Rob Halligan is a worship leader and song writer and has several published albums. He is a leader in the Jesus Fellowship and lives in Coventry with his wife Jean, and two teenage children, David and Nikita.
JUST briefly, Rob, how did you become a Christian?
When I was 16, I was on the streets and on the run from the police – I was wanted for theft. I made my way up to Northampton from the South Coast where I lived with my mother. It was here I met some ‘Jesus people’ who were giving out food and drink on the streets. They offered to put me up and I went home to stay with them at ‘Sheepfold Grange’ – the community house where they lived in the heart of the Northamptonshire countryside. I saw, for the first time in my life, Jesus at work; these people were Jesus to me and, after staying for some time with them, I became a Christian.
How did you become a worship leader?
I stayed on at Sheepfold and, as a teenager, started playing and leading the worship when we got together to worship and pray. I could play the guitar and had been in a band at school but I really wasn’t much good. It was a time of Holy Spirit renewal in our church; worship and singing scenes were often unplanned. People used to sing out their thoughts spontaneously to God, and there was very little focus on professionalism. We often set Bible verses to music – a great way to learn them.
Rob, these days you lead worship both on stage at large events and in smaller worship and praise gatherings. How do you see your role as worship leader?
I recognise there are anointed worship leaders but, personally, I find being called a ‘worship leader’ is a misnomer. I have a prophetic ministry and a gift of exhortation and, for me, music is the vehicle I use to express something prophetic. For me, the whole idea of a worship leader is invented – a modern phenomenon when we have to have someone telling us what to sing. Worship leading shouldn’t just be singing or hyping people up – that can just blinker people from getting a glimpse of God.
A song I really like is Matt Maher’s ‘Christ is risen’ because it carries lots of depth and a prophetic call to the church in it.
Effective worship leading is about enabling people to connect with God. It’s sad if we limit that to singing alone; songs can sometimes be indulgent musically and light in terms of depth.
There’s so much worship music nowadays online. What do you think about this?
It’s very important to be part of ‘the Body of Christ’, a functioning church community – that carries a particular anointing. Worship on our own is important too but we have to be careful we are connecting in our spirits to God – not just liking the music and passively singing along.
For some people, listening to worship can be really important, a life-line. The important thing is we are connecting with God and allowing God to speak to us.
God wants to have a relationship with us individually and corporately. Watching YouTube, earphones plugged in, watching church events can be good, but we must remember God wants to have a personal connection with us. Led-worship can have too much ‘voice’ – it can be soulish rather than bringing about lasting and meaningful spiritual encounters.
What works in worship leading? What style works best?
I think it’s important to start with a real focus and often that means stopping. We need to ask: “Why are we here?” We don’t want the song itself to become the most important thing.
I think that, in corporate music, there is a certain simplicity in songs, a sing-ability which needs to be kept. Some of the new songs are difficult to sing; you can’t work with them. There is a misplaced anxiety about having to be too clever with music. I like songs that enable the church to worship. As we worship, God is speaking to the church and drawing us together.
Finally, Rob, have you anything you hope for in terms of worship and music?
I think we go through seasons of creativity in the church. There has been particular anointing for different worship styles and music and we have pushed the boat out and explored them. We need another wave of exploring genres, experimenting with new types and forms of worship – yes, music but also poetry and the visuals arts as well. There have been times when the church has been influenced by the world in its worship and times when it has been the other way round. My hope is that the church with its arts, creativity and music will influence not only the church but the outside world as well.
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