Graham Kendrick has been writing songs for over 40 years. These have been sung all over the world and include, Shine, Jesus, shine, All I once held dear, built my life upon and The Servant King. The impact of his music, combining worship, deep biblical truth and a modern style, has been immense. He has been described as a ‘father of modern worship music’. Graham was one of the founders and the key songwriter for the global March for Jesus events of the 80s. Today he still performs and writes songs and acts as an advocate for the charity ‘Compassion International’.
What is happening in the Christian music world today? Do you detect any new trends?
It’s certainly diverse. There’s the main stream of popular songs which is band-driven and characterised by emotional intensity. There are also groups which are more into a contemplative approach or exploring the treasures of Celtic and other traditions. Others are rediscovering liturgy, exploring it and being creative with it. There are lots of different things going on; it’s a time of creativity.
One of the things I’m trying to encourage in terms of musical expression is this: let’s think why we do what we do in our local setting, seek to find a biblical basis so we can assess the value of it and ask, “is what we do Biblically authentic?” In any worshipping community, things change and people grow. One minute we need to be immersed in our scene, the next minute we need to stand back and ask the question: “is this really serving the purpose of the kingdom of God in our context?”
Do you think that depth in worship is growing in the places you visit? Are worshippers finding a deep encounter with God? Or are people being simply led from the front?
There is no one answer to that question - so many things are happening simultaneously. I like to think that my role as a worship leader is to help people give their worship. We are so influenced by the culture around us that the entertainment model, the role of a performer, is very powerful in our minds. Yes, there is a time for performing but when the church, the Body of Christ, gathers, the priority of a worship leader is to help this group of people bring their worship.
So, how can worship leaders lead others to express their worship?
As worship leaders, we have to ask: what is the worship culture, the ‘heart’ worship and the core worship forms of this particular group of worshippers? We have to ask: are these songs suitable for this group of people to express their worship? It’s not enough for the worship leader to reel off the current hits.
A while ago I heard this said to people who write songs: “Are we writing songs for worship events or for a worshipping community?” Every church has a core community where things are always happening: ups, downs, fall outs and reconciliations, births, deaths, baptisms, people coming, people going
- ‘the stuff of life’. We really need to have a repertoire of songs that enable the worshipping community to express their unique journey. We need a wider ranging repertoire so we can serve all the community through every occasion and throughout the year.
Have you observed a cultural cross-over in terms of music? Black African and European for instance?
If you are a predominately black African church and very culturally rooted in your original culture, you probably won’t connect so well with traditional white church worship songs. Some music can be stylistically adapted. The marks of a good song are that it can be given different clothes to wear! It’s great when there is a cross-over but you can’t force it. In terms of song writing, the organic approach is a good one – how can we identify and give expression to what is growing in our particular corner of the garden?
You travel around a lot to different churches. What do you sense God is currently doing in the UK?
The reality is, when you travel, you only get a snapshot of where you happen to be. You don’t know what happens when you are not there or what is happening just down the road! It’s impossible to get a comprehensive picture. The general impression I get is that there is a passion for prayer, a growing sense of the importance of prayer both gathered and scattered and the desire to develop prayer as a way of life. Prayer and worship are two parts of the same thing and worship/prayer is a lifestyle, not just a Sunday thing.
I see a lot of community engagement, serving all kinds of needs, which is a very good thing of course. There is still a need for exploration as to how we reimagine church in a culture that has changed so rapidly; many of the old patterns just don’t work anymore. The next generation will have to answer these questions - you connect best with your own generation; we had a different worship style in our generation; each generation must do their own reworking.
What key changes have you observed within the Charismatic Movement during the last 40 years? What is your vision for the future?
I prefer to use the term Spiritual Renewal Movements because ‘charismatic’ means very different things in different parts of the world. I’ve seen new churches, house churches, birthed in the 70s; this gathered pace and became movements in the 80s and 90s. This enabled the mobilisation of large numbers of people such as ‘March for Jesus’ which called churches to get on the streets with prayer and worship and reach out to the community. These days we are interconnected so much better with modern devices - we don’t have to be at the same place at the same time to be connected and part of something. There are huge cultural changes.
Maybe the current generation is less inclined to be centrally organised and individuality and self-determination are very strong. There’s a lot more cynicism about institutions; people don’t want to be committed and told what to do. The new generation has to discover ways to connect and mobilise the church; individualism has to be broken down because, after all, we are baptised into one Body, we’re part of one new culture. We have to discover again the biblical gift of the Body of Christ, the church, called to be built together as a dwelling place for God. There is incredible power in the Body of Christ.
Recently, we have also seen the rise of the Gather movement: the networking of different churches and organisations where we become friends. The emphasis is on doing together. This can’t be done just through electronic devices. We need often to be physically in the same room, occasionally sharing meals around the table like Jesus did and like any healthy family – not in separate rooms, communicating by virtual means.
You have been a leader in organising March for Jesus and witnessing about Jesus in the streets to the nations. Times have changed: in this era of political correctness, how can we be effective witnesses?
We need to earn the right to be heard; there are so many voices out there. We can take a lesson from the early church: within 300 years of its birth, it had won over the Roman Empire. How? At the risk of oversimplifying, by being communities who demonstrated by their actions a different set of values to the surrounding culture – including, suffering alongside people, serving, loving, sharing the Gospel and telling their own stories – and so winning over the hearts of the people. People today are longing for belonging and some sort of meaning; people are feeling very isolated, society and often families are fragmented.
The church must be a welcoming community and people will come. It does happen! People sense a different atmosphere in church; those who are seeking will be drawn in, not necessarily to a way of worshipping or a style of music but to a welcoming loving people who have stories to tell of what Jesus has done in their lives.
This post is part of a series on worship leading. See all our posts on worship