanson: Jenn Johnson’s Goodness of God won Song of the Year at the 2023 Dove Awards and has become one of the most sung congregational worship songs in the last decade. We had a wonderful conversation with Jenn a little while back about the story behind that song, her thoughts on the local church, encouragement for the next generation, and a whole lot more.
Jenn Johnson: Here we go.
Joshua Swanson: The first question we asked was simply, What does worship mean to you?
Jenn Johnson: Worship is so multifaceted, um, and I think A vision that God showed me years ago that really changed my life was I had this picture of the Lord in heaven and he had this mirror he was holding and multiple things were happening as I had this kind of vision and we were just magnifying God, God, you’re wonderful, you’re holy, you’re magnificent.
You know, we were just worshiping the Lord and our praise from earth would come up to heaven and God would absorb. The praise, like, you know, when you give someone a hug and it’s just like, yes, like it was just this, this beautiful picture was happening. And in the same moment, what we were saying, your holy, wonderful, magnificent, he would then speak that and declare that over the nations.
Like, yes, I am. And then the third thing that was happening is as we were declaring who God is the, it would met, it would, um, ricochet off. Back to us, and he would say, and so are you as we worship because we become like who we worship, you know, or what we worship. And so it was this multifaceted picture of just, I think some of the things that happen when we worship, but I think that worship that is connected to music is one thing.
Right. And I love all of that, obviously kind of given my life to it in a big way. So there’s that side of what, when we hear the word worship, oftentimes we think of and. Then to me, I think the, the part of, of worship that really is the bigger picture is your life and, and the lifestyle of worship. And it’s not just something that we do.
That’s part of it. It’s who we, who we are. It’s the moments that are in the secret when no one’s watching and you’re by yourself that are worship. It’s me loving my children and changing dirty diapers. That’s worship. And so. Let my life be worship. And that’s really the prayer is that my life and everything that I do, that it reflects and magnifies Jesus.
And an example that my father in law used one time was a dove on your shoulder. If you actually had the Lord on your shoulder in your life, you would make every movement. To keep the dove on your shoulder, you know, and so I think like in my life personally makes me emotional Um, I want my life in every decision from a stage to when no one’s watching to reflect and magnify Who I’m carrying and that I would represent I would represent Jesus in my life and so worship is It’s a lifestyle and it’s also something that is multifaceted, uh, in what it is on, on a musical side and on a praise side.
Joshua Swanson: Then we talked about the balance needed for those carrying the mantle of sung worship on behalf of the Lord. The question was, how do we know when we’re worshiping worship instead of worshiping God?
Jenn Johnson: 100%. Um, this is a topic that’s really close to my heart. Um, we just did a worship school a few weeks ago.
We’ve done the same worship school for like 23 years in the summertime. And I was asking the Lord, what should I teach on this year? And the title of my class for worship school was Lucifer. And so they, you know, oftentimes ask you for a visual for what picture you’d like to put up on the board behind you.
I was like, well, do you have a picture of Satan? Because, um, you know, obviously. The temptation, especially when it comes to worship, is to actually keep the glory that you are meant to reflect and give back. And I think that Revelation gives us a beautiful example of the elders continually casting their crowns.
Well, why were they continually casting their crowns? Because glory was continually placed on their heads. And I think that the revelation in that for me is that especially as a worship leader, I am on a stage and it is so easy to in those moments of when you’re doing great or when you are, you know, feeling the presence of God in the room to absorb kind of like Gollum and Lord of the Rings when the ring, my precious, you know, to absorb or think that it’s all you.
Um, my husband has an amazing example. He uses, uh, we’re an elephant and a mouse. on his back across the bridge, an old rickety bridge, and they got to the other side and the mouse on the elephant’s back said, we sure shook that bridge, didn’t we? And I think that’s the joke is that, you know, we are the children of God and he loves us so much.
Um, but it ain’t about us and it isn’t, you know, anything to do with us in a big way. Um, I have kids myself and they do wonderful things and. You know, I’m proud of them and I think God as a father, like he’s very proud of us. And he’s just a total dad, but when it comes to glory, we have to be so careful to have not to not absorb glory and fame.
And it’s hard. It’s hard to do. But I think, um, a trick to, to stay away from it and really to continue to cast our crowns is just, uh, this story that, that, that God took me through. I had led worship this one time and it had gone terribly bad. I mean, just like, you know, you just walk off the stage and you’re like, well, that was terrible.
You know, the tendency to have. Perfectionism be a part of what we do. It, it, it can get, so Narciss, narciss, what’s the word? Narcissistic. Yeah. Okay. Words are hard, but it can get so self-absorbed really, truly, um, with the glory of, of all of it. And, um, anyway, I just had this really rough set and I walked off the stage and I, I just felt the Holy Spirit.
Come here. We need to talk. So I kind of went back where no one was and, um, I sat on this bucket behind stage and I just cried. I just cried. I cried cause I was embarrassed. I cried because, you know, and the Lord showed me this picture and at the time I had three children and he showed me this picture of all of my kids at varying ages and artistic abilities painting a picture for me that I hung on my fridge.
And, um, obviously one was like just sloppy and a five year old had done it and one was, you know, a little more articulate and the other one was just, you know, pretty good, you know, for a 10 year old. And the Lord showed me this picture of all of the, the three art pieces on the refrigerator. And he wasn’t dissecting the performance of the art.
And he just spoke to me so clear. And he said, Remember who this is about. Just so simple. Remember who this is about. And this perfectionism of, of how it had gone didn’t matter. Because it was about who it was about. And he said one thing to me, he said, Did you do your best? I said, yes, Lord, I did my best.
That was it. Did you do your best? Remember who this is all about. Remember who this is for. And so I think those two things help anchor you in not becoming self absorbed. And I think that it gets really wild for worship leaders, um, or humanity when notoriety comes in. When numbers and sales and when you put the business industry, um, into something that’s so precious, it just becomes a really tough thing to navigate.
But I do think like coming back to the word of God, staying anchored in the word of God, um, and not taking yourself too seriously and remembering that you’re the mouse. On the elephant’s back at the end of the day and our dependency on the Lord and the presence of God being the main focus, not our great songs or our moments, but just literally that like the dove on the shoulder that we are just dependent on the direction of and the strength that is coming from the Lord himself.
Joshua Swanson: We’ll be right back with more from Jenn Johnson.
But first we’re thrilled to give a shout out to our friends at Planning Center for teaming up with us in today’s episode. If you’re a musician lending your talents to the church, we’ve got something awesome to share with you. It’s called Music Stand. So imagine a tool that lets you dive into your digital sheet music seamlessly, sharing notes and direction with your fellow musicians.
Well, that’s exactly what Music Stand is all about. It’s a helpful tool that lets you personalize your own songbook and easily share it with your musical team. You can also make notes on the fly, you can highlight, draw, uh, type in some text and even import notes from others. So it’s like having a virtual notebook for your sheet music.
During performances, Music Stand allows you to turn pages with a foot pedal. So if you’re curious to learn more and you’re interested in making your rehearsal go a whole lot smoother, head over to planningcenter. com for the full scoop.
Back to our conversation with Jenn. Given Jenn’s position as a church leader, among many other things, we asked her to share insights on the essential role of the church in our modern society and how that role shapes an individual’s choice of a home church.
Jenn Johnson: I, I grew up in a local church in a really small town and I didn’t realize it until I was much older.
The gift that it really was. And, um, we didn’t have stream services and we didn’t have polished bands and, um, we were homegrown and we were a community that. And that we’re looking to see how we could bring the lost into, you know, knowing Jesus and how we could take care of the people that were a part of our community.
And I think that the church is a hot topic because a lot of times you hear church hurt, which. There is some legitimacy there a hundred percent, but the church gets a pretty wild rap and you know, people are like, well, I don’t because X, Y, Z, um, or I’m, I’m church hopping or I haven’t found a home yet. And, uh, although I, I understand the why I think that for me, if people really knew the beauty of.
The idea of the church, God’s idea of the church, it would take on a whole different light and, you know, coming to a corporate gathering on a Sunday or a weekly, um, gathering that is the corporate global church, you know, it is beautiful what we receive. And that’s undeniable. We, we worship together.
There’s power in corporate worship that is different than if you’re by yourself or two or more gathered and that applies to worship. And so there is power in the encounter of God in corporate worship that, that is unlike anything. And I’ve experienced it firsthand in my whole life is one of the reasons I’m alive.
And then all the, you know, the message, like wherever you’re, you’re at, like that person is hearing from the Lord to the best of their ability, what they feel like is best for that congregation. And so I think it’s really simple when it comes to where should I go to church? And it’s not going to be because the church you want to go to is going to tick all the boxes and make you happy.
And it’s going to be this beautiful buffet of, of self absorption of like, yes, I love it because the kids ministry is amazing and the worship is perfect. And every message that’s, you know, like. Fat chance, you know, you’re not going to find it. Um, the perfect church doesn’t exist because you’re there. So welcome to humanity.
But it’s very simple because just ask the Lord where you’re supposed to go. Ask the Lord What church am I supposed to serve and attend? And the key phrase in serve and attend is serve. So, you know, I think that growing up In this community of believers that was Sunday and Wednesday and home group and Bible study and service to the community and baby showers and being there for people really showing up and being there for a body of believers in a community that’s Jesus’s idea.
And that’s, I think why he modeled disciples at a small group. And he, he also modeled the multitudes and the beauty of the church really is multifaceted. But I think that the verse in the Bible that sums it up better than any others is those who are planted in the house of the Lord flourish. And I think that scripture is profound because being in ministry for, you and being a Christian for 40, I think that Looking over my friend’s lives, if I’m really vulnerable and, and seeing who really is thriving, um, especially worship leaders are people who have stayed planted and they stayed under leadership.
They stayed under accountability. They haven’t gone rogue. You know, the enemy wants nothing more than a sheep to leave the fold. And obviously that is very clear in the word of God, because when a sheep leaves the fold, you are alienated away from the protection of the crowd of the community. And there’s many beautiful examples in scripture of this.
Um, you’re easy to get picked off. It doesn’t mean that reckless love 99, he’s going to go after you, um, to bring you back in, but it really just puts you in a vulnerable place that you don’t need to be in that God never intended you to be in. And so community. And accountability leadership is so important.
And I think that even these past five years watching, um, kind of trends and things happen, I think the enemy’s on a pretty hot tailed assignment to, um, dethrone the need for authority by personally taking down, um, whether character or whatever he can use, um, in politics or the church. This, um, you are no one.
No one should have any form of leadership in my life, and um, that’s never how God set up. But the kingdom, and it’s definitely not how we modeled discipleship. And it’s not, it’s definitely not, it didn’t mean that the people who were discipling the apostles weren’t flawed. They were, they were human. But I think that the Lord is bringing us back to a love of authority and the enemy is trying to take us away and alienate us so that things get weird real fast.
And the church is a beautiful idea of that. But again, it comes back to those who are planted flourish and looking over my friends in life who have done okay, great, or flourishing. The people who have stayed connected and planted. It’s really head and shoulders above the rest, how they’re flourishing.
Joshua Swanson: Next, we asked, as a church leader, label executive, and artist, who holds you accountable?
Jenn Johnson: Great. Accountability, if I had, um, five words that described things that I was passionate about, accountability is going to be my top five. Organization, the presence of God, food, family, maybe. Um, there’s probably a few more I’m missing, friends, but.
To me, it’s vital and what means more to me than encouragement of any kind is actually correction. The Bible says love correction. That’s a tough pill to swallow. But I think in my life, I’ve grown up in such a healthy, um, surrounding of loving, encouraging, and correcting that I know the fruit of it in my life.
Um, my mother in law, um, Benny just passed away and the list of things that I learned from her is so long. But one of the things I appreciate the most is she loved me enough to actually call me on some really stupid stuff in my life. And it changed the course of my life because she loved me enough to actually speak into it.
Now I think that there are keys. It’s to opening your life up to healthy accountability. And for me, that, that looks like I have submitted my life to multiple people in the body of Christ in our own church, you know, our lead pastor bill, um, we have a senior leadership team and. They all know here’s my life, the encouragement’s great, but if you see something that is making you nervous about my life, if I do something or say something or how I correct my children, anything, please come talk to me because we all have blind spots and if we really wanted to grow, we would open our lives to trusted people.
You know, you obviously not gonna, you know, set yourself up like that with someone’s critical or done, you know, but people who genuinely love you. Um, leaders in your life, whether they’re in your church or in your team or around the world, not people that are going to, you know, kiss your butt, if I’m honest, but people who are really going to call you on your stuff and help you grow and, um, not get really weird.
And so I have, uh, Christine Kane, Shelly Gigliu, I have a lot of, uh, especially women leaders in my life. Um, Darlene Cech, uh, Cece, I mean, the list is very long again, because I value it so much. I have intimate relationship. with leaders all over the world, including our own house that, that know how much I want their feedback in my life.
I’m meeting with them regularly. They know what’s going on. The, the, the big moments and the, the tough stuff. And, um, that has really helped me because their correction, um, bill, my, my husband, my father in law included their correction has really just kept me from being weirder than I am. I think in a big way.
Joshua Swanson: Given Jenn’s history of writing songs for the Global Church, we asked her what she’s writing about right now, and then we asked more about the story behind Goodness of God.
Jenn Johnson: I think that in 2020 till now, you know, it’s, it’s been the wild, wild west in many ways, um, for humanity and um, just really leaning into the Lord going, what are you saying?
You know, I mean, I think that’s, That’s my songwriting journey with the Lord is, okay, what are you doing? What are you saying? And, you know, years and years ago when it was a season where there were natural disasters left and right It was just crazy floods and tornadoes and I don’t remember what year it was but I remember I got on my face in my room with a notepad and I just said what do you want to say and The Lord just downloaded this song to me, um, and I just started writing out what I felt like he was saying.
And it was, I’m the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Like, I haven’t changed. I’m with you. I’m for you. And the song was come to me that, that I wrote out. And, and so a lot of times my songwriting is, is that’s how I get songs is I’m just asking the Lord, what are you saying? And then I’m doing my best to just write down, um, what he’s saying.
Brian, my husband is very different because his songwriting is on this. Eternal heaven level is all I can describe it on and he’s singing about these eternal themes of glory and, um, heaven itself. And it’s. stunning. It’s really, really stunning to watch kind of the gift of a songwriter. It’s not that we don’t write other songs yet also has a really amazing country love song that isn’t out yet, you know, but for me, it’s just stewarding what the Lord is saying to the best of my ability.
You know, a long time ago, years ago, I wrote a song called, you’re going to be okay. And it was actually during the middle of my husband’s nervous breakdown. And I actually got the original idea of the song. Um, I sang it into my phone over a friend of mine. I just sang this like, Little line in my phone that melody and lyric just dropped in that you’re gonna be okay Ended up finishing the song in that season where you’re going to be okay became an anthem for my family, for our marriage, for our kids, for my husband’s mind, for anxiety, and it became this real prophetic anchoring song for us as a family.
And so really, my songwriting is very passionate to write songs for the church. You know, the goodness of God is. a pretty wild story of what God’s done with that song. I wrote probably 80 percent of that song in my car. I just grabbed my phone and it was after we got home from adopting our little boy.
And we have two adopted boys. And. I just was so overcome with the goodness of God in my life. And that’s my song, you know, because God has just walked me through hell and high water and his voice and the power of his word have gotten me through everything. And it’s my anchor and he is my anchor, the presence of God.
And just, you know, no matter what has come or gone, I mean, no one’s life is easy, but that song was just something that I was singing. Cause it was me. And then our friends helped, you know, Ed Cash and Vin Fielding and Jason Ingram, I think, helped me just. You know, knock it out of the park and finish it, but that song didn’t come by asking the Lord what He was saying.
It was just my genuine thankfulness to God of who He is and, and who He is to me personally. I think for me, the songs come in different forms or ways, and I just do my best to steward what I feel like God’s saying.
Joshua Swanson: Jenn then wanted to speak some encouragement to the local church leaders who were listening.
Jenn Johnson: You know, The local church means more to me than most things, because I, I believe in it, and I’ve lived in the power of it on all sides, um, from accountability to community to corporate worship to everything in between, and, you know, the past two years, I think that the simplification has been something that’s undeniable, and I think it’s been in our families, it’s been in our marriages, It’s been in our parenting, it’s been in the local church, it’s been in the business side.
It’s been in how we organize our home. You know, I, I signed my book deal right before the pandemic hit, having no idea how I was going to write a book, but God just greenlighted, you know, I could do my coffee table book. And um, my entire book is just kind of about like organizing and keeping tabs on emotionally, simplifying your life with God and in your home and with your relationships.
And so this word simplify. I feel like is such a big thing, especially in the church, because I think it peeled back the lights and smoke. It peeled back the unnecessary. It made us all sit down and think about what we were really doing and why we’re really doing it and what was working and what needed to change.
And so I think that the invitation of the Lord for the church for us. That I don’t want to now that we’re post pandemic in a big way to miss on what God was doing in that and the point of it all is to really go before the Lord and be like, God, what we’ve been doing is that what we’re still supposed to be doing, you know, church growth is not the point of church.
That’s a tough pill to swallow. Obeying the Lord and what you’re teaching and what worship is supposed to look like and how you love your people. That. That’s the point of the church. And I, I think something striking to me is last year we went to this little church in um, Palm Springs and we did, we were just using the venue, but I was backstage and in one of their rooms they just had this whiteboard and it was the most stunning thing actually made me cry because it was their plan to take care of the orphans and widows and the marriages and the youth and the elderly and the lost.
And it was just their plan. It was a simple. On a whiteboard. I wish I would’ve taken a picture of it. It was, it wasn’t lights and smoke. It wasn’t hype and fame. It wasn’t glory and numbers and social media accounts. It was loving people and Jesus loves people and washed feet. And that’s who he was. And that’s what we’re called to do.
And so I love all of it. Stadiums, lights. I love, I love it all, but we just can’t remember, we can’t forget what it’s all about and who it’s all about. Christians are just humans and we all fall short. Every single one of us, that’s what the Bible says, we all fall short. And so, I think that anyone looking for a superhero should watch a superhero movie and realize it’s fake.
And I think that even in leadership, like, leadership gets this intense, magnified, um, position of, of perfection. And I think we need to create a safe place for leaders to actually be able to be vulnerable about what they’re struggling with. And to take people off this pedestal, and anyone who’s been in leadership knows it.
And so, I think that it’s just a major rethink in a big way.
Joshua Swanson: Finally, we close with some advice from Jenn for the next generation.
Jenn Johnson: David in the Bible is an incredible analogy. Because, you know, he was serving his father’s assignment, shepherding. Unglamorous, by himself, with a sheep. Writing songs and killing lions and bears and in a big way, minding his own business.
You know, he wasn’t in line to be King. He wasn’t in line for promotion. He was just doing what he was supposed to be doing at the time. And I think that the message and the takeaway for David and us right now is that you don’t have to try to put yourself on social media or prove yourself or sing loud enough to someone who could put you on something.
Like you don’t have to try to get where God’s called you to be. When it’s time, God will get you there. And I think that the story where David’s brothers are all lined up and it’s not you and it’s not you and it sure ain’t you. And you know, is there another, the kindness of God is that if you’re supposed to be somewhere, stay faithful to what you’re supposed to be doing and God himself.
We’ll find you where you’re at and place you where you need to be. And so it really takes the pressure off of people to strive because you don’t have to strive. What you have to do is stay faithful and stay obedient and let God move you where you need to be. And if you aren’t there, you probably aren’t supposed to be there.
So let God do it because when God promotes, he sustains. When man promotes, it gets wild fast. And the curtain or the rug can be pulled out of you as fast as it was placed underneath you. And you don’t want that. You don’t want that. Anything, if the presence of God isn’t behind you, like I said, I only want to go if you go.
And so that position and posture of servanthood and following the Lord, um, that’ll get you places.
Joshua Swanson: Thank you, Jenn, for spending some time with us and sharing your heart. You can see her receive that Dove Award for goodness of God in the show notes of this episode. If you haven’t done so already, it would really mean a lot to us if you would subscribe to our podcast and leave us a review.
All right, 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 all kinds of great stuff, health and wellness, parenting, current cultural events, Bible teachings, and more. So check them out at lifeaudio.
com. I’m Joshua Swanson. Thanks for listening.
Jenn Johnson: Life Audio