By the time a worship team has established the sphere of influence that Bethel Music has, focusing on the impact of what God is doing through them can distract us from the lessons He’s wanting us to learn from them. Akin to missing the opening scenes of a movie, what we see lacks the context of what came before. As Jenn Johnson pointed out in the last issue of [WM], “We are not, in any way, thinking that we are “the thing”. We are riding a large wave, and Brian’s dad, Bill, has paved the way. And even before him Brian’s Grandpa was really a groundbreaking pioneer in worship. In this area he championed and went after Davidic worship – raising your hands and doing things that were not Kosher to many.”
Generations in the making, Bethel Music probably looks more like the average worship team than we might think. As Jenn went on to point out, “We’re a cross-pollinated breed, not unto our own. We’ve been brought up by Hillsong, IHOP and Vineyard music. We’re a melting pot of influence.” Isn’t that really all of us, a melting pot of our influences, and if so what is it that Bethel is doing that is causing God to breath so much life into what they are putting their hands to?
At [WM] we firmly believe that every church is uniquely called to fulfill a mission that only it can. One of the best vehicles for accomplishing this is seeking God’s voice for what He wants to achieve through you and sharing that with your team. Where businesses have mission statements, the Bethel Music website clearly states what we will opt to call a vision statement… “Bethel Music’s collective of worship leaders aim to write and record songs that carry the culture of heaven and the heart of God. We exist to pursue the heart of God. Together, we express who God is and who we are in Him. We capture fresh expressions of worship in every season that resonates with worshipers around the world. Our dream, is that all the earth would worship God.” What we love most about this vision statement is that it “talks the walk” of what leaders at Bethel are actually doing.
Bethel Music’s Starlight was recorded over the course of their Worship Night Tour in the fall of 2016. While Jenn Johnson is one of the worship leaders, she joyfully shares the spotlight with Francesca Battistelli, Amanda Cook, Kristene DiMarco, Steffany Gretzinger, Kalley Heiligenthal, Melissa Helser, and Hannah McClure. When they say they are a musical collective, the Bethel Music folks really mean it. It takes time to pour into people, it takes time to walk alongside them, it takes time to be present in their lives. If we really want our ministries to have the kind of fruit that Bethel produces, we have to be as serious about raising up the generations as we are about the music itself… if not more so.
Echoed in our interview with guitarist Michael Pope, Kalley Heiligenthal is a tall tree raised from within the Bethel Music community. Best known for leading and co-writing “Ever Be” and “Spirit Move”, the 4,000,000 plus YouTube plays for “Ever Be” are a testimony of the call that is on Kalley’s life as both a worship leader and songwriter. While leading out in the spirit may not be the right fit for your congregation, Kalley is a great example of what happens when a church endeavors to create a culture where worship leaders are encouraged to grow in an environment where a safety net of grace is there to catch them as they are growing into their gifts. As the 2nd Year Worship Pastor at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, Kalley is actively passing on the Bethel DNA to the next generation of worshipers.
Written words come up a bit short when it comes to capturing the passion you can hear in Kalley’s voice as you hear her talk about worship, so before reading the following interview we encourage you to watch the song story video for “Ever Be” – you’ll be glad you did!
[WM] We understand you began leading worship in college through a student-led worship ministry. Was that why the stop at Liberty University was such a highlight for you on the Starlight tour?
[Kalley] Yeah, that was a really special moment. You know, you kind of hit those “full circle” moments, those times where you come back around and the Lord has something to say, almost as an echo. The Liberty University stop seemed to echo a lot of where it began for me. It was a time of exploration between the Lord and myself. Coming up in a more intellectual background and the process of the Lord kind of speaking to me through it and the breakthroughs that happened there are so special to me. My husband works at a University, is getting his Master’s degree and feels called to the academic community. For myself and my family, it really tapped into some of our calling, heart, and passion to be at a Christian university. It was amazing!
[WM] With that many worship leaders and musicians in the mix, how do you work out the arrangements? Is there a primary music director (MD) guiding the whole thing along?
[Kalley] Absolutely. We have an established method in terms of how we arrange things on stage and who takes the lead and who defers. Michael Pope will do band directing from a microphone, and he is an incredible help in the area of that oversight. It’s like he takes an aerial view for us, because you can kind of get in the moment and there are a lot of levels that you are thinking about, so he really gives us kind of a musical perspective, makes incredible calls, and surrounds us in that way, so we really lean heavily on Michael Pope.
We also have established leaders and co-leaders and that brings some form to it. More than any kind of delegated role or position (those bring a degree of tidiness and official deferring), I would say the underpinning of what you experience in these worship sets is a very deep running respect and admiration for one another. That gets to bypass some of those technicalities because there is such a regard for what the people to your right and left are carrying, how the Lord speaks to them. There’s a common goal of “We’re not here to just shine individually, we really want to see what the Lord has for us.” You look all over in scripture and you have these references to people who sow and people who reap, and really learning that there’s not one that’s better than another. All of it is the process that the Lord has and it’s all such an honor to be a part of it, whatever that step looks like and whatever role you may play in that given set.
I think some of those underpinnings really establish who goes where, who steps out, who might take a pause or a moment, who moves on, and who does the songs. It’s some of those core values underneath that really help determine how we’re going to do it.
[WM] In listening to “I See the Light” from Starlight, and watching various Bethel Music YouTube videos, you seem to be the one who leads many spontaneous moments of worship. How did you learn to move in the Spirit during worship?
[Kalley] Boy, it’s been a journey. What I’ve found is a lot of it is just risking trial and error. Being in an environment and under leaders who are like, “Hey, this might not be perfect right away, but we’re aiming for what the Lord’s saying.” That it’s just a learning process where you step out, and sometimes you get it, and sometimes maybe it’s not as packaged or developed. But there’s really not another way to learn that than just to start and have an environment that really is going to empower you. I would say that the kind of room and space we’ve been given really has cultivated a place where you just learn and try.
What I’ve found is it’s just hearing God’s voice, plain and simple. The settings, places, and locations change, and there are nuances to that. But ultimately if we know the Father’s voice, if He wants to speak to us. If we’re convinced that He wants to partner to bring His Kingdom and to bring breakthrough – the humbling reality of that means my private times with the Lord, my time with my family, seeking Him when I don’t know what to do, finding Him in a place of pain and hearing His consoling voice, all of that points to those moments on stage. Those moments become a capstone or a tip of the iceberg to this relationship of conversation with the Lord. I find it’s a daily reality that happens long before a stage, and man I am so grateful they get to happen in that place of corporate worship. Some of the most significant breakthroughs I’ve ever received have come from somebody stepping out and going off the map, risking and exploring what they felt the Lord saying. I’m really grateful to be a part of a movement where there’s room to do that and to be known by a God who wants to use me and speak to me so that we can really get after it and explore!
[WM] Awesome! What are some suggestions for worship leaders who are eager to learn how to lead in the Spirit, but don’t know where to start? Maybe they’re not in a congregation that is Spirit led, or maybe they just don’t have anyone over them that’s showing them how to do it.
[Kalley] I think studying people who you really respect, who are further down the road, has been really key for me. There’s a really fine line not to become them but let myself be inspired. There are people I can point to in our environment… I look to Jenn… I look to Steph. . . and people outside our environment who have cultivated something that I’m so hungry for. It’s like, “I may not have you directly over me as a leader right now, but I can give you that place in my life where I can glean from you. I’m going to watch the videos and observe how you’re doing this. I’m going to posture myself with honor, as a learner, and I’m going to receive in that place of honor.” That’s been really formative for me. In terms of where to start, sometimes it gets really daunting in the moment to feel like you need to come out with this five-minute oracle out of nowhere – with your band completely understanding where you’re going to go, reading your mind, and taking your congregation with you. Sometimes people think that if they don’t do that the first time then it must not be in them, or they’re not capable of it. Like anything, it’s something you grow in. It’s something you cultivate. It’s something that you develop. I’m pretty passionate that it can look seamless and it can look easy, but every single person who looks like they just naturally have this has worked for it too, they had a process of learning. So I would say on a really practical level, ease your teams into it. Stay on the chorus chords a little bit longer. Stay on the bridge chords and just see what could come out. Don’t pressure yourself to make it super long or profound. Sing what’s on your heart. Give it a couple of times around and if you feel like it’s working, then try it a little longer or move on. It’s totally okay to move on.
I also tell people that sometimes it all comes in the moment, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong, especially when you’re starting, worship with the songs you’re going to be leading in your place with the Lord with and see what comes up there. It’s totally okay to come with those and bring them to a corporate setting. It’s not only holy if you just find it in the moment. It’s not just profound or prophetic if it’s birthed right in that spot. There are ways that we can really grow it on our own. I think singing scripture is a really practical one, and putting it to melodies and see what comes up.
[WM] Is there a translation of the Bible in which you live the most?
[Kalley] Typically I will read the ESV (English Standard Version), but lately I have been enjoying the Passion translation. I have a lot of scriptures memorized from the NIV (New International Version) or the ESV, but there’s something about having a fresh language and a new take and a different angle on the same thing you’ve always heard. It has a way of inspiring. I think it’s the same thing with songs, with just a new vocabulary and fresh words that are all pointing to the same truth. It can move you differently.
[WM] Through the Bethel website, people have the ability to book a worship leader, both to lead worship at and to teach at their church. What do you teach at those types of events?
[Kalley] There’s endless things – I’m sure you know that there’s no shortage of things that worship leaders like to talk about! Spontaneous worship is a fun one to hit on. How to arrange and think through set lists, lead a team and a band, cultivate community, how to be known and be accessible as an artist. Sometimes we’re prone to being a little independent and secluded. We go find our dark closets to “feel feelings” and write about that, so I like to teach on how to open up and be in community.
I love talking about how to keep Jesus primary in the midst of worship, talking about centering in His presence and what He says about us, rather than a performance shouting us down. I love talking about how after a worship set, whether it felt great or it didn’t, how to actually be ministered to by the Lord and be deepened in your identity through what He says. I love talking about how to reach out to a congregation and really engage them and pull them in and not just have a concert happening up on stage that’s separated.
[WM] Awesome! You are the second year worship pastor for Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. What does that role entail?
[Kalley] We have four different worship teams that routinely lead the school. So I set up tryouts at the beginning of the year. I also set up and establish our teams, and then help pastor and give feedback. I help them to grow in things like set lists, selecting songs, building the band, how to give feedback, be spontaneous, how to find your voice, and other things that can come up for worship-types. We have a weekly home group, and there are places students are able to serve, both inside the school and out. It’s really about coming alongside them and helping them to grow and develop. Our ultimate goal, is to see them grow. We want to see them at a different spot at the end of the year than they were at the beginning. We want to see them walking in confidence. So, whatever it looks like to come alongside and really breathe that kind of life into what they’re doing, that’s the aim for us.
[WM] Which tracks on Starlight speak to you the most?
[Kalley] That’s a good question! They all do in different ways. I think with “Take Courage” Kristene has found some really profound ways to speak to being in the middle of a process. You know the Lord’s with you, but you don’t know how the chapter wraps up, you don’t know how the story ends. I think that song has brought real and tangible hope for people. It is moving, not only to sing and lead, but to watch people connect to the truth that He is with me here and now. Even if I don’t have it figured out, even if I don’t have clarity, even if I don’t have the answers, I have what I need because He is with me. That’s been really powerful.
[WM] The bio for Starlight points out that although all the worship leaders are women, the disc is not just for women. With that in mind, there seems to be a deep, yet unspoken language between women which men often “miss”. As it relates to women in ministry, how can men better support the journey that women are on and become better listeners to the unspoken dialog that women share intuitively?
[Kalley] I think you said it. There’s such a strength in just listening. There’s strength in being alongside in the moment. It’s some of why “Take Courage” is such an anthem. There might not be answers right now, and there might not be a way that this feels logical or that this makes sense. But the ever-present help of the Lord is there, and the Comforter comes and is just with you. I think whoever you are, that sort of empathy and that sort of just “abiding with” in the midst of problems – not rushing to solutions and not rushing to commentary, but just being alongside brings such a deep breath of relief. I think that’s a big one.