Brian and Jenn Johnson’s ministry has blessed so many, most importantly the people they lead. Their journey has not been one without hardship, but their transparency and authenticity is what makes them truly inspirational. We encourage you to share this interview with your team and spend some time talking about how you can apply what they’ve learned to your lives.
[WM] You released Undone in 2001 and We Believe in 2006. What was the impetus behind doing “After All These Years” now?
[Jenn] We’ve dedicated eighteen years to encouraging people, raising them up, bringing them along, and championing them. We felt like it was a good time for us to do something together and to put our whole heart into that for a season.
[WM] “At the Mention of Your Name” is an incredibly beautiful piece of music that says so much so simply. It is wonderfully intimate, yet perfect for a congregational setting. What is the story behind this song?
That song is a theme that’s been a part of me since I had my first daughter fifteen years ago. I said the name of Jesus as they were rushing me into an emergency C-section because it was the only thing I had to say. The power of that moment was incredible. As I said the name of Jesus I felt a liquid peace go through my body.
Themes like this have been woven throughout our lives. We’ve both served the Lord our whole lives and have experienced the faithfulness and nearness of God. These are eternal themes for our lives. After walking with the Lord for thirty-five plus years we felt like making this project together – it just felt like the right time.
[WM] Some songs aren’t necessarily the first single or perfect congregationally speaking, but have real legs when it comes to people’s private time of worship. Brian, how do Songs like “Greater Than All Other Names” minister to you personally?
For the rest of my life there probably won’t be a song in my iTunes music library that will have as many plays as that one.
[Brian] The funny thing about that song was Jason Ingram and I had written that together and he sent me a demo version with just him on the piano. I listened to his demo for six months straight on repeat every night and then through the day. When I was having devotions I would listen to that song. For the rest of my life there probably won’t be a song in my iTunes music library that will have as many plays as that one. And the reason is that song was my anchor in that season. So, you put a song like that on an album just wondering if that overflow will happen for other people that are experiencing a similar situation.
…what starts in that devotional place with God will inspire others in that place.
When we put songs on the album, sometimes we don’t know which ones are going to do what. It is a bit of a mystery which ones are going to take off, you know? I think when you do an album you want that mix. You want those songs that feel like a journal entry about the faithfulness of God, about going through a season and experiencing that realness of God – the verses especially. Matt Redman coined the phrase, “What starts in worship will work for worship.” In the same way what starts in that devotional place with God will inspire others in that place. People will hopefully chase God down in that alone time with Him. There is an importance for the soul and for people’s connection with God outside of the local church worship/congregational expression.
[WM] You guys have been incredibly transparent about the season you and Brian have just come out of. Do you think that God was setting you up to have this time so that you could really be there for one another in ways that maybe you couldn’t be if you were working on other projects?
[Jenn] Yes! When Brian had a nervous breakdown it just stopped our world. We were in motion to make this record, but it just stopped everything. We had an amazing life and life was very good. Being forced to stop like that really helped us to go back to ground zero in our hearts, re-look at our lives – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and really pull the rawness of who we were with God into this project, which at the end turned out to be a gift.
[WM] Darlene Zschech recently told us that great worship teams are the result of great leadership, mentioning Bill Johnson as an example. While many people know Bethel for songs like “No Longer Slaves”, they are not necessarily familiar with the mantle for healing that is on your church. What are some of the practical steps have you made to prepare yourselves for the high expectations placed on you?
[Jenn] Our parents are incredible and beautiful. They have encouraged and corrected us our whole lives. I think that being connected to healthy leaders is vital. We started marriage counseling before we got married and we’ve continued it. If we hit a rough patch we reach out to leaders in our lives and get help, not only relationally marriage-wise, but with anything on our team and that’s been invaluable.
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. So we are indebted, not only to our own family lineage, but to so many great leaders and movements, like Darls.
…to this day we’ve got leaders like Darlene speaking into our lives, encouraging us and correcting us.
We’re a cross-pollinated breed, not unto our own. We’ve been brought up by Hillsong, IHOP and Vineyard music. We would be in line at the bookstore to get whatever came out in Junior High and High School. So we just are really thankful and indebted. We’re a melting pot of influence. Still to this day we’ve got leaders like Darlene speaking into our lives, encouraging us and correcting us. It’s the most beautiful gift to be surrounded by diversity like that, especially with leadership. We’ve just had such incredible leaders in our lives. We’ve been in a church since we were born. We are really connected to a lot of different leaders.
[WM] What advice do you have for worship leaders and worship team members around individual and team health?
[Jenn] You know, our worship team at Bethel is about 120 people. We just love them so much. We do a lot to keep connection with them. For me personally, I just ask the Lord to put someone on the team on my heart, it literally happens almost daily. I’m always keeping my Holy Spirit radar open for who He wants me to connect with and minister to on our team with a phone call or a text.
…we are living in the fruit of longevity in relationships on a musical level with what we do on stage...
With our big team, we have them all over once a month to our house, and we just worship together, eat together, and hang out. And then every other month we have all the worship leaders come over. They’ll come over and we’ll BBQ, eat and drink together, pray together, share our hearts, and hear from them. We’re a smaller community, which is awesome. We really have such a high value for real friendship and connection. We believe that we are living in the fruit of longevity in relationships on a musical level with what we do on stage, with where we’re able to go in the Spirit. I can’t prove it on paper, but I’m pretty convinced that something magical happens when you know the person you’re playing with. When you trust them and they trust you, you know? And it really comes from longevity in relationships, so we are huge fans of that.
[WM] Any practical tips on how to measure or look for in terms of team health?
[Jenn] We meet on Mondays with the department heads from a weekend service – the sound guy, the guy who schedules teams, the musicians, all the different heads of our weekend world, worship-wise. It’s really beautiful because they are all Spirit-filled, and they’re just keeping their eyes and ears and hearts open to what God’s doing at all times. They’ll bring up, like, “Hey. We need to check in with this person. How are they doing?” It’s way beyond a technical level. Our teams are surrounded by different dimensions of health and help – it’s a really beautiful and Spirit-led thing.
[Brian] I think that the main thing that people try to avoid at all costs is having a consistent devotional life. If we don’t eat food, we’re going to die. If our car doesn’t keep getting filled up with gas, it’s going to not go anywhere. But as Christians we try to almost avoid emotional and spiritual health at all costs and try to figure out with self-help books and different ways to band-aid our insecurity. It boils down to insecurity. If you’re secure in God someone could do anything to you and it’s like water off of a duck’s back because you know what God thinks. It is such a sacred moment with God where you’re getting fed by Him, getting your security and affirmation, going deep. Just reading the Word, slowing down and letting that time be a time where it’s really about you and God, in a slowed down moment where you’re taking it all in. You’re reading the Word and you’re asking the Holy Spirit to let it really sink in and become a reality in your life, and then with worship music on… just letting God do His thing. I think that’s the beginning of not just all of our fruit in ministry but the beginning of us being able to be healthy, whole people.
I know for me, we have a lot of stuff always happening because we’re over the music label with 65 employees and 120 musicians in the worship department. There’s just a million different moving parts and every day is an occasion for something, you know? I’ll go through the day and stuff will be bothering me, but then the next morning I get up and I have that time where I get my coffee and I get my Bible and I just start reading –dedicated time. And usually by the end of that time, all that stuff that was really getting to me, which typically would have derailed me, doesn’t matter as much. That’s my only answer to everything, honestly. Not to be sarcastic, but I really feel that we need to have less self-help books and more Word. All that’s amazing, but there’s something about getting to a point where no matter what anyone says or does to you, you know where you are with God. At the end of the day that’s really what matters.
[Jenn] Really, I get a lot of help. There’s just no way you can do it all. Early on in ministry a leader who was a good friend of ours just really encouraged me to get help on areas of our lives that anyone could do, so that we really could focus on being leaders, parents, and having a healthy marriage. That was a really beautiful thing. So as each year has gone by (you know our oldest daughter is fifteen) I’ve just gotten more and more help to cover the things that anyone could do so that I can really focus on the areas that God’s called me to. I’ve increased the time that we’ve gotten help every year. I think that’s a practical way to maximize that there’s only so much time.
But for me, just in driving around in my car, which I do a lot as a mom, I just keep my heart connected to the Lord. Just talking to Him during the day and constantly asking Him what He’s saying to me, or about a situation. Communion with God really is that connection. In the past year especially I’ve really had to protect my emotional space, especially with social media, which I love. This last year the Lord asked me to reel it in, where I was spreading myself too thin emotionally, so that I could just really be present for the people that needed my attention and affection most. That’s been a really good pulling back and simplification for me in this past year – to kind of weed things out some. I deleted over 100 people that I followed, not because I didn’t love them, but I just felt like the Lord was asking me to simplify my emotional space and what I was caring about.
I think in every season it looks different. I know it has for me as a mom. Every season of work has looked very different. Some seasons, my kids have needed me more. I’ve just done my best to follow the Holy Spirit to be a mom and wife in ministry. It’s been incredible, honestly. I wouldn’t trade any of it, and God’s been so faithful in each season to direct me and give me blueprints for how to attack that season and what was needed for it.
[WM] That’s gold! Jenn, you’ve got some serious pipes! What do you do, and what have you done to cultivate your voice and maintain it?
[Jenn] I do a vocal warm-up before I sing. The bummer for me as a mom, is that I’ve had to learn I can’t yell for all my kids sporting events and performances. Which I hate as things like that have blown my voice out. I’m just kind of babying it a bit. I’ve done a few singing lessons, but with being a mom it’s kind of been one of those things that I haven’t given the best attention to it because I’ve had so many other things going on.
I have really sensitive hearing. I did a hearing test, and I hear what dogs should only be able to hear, I think. So, my voice and my hearing have actually been a really big struggle. I’ve wanted to quit, honestly, so many times. I’ve been really angry sometimes, and it’s been very frustrating with in-ears. Less with the vocal, but with the hearing it’s been something I have had to work through because it’s been a real struggle to get my in-ears right. My hearing is so sensitive that I’ll sing really quiet, and then I’ll yell. It’s been a journey. I don’t think I’m there yet. I’ve learned a lot, but it hasn’t been the funnest part of the whole story.
[Brian] I’ve had an old parlor Martin that’s about 60-something years old that is kind of like my main one. I’ve got two of them actually. I had a little Trinity system put in it so I could mix the mic and pickups. I love that little thing. I’ve written most of my songs on it. It’s comfortable, it’s a writer’s guitar, it’s easy to play and it sounds the best when plugged in. I’ve very much an avid believer that pickups are everything.
[WM] Brian, you are speaking into the lives of so many people. “Gravity” alone has 500,000+ views on YouTube. That said, the video about what you walked through with a mental breakdown has over a million views on Facebook. As a senior worship pastor, what does that say to you?
[Brian] People want reality, they want real, they want authentic, they want someone that they look up to, someone to pull back the covers a little bit and say, “Here’s really what I’ve experienced.” When leaders do that, when they tell their story, that’s what people are really wanting, you know? That’s what Jesus did. Jesus told stories and then talked about what He did, and I just think there’s something to that. We have a lot of words in ministry and a lot of how to’s for bettering ourselves. But when we just get a hold of the fact that when we’re vulnerable and humble before God, He’s like a mighty warrior on our behalf. He creates an easy pathway for us and defeats our enemies. There is a humility and vulnerability that I feel people are starving for in the church.