Most of us are familiar with the dazzling, sometimes spectacular, stylings of the Australian band, Newsboys. When Phil Joel moved away from his role in Newsboys (bass and vocals) a few years ago, he was intentional to focus his new musical efforts towards corporate worship. Joined by a group of likeminded worship leaders, his new band Zealand Worship has an excellent new release out this week, so we asked Phil to share a little about his journey towards leading worship.
WL: Can you share a little of your journey from Newsboys to Zealand Worship?
PJ: Ok, well, I know everyone’s attention spans are short these days so I’ll try to be brief, informative, and slightly spicy to keep everyone interested. This might be a tough interview to keep short but let’s give it a crack.
The very basic answer is this, God got such a hold of my heart that it changed the way I see everything and how I measure everything. Over the years, I’ve begun to switch from being career minded to Kingdom-minded and hungry for more “hands on” ministry. I’m super thankful for the 13 years I spent in Newsboys, but when you know the Lord’s leading you into something new you just have to go with it and step out. So that’s what we did.
Not long after I moved on from Newsboys, I got invited to be a part the Teen Mania “Acquire the Fire” conferences. Michael Gungor was on the tour leading worship, and it turned out that he was double booked for the last weekend of the tour. The tour manager came to me and said “Hey Phil, you’re gonna need to lead worship in San Diego.” I remember saying to him “You don’t understand, I’ve never led worship before.” He responded “Well, you probably need to figure it out pretty quick then.”
So I did it that weekend and that was the turning point—something clicked, and I realized this was the perfect fit for me ’cause I’ve never been particularly comfortable with the whole solo artist thing. The amazing thing about a worship setting is the attention’s not on me; it’s on God where it belongs.
Anyway, they asked me to lead worship for the next two tours, and basically that’s when this journey began and how Zealand Worship started, but, there’s a seven-year story in between that first weekend and our first release, which I guess will need to wait for another interview. Like I said it’s gonna be hard to keep this thing short.
WL: What is the difference between the experience/music you were part of with Newsboys and with what you are hoping to accomplish with Zealand?
PJ: Hmmm … that’s kinda hard to answer without comparing the two ministries, and I don’t want to do that. The call on Zealand is unique, just like the call on Newsboys is unique. Getting to be a part of Newsboys for 13 years was such a gift—an amazing, wild ride.
A couple of years back during the formative stages of Zealand, I felt the Lord say that He wants to decide what “success” looks like for this, and we just have to decide to stay faithful. Practically this means that we’re not going to quantify our success or accomplishments by sales or numbers or how many social media fans we may or may not collect. To be honest we’re not exactly sure what success will look like, but that’s not something we need to worry about, we just need to stay close to the Lord. However, we are sure that we won’t have anything as cool as a spinning drum riser on stage. (Our drummer’s afraid of heights plus we can’t afford one.)
WLM: Based on the name Zealand Worship, it seems you hope to instill passion in the hearts of believers. What is the end result of people who are passionate in faith?
PJ: The name is indicative of who we are: we are zealous for the Lord and for the things He has for us as individuals and as a band. We call it being “zealous for the land,” and that’s what we want to see happen for anyone who listens to our music or sings it in church or who comes out to a concert to join us in our zeal. The end result, we hope, is that we’d all leave having had an encounter with God that leaves us invigorated and inspired and for the worship to continue through our choices and our openness to God far beyond a song or a concert moment.
WLM: What are some practical ways a worship leader can bring zeal and passion for the Lord to their congregations?
PJ: I’m not much into giving tips and techniques kinda stuff … all I can tell you is what personally works for me. The only way I can bring zeal and passion to a congregation is if I’m truly zealous and passionate about the Lord myself, and the only way that’s gonna happen is if I’m diligent in maintaining my daily alone time with Him—working on and growing the one relationship in my life that sets the tone for every other relationship. This means the first meeting of my day is with God, and from there my job is to protect and enjoy my connection with Him, keep my ears tuned to the sound of His voice.
I just try to keep things simple. I’ve gotta be careful not to be distracted by every voice or vision that’s vying for my attention. Man, there’s a lot of noisy blah, blah out there … it’s madness.
So practically speaking, for me, this means steering clear of social media. I find it puts my head in a weird space and it wastes the time. I’m a rather simple unit, my wife and family like me this way, and I find it keeps me zealous and hungry for the Lord’s words when I’m not filling up on everyone else’s words. Make sense?
WLM: What’s the most important lesson you have learned so far in your transition to being a worship leader?
PJ: It’s the same lesson I keep learning for every role I have in life, whether it’s being a husband, a dad or a worship leader, I have one job and one job only: to stay close to Jesus, to be faithful to love Him and those He puts in my path. Basically, I need to keep it simple and authentic, otherwise I’m toast.