Having the opportunity to visit with Paul Baloche was an incredible blessing. I have been learning from Paul for almost 20 years! If you don’t know Paul, I think he is hilarious and so very insightful. Truly, he is a voice that God has used to bless, encourage, and equip the Church.
Worship Musician: With your recent move to New York, what has changed in your ministry? Is there a new focus that the Lord is leading you to?
Paul Baloche: The idea of diversity comes to mind. After serving for 25 years in the same church, same neighborhood, same part of the country -Those were wonderful years! But, the thing that has surprised and inspired me is the tremendous diversity in New York City – a microcosm of the entire globe! ‘Every nation, tribe, and tongue’ (Revelation 5:90) Literally, every nation, tribe, and tongue is represented in New York City somewhere. Even on the new album, there’s a representation of worship pastors from all different kinds of churches and cultural backgrounds that really opened my eyes to the larger Church – the worldwide church and the various expressions and emphases. So, I’m learning. My ears and my heart are open to listening and learning and observing and allowing that to affect me and my ministry and how I minister.
WM: Tell me about the new studio project. I’ve had some time to listen to it and it’s fantastic. My favorite songs are, “Your Mercy” and “More Than I Deserve.” How is the church responding to these songs?
Paul: I’ve been doing “Your Mercy” at my local church. I’m not on staff, but my “home” fellowship has been Trinity Grace Church, where David Gungor of The Brilliance is the worship pastor. I jump in there and lead when he asks me to. I also have become a part-time staff member of Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago. So, about once a month, I fly out there and lead as part of their team and their staff. I’ve led half of these songs in both locations. I’ve led “More Than I Deserve” several times in Chicago. I wrote that with Meredith Andrews of Vertical Church Band. That song has become one of their “standards”, if you will, as well as “Your Mercy” that I wrote with Andi Rozier, also of Vertical Church Band. I think people resonate with it because it’s a testimony of God’s mercy. We can all relate to the prodigal season of our lives where we kind of ‘lost our way and the road was dark.’ Where we experience the pain of our wrong choices, you know… but, Your Mercy! That is sort of the big pivot in that song. It’s just all these things we encounter are because of our choices, and yet God is merciful. We’ve all experienced God’s mercy at some level, so it’s an opportunity for us to acknowledge that and thank Him for that specifically.
Also, the song “Once For All” appeals to a lot of folks. That was co-written with Matt Redman and we probably exchanged 50 emails back and forth trying to really nail the lyrics. We really wanted to re-tell the Gospel, if you will. To tell the Gospel again and again. I think when writing songs for the church, we have to continue to ‘sing the Gospel, sing the Gospel, sing the Gospel’ in every possible way. You know, just to come at it from a different angle. The primary hook is found in Hebrews chapter 10, “Once for all, He died.” It’s not our righteousness, it’s His righteousness, His salvation.
WM: You’ve been teaching and training worship leaders for a long time. You actually gave me my own worship leader “training wheels” about 19 years ago… What do you find that you CONTINUE to teach?
Paul: The classic image of scales. The scales of justice, if you will. If we have the scales of worship leadership, I would say that #1 is understanding what “Ministry to the Lord” means. Really understanding that our first and primary ministry is TO the Lord. 1 Chronicles 16 describes the role of the priests that would go into the temple and minister before the Ark of the Lord. They would minister to the Lord and that was their first and primary ministry. So, I love to unpack that and talk about that whenever I have a chance to because it’s helped sustain my heart over the years. That is, ministering to the Lord in private, in the secret place (to use the language of Psalms) becomes our public ministry.
The other side of that scale is found in 1 Chronicles 25. It says that ALL of the musicians -referring back to the first worship teams on earth and is the paradigm that God gave to David – “all of the musicians” were trained and skilled in music for the Lord. That’s the other side of this is that all of us, if we feel called to ministry, should then be practicing our guitar scales, our piano, or vocalizing daily – whatever your primary instrument is – to become trained and skilled in that instrument. That is actually a spiritual discipline. It needs to be taken seriously
I think that the scales of worship leadership are understanding our primary ministry to the Lord, ministering to Him as Mary did at the feet of Jesus when Jesus said, “This is the better part.” As opposed to running around like Martha (I’m a recovering ‘Martha’ for sure!). And the other thing is to work hard at cultivating your primary skill as we’re commanded to if we’re going to be part of a worship team, and continuing to grow throughout the year in our devotional life and in our musical expression.
WM: You travel the country over and over…what changes have you seen in American church worship today? Is there anything you find troublesome?
Paul: I certainly don’t want to have my judgmental glasses on. I think one thing we need to keep an eye on is that we tend to have this American Idol culture that can bleed over into the church. Sometimes it’s hard to tell a difference between a rock concert and a worship celebration, and I say that as someone who likes rock music! I think most are trying, and I’m not trying to point fingers at all. I think sometimes we can unwittingly project this sort of rock-concert-Sunday-morning-experience. I think that in this generation, there is a cry for authenticity. I think more importantly, we want our music to be professional (in tune, in time, and played well), but we don’t want to come across as super slick and Vegas-like. At the end of the day, regardless of what our expression looks like, we need to continue to press into God authentically. That’s why I think ‘ministry to the Lord’ is so important because, as we keep our hearts tethered to His and we actually cultivate a healthy devotional life, that will be the difference between pastoring people and entertainment. That is where our heart is. I say all this as someone who tries to look in the mirror daily to try to keep my own heart leaning in the right direction.
… I think ‘ministry to the Lord’ is so important because, as we keep our hearts tethered to His and we actually cultivate a healthy devotional life, that will be the difference between pastoring people and entertainment.
WM: Let’s talk about gear for a minute. Tell us about the guitars you use.
Paul: Guitars…I have too many! I’m about to sell several of them. The bottom line is, over the years I have just collected too many guitars and since we’ve moved to a one-bedroom apartment in NYC, it changes things. I look around and think, “Man, I don’t need all these guitars. There’s no way I could be a good steward of all these guitars.”
WM: Years ago, I learned so much from you acoustically. Lately, I often see you playing electric.
Paul: Yes, I’ve been playing an Epiphone Casino. That’s my preferred electric guitar when leading because it’s not a shredder. You don’t shred on it. It’s just an excellent, hybrid-rhythm guitar between an acoustic and an electric. And, if was good enough for the Beatles, it’s good enough for me! So, I’ve got a couple of Epiphone Casinos. I also switch between my small-body McPherson and my Collings OM2H. At home and on my new record I play my 1964 Gibson Country Western. You can see it on some of the videos of our recording here in Brooklyn. It has an old sound with a lot of character and I don’t take it on the road. I just don’t want it to take much of a beating, you know. I’ve got an old 1941 pre-war Martin acoustic that I use when I’m recording demos. It just has a nice, warm sound that you can only get from being around for 70 years.
WM: What particular sound are you going for on the electric as a rhythm player? What is in your signal chain?
Paul: A tuner and a RAT pedal. That’s it. Old school RAT pedal. I’m just using it to get a slightly crunchy rhythm sound on certain songs. I like it just slightly broken up, and my amp of choice would be a Fender Deluxe, or maybe a Blues Jr. You know, when we play in church we really can’t go over 15-25 watts or you barely get a chance to take advantage of that tube sound.
WM: What do you think when you see competent older worship leaders being put out to pasture by younger ones?
Paul: Well, there are two sides to that coin. It depends if the older, competent worship leader is willing to humble themselves a little bit and let go of certain stylistic things that used to work 20 years ago. I would say that we all need to look at our own hearts. Like, since moving to New York, I’ve taken a look at the way I lead and what I say between songs – reassessing that if there is any religious talk that has lost some of it’s meaning, it may need to change. I feel like we have to stay up-to-date and current. Like musical styles, our ministry-style needs to be mindful of the culture and aware of a new generation. A perfect scenario would be a player-coach, to use a sports analogy. I think it’s fair for us to be OK with being a player-coach. Having the opportunity to lead, but also aware that we have a responsibility to raise up the next generation. We need to make room for the late-teenagers and the twenty-somethings. They are the future of the church. We need to guard against being insecure about losing our position, if you will, and to transition gracefully into that role as a player-coach. Pouring into, raising up, and giving opportunity for them to grow. Maybe sitting back and just playing guitar. This past year at the church where I attend, more than half of the time I have just played acoustic guitar while someone else led. I played bass a couple of times. I played electric guitar one time, because there are some talented twenty-somethings. It’s their turn.
WM: If you would just offer a prayer for folks in that situation, for those who are transitioning into being a mentor and for the younger worship leaders just coming up.
Paul: Lord I pray for those who have been faithful in ministry for many years and perhaps feel like they are being pushed aside. I pray for affirmation and confirmation of the work that they have done. I pray for vision and inspiration to train up the next generation with intentionality. I pray that we would be like the leaders in the Bible from Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Elijah, even Jesus – who even in His earthly ministry, in a sense – delegated and transferred His commission to the next wave of leaders and disciples. We thank You for the privilege of getting to serve in Your kingdom and we pray for wisdom to know how best to serve in the days ahead. Also, to know how we can encourage and raise up the next generation of leaders who will continue to serve Your kingdom for generations to come. In Jesus Name, Amen!