We had a chance to catch up with Kim shortly before the release of her third solo album “On My Side”, and the start of the first leg of the 2017 Outcry Tour. While this album delivers a fresh download of the passionate worship that has become a source of strength for so many, Kim’s openness about dealing with the challenges of life that we all face is equally refreshing. This interview is a great reminder that God is always on our side, that we all wrestle with Him, and that He’s OK with meeting us exactly where we are at.
[WM] A post on your Facebook page read “I’ve poured more of myself into this album than I ever have before, and it truly is my dream record filled with all the honesty and vulnerability of a heart surrendered to Jesus.” Considering the impact of your previous recordings, what makes this album so different for you?
[KWS] With this record I really wanted to tell the story of the journey that I’ve been on with God – the things He’s taught me and coming out on the other side. The incredible trust that has been built up in my relationship with Him required a whole new level of vulnerability beyond what I’ve ever done before. I’ve never considered myself to be a songwriter, it wasn’t something I did often, but this season changed that for me because I wanted to tell the story and take people on that journey. I wanted to write the songs. This is the first album that I’ve written on every song except for two, and in that way I poured so much of my heart into this because it’s my words, my lyrics, and my unique story that I put in there. Going into the studio and not doing it live like I normally do made it feel even more vulnerable, exposing my heart and emotions and the journey I’ve been on. There’s just so much more of me poured out than ever before.
This record was birthed out of the toughest years I’ve gone through, and some really difficult things that I’ve wrestled through with the Lord. Becoming a mom, having some post-partum depression after the second child, and in the middle of that we moved to a new city, struggling to sell our house and find a new home. We were planting a church with Jesus Culture, and my step-dad who was ‘Dad’ to me passed away in the middle of all of that. There were a lot of things that I was wrestling through with God. Struggling with pain, anger, offense, all these questions, and throughout all of that the one question that I felt the Lord kept hammering in with me was that He’s on my side and He’s there with me in the midst of everything.
He’s on my side and He’s there with me in the midst of everything.
[WM] People loved hearing Throne Room at the Jesus Culture Encounter Conference. Which songs from this disc mean the most to you and why?
[KWS] It’s really hard to pick your favorites but the two songs that probably mean the most to me are “On My Side” and “Fresh Outpouring”.
“On My Side” fully encompasses the message of the journey that I’ve been on with the Lord in this last season and the resounding thing that I want people to hear and feel. I think it’s a message that really speaks to us as individuals, deep down in our hearts.
“Fresh Outpouring” is a bit more of a corporate prayer and message, coming from a place of my own prayer to see God do something fresh, in my life, in my family, but also in the church, community and in this nation. I feel like it’s a message that the body of Christ as a whole can latch onto and I think it’s a prayer that many of us desire and want to pray.
[WM] “Awaken Love” sounds like a confession of perhaps having relied on your own strength and then finding your way back to your first love. What advice do you have for people wanting to stay close to the heart of Christ, and what are some of the telltale signs to watch out for?
[KWS] As a worship leader a really good indicator is that I just show up at church, go through the routine of my songs, go home and that’s it. I don’t think about what’s happening in the set or what God is wanting to accomplish in that room, just walking through the motions and the routine. You start to feel a little numb on the inside. That is the kind of stuff that is a really good indication that you’re starting to coast and rely on your own strength and what you know. Not pressing into what God is wanting to do – the new, the fresh, or whatever it is He’s wanting to speak into or teach you in that time. For me the return to my first love is just trying to stay in the place where I’m constantly reminding myself that every day is an opportunity to experience God in a new way, learn about him in a new way, and know him in a new way. I think that’s what it means when He is our first love, wanting to walk in that daily, pressing in and taking time out of our day. For me as a mom, even if its’ only five minutes in my day, I take the time to acknowledge His presence. To try to keep my heart in a place where I’m remembering that I can experience something new and fresh of Jesus every single day.
[WM] I remember the first time I heard you sing “All I need is You” and being completely floored. This is still one of my favorite Marty Sampson songs, and between the vocal delivery and octave jumps you took the song someplace really special. It was also the first time I heard you do that little laugh you do when you’re worshiping. What, if anything does that laugh mean?
[KWS] I get asked about it all the time! It’s a few things – the first thing is that I just get so happy when I’m worshiping, I cannot contain my joy. I know that sounds maybe silly but that’s just how it is. When I get lost in the presence of God and am doing what I was created to do, and I feel like it’s magnified when you feel that people are in it with you. We’re all in this incredible moment with Jesus all together and it’s just powerful. It just makes me so happy and in that moment of happiness and joy I just can’t hold it in. That’s just who I am when I’m on stage, off stage, when I’m happy I laugh. When I feel joy I laugh.
There is another side to it. I’m very aware that I have an enemy out there and the one thing that the enemy tries to do with worship leaders is bring distraction either before you walk on stage or while you’re on stage. If the enemy can distract us as worship leaders, particularly in our mind or our thoughts, then it makes it really difficult for us to hone in on what God is wanting to do and say in the moment, and it makes it hard for us to do our job which is to lead the people. So there are times and moments when a weird thought may float into my head and I just feel like the enemy is trying to bring distraction and it just makes me laugh because I think, “Nice try, buddy!” This kind of thing comes up inside of me like I’m not going to let this deter me, or distract me. I kind of laugh at my enemy and his failed attempt to try and ruin it.
And then if I’m super honest, on the very rare occasion I laugh because I look out and see someone worshiping in a level of freedom that is just beyond and funny and great, and I feel happy and excited. There’s someone out there just dancing their heart out and it’s both funny and totally precious. I just love seeing people totally free and lost in the moment – just worshiping Jesus. That just makes me happy – I just love it.
[WM] When you are leading worship, is there are primary instrument you mainly listen to for cues or is it the whole band?
[KWS] You know the drums are kind of my main instrument, they add so much emotion. If I played an instrument, drums are what I’d want to play. I feel like drums can build and make something so huge or suddenly drop out and be super dramatic. I love what the drums do. It’s also the instrument I listen to for timing and settling into a rhythm. For a long time I never had a click track in my ears because it drove me crazy, so I always had to make sure I listened to the drums so that I could sing in the right tempo with the rest of the band. My band has finally convinced and forced me to get the click track in my ears, but that is the instrument that I listen to. I struggle with acoustic sets because I’m so used to just following the drums.
[WM] I once heard Banning Liebscher (Jesus Culture founder) describe the day he realized you would become the voice of the Jesus Culture movement. At what point did you realize you had a style and what did you do to develop it?
[KWS] It’s funny, I think I’ve only really kind of noticed in recent years that I’m unique and different in what I do and who I am as a worship leader, I never really thought about it too much. I’ve always just been, even as a kid growing up, very real and honest, kind of blunt. I just say what’s in my head and my heart. I don’t try to hide my emotions or what I’m feeling, I just kind of put it all out there and that has really translated into who I am as a worship leader. I’m pretty bold, I go after things. I like to see breakthrough and freedom for people. I express what I feel in the moment, what I feel the Lord is doing, what He’s saying. I’m not afraid of making mistakes – I’ve been embarrassed many times, I’ve messed up many times, and once you’ve done it one time, you just kind of get over it and realize we’re all a family. Our goal as a family is to go into the presence of God and worship Him together, so I don’t need to be a rock star or perfect, I just need to follow Jesus to the best of my ability and I’m doing this with my family. So I just get over that stuff and laugh at myself and move on. Not being afraid to make mistakes brings a really great boldness, just stepping out and trying new things. I love to bring ministry into worship and going in the direction that I feel the Lord is leading me, whether it’s to stop and speak or pray. I think all of those things make me unique to who I am and the way that God created me as a worship leader. I guess the only thing I can say that I’ve done in maintaining that and pursuing that is just fighting to be myself, being confident, letting His voice be the loudest voice in my head, letting Him be the one that defines me, following Him and looking to my Father.
[WM] What advice do you have for young worship leaders looking to find their voice?
[KWS] My biggest advice to young worship leaders in finding their voice and finding who they are is that you won’t find that apart from Him. We find our identity in Him. I encourage them to grow their relationship with God and keep growing it. Don’t feel like you’ve ever attained it, don’t ever feel like you’ve reached it or you’ve got there. We’re all a work in progress and we all have a journey to go on and to keep growing.
You can’t lead people somewhere that you haven’t been.
I feel like I’ve said this to a lot of worship leaders and only a small percentage of them actually get it, hold onto it, and go after it. If you want to grow as a worship leader it’s really great to get voice lessons, get instrument lessons, learn the songs, and get really good on the technical side, but the most important thing is to grow your relationship with God. You can’t lead people somewhere that you haven’t been. I feel like people hear that and think, “Oh, that’s just some generic Christian answer” that goes in one ear and out the other. I feel like shouting, “No, this is key to becoming a phenomenal worship leader! That you are constantly and consistently contending for more of God and you have an active and a real relationship with Him that is not stagnant, but that is growing.”
It doesn’t mean you have a perfect relationship with him – you’ll go through hard seasons, you’ll wrestle through things and have struggles, but you’re doing it with Him and walking through it with Him. Even in those tough seasons you’re still growing. That translates to a really awesome and strong worship leader because that relationship is what gives meaning and life. That’s what comes out of you. You can sing a song, be a good singer, and a good performer, but what gives anointing, authority, life and meaning to what you are doing is that relationship. This is why we worship and this is what worship is all about – our relationship with Jesus, pouring our love out on Him and receiving His love.
[WM] We recently interviewed Darlene Zschech and she commented that the strongest worship teams are really the result of great leaders. What are the most powerful things that Banning has imparted in you?
[KWS] The thing that I am most thankful that Banning has taught and imparted into me is the need and desire for feedback. I would not be as strong or a capable leader if I didn’t have him and others like him giving me feedback on a consistent basis, challenging me and pushing me to grow. Not letting me stay the same when I make mistakes or respond in a negative way, confronting me on it and saying, “Kim, you can’t respond that way. For who you are, and the leader you are called to be, you can’t respond like this.” All of the years of feedback and challenging has caused me to grow and I couldn’t have done it without that, it’s shaped who I am as a leader. I actively look for feedback in the people that I’m leading and in my team because I want to be a strength and a good leader to them. I give feedback to my team because I know that this is the greatest way to grow. I encourage the people that I’m leading to seek out feedback from people. There are lot of things that I could say that Banning has imparted to me but that is probably the one that I’ve seen the most fruit out of in my life.
[WM] When you’re leading worship how do you strike the balance between meeting the congregation where they are at versus taking them to where the Holy Spirit is leading you to go?
[KWS] I lead worship in lots of different congregations. Some are totally ready to go into really deep waters and really encounter Jesus in a deep way. Others are more conservative and the style of worship leading that I do is new and foreign to them. I love all of that. I just want to meet people where they are like Jesus does for me. I’m not afraid of taking time and teaching them and leading them. When I walk off stage I’m not going to make a judgement of whether I failed or not, or of it was good or not, I’m just going to ask the Lord “did I do what you wanted me to do, did I partner with you well?” That’s what matters to me, I really try to keep it in my mind.
This probably formed more in me after becoming a parent. The way that I see Jesus as a father in my own life, he meets me right where I am. That could be in a good place or a not so good place, but He is a father and meets me right where I am. Becoming a mother has definitely moved a lot more love and compassion in me towards people. When I’m leading the congregation I want to be like Jesus and I want to meet people right where they are. Sometimes I find myself in a room where people are not ready to go as deep as I would like to lead them in worship and I try to be sensitive to that. I’m going to push people and go as deep as we can, but there are definitely times when I walk away and go, “We weren’t really ready to go as deep as I wanted, but we did go somewhere and we did accomplish something.” I don’t’ want to judge that. I just trust God so much and if I go off stage and go, “Did I do what you wanted me to do? Did I follow you well?” and if the answer to that is “yes” then I’m good. That’s all I need. I don’t need it to be a certain way every time.
[WM] A lot of worship team members feel pressured to live mess-free lives, but with this disc you seem to be sending the message that you’re okay with living in the mess – and more importantly Jesus is too. What advice do you have for people that are feeling the pressure as they’re trying to walk out this balancing act?
[KWS] I think we’ve got to work really hard at letting that go because there is an unspoken expectation for people in ministry – whether they are a speaker, a worship leader, or whatever – that they are speaking, writing or leading songs from a place of victory. Like they’ve already made it out on the other side of whatever private challenge or struggle they may have gone through. The message they are communicating to people – while it may be an excellent message like, “This is what you should do, this is how it should look, this is what you need”, doesn’t reveal the journey that we’ve been on and expose our hearts, and that can make it look unattainable. Someone who is sitting there in the mess, in the hardest season of their life, feeling like, “I can’t see God, I can’t hear God, are You there?” I think it’s really important that for those of us on the platform who have a voice to speak, that we are real with people. You don’t’ have to do it every time, in every season, but I think there’s a balance.
It would be kind of crazy if I got up on the stage in the middle of this and started sobbing about my anger at God and the fact my step-dad passed away and God didn’t heal him. I will share that I am on a journey of wrestling through this with the Lord, that I don’t understand why things happen the way that they did, but that I’m pressing into God. My hunger for Him far outweighs this wrestle. I think that’s what people connect and relate to, not just the, “This is how it should be” but the, “I walked through this and it wasn’t always perfect but this is what He taught me, this is what He’s doing, and this is how I’ve made it out on the other side.” I can’t be perfect, I’m a human on a journey with Jesus, which is the truth of who we are.