Brian Johnson sat down with long-time worship leader and songwriter, Paul Baloche. Paul has been a worship leader for over twenty years and has written a number of familiar and award-winning worship songs, including “Open The Eyes Of My Heart,” “Above All,” “Hosanna” and “Your Name.”
Paul’s heart is to help worship leaders and worship teams grow into their full potential, and has used his unique background to develop a powerful dvd teaching curriculum, “The Worship Series.”
Join the conversation as Paul talks about his early experiences with worship, songwriting, and more.
[Brian:] Can you start by telling us an experience you’ve had relating to worship that changed your life forever? Just a simple question to start with (laughs).
In thirty words or less right?
I was raised as a Catholic kid and grew up in a church that had knowledge of God but the songs that were sung weren’t really wonderful. No offense meant, but I just never saw people sing with any passion as if they were singing to a living person. When I was born again around eighteen years old, I had been playing in rock bands and someone brought me to an AG (Assemblies of God) church. People’s eyes were closed, their hands were in the air and they were singing these songs: “In Him, we live, and move, and have…” and I was thinking, “Man, who are these people singing to? They really mean this stuff!” It was really powerful to be involved for the first time in corporate worship with people who were sincerely reaching out to God, singing their prayers with all of their heart, mind, soul, and strength. I was hooked!
I had been playing in clubs for a couple of years and thought that was really cool, but this worship experience was cool times ten thousand. I was thinking, “Big deal, you’re playing a couple of old rock tunes and it’s fun and people are dancing a little bit.” But to see people really pressing into God and connecting with God was quite amazing.
Of course, like you, I have had hundreds of those experiences over the years. I want to touch on this for a second. As a worship leader now, sometimes I am not on the other side enough; I am always in the leading role. Occasionally, I like to just show up for a worship service and sit in the middle of the crowd and it’s so good for my soul to just be led in worship. It always reconfirms the power and the potential of when we lead others in worship. As worship leaders, we can sometimes wonder, “Is this really doing anything or are we just singing songs?” But when I am being led in worship as part of a congregation, it always brings me to a place of encounter with the Lord and reconfirms that worship really does help me and others connect with God.
[Brian:] Wow, awesome. What are some things that you feel are important for every worship leader to know and live by?
I would say it’s all about being a disciple and trying to keep your life real with God on a five minutes by five minutes basis. Every five minutes, just check in and ask yourself “where is your heart, is everything cool?” and turn your heart towards Him a thousand times a day. No matter how much you’ve got your guitar stuff down or have an amazing voice, if you’re not sincerely trying to walk with God everyday… I am not saying you have to be super spiritual or religious (I definitely believe in having fun and living your life), but just go after God and include Jesus in everything that you do. Just make it your goal to walk with God 24/7 no matter what you’re doing.
[Brian:] Where do you feel like worship in the church is heading? Do you see changes coming? I know that’s a tough question so feel free to just make something up if you don’t have an answer (laughs).
That’s a great question. On this subject and the subject of change, I really believe in not being a critical voice of the church. Avoid being a cynical critic of the church and where it’s going and prayerfully ask, “How can I be a change agent?” If I see problems – in the right attitude and spirit – how can I bring about some change with a spirit of humility? Anytime I want to see change happen, I want it to be for the purpose of edifying the local church that I serve at and lifting up the bride of Christ. You’re always going to see weird things in the church at large and it’s easy to just play the cynical card and check out. But that is too easy and it is a cop-out. Have a heart for the church because the church is just people.
Where do I see it going?
A lot of times we think in terms of style. I think we will continue to see styles change and whatever the pop style of the day is, we’re probably going to see worship styles reflected generationally and I get that. At the end of the day though, worship leading is just helping others worship, helping others sing their prayers to God. Period. Don’t over complicate it, don’t try to be the coolest, hippest, latest, cutting-edge; forget all of those words and just sing an honest prayer to the Lord and invite others to sing it with you.
[Brian:] You have been a great example of what it looks like to serve at a local church for many years. Maybe talk about why that is important.
For me, serving at a local church has been a healthy thing for my soul and for my family. I would encourage all worship leaders, even if they do itinerant ministry, to be connected and anchored in a local body. There is accountability there and there is room to fail. I am so thankful that I was in a place where I didn’t have to be perfect. I had so many times where I would go for something in the Spirit or prophetically, and sometimes it would be powerful and other times – Monday morning, my Pastor would tap me on the shoulder and say, “umm, I know what you were going for but that was a little weird, wasn’t it?” (laughs). All of that to say, it’s good to be in a place where they know your heart and you have room to fail. The healthiest paradigm I have seen is to be rooted and connected in a local church and then look for opportunities from that. It’s okay to do other stuff and travel but you don’t want to be the Lone Ranger out there on your own. You need to be anchored to a local church family.
[Brian:] Last question here, Paul. Obviously you are a great songwriter and have written songs for the church for years. Could you tell us a song story or share some of your songwriting process?
I would say about ninety percent of my songs come from times of worship. We always record our worship sets because almost every time I lead worship, either in the opening prayer or between one of the songs, a prayer will come out of my mouth or I will hear someone pray something or a word picture comes to mind and it will be an inspired moment that I can come back to later and write from. To me, songs that start in worship from inspired moments are the best songs. I always make sure that I carve out time in my week to go back to those moments and work on making those ideas become a song.
A song I wrote a while ago with Lincoln Brewster called “Today Is The Day” came out of a moment like that. On a Sunday morning at the start of the service I said to the congregation, “Hey guys, before we get started in worship, let’s all stand and take a moment and pray. As we come into Your presence, we cast our cares aside and leave our doubts behind and we set our hearts and minds on You, Jesus.” And as soon as it came out of my mouth I thought, “Oh, that’s a song idea.” But because we were recording it, I didn’t have to think about remembering it and knew I could revisit it. So later I went back to that idea and worshipped and played with it. And that thought and prayer became the first verse, “I’m casting my cares aside, I’m leaving my past behind, I’m setting my heart and mind on You, Jesus”.
The prayer was about what most people are dealing with when they come into worship with distractions and worry, and how I as a songwriter and worship leader can offer them a vocabulary to enter into worship. We have the opportunity to help people say things to the Lord in a way that maybe they haven’t considered before. That’s how we can serve people and the church with our songwriting. Don’t think so much about getting your songs on a CD or CCLI, but think about how you can serve by offering vocabulary for people to say things to the Lord and express themselves to Him.
[Brian:] That is so helpful. It’s interesting that you record your services because we have also been doing that for a while and it helps so much. Most if not all of my songs come from those spontaneous moments in worship that I can return to later and work on.