Here I Am to Worship
- Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Tim Hughes explains how he came to write this well-known worship song
SANTA ANA, CA -- You can hardly visit a church around the world without hearing the congregation sing the beautiful song, Here I Am to Worship.
It was written by Tim Hughes, the current Director of Worship at Holy Trinity Brompton, an Anglican church in central London, and I recently got to talk with Tim, who was born on July 23, 1978, and grew up in the Midlands city of Birmingham, and asked him how he came to write this classic.
“I was studying history at Sheffield University and I had been reading through the book of Philippians and I am across that passage that talks about imitating Christ’s humility; how he came and gave up everything he had in heaven, walked on earth, and was obedient to death even death on a cross,” he said during the interview he did for my Front Page Radio program on KWVE 107.9 in Southern California.
“I’d begun living in that scripture for a while and, often for me in my personal worship, I just kind of start out pouring out things in my heart and these words began to form: -- ‘Light of the world, you stepped down into darkness…’ It felt like a strong verse and I knew there was something in the song.
“I spent weeks and months trying to finish the song off but I couldn’t and I kind of forgot about it. And then, about six months later, I remembered it and, as I was listening to a batch of old song ideas I had, I found this melody which felt like it fitted really well with the verse I had, and suddenly the song came together.
“I had the verses which were speaking about all that Jesus had done and the chorus was to be a real heartfelt response to this amazing love and sacrifice. So it came together and it’s just been hugely encouraging and exciting to see how the song has connected with people because I wrote it in my bedroom at university and I had no idea how it could affect so many people.”
Tim was joined in studio by Al Gordon, Associate Director of Worship at Holy Trinity Brompton, and co-leader of a school of worship known as “Worship Central” based at the church.
I asked Al to share about the worship style at Holy Trinity Brompton.
“We try to keep it really simple and endeavor to connect people with God and try to sing really simple songs,” he said. “I guess our values in worship are intimacy as well as the best of the old the best of the new. So we have a full contemporary band, but we still have the organ style and we try and bring together the best of what’s being written by the contemporary church, but also not neglecting the hymns and the tradition of the saints of the past. We sing songs that are thousands of years old as well as those that are a few months old.”
Tim Hughes then said, “There’s an amazing heritage in that many of these hymns have lasted the test of time. Some of the lyrics, the poetry, the doctrine, are incredible in hymns like Amazing Grace, When I Survey, How Great Thou Art; musically they’re just incredible. The great combination of the lyric and melody still connect with us today and it’s exciting to have both.”
Kay Poland, the Operations Manager of KWVE and the voice who introduces and ends Front Page Radio each week, also joined me for the interview and she said that she had noticed that a lot of times in contemporary worship, people are taking the old hymns and then pairing it with a contemporary worship song and it “breathes new life into it because you have this incredible theology in the hymn but then there’s this pure vertical worship that’s involved.” She told Tim and Al that she had noticed that they do a lot in their worship leading.
Tim Hughes said, “We’ve found there’s an amazing life that comes from that kind of great doctrine and powerful lyrics of the hymns, but perhaps with a fresh contemporary chorus. You know Paul talked in Corinthians about ‘I’ll sing with my spirit,’ but I’ll also sing with my mind when I’m leading worship. I try to find songs that enable us to do both; to really stretch out thinking and understanding of who God is, but to also have a really simple response where you can just say ‘how great is our God’ or ‘come let us adore him.’ It’s kind of that balance of both.”
The pair were in Southern California to conduct a Soul Survivor Worship Together seminar, and I put it to Al Gordon that one of the things that maybe concerns some people is the fact that it seems that the performance often overshadows the actual worship with some leaders.
He replied, “We are very passionate about equipping the worship leader for an encounter with God and also we wish to empower the church. One of the things we’ve seen in the last twenty years, as the church has developed contemporary worship, is the rise of performance in worship. I love what John The Baptist said of Jesus, that when he hears the bride groom’s voice, his job is to ‘decrease’ so that He, Jesus, can ‘increase.’
“Our vision for Worship Central is to equip worship leaders and worship teams to ‘decrease’ so that the presence of God can ‘increase.’ We want the worship leader to cease being the focus of that time, so the focus ends up on Jesus, where it should be.”
Kay Poland asked how this could be done.
“We try to have songs that flow together so that there’s not too much of the leader constantly interrupting, meaning that people can focus on Christ,” said Tim Hughes. “This involves in looking at the lyrics of the songs so that they’re Christ centered and are revealing of the Father and Holy Spirit led. There are lots of ways that we can encourage people to fix their eyes on Jesus and not get in the way too much.
“We’re careful about not having too many guitar solos, flashing lights, and all of that stuff which actually can, at times, distract. Much of it is actually a posture of the heart. If your heart is there to worship, then people can see that. If your heart is to perform and impress, then that somehow gets across to the congregation.”
Al Gordon then added, “One of the most powerful ways is leading by example and, in so doing, simply choosing to worship. There’s a phrase that we use a lot which is, ‘Worshiping is caught rather than taught.’ In one sense, it’s very easy to give a twenty minute lecture about how to do worship than to force them to do it. But there’s something that happens when you come into a place where worship is happening and you’re drawn into a sense of people worshiping Jesus and for us it is how we fell in love with Jesus. It was through just being in a place where He was being worshipped. There’s something about that. You can’t really force people to do it; it has to happen by the heart being set alight.”
Al then spoke about Holy Trinity Brompton.
“The building that we worship in has been there for over a hundred and fifty years; it’s a beautiful building,” he said. “But recently, God has started to do something amazing with our congregation. During the last twenty years, we’ve grown from being quite a small church to quite a large church by British standards and much of that has been to do with a course called the Alpha Course.
“It’s been a low key, non-threatening way for people outside the church to discover about the Christian faith. It’s ten sessions over ten weeks based around simple Biblical teaching on, ‘Who is Jesus?’ ‘What did Jesus do?’ ‘How did Jesus die?’ It started as a course in our church led by one of our curates at the time, Nicky Gumbel, who’s now the vicar of the church.
“It has grown to over thirty-five-thousand courses running in over a hundred-fifty countries. We estimate about eleven-million people have done the Alpha Course around the world.”
Besides his music, Tim is also the author of two books, Here I Am to Worship, and Holding Nothing Back, both published in the US by Regal Books. I asked him to first explain the thrust of Here I Am to Worship.
“It is part of a training package for worship leaders,” he said. “Our vision at Worship Central is to train and encourage and resource worship leaders and this book ties in with that. So the book looks at worship; what it is, but also practically, how we can lead in a way that’s not performance. How do we train musicians? How do we lead a band? And how do we choose our song lists? How do we write songs? It’s a real practical resource.
“And then Holding Nothing Back is a devotional book looking at some of the characteristics of God and our expression and response of worship in the light of that.”
I then asked Al Gordon to give his assessment of Christianity today in the United Kingdom.
“It is incredibly exciting when we look at the church in Britain today,” he said. “Something new is happening; there’s a hunger among young people for spiritual things and many of them are coming to faith and rediscovering what it means to have a relationship with Jesus. That’s one of the things that we’re passionate about in Worship Central. We want to equip the worshiping church because these young people who come to church often want to sing songs that are more akin with their culture. We want to provide a context for them to train and learn to be better worship musicians and better worshipers just so they don’t neglect what’s been going on for hundreds of years before them. But also, that they’re sharp and good on sound theology.”
Tim Hughes added, “It used to be twenty years ago that people, particularly young people, joined churches purely based on the teaching, but now young people are also coming to church based on the worship and the music. So it’s a huge responsibility for worship leaders to be leading in a way that’s wise and healthy and so we’re really keen to get these guys and girls and train them up and equip them.”
Al Gordon then said, “It is said of King David, the great Biblical worship leader, that he had two things: integrity of heart and skillful hands. He led people with integrity of heart and skillful hands. And I guess the first thing is to ask is, what does your heart say if it is worshiping? It doesn’t really matter whether you’re singing the latest song, or a hymn that’s a thousand years old. What’s important is that your heart is right before God.
“Actually, I’d rather sing an old hymn with the right heart than the latest song with the wrong heart. When we get to heaven, it’s not going to be the latest music, it’s going to be music from thousands of years ago of every tribe and every tongue and every culture. We mustn’t lose sight of that.”
Tim Hughes then injected, “I’ve just read this amazing article in a newspaper in America. It’s attacking modern trends of worship and music and it’s saying that the lyrics aren’t as centered on Christ as they should be, and that they are ungodly and the music it’s about making money and it’s just really slating modern music.
“And, so I wondered who is this written for and about? Actually, it was written in seventeen-twenty-three attacking Isaac Watts who wrote the hymn When I Survey the Wondrous Cross….
“So I think it’s helpful for us to remind ourselves that in the day those hymns were written, they were radical, offensive and shocking. We always need to be open to a fresh move of songs and music. To be honest, if we want to see our churches continue to grow and attract young people, which is a desperate passion of mine, then we must keep moving with the times whilst keeping the best of the old.”
For more information on Holy Trinity Brompton, go to www.htb.org.uk.
I would like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.
Copyright 2008 ASSIST News Service. Used with permission.
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