Among Thorns -- Now is the Time to Worship
- Matthew Turner Music and Entertainment Editor
- 2001 3 Mar
Among Thorns (Jason): Five years. We started out as a college Bible study. We led worship, and we started this Bible study just for kids in our hometown. It was there. We just began to learn about worship and what it meant to worship and how to lead other people in worship. From there we started traveling with an evangelist named Ken Freeman, and we've just been doing it for five years now. We're still learning how to be a worshipper, and so is the church.
Matt Turner: So you started five years ago with the intent to be a worship band?
Among Thorns (Jason): The intent was not to be a band at all. We just wanted to do this Bible study. We were all in different bands, and they all broke up around the same time. The band that I was in was doing the Bible study for college students. We wanted to keep going, and so I went to college with one of the guys, this guy went to church with this guy, so we just pieced the band together for the sole purpose of the Bible study. Worship was the only thing we had ever done, and we even told each other, "Hey, we don't want be a band." We just want to do this Bible study and then when it's over, it's over. But I think God had other plans, and we've been doing it non-stop for five years now.
Matt Turner: Where did the name Among Thorns come from?
Among Thorns (Jason): I was reading in Job one night and Job 5:5 says, "The hungry consume his harvest taking it even from among thorns." When I read that it was just like a light went off in my head. It wasn't even like, ''I'm looking for a scripture so I can identify a band," I was just reading. When I read the scripture, God was just, like, "this is what I want you to be. You know you want some of Me; you want some of the fruits of Me that are easy to obtain and that you may not have to strive for." Then there are other things that God wants us to have of Him that we may suffer to get or that we may have to be persecuted to get. Just the deep things of God. When I read it, it was reminding me of fruit that may have been surrounded by thorns. The people that were hungry and starving, they're not going to get fruit that is easy to grab, they're going to get stuck. They're going to try to go for the good fruit that is protected. When I read that, I was just like, "I want that for me, to even grab the stuff that may be out of my reach. So, we just talked about that scripture together and we decided that we wanted a ministry with that kind of theme; that we were going to go after God and teach people how to worship and let God teach us how to be worshippers ourselves. It's almost like a "live among the thorns" mentality. That's where we got it from. It was Job 5:5.
Matt Turner: Have you been leading worship at mostly youth retreats and camps, or is it an all-across-the-board, coffee houses kind of thing?
Among Thorns (Matt): It's seasonal. In summertime, mostly camps, pretty much all camps, but as we get into the winter we love to do revival and we get to do crusades with that Ken Freeman guy; we started off with him, doing a lot of those. Now we're working with a lot of other people, but that is probably the most fun time of the year, because we get to pull up to a church, meet the people, and pretty much be there for five days sometimes. You get to know the people and what the church is going through, and you get to minister to them (to me) better than if we just pulled in one night, said, "Hi," and then you're up on stage and you're leading worship. So a lot of that in the winter, and coffee shops sometimes, usually with youth and college-age type of crowds.
Matt Turner: Do you find that worship is relational, not necessarily on a vertical level, but even a horizontal level?
Among Thorns (Jason): I think a lot of times we can go to church, and we have the mentality, "Alright, bust me." So I think a lot of times when you can have somebody come in to a church and do a revival, I think almost always the first service is just a throw-away service. Everyone is just sitting back and taking in who you are and seeing if you're going to be a head-banger and tick off the old people and be too loud, so everyone's kind of got their feelers out. I think it is relational. It's hard to trust somebody you don't know and really understand what somebody's motives are if you just go in one night. So, I think it has a lot to do with the relationship part.
Among Thorns (Brandon): You can almost see the people change every night, just like Jason was saying. In the beginning it's like the service might be considered a throw-away night where people are just trying to feel you out, but if we're there for a week, or five nights, then, by the last night the people have hopefully connected with us and trust us. And it helps them be able to get into worship and not be concerned with the music or earrings.
After the first night, on the second night, people understand what we're about better and are able to put us aside, because we're not there to perform as much as we are to lead them in worship, so it gets better as the days go on in revivals, and it gets more special.
Among Thorns: (Matt) I think so, too. And this is usually when we have adult audiences. It's easy with kids, because the music is big and fun and fast. It grabs kids. What we're talking about is connecting with an audience of adults, which we are quickly becoming.
Among Thorns: (Jason) When I go to a church, my focus is the adults. I want to reach them more than anything, because we've all gone to youth camp and had an experience and gone back to church just ready to hang from the chandeliers, and the adults are just like, "What? I don't get it." And so, as long as that keeps happening, they're gonna go to camp, have fun, have an experience and water is going to be thrown on it. I think a big part is that we get the adults at the same place where the kids are. The older you get, the more skeptical you become.
Among Thorns: (Matt) I think skeptical, and also, that generation pretty much was deprived of worship. Today there is more emphasis over other youth and young people and college age of worship. You have all these worship CDs coming out, and they didn't have that stuff and they had hymnals, or one type of thing, and there is such a large variety of music. Now the adults are just starting to connect and buy new stuff, and they're, like, "Well, what is this?" Then we come in, and they're trying to say, "Are these what worship leaders look like?" It pretty much freaks them out at times.
Among Thorns: (Jason) It's hard, too. A worship leader, in most people's minds, is somebody who directs, holds a hymnbook, is very unemotional and very structured.
Matt Turner: Do you still have to fight that stereotype? I mean, at least in this neck of the woods, a worship leader is a guy with a guitar. Do you still go to places where you fight the mentality that it needs to come from a hymnal?
Among Thorns (All): Oh, yeah. All the time.
Among Thorns: (Jason) I mean, we even take our earrings out on Sunday mornings just to appease the older crowds. It's just like, "Trust us. And we'll start off with a couple of hymns. It's not the appearance. It's the inside that they need to look at, and they understand. We've even had some real elderly women come up to us and say, "We love you, even with your earrings." Once they got to know us, they cook for us and make cookies and they trust us. We're not as scary.
Matt Turner: Being a worship-driven band for five years in this new wave of worship music, you guys are veterans, because it seems in the last three years the worship music has just exploded. What do you think about the way worship music is being commercialized? Is it a good thing or is it a bad thing?
Among Thorns: (Jason) I think God is definitely waking up people, and people are starting to understand. It's not that hymns are bad, it's just that we've done them the same for so long. All growing up for me it was a piano on this side; an organ on this side, and it was the same way for years. So, it's not that hymns are bad, I just think people are waking up, seeing that we can go beyond and do something new. With the move deal, I think the move deal has been cheapened a lot by the big influx of bands that have come in, but it's only because there are labels that are just seeing the money aspect of it, so they just throw stuff out there. It doesn't even have to be a praise and worship leader, you just have to be, like, bands who just put people together and throw out a worship band. I think that's bad for it. I think that it's also been great, because now, more than ever, there are more resources that you can pull from in your church. If you don't like this style, then there's this. It's a catch-22. There's some great things about it, and there's things that definitely cheapen the move.
Matt Turner: What are the components of a good worship song?
Among Thorns:(Jason) I think the most important part is it has to be singable. When Darren and I are writing, or me and Gary, or any of the other guys in the band, we start off with this melody, and there'll be times we say, "A crowd is never gonna be able to sing this." Singability, and more than anything, the depth of it; it has to be honest and be able to convey what you're feeling, and not just for me and my reaction, but for the people in the congregation. Can they wrap their arms around it and say, "Yeah that's me. This really sums up what I'm going through, and it really sums up how I feel about God." And obviously that it glorifies God. For me, that's what I'm looking for.
Matt Turner: We all know the stereotype of how we think a Christian musician should live. Does it add pressure because you focus on worship, to live that life, as opposed to just getting up there and being a rock band?
Among Thorns: (Matt) They look at us, certainly a lot more skeptically, because you can look at D.C. Talk or Newsboys or any of these guys and see they're singing about the Lord and they love the Lord, but they're not for the most part, a lot of them now are leading worship, but they're not in the church every week. They're in these large venues in front of wild kids, so it's more like a rock concert, I think. When they look to us, even though there's a performance aspect in what we do, they're looking for purity in worship, and a lot of people associate that with looks, which is something you have to get past. I mean, obviously, you don't want to go around looking wild. A lot of people associate your purity with how you maintain yourself and how you go about in your speech, and so you have to pay attention.
Matt Turner: You bring up an interesting point with the whole concert thing. In most concerts they usually have a worship element. Whether it's the acoustic set in the middle of the rock set or something at the end, is there something wrong with just going and entertaining, as opposed to having the feel like there's a necessity - to worship. I mean, what's wrong with just entertaining?
Among Thorns: (Jason) Don't you think that cheapens the move, too?
Matt Turner: You're absolutely right. I do. It's frustrating to me.
Among Thorns: (Matt) It's like, this is popular so this is what we're just gonna do.
Among Thorns: (Jason) Well, I think that people have created that thinking, because it's like, a group goes in and basically they're Christian performers and there's two callings or two different jobs: there're worship leaders and there're Christian performers, and there's nothing wrong with either one. It's just what you do, but I think that a Christian performer goes in there and does his thing and he feels he has to do that, because when the crowd leaves, the first thing they're gonna say is, "He didn't even minister. They didn't even say anything." So, they have to do that, make sure people in their eyes are saying, "They are Christians." We've heard that so many times. We've come across other groups that say, "That group didn't even minister." It's like, "Well, they were performing."
Among Thorns: (Brandon) But it's beyond that. It's not just, "we're gonna minister," it's "we're gonna do a worship set." I think it's because (I don't know if Christians are demanding that right now, if you want to be godly).
Matt Turner: Do you think it's our need for community? Because worship is the easiest way for the artist to quickly relate to the audience?
Among Thorns: (Jason) Especially if they don't know your songs. It's like, "I'm gonna sing Shout to the Lord and everybody's gonna be able to jump on it.
Matt Turner: Yeah, like, Creed goes out there and has everybody singing Higher or their latest hit, and I just think that sometimes Christian artists feel that pressure to create that community, create that relationship between them and their audience, and worship nails it that quick.
Among Thorns (Brandon): This is a difficult subject, but if you look at Christian artists from the beginning, like Steve Green, Steve Camp, Keith Green, Dallas Holm, all these guys started out with a considerable amount of worship in their music. Steve Camp and even Steven Curtis Chapman (when I was a little kid going to his concerts there'd also be a worship section) ... I don't think it's something new. I think that a lot of music got away from that, at a certain point, where there wasn't that aspect in Christian music. I think now it's getting back to that, because there's a worship movement. I don't think it's a bad thing, cuz' when Chapman did it - I believed him. I totally believed him.