The heart of what we do at [WM] is to equip worship teams to get ‘better by Sunday’. One expression of that is the interviews we do with worship leaders from movements like Bethel Music. In these interviews we try to elicit pearls of wisdom that will bless you and your team.
Most of our columnists, have served at churches of various sizes, which means we all have a heart to bless and support smaller congregations who have limited resources to work with. Ironically, smaller worship teams tend to be the ones who need the most support, yet have the fewest resources to work with when it comes to developing a common understanding of music fundamentals and systems for transforming singers into worship leaders. If I just described your team, then I encourage you to read and share the following interview with the members of your worship community.
In addition to being key influencers in putting words to the heartbeat of the next generation of worshippers, Bethel is equally committed to raising up the members of your team through Bethel U, the online training program that allows members of your team to drink directly from the well fueled by Bethel Music’s firehose of experience and insights. As detailed below, this program is multi-faceted and extremely comprehensive, providing the exact sort of training resources that many teams are hungry for and in need of. So, it is our pleasure to introduce Joshua Mohline, Director of Worship U.
[WM] Joshua, what is Worship U, when did it start, and what do you guys do?
[Joshua Mohline] Worship U online started in 2012, and was the online expression of the on-campus worship school from Bethel. The Bethel Worship School on campus started in 2000, around the same time that our Ministry School started. It is a short, summer program that focuses in on worship leading, musicianship, instrument classes, creative arts, dance, paint, and just worship in general.
We realized that every summer, the worship school was either too long, too expensive, or too far away for a lot of people that wanted to attend, and it would fill up really fast. There were a lot of people that wanted to be able to get the worship school teachings and content, but they couldn’t, for whatever reason, whether they couldn’t take off time from work, afford the travel to California, or they weren’t able to sign up in time and didn’t make it into the enrollment. So, Worship U online was birthed to meet a demand from people who needed a lower barrier to entry to be able to get to the content.
[Joshua] My official title is Director of Worship U, and my role within that looks like overseeing all of the operations of Worship U online, which includes content development, web development, hiring, personnel, pastoring, making sure that all the needs of our online students are being met, and overseeing the operational budget. I have a fairly large role in the content development and making sure that we’re teaching instrument classes, leadership and pastoral development classes. I help develop the curriculum, but I don’t necessarily teach the curriculum. We bring in worship leaders, Bethel Music artists, other musicians, and pastors to actually teach the curriculum that I help to spearhead and vision cast. Another part of my responsibilities is looking out for Bethel Music Worship School on-campus. I help develop content for that school as well, and help decide who will speak on which topics.
[WM] Do you find that you are driving two separate tracks, or is there some overlap between the on campus and online content?
[Joshua] There is an overlap of content, for sure. I look at our curriculum in two parts: the skill development piece and the spiritual development piece. The Worship School on campus really drives the spiritual curriculum for Worship U online. We really aim to capture all of the classes and curriculum that are focused on topics like the heart of worship, leadership, community, lifestyle, presence, prophetic, and all of the things that are more ‘head and heart’ type of learning. That is all very driven from the Worship School on campus and then filters into Worship U online. At Worship School on campus we also do all of the skill development courses, but that doesn’t really translate into the online experience, so we approach Worship U online as a stand-alone skill development resource. That part doesn’t have any exchange with the on campus school.
[WM] How much of the focus of what you’re doing in both schools reflects what is not being taught elsewhere vs. sharing your own unique DNA?
[Joshua] What’s interesting, and what we’ve heard from a lot of our students, is that the main thing they are getting from our schools is the DNA aspect. You can find guitar classes anywhere. Doctrine and theology classes are offered many other places, and probably some with better content that is more academic. What really draws people to the Bethel Worship School is gaining an understanding of the DNA of this place – learning what we go after in a service and what we go after in our lives. People really want to learn about what we are doing that makes it look and feel a bit different than many other places out there. I’d say that is the biggest gap that we’re filling.
I would say that the DNA of Bethel really is the belief in “heaven on earth”. We believe that it is God’s will that earth, as we live in it, would look like an expression of heaven. Much of that comes from Bill Johnson’s teachings, and his book, “When Heaven Invades Earth,” which is all based on the Lord’s Prayer: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” That’s a huge statement and a really big idea. It forces us to ask the question, “What does that actually mean?” That’s the DNA of this house. We are trying to dive further and further into how that’s actually expressed and carried out in a day to day life.
[WM] Are there any particular types of students that attend, both in person and online?
[Joshua] There are a few main archetypes of students that we get. It’s usually people in their twenties who are worship leaders, or part of a worship team, who are ready to go to a deeper level. It’s a lot of people who want to see the culture of their church or worship community go to deeper levels. They really want to see their teams be filled with passion, with the Presence of God, and with excitement to experience more of God.
[Joshua] One of my favorite things is connecting a lot of the different streams of the body of Christ from around the globe. Last year, at Worship School, we had Hillsong United come in and do a full day of teaching and worship, Kari Jobe came and did a full day, Tim Hughes came, and Chris Quilala, of Jesus Culture. They intermingled and mixed in with our team, our band, and our leaders, and it just felt like family. This year we have Darlene Zschech and Phil Wickham. In the past we’ve had John Mark McMillan, Martin Smith, Reuben Morgan, Don Potter, and many others. It just all of these different streams. Phil Wickham, who is more of the radio stream, John Mark McMillan, who is more of the edgy, rock worship sound. Darlene is more of a mother to the worship community, and Martin Smith is like a father. Don Potter is in the free-flow prophetic stream, and then there’s the Hillsong stream. Even though our students are looking for us to impart the DNA of the Bethel house, we kind of flip that on its head by also saying that what’s super important to this house is embracing the beauty that all of these different streams carry in their walk with God.
[Joshua] On a musical level, with guitar and keyboards, we really want people to understand the value of parts. Learning the specific part to a song really is an important thing, not just a dumbed down version of it or making up your own version. We believe that there is an anointing that is specifically on songs. When we go into production for albums we seek the Lord’s guidance on how a guitar should be played, or a keyboard part, and we believe those actually carry the breath of God within the song. So, we want people to understand the importance of playing the part the way it should be played.
Also, we focus on tone. That’s one of the primary things our instructors talk about. How does your guitar sound? Your keyboard? Your bass? Are you getting a full, rich, dynamic sound? Many of our class sessions focus on that, and it’s very important to our musicians. We talk about the amps, guitars, pedals, software, programs, and settings that we use, and we give those away to students. Michael Pope has a link to his Strymon Timeline settings, and he gives those to students. Luke and Nick have Ableton settings that they give out too. But, we also want to teach the students to fish. We want them to understand what to listen for and train their ear to understand what good tone is, how to get it on their own, and how to teach good tone to someone else.
On a worship leader level, one of the things we want students to walk away with is an ability to listen. For things like moving in spontaneous worship, making a set list, selecting the right people for your band, or letting people go from your band – there is no formula. Students come in asking, “How do I know if someone should be on my team or not?” and we tell them, “Ask the Holy Spirit.” They ask, “How do I know what songs I should lead on a given week?” and we give them some principles to follow, but the answer is, “Follow the Holy Spirit. Learn to hear His voice and to follow His leading. Let Him tell you which people should be on your team. Let the voice of the Spirit tell you how you should confront your Senior Pastor on an area of disagreement.” We try to give people tools and tips on things that we’ve seen that have worked, but we are always willing to sacrifice what has worked if the Holy Spirit is telling us to do something new or fresh. That’s really what we hope leaders walk away with, is that desire, willingness, and drive to hear what God is saying for their worship team or church, and to follow that voice.
[WM] Michael Pope mentioned that there is more to John Mayer than just the notes he’s playing. How do you approaching teaching guitarists to find that intangible ‘something’ that transforms the right notes and tones in something that is tangibly worship?
[Joshua] Obviously, it starts with practice. But one thing in our house that is really important is understanding identity. When you know who you are and what you carry, you can actually bring that to your instrument. Michael Pope, for example, knows who he is. He is able to create these parts from scratch and is a part of the song-building process, and we believe that is a part of what makes that song beautiful. It’s not just the lyrics or the melody, but also the arrangement and the parts that all speak together to make a song prophetic, anointed, and powerful.
What we hope for the people who come here, is that when they go home, and are building songs with their teams, they would also have musicians who know their identity, and when they are creating arrangements for their original songs they bring that to the table. If they are a person that carries peace, then that’s going to come through in the parts they write. Or if they are a person that carries joy. And obviously, hopefully, we all carry all of the parts of the fruit of the Spirit. When you understand the anointing and gifting that’s on your life and what you bring, and you keep that in the front of your mind as you are creating parts and practicing your instrument, then you begin to bring those qualities out, not through words, but through your tone, your parts, and your instrument.
It takes trial and error. It takes having prophetic voices in your community that you trust. We debrief after services all the time, and we ask things like, “In that moment where there was some free flow, how did that come across? This is what was going on in my heart. How did that translate with what I actually played?” We try to give each other hard feedback and let each other know if it worked or not, and encourage each other to work on it and get better together.
[WM] One of the things that Steffany mentioned in this issue was that when she came to Bethel, she knew she was going to receive, but also, she knew she had something to bring. How do you bring out that which is in people that sometimes they don’t necessarily see in themselves?
[Joshua] One way is by giving people permission to risk and fail. Otherwise, whatever is inside of someone might never be called out. They have to have room to take some risk, and to fail a little bit. Another way is something I like to call, “Calling out the gold in someone.” When another person is being less than their best, it’s really easy to highlight that. What’s difficult is finding the gold that’s underneath that. Especially when we’re looking at someone prophetically, it can be easy to pick out all of the issues that someone has and what is going wrong in their life. But the culture that we’ve developed in this house is to not just look at the negative and at what is wrong. Look one step further to see what it is that God has placed in that person that just isn’t coming out yet. We relate it to mining for gold. When you mine for gold, you have to dig through mud, rocks, and dirt, but the miner knows there’s gold under there. There is something beautiful and valuable that God has placed there under the soil. That’s what we’re trying to do with people. There may be a lot of mud, gunk, and mess in their life, but we’re not going to see only that. We’re going to look at you with eyes to see where the gold is within you and bring that out. The more that we can bring the gold to the surface and affirm it by telling them, “This is what I see on your life, your identity, and what you carry,” the more it gives people permission to step into that. Instead of just condemning the wrong, we try to highlight what’s right.
It’s like what Paul said about dwelling on what is pure, righteous, and holy. We try to dwell on those things with people too, in relationship. The hope is that by calling those things to the surface and affirming them, we will actually see it play out in the way that they live their lives.
[WM] The Bethel Music team uses the Nashville Numbers System. How do you train people who are not necessarily familiar with diatonic theory to understand Nashville Numbers and, in turn, bring them back to use with their home team?
[Joshua] I actually teach a whole course through Worship U online that eventually gets to the Nashville Numbers system. The way we approach it is to start with the very basics. Things like what a note is, and what pitch is, and then building from there. How do these intervals interact with one another? How do these intervals create a major scale? Once you build a major scale, then you can notice a pattern that happens across every major scale. That same pattern is found within the chords of the major scale, and once you understand the chordal scale, it’s easily translatable into a number system because it’s the same pattern, no matter what key you’re in. Realistically, it takes a few hours to help someone understand a scale, and from there it’s pretty easy to adapt that to the chordal scale, and then to the number system after that. It’s really just a shorthand system to describe the major scale. We try to not make it too complicated, and we let people know that the boundaries of using the Nashville Numbers system are very limited. If you’re playing complicated Gospel music, or even Jazz or Blues, things other than Pop, styles that use other modes and non-diatonic notes, then the number system won’t work as well. We let people know that the number system will only work really well within a song that uses a major scale, and stays within that scale.
[Joshua] One of the misconceptions that I hear a lot out there is that we are all experiential and not biblical. I want to say that the leadership, students, members, and community of this house all love the Bible! We base all of our experiential desires off of things that we read about in the Bible. If you really dig to the heart of it, we’re just asking God to show us once again what He was already showing His people in the Bible. All throughout the gospels and the book of Acts, we see people getting healed, and the miracles of Jesus and the apostles and disciples. We really do love the Bible and are crazy enough to believe it for our own lives and believe that we can do those things too.
Another misconception I’d like to address is that because we have a lot of freedom it is said sometimes that we are out of control or incoherent. I’ve had multiple conversations with Steffany about this. When she’s leading, because she’s experiencing a lot of freedom, it may look like she’s in another world. But, in our freedom, we’re actually very aware of what’s going on around us and our surroundings. We never let our freedom get to a place where we are completely out of control, or wild, or anything like that. We just want to experience the joy and freedom that comes with knowing God. Sometimes that may look like dancing, or something more uninhibited than people have been accustomed to, but we believe that is just a natural and healthy expression of freedom.
[WM] So you believe in having ‘David’ moments?
[Joshua] Well, we do have a clothing policy! (laughs)
[WM] I meant Davidic dancing, clothing required! (joins in laughter)
[Joshua] We fully embrace Davidic dancing – but we don’t fully embrace Davidic stripping off of clothes in the public square!