Over the past several decades worship music has changed dramatically. Contemporary Worship sounds more like secular Rock music than songs from a hymnal, and if one were to ignore the words and the heart behind them, one could easily argue that it is. But, worship was never intended to be an argument about style, but rather an expression of thankfulness and gratitude for God’s sovereignty and grace. Some of us find Christian radio to be a contrived, cookie cutter experience, while others find fault with ‘going off the page’ in free worship. Chances are, the vast majority of the songs at either end of the spectrum started off as an expression of someone’s personal time in worship that grew into something that others could join in and sing corporately.
One of our favorite things about interviewing worship leaders from movements like Bethel Music, is that we get a chance to share their revelation of who Jesus is to them. This revelation is what resonates in the songs that they sing and record, and in turn what draws worship leaders the world over to sing these songs with their congregations. If I had to use one word to describe Bethel Music, it would be faithful. They have been faithful with what God has given them, and through that faithfulness their songs of worship have spoken to a generation of believers who are hungry for Jesus. Regardless of whether free or spontaneous worship is ‘your thing’ I encourage you to explore this interview looking for ‘golden threads’ that will hopefully allow you and your team to dig a little deeper as we all seek to know His face that much better.
[WM] You have 1.2 million YouTube subscribers, which is a strong indicator of how many people are resonating with your expressions of worship. As I toggled between videos for songs like “Every Be” and the extended times of spontaneous worship on Moments: Mighty Sound, I was struck by how much these seemingly different atmospheres were actually quite alike. The bridge in “You Make Me Brave” almost feels like free worship in the way it builds and build and builds. How much do you think songs like that are the expression or culmination of what happens in times of free worship?
[Kalley] I think the birthplace of these songs and spontaneous moments start to blend together. A lot of songs have come from spontaneous moments that felt like they really worked and resonated with people. We take those moments back with us and will explore writing that out and finding other parts for it. Sometimes you bring it back into that same spontaneous moment and see if maybe another part of the song could be birthed out of it. A lot of it comes from the writing style, but you also never want to create in a vacuum. What we’re trying to do is to partner and pair a corporate expression with what God’s doing.
[Steffany Gretzinger] Hopefully our songs get deeper and deeper, and more worshipful as we grow with God. That process of going deeper will look and sound a hundred different ways – there’s no formula for it. Over the course of our walks with God, I think we could all go back to songs that have been forgettable. Without judging the heart behind them, they seem to have been written with the intent of seeing how many people could sing them. Something happens when someone has engaged in worship and broken their heart open before the Lord writes and develops a song from that place. When people crack themselves open like Mary broke open the jar of perfume for Jesus, those are the worship songs that cost the writer something to bring forth. Only the Lord will ever know that, but in a corporate setting we feel the weight of that cost, even if we don’t necessarily know what the story behind it was.
[Amanda Cook] I feel like a lot of the songs that we end up writing actually come out of the last song that someone else wrote. Someone else’s song will grab hold of me, like “Great Are You, Lord”. It’s an anthem for my whole life, and I can’t get away from it – and I don’t want to! That song is a springboard to hundreds of other songs and moments. I get immersed in the spirit of it, and it’s like an infinite field of possibility that I can launch into when I’m connected so deeply into a certain sound.
[WM] Sometimes a producer creates a defining album for an artist, and everything after that is defined by that record. Are you saying that, in some ways, an individual song takes you someplace as a worship leader and artist that you wouldn’t have been able to go without that vehicle?
[Amanda] Totally! Yes, it definitely does, but I think we need to be careful about just writing what works, or copying the last thing that went really well. We can get stuck and build a monument there, and then miss out on the moment we’re in right now. I think of all of these movements, songwriters, and leaders all around the world who I look up to and respect – they have given me language for certain areas of my heart that I wouldn’t have found language for if they had not done the work of excavating it, paying attention to their season, and being obedient with their own prayer life. I feel like we’re all a part of this experience where we’re all discovering and exploring. We all see in part, and we’re all discovering different facets about the nature of God. We get to write ourselves into the story, and we get to turn the pages for one another and invite the next person to write the next page. It opens up new frontiers set to language.
[WM] One of the reasons we were so excited about Moments: Mighty Sound is the ‘big reveal’ it provides in terms of how you open up arrangements for songs like “Spirit Move, “Reckless Love, and “Pieces”. While we love resources like Multitracks.com, the sonic benefits sometimes obscure the fact that some teams rely upon them as their ‘roadmap for worship’. In our experience, many senior pastors want their worship team to be able to open things up a bit, whether it is behind announcements, prayer, and free/spontaneous worship. This release is a great reminder that worship leaders can do more than just sing set arrangements from top to bottom. What are your thoughts about all of that?
[Steffany] I think the language is changing. Worship leaders, as we’ve known them in the past, have been more like song leaders for the church. We sing the songs, but is that actually worship leading? You’ll hear Jenn say something like, “Let’s sing off the page,” because that’s exactly what it is. Bethel Music is moving back to that, and I think people are hungry for more than a song that someone else wrote for them to sing. I think that they are longing to engage and to actually be led in worship. We’re all just finding it together. This is the core of who we are. We started out being all about spontaneous moments, and then it swung to the other side a bit. Coming back again and remembering what our DNA is, this is actually what God entrusted us with, and what the Lord trusts most about us – that we would wait and not be afraid to be still and quiet. We don’t have to fill everything with words. We can go a little bit deeper, and take the risk to see if there’s anything else there, and to see if He wants to do something else. If He does, then we stay and we wait. If He doesn’t, then we pull back or we move to another song.
[Amanda] The whole act of recording something is to capture something that feels true and authentic in its essence. I love all of the other stuff that we get to do, and there’s a part of me that really loves the studio and being in a creative mode where you’re tinkering and focusing in on details and ironing things out, but there’s something that happens in a moment, with a room full of people, that will never happen again. Making this album wasn’t as much about recreating something as it was about just capturing what actually happened. When I listen back, I love the imperfection and the honesty of it. I love the untamed things that you can hear when we were singing off the mic. We didn’t take those things out. To me, it enhances the beauty of the point, which was to capture the essence of what truly happens in a room when people come together to worship. It moves me to listen back and remember the moment that was happening.
[Kalley] It’s always been in our DNA to write songs and to find what God is saying in the written word. We’ve had a value for one end of the spectrum, which would be to develop songs that churches can take and use for their setting. But very deep in our DNA has been to run after the spontaneous. To start with a song and view it as a springboard. There comes a feeling like, “We’ve been in this set for a little while, and I think that behind there, somewhere, there might be something waiting. If we were to just step out of the map and take a risk, there might be something on the other side.” That was one of the things that drew me to Bethel in the first place, eight years ago. It was the idea of chasing after the presence of God and discovering what He is saying, here and now.
[WM] While it’s not a ‘set in stone’ kind of thing, I love the heart behind the phrase, “You can’t take the congregation someplace you haven’t been yourself.” In the song story video for “Pieces,” Steffany mentioned something I’ve heard Paul Baloche talk about – singing scripture. “Steeped in the Word” is the phrase that frequently comes to mind when I think of your worship. It’s like your hunger for the Word is so strong that it can’t help but pour out when you sing. In the busyness of the times we live in, what are some practical steps that people can take to get to that place?
[Kalley] That’s a great question. In a song like “Spirit Move,” for example, it opens up with a spontaneous moment, and there is scripture throughout. A lot of where that came from is just the cry of my heart, recognizing the times when I’ve needed the Lord to come through. Whether it has been a circumstance in my life that surpassed what I could do in my own efforts, or just the hunger of, “God, I would always rather do this with You than alone. I’d always rather have Your presence with me, hear Your opinion, and shape my life around that than just try and figure it out on my own.” Proverbs 3:5-6 comes to mind, where it talks about not leaning on our own understanding, but trusting in the Lord with all of our hearts.
Bill Johnson once said, “You know there’s something wrong with children when they’re not hungry. It’s an indicator that they’re sick, or something in their system isn’t what it should be. Their natural state is to want to eat.” Spiritually, we’re made the same way. There’s something wrong with us if we don’t want to feast, or if we’re not hungry. We need to come back to God and ask, “Lord, how do I get my hunger back?”
I think it becomes a daily shaping of our lives that is more about overflow than it is about spontaneous. It’s recognizing a hunger, a desire, and a need for God. When that is in the room you can easily put language to it because you are working at keeping yourself in that place of hunger and dependency, day in and day out. You’re not just desiring for God to come be your savior, but to have a friendship with Him and a communion with Him.
[Steffany] I think that’s the biggest thing I’m trying to get to – staying connected. Not finding my connection once I get to that place of leading worship. There’s no shame or judgment in any of this, because I’ve been in lots of different places in my worship leading. When I was younger, I would come in and not be sure of what I was looking for or where we were going. We would sing until we found something. That still happens sometimes, but the hope is that we don’t wait until we are there to get connected. We’ve stayed connected and we come in continuing the open conversation. That becomes how you so easily tap into the presence of God during worship.
It really is simple, and it’s supposed to be. When you try too hard, it feels awkward for everyone in the room. I’ve been there. We’ve all been there, where we tried to push something and make it happen. That’s just a part of learning, a part of growing in maturity, wisdom, and favor with God and with man. It’s about learning that your power is in your position, not your push. Like young worship leaders who learn that they don’t have to scream to be powerful. You learn that when you’re already connected, you don’t need to shout when you’re already that close. There’s a moment for shouting, and there’s a moment for just breathing. And neither are more or less powerful than the other.
[Amanda] I love the word ‘practical’ because it truly is about practice. When you learn an instrument, you practice, and you fail. It takes years and years to learn how to return to the well. With spiritual practice, we tend to exalt the scripture about going from “glory to glory” and we don’t know what to do with that tiny little word in the middle – “to”. We spend a lot of our lives in-between the glorious moments. One of my friends sent me an encouragement the other day from the scripture passage about Elijah, and how he was listening for the voice of God. He was looking to all of these grand displays of power, but then we get to the scripture about how God spoke to him in a still, small voice. The original text actually says that Elijah heard God in the sound of sheer silence. For me, that was deeply healing – He is tending to my minuscule needs in the still moments.
Gratitude is something that takes daily practice too. I have a gratitude journal that sends me a prompt on my phone to take time to be grateful. Things like, “What are three things you’re thankful for this morning?” It sends me daily affirmations, and then at night, too, it helps to set my heart on the right thing. It sets my heart in the path of the miraculous presence of God and opens my eyes and awareness to that. It awakens me to the fact that it’s always available.
[WM] How much of your personal worship time at home translates into what you do in times of free worship?
[Steffany] All of it – it’s everything, and it’s changed with every season of my life. When I was a teenager, I could go lock myself in my room for eight hours and just bury myself in my bible and have these beautiful worship moments as I just laid there. I built some serious history with God there, and I gained some authority. But it grew into something else. I got married, and I would cry with the Lord and say, “How am I going to have time for You now?” and the Lord would say, “This is a new season, and our love is deeper. It’s going to look different now, and that’s okay.” And the season changed again when I became a mom, and the Lord said, “If you seek with me all your heart, I will be found by you. You will find Me in everything. I’m in every moment.” It’s about shifting your awareness to realize that He is Emmanuel. He is God with Us. You can’t turn out a light that’s shining from the inside. He is ever-present, and in every fiber of our being. It was about shifting my attention, and He said to me, “You don’t have to reach for Me, I’m right here!” My idea of worship was so connected to what I had experienced in church, or even to sit down around a piano, or a moment like that where I felt moved to worship. And now, worship is in every breath. It’s an open conversation, and it’s changed everything. It’s also calmed me down, internally, to where I’m not self-important, like I was when I was a teenager. When we mature in God, we realize that worship doesn’t always look like a roaring room full of people, and our worship should look different when we’re not in that room. It shouldn’t look the same. I don’t share intimacy with my husband outside of my house – that would be weird! There should be something sacred that is between us and the Lord that doesn’t happen in corporate worship. When I catch Stephen’s eyes across a crowded room of people, there’s something between us that only we know. And it’s like that with God. When we step into a corporate place, if everyone has met with God before they come and has their own history with Him, and they can catch His eye and press into that place, what can happen in that room is unstoppable because they came in connected.
[Amanda] It’s all connected, How we live is really our display of devotion, more than the markers – and the markers are amazing! They are for remembrance and for us to be revived. There’s a resurgence that happens when we gather together and have an assembly of people. We all share testimony and sing together, and there’s something powerful that will always happen in that environment. But I think that translates to the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. The lives that we lead is the worship that will be remembered, more than the songs that any of us write.
[Kalley] It translates quite a bit. I did a song back on Starlight called “I See the Light,” and that was birthed out of a time where I was just sitting after singing through a song on the album where I felt like I had more to say. So, I sat there at my piano and I began to just sing out my story, and that’s where that came from. Sometimes though, you forget about it, and then you find yourself in a worship set, while you’re not trying to make anything happen or to create anything, and it mentally comes back. You remember that moment you had with God, and you think to yourself, “Why don’t you try it out here? That might relate and be for more than just you.” And then you have that to give. I’m not an accomplished musician, but I do carve out time to worship, in the traditional sense. I really value and prioritize being in corporate worship where I am not leading. It’s so essential. I can’t always be the leader. I have to know how to be led, I have to know how to receive. That becomes a lot of where that happens for me, as well as my time alone with the Lord, worshiping. I would say though that, for me, I really love the Word. A lot of my worship is in the reading. It’s also in relationship with people, where I’m running with them and we have a hunger that we stoke in one another. A lot of that informs what happens in the spontaneous.
[WM] There are lots of churches who don’t do free worship or lead out in the spirit for a variety of reasons. For those who are curious about it, can you share where opening up time for free worship allows you to go in a service that traditional song arrangements don’t?
[Amanda] Everything has its place. I don’t think that God is boxed in by anything. The Father kneels down and gets on our level and has a conversation with us, just like a good father would have with a child. It’s for the purpose of expanding our world-view. Worship is never about whether the spontaneous moments are happening. Anytime we get together and want to sing to God and sing about His goodness, promises, and faithfulness, He is always there. He’s not confined by our services. I’ve watched services that are planned and plotted out to the second, and I’ve been deeply moved and impacted by them. It’s about looking for the golden thread of wherever that particular expression of people are finding life, and what they’re finding in God. There are communities that are more centered around contemplative prayer, and I think there is so much life in that, too. There are places that won’t necessarily focus on the same kind of expression that we use, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not expressing their God-given ability to understand, share, and participate with what God is doing in the earth.
As far as spontaneous worship is concerned, I think that when we learn about the exchange and the continual communion with God, then spontaneous worship is simply born out of that. When I’m with a good friend, the spontaneity flows. We talk with each other, and we express things to each other, we thank each other, and we have a conversation. When I’m in healthy communion with a friend, it just flows. It’s not contrived and I don’t have to try to make it happen, it just happens.
When we teach community, the point is communion. It’s going to look different for each person because we’re all different, but it’s more about communion with God than it is about spontaneity. Anytime the pressure is put on being spontaneous, it actually closes it up. When it’s just about communion, receiving and hearing from God, and then responding, that’s just a natural friendship. That’s natural family. That’s like walking into someone’s home and going to the fridge, and just being a part of the family flow.
To me, that’s where spontaneous worship is born from. If I haven’t communed in a long time, then there is an awkward re-introduction. But if the point is communion and connection, then the spontaneous worship, while taking many different forms, will flow from a heart of abundance and gratitude.
[Kalley] It’s about yielding, having flexibility and being aware that maybe God wants to do something apart from our plan. What if He did have a change of plan, or want to show up differently? Am I actively building a place for Him to do that? When we surrender to Him, those are the best times. He always has a better sense than we do of who is in the room and of what could happen. I want to live a life that is yielded, and I don’t want to turn that off in a worship set.
By nature, songs are prophetic. Our voices are prophetic. God wants to use all of it. I love to yield to what God wants to do. I’m always asking, “God, are we finished yet? This is Your service. These are Your people. I get the honor of being a part of it, but this isn’t my idea, it’s Yours.” For me, it’s about yielding, and checking in at certain moments when you feel like something might be rising up. You feel like maybe we should just wait here, maybe we should just give it four bars. And you don’t even always have to sing something. If you’re not used to it, maybe you go back into the bridge when maybe you would have just normally stuck to the arrangement.
[WM] What are some suggestions for churches who want to open things up, but don’t know where to start, and also want to be sure they’re ready to do it once they step into it?
[Steffany] Pastoring people through the process is the best advice I have. It gives the people freedom to ask questions. For people who are just in the beginning stages of this, it needs to be an open conversation. It helps so much! It’s actually very simple to step people through the process. Some will still be nervous, and some will still be skeptical. It’s going to take them getting in the water to feel it out. And some may still not get it. But what I do know is that we will find what we are looking for. If we are looking for God, He will be found by us. If we’re looking to be critical, then we’ll find a reason to reject it. We will always find what we are looking for, deep in our hearts.
For churches who are wanting to get their feet wet, a great place to start is for the teams to really connect with their pastors, and let them know that they are wanting to take things to a deeper place, but that you want to make sure the people are coming too. The truth is that a little teaching goes a very long way. You don’t burst into a prophetic moment with people who don’t understand it. You pastor them through the moment. In trying to make this transition, if we’re not careful, one of the things that we can get caught up in is trying to pastor the Presence, rather than pastoring the people through the moment. Jesus does not need our pastoring. He is the Good Shepherd. He will not lead us where He is not, and where He won’t be.
It always helps when your pastor will do a series on worship. It gets the people prepared, and they feel like they can confidently sign up for what is coming. And it gives them scriptural context, because it’s everywhere in scripture. People have to find their own expression. We have to be clear that what we do at Bethel is just one expression, and other churches have their own expression. Maybe what we’ve cultivated at Bethel will help you. Learning from other people is a part of good growth.
To get your feet wet, I would say to try a song and then take a couple of minutes to go off the page. Speak to the people and say, “This is what we’re going to try, just for a few minutes. This is why we’re going to do it.” Tell them that we’re going to take a little trip there, and then we’re going to come back. Let them get their feet wet and know that the water is fine, and it’s a good place to be. Then, maybe next time they’ll go knee-deep. It’s like in Ezekiel 47, where he describes being led deeper and deeper into the water. I feel like that’s what the Lord calls us to. He’s not a Father who just throws us in and says, “Swim!” No, He leads us into it, and He walks with us and lets us get used to the way it feels as we get deeper.
That’s really descriptive, but I think it’s also just about keeping things simple. It’s easy for people with lots of charisma to feel like, “We need two hours! We just need freedom, and more time with the Presence of God!” But the God that I know can do anything He wants to in just a moment. He doesn’t need two hours to move. Don’t despise the two or three minutes where you take a risk. Then, as you build trust with the Lord and with each other, you have that much more space. Maybe it turns into two hours of worship. But make sure that everybody knows that you’re going there together.
[Amanda] I was a part of the House of Prayer for several years, and one of the things that we would do is play a song that we knew really well, and we would take our time with it. Then, we would stay on that chord progression and, with our bibles in front of us, we would sing simple phrases and songs. It gave us direct access to language that we could all rally around. It actually flexes that creative muscle, and it brings everyone along with you. We’ve all been in services where someone has gone off on a really long, blissful moment, and the rest of the room was left behind. The goal is to take everyone with us and to create an experience for all of us to share in together.
Paul Young said, “In a healthy family, the family moves at the pace of the slowest person.” We have to keep that in mind too. We have to be sensitive to the person in the back who negotiated a really hard week just to come to church, and it’s all they can do to just sit there. Their “yes” is just the fact that they showed up. We need to keep that in mind, with compassion. There is always a starting point. Just start right where you are, and where your people are.
I think that having a clear vision of communion and connection with God is important, and to understand what that means. If we understand the reason why, then we will practice it. It’s like when I was learning piano. For the first few years I would listen to music that I wanted to play, and then I had to practice to get there. It didn’t just happen overnight. I had to return to the simple things that I knew and practice them. Sometimes we want to fast track it, but the beauty can be in the one note that you learn how to play delicately, or with fervor.
[Kalley] I really try and take the pressure off of leaders and teams when I talk about it. Maybe when you finish a song, just loop on the chorus chords and go through the progression a few times. Let the band know what you’re going to do, and that you’re not going to throw them off the deep end, and maybe just try singing the word “Alleluia” over the progression. Maybe just try some “ooo’s” over it. And then maybe you wrap it up and you say, “We tried something new. We did it!” And then maybe the next time you give a little bit more space. But it’s about exploring together and taking the pressure off to try and make something happen. Just be yielded and leave room for God. It doesn’t have to be perfect. That’s when it becomes a performance. Just give it a shot.
Sometimes an album like the Moments album will come out, or you’ll see YouTube clips of a worship gathering, and it can be easy to think that either you have it, or you don’t. I see how it comes out of Steff and Amanda, but I’m still waiting for that. That’s not what it sounds like when it comes out of me! But it’s really not like that. We all just have to start somewhere, and it’s going to sound like us. We’re worshiping a living, eternal God, and in my experience, it’s always going to feel a little clunky. That’s not a disqualification, it’s just a part of it. I like to encourage people that if it looks like we (at Bethel) have it all together, we don’t! If it looks like we know everything that we’re doing and we know it’s going to land and be perfect, we don’t! For every “Spirit Move” on the Moments album that you see, I have so many songs that didn’t go that way! You just gotta try, and have a lot of grace for yourself and for your team for trying something new.
[WM] Do you keep a click going when you break into times of free worship?
[Steffany] Yes! Most of the time. The guys that I play all of the time are like family at this point. We travel together and we play at home together, and they know when to turn it off for me. I have signals that I give them when we’re going into a new, creative space. If I feel like we’re going to stay in one place, they’ll leave the click in for me. But sometimes I’ll give them the signal that we’re going to create and try something new, and they’ll turn it off for me. It helps to feel like we’re taking a breath and we’re starting fresh. Then, when we find a flow, they’ll put it back in for me.
I love the click. I didn’t know that a lot of singers don’t like it, but I feel like everyone should have it in their ears. It changes everything and keeps you so connected to the band. I want to feel that connection. What they’re doing is so prophetic and powerful. You’ll see me turn around, or make eye contact with various singers and musicians on stage, and that’s because we’re going somewhere together. It seems nuts, but we’ll just stare at each other in the face, and it feels holy. It’s like I can see the Spirit of God in them, and I can see them tapping in to it, and we can celebrate that together!
[WM] Are there specific terms or phrases you use to describe the specific things that happen during spontaneous worship. If so, what are they and what do they mean to you?
[Kalley] A common term that we use is “breathe,” and just letting things breathe a little bit. What if, sonically, we just let things breathe? Maybe bring things down a little bit and just see what might be created. We use a lot of language about just pausing and playing around and explore. We try to keep things light and simple and fun. We like to just explore and see what happens.
There are times where you feel something rising in the room, and then it’s not time to breathe, it’s time to charge at something. Sometimes, deep inside, you feel that people want to give something. If we build this thing, and then give people permission, there can be an exploding that happens from the inside. People want to praise, and they want it to look more like shouts than quiet. There’s less terminology that happens in the moment because we’re not talking to each other during the song, but maybe just a fist pump to the team like, “Let’s go! Let’s gallop! Let’s charge it!”
I guess we don’t always unpack it, but there can definitely be times to just give voice to something, whether it’s pausing to let the moment breathe, or charging at something, or pushing through. A term that I use for that is, “giving past convenience.” In other words, pushing past comfort. I’ll give people the reminder that this is an offering and a sacrifice. If you feel uncomfortable, then that’s an offering.
[Amanda] Over the past few years I’ve spent a lot of time singing about the breath of God, and returning to the breath. I try to stay true to my season and singing out my season. The phrases I use may be a part of the things that I read, or study. Like, learning how to breathe, how to take a deep breath. I’ve done anxious worship for a long time, which I believe in because I believe in taking all of myself to God, all of the time, which includes all of my anxiety. But then, there are moments where my propensity towards finding answers, or even just reading gets set aside. The other day I was reading, and I felt the Holy Spirit telling me to put the book aside and to just go lay in the grass. The point was that my anxiety was searching for answers, and the Holy Spirit was telling me to find peace first, and to just commune with Him. He told me to lay in the grass and let myself be tended to by the sun, and then come back to my search for answers. I think it’s personal to everyone. Every worship leader has a different assignment on this earth. There’s language that we all rally around that is beautiful, and it works. And then there are intensely personal seasons that we go through, and we use those to remind ourselves, both in front of people and privately, to return to the breath. You have to sing it over your own life just as much as you sing it over everyone else.
[WM] Kalley, I’ve noticed that there are times you keep your eyes closed while leading worship. I’ve heard senior pastors ask worship leaders to keep their eyes open so it doesn’t feel too introspective. While I understand that perspective, you don’t seem to be losing connection with the congregation when this happens. Can you put into words some of the things that happen in the moments when you close your eyes?
[Kalley] We stand in the midst of this beautiful tension. We are leading people, and we are listening to God. There are moments when I go into spontaneous worship where they feel like they’re not the same thing. I have to choose, in that moment, how to navigate that tension. For me, I need to focus. If I feel like something is rising up, like there’s something off the page that we need to explore, sometimes I will close my eyes to try and focus and tap into that. Pastorally, I am aware that people are waiting on me and that I’m holding leadership at that moment, but I also know that God is saying something and doing something, and if we chase that it could actually serve people so much better than just my plan. So, sometimes I close my eyes just to focus in on what God is saying. It can help put blinders on to some of the distractions and help me to zero in on what He’s saying. But, almost always, once I’ve get that thing out and I’ve heard from God, when I feel like I’ve found it, then I’ll open my eyes, because I love taking it in and having that communion with people as we go somewhere together.
[WM] Steffany, just as Michael Pope has become the ‘face of guitar’ for Bethel Music, when I think of the spontaneous worship there, you’re the one that comes to mind first. In watching the various videos, it is pretty clear that you find tremendous freedom when you lead worship. Can you tell us about your journey as a worship leader and how Bethel has impacted that?
[Steffany] I was in a little Nazarene church where revival broke out, and I was completely rocked, forever. The environments that I grew up in were relatively formal, so the Steffany that you see now is quite a shock to the system. That’s part of the beauty of it! The people who have known me my whole life have watched me grow in depth, and the deeper it gets, the wilder I get! It requires me to give myself more!
I came to Bethel to get something. I knew I needed to come here and that there was something for me. But I also came to bring something. I knew I had something to give. And that’s because of my history with God. That’s because my parents said, “Okay. We know what you’ll get, but what are you taking with you?”
[WM] Michael Pope! What he does goes so much deeper than just playing guitar. In addition to his role as a Music Director, he also creates these amazing guitar melodic sequences that carry more weight than just a traditional ‘guitar part’. Can you give us your insights into what Michael brings to the team?
[Steffany] I love Michael, just as a human being. He is stunning and excellent! He has given his life to his craft, and I believe he is becoming, and will become, a chief musician like the Word talks about. He loves what he does, and he can truly craft a melody. He and Bobby Strand are my favorite guitar players. Their guitar lines are juicy! Both of them will play what they are told to play, but when they get the chance to create something, that is the best! That is when the best juice comes out. When a worship leader who is not a guitar player, like me, is asking them to play something, it comes out okay. But when you give them the freedom to create, it’s amazing what comes out of them, and we all kind of just freak out. The truth is that if we give them space and room to create, and we cover them, they are equally as prophetic as we are. They will go there if we teach them and then let them go there, and what comes out is stunning. When we make them just play everything that we tell them to, they will never develop that. Michael is a part of the crew that has helped to develop that idea, rather than just playing songs. That’s why you feel that about him.
[Kalley] I’m so glad that you asked this! Moments could not have happened if we did not have the confidence of a band of people who in excellence and skill could support going off the map, and have hearts where they won’t stand in judgment or have a critical spirit of the direction the worship leader is going. I only feel support and encouragement from the band. Their attitude is always, “We’ve got your back, even though we don’t know what this is going to be like! If it’s amazing, we’ll all go together, and if it isn’t, let’s all go down together.” There is no way that, emotionally, I would feel safe to explore those things in the same way if I didn’t know that I have a full band of people behind me who are ready to make that happen. I get to soar on top of something.
I feel like this Moments album is a celebration of our teams, more than anything. It’s a celebration of the musicians who, so artfully and with so much excellence, listen to heaven and put notes on it, and we get to join in with them. I love this album because it shows the partnership and dependence that we have on incredible musicians who show up and serve whatever is needed in the moment with humility and excellence.
[WM] Steffany, in a video Amanda posted on her Instagram feed you’re doing a vocal warmup singing major triads, ascending in increments of half-steps. How extensive is your knowledge of theory, and how deep does your musicianship go?
[Steffany] I know that those are major triads, and they are half-steps, but I don’t ever use the language. I grew up in a musical household, but my knowledge and my ability to teach it are two very different things. It’s not the thing that I have studied so that I can stand in front of you and teach music theory. But my ears do hear the changes, like when people are singing harmonies using notes that don’t belong in the chord – it makes me banana-cakes! I have good internal rhythm, and I always have a click in my ears. I feel and hear the music very clearly, and if you’re talking to me about music theory, most of the time I will know what you’re talking about. There are a few things that are above my pay grade! But I’ve actually been going back and learning more than I did when I was younger. My mom was an incredible musician, but I became a little lazy. Vocally, I learned a lot over the years. Voice was my main instrument. So, my music theory isn’t as strong as I would like it to be, but I am still growing in my learning so that I can speak the language better.
[WM] Style! Many, if not most, worship leaders are passionate about cultivating the unique voice God has given them. What are some of the things you’ve done to develop your sound as worship leaders on a practical level in terms of technique, as well as finding your own unique approach?
[Steffany] In a beautiful way, we’re always going to reflect the people who have changed our lives. As far as music goes, my influences are from mainstream as well as the church. If I were to list off all of the people that have affected me and influence my sound, it would make sense to you, you would be able to hear that bit of a sound in my voice. It’s like a baby who learns by mimicking sounds and repeating what they hear until they can speak for themselves. Then, they grow up and find their own voice, make their own sounds, and try out their own language. It’s been like that for me in worship. When I got to the place where I didn’t actually need to sound like someone else to feel safe or confident, then I started expanding and growing. There’s something beautiful about the sound of all of us singing with one voice, and no one needing to take the lead. That’s my dream, as a worship leader, that I could lead the people to a place where I completely disappear, and with one voice they just take over, find their own song, and lead themselves in worship. That’s my ‘heaven’ as a worship leader. I hope I’m out of a job soon – that’s my hope!
[Kalley] Bethel Music has provided vocal lessons for us, which is just amazing! We’re talking about upkeep on an instrument, and we want to steward that really well and bring the best that we have. Sometimes you have to be really humble and recognize that just because you can sing doesn’t mean that you’re singing it right, technically. That has been something that Bethel has invested into us, which I so appreciate.
As far as finding your own voice, I always find that people are more insecure about that than they might even let on. For me, I hated the sound of my voice. I knew I had a message, but it felt like a vehicle where I was just asking people to ignore the rust and trust that I would get them somewhere. I had all of these different ways where I wanted to make it feel okay and not be so insecure, so I began to negotiate with the Lord, maybe if I heard from three people that they liked it, then I would change my mind. Or maybe if Brian and Jenn said that they liked my voice, then certainly I would like my voice too. One day the Lord interrupted me and said, “You know, you never asked Me what I think about your voice.” And I felt like, “Wow!” I had been searching everywhere, high and low, for affirmation, and I had never asked Him. So, I closed my eyes, and He began to speak to me about my voice and about what it does. He told me about how angels start spinning when they hear my voice, and about how heaven and earth shakes, and how the Northern Lights begin to dance, and all of these things that I never would have thought about myself. I heard the Lord’s perspective: He gave me my voice, and I don’t get to sit and critique it. It’s a gift from God and He’s proud of it, so who am I to stand in judgment of a good thing that God made. I needed to apologize, and I told Him, “God, I’ve been ashamed for not sounding more like (insert favorite worship leader name here), but You gave me, and only me, my voice, and I need to own that.” I began to realize, as He told me what my voice did, He didn’t speak at all to what anyone thought of it or whether anyone liked it. Maybe it doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks. Maybe there’s more of a purpose than everybody approving of you. I try to carry that now, not in an arrogant way, and I’m not just trying to disregard people’s opinions. He gave me a good gift when He gave me my voice. I need to have the humility to say, “God, You did a good job when you made me, and I’m going to use my voice and make it the best that I can make it.”
[Amanda] I think we’re always growing. There are certain things, for me, that I return to. The piano, in particular, is something I always come back to. If nothing else makes sense, and I get too crowded in my head and get too analytical, or just second-guess myself, I just go to the piano and play. I play until I feel grounded and connected again. There’s something that happens with that instrument that doesn’t happen with anything else.
All of us have a history of the way that we discover, go after, and pursue God. It’s our own way, and our own language and understanding. We let Him into our understanding to expand it. That practice will follow us through our lives. I just want to be attentive to the season that I’m in, and to pay attention to it and capture it and write it down. And I want to share it and be as authentic and vulnerable as I can be. As I grow in that, it will be even more true. Styles change, trends change, sounds change, and I don’t want to just get stuck in one thing. There will always be things that speak to you and move you, like strings and horns and classical music for me. But I think that styles are meant to serve the substance.