[WM] How involved are you as senior pastor with your worship teams?
[Pastor Bill Johnson] I love getting to share my heart with all of our teams, but especially with our worship team. I’m thankful that my son, Brian and his wife, Jenn oversee our worship teams. In that sense, I am in touch all the time, as we talk about what God is doing through the team. I place a high-level of trust in our worship leaders and teams. Worship is vital and paramount to me. I was a worship leader and know what a significant role it is for the church. It’s vital that our teams know the value worship holds in this house, but more importantly in the kingdom and the life of any believer.
If you are pursuing songwriting as a worship community, tell your teams to write about things that they want to see in five years: Your worship songs and your anthems prophesy and declare over your people and your community. Lean into truths that reflect God’s heart and His promises, and the fullness of what Jesus meant when he tells his disciples to pray, “on earth as it is in heaven.”
What would that look like? What would that feel like? What would the world around us be like as His kingdom is established? Worship is our response to and sacrifice before the Lord. And worship makes a way for God to demonstrate His nature and manifest His presence. We become like the one we behold so we must give all our adoration to Him.
[WM] What is the ideal relationship between corporate worship & preaching in a
[Pastor Bill] I’m never going to interrupt worshipping God with a message. We are a presence-centered culture, and we focus on worship and creating space for adoration. When it comes to corporate worship, we have a high value for allowing room for spontaneous moments, and our pastoral teams and service leaders all know this. Equally, our worship teams are prepared each week with set lists and song preparation, but they go into any worship time willing to throw the plan out the window to let the Lord do what he wants to do.
Music is an elevated form of communication, it goes beyond our minds. Worship opens doors that sermons never will. Songs and their message can reach across borders and denominational lines. We often sing about a God who is always good, but this is an idea that people historically have disagreed about theologically. A song can create unity and celebrate truth sometimes ahead of a group of people embracing that same truth from
There is praise and then there is worship. Praise comes from the place within us that testifies our belief and experience of God’s nature, we are bringing Him an offering every time we choose to confess and agree with this in song. Worship is when we ourselves become the offering, it’s the expression of an internal reality, a posture of sacrifice.
[WM] Do you coordinate your message themes with the worship team?
[Pastor Bill] Mostly, no. I believe there is nothing wrong with doing that, but that is just not something that we have traditionally done. We don’t plan for this directly, but sometimes, when ministry starts to happen as we transition to the rest of the service, we will see a connection as far as a particular theme that was highlighted during worship. Going into a service, we want our worship leader(s) and pastoral staff to feel on the same page about anything pertinent, practically or spiritually. We encourage a touch point between worship team and pastoral team prior to any service starting. It’s amazing how much these simple moments of communication can go as far as bringing clarity and building unity between our teams.
[WM] Do you give specific place for the freeform prophetic in your worship services?
[Pastor Bill] Absolutely, that is something that this house feels specifically called to. There have been two ends of the spectrum- pursuing a high level of musical excellence that have produced some of the beautiful anthems and ballads of the church, and then knowing how to steward spontaneous moments and not rush when God’s presence falls in a distinct way in worship, and we get to respond. The marriage between those two worlds is something that we have gone after over the last 20 years. It’s not “and-or” but “both-and”.
Our heart is to host His presence and not quench what He is saying or doing. In worship, this often looks like a leader taking a risk and singing out in a way that takes the room deeper and closer to the Lord, as if putting their finger on the pulse of His heart for a given moment. But to do so confidently and authentically our worship leaders need to know they have permission and freedom. We have only learned how to do this by giving trust to our teams, and creating a culture that encourages risk as well as feedback and follow up.
Anyone who is leading worship in our environment is doing so out of relationship with Brian and Jenn, and they are there because of character and anointing, not just gifting. Knowing this allows me to put trust in whoever might be leading us on a given weekend. It’s an ongoing journey, but we are committed to leading from a place of faith (risk) rather than control (fear).
[WM] What advice would you give to pastors and worship leaders who love the Bethel culture, and want to bring something similar at their church?
[Pastor Bill] Our focus is on the presence of God. All aspects of our church and ministries can be boiled down to this and are fueled by what we know can happen through encounter with His presence. We believe He is good, that nothing is impossible, that His blood paid for everything, and that each person He created is significant.
We have taken risks and created space to keep this our priority at all costs. When you keep the main thing the main thing, you will discover what your expression is supposed to be. And this definitely happens over time. The majority of what our church is experiencing now is the fruit of prayer and worship decades ago. Back then things looked nothing like they do now in many ways; but a love for His presence, hearing His voice, and learning to respond in faith are things that have not changed.
When you go after creating a culture of honor and freedom, you are embracing the reality that people will make mistakes. As you create space for people to try things and grow, it also requires that you establish a standard of healthy confrontation and feedback; that people are covered in their growth, put in appropriate environments to take risks, and shepherded in that process.
Each environment will have its own expression, and that will look different than Bethel. I believe as a group of people consistently prioritize His presence, this expression will take shape. Look for the fruit in your environment, there will always be fruit in an environment where God’s presence is prioritized and hosted from a place of faith in His nature and compassion for His people.