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Intersection of Life and Faith

Tim Hughes

  • Christianity Today Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2009 4 Mar
Tim Hughes

If there's a single word that aptly captures what Tim Hughes has been about—where his heart's been over the last three years leading up to his latest album, Holding Nothing Back—there's no better touchstone than passion. The emotion runs deep through the 11 new worship songs Hughes has composed this time out; it infiltrates the instruments, washes over his voice, fills the very room. And on the surface of things, those are more than enough reasons why Holding Nothing Back is a singular, standout release of 2007.

But as is typical for the Brit who wrote what's arguably the biggest modern worship anthem ever ("Here I Am to Worship," #1 CCLI more than two years running) and garnered two Dove Awards along the way—all before the age of 29—there's a lot more of deeper significance bubbling beneath the surface.

For starters, intently listening to God and letting him lead the creation of song themes and lyrics and chords has been a process of discovery for Hughes—one that not only required daily prayer and surrender, but also plenty of observation, insight, and vision for where the church needs to take worship.

"These are the days to be daring, exuberant, and passionate in worship," Hughes asserts. "These are not times for half-hearted, apathetic worship. The need is great, and the church has to rise up and take on board all who God is. I sometimes get so frustrated of being in churches where we just go through the motions. God is worthy of everything we can ever give him.

"It should be common in our churches to see people weeping in worship, overwhelmed at the sheer mercy of God. It should be common to hear people singing at the tops of their voices, passionately expressing the love that God has lavished upon us. It should be common to see people dancing like lunatics, freely and with abandon, responding to God's salvation. It should be common to see people rapt in silence, lost in wonder, completely transfixed at the transcendence of our God. We have an amazing God, and our worship should be real, honest, authentic, engaged, expressive, and wholehearted; we should be holding nothing back."

I am chosen, I am free/I am living for eternity/Free now, forever/You pick me up, turn me around/You set my feet on solid ground/Yours now forever/Nothing's gonna hold me back… ("Holding Nothing Back," co written with Martin Smith of Delirious?)

From those sentiments, desires, and big dreams—both for Hughes himself and the church he serves—this particular song cycle began taking shape. And with passion for worshiping God fueling his creativity, Hughes branched out and explored a variety of subjects—and not all of them necessarily familiar territory for many listeners and fellow worshipers.

Among them is "God of Justice," a poignant, seven-minute track (the longest on the album) that packs a powerful punch. Indeed for Hughes, mixing the theme of earthly justice with the ministry of worship is not only a natural Christian response, it gets to the heart of God like nothing else.

"As we read the Bible, we see so clearly God's heart for the poor," Hughes explains. "It ranks second only to idolatry as the most popular theme in the Old Testament. And in the New Testament, one in 10 verses relate to poverty, justice, or wealth. So if you take these themes out of the Bible, you're left with a very, very thin book!"

Justice, in fact, began as a value in Hughes' from during his earliest memories. "My parents always had a sense of loving the poor and the marginalized," he explains. "My dad's a vicar, and I remember vividly as a kid every Christmas the church ran a lunch outreach for the elderly, the homeless, and those who just didn't have families. I remember we'd peel potatoes and serve food and drinks to people. In one sense it kind of felt strange: 'Why aren't we home opening our presents?' But the concept of an outward Christian faith really stuck with me."

Since then Hughes has seen more clearly than ever the link between justice and worship. "I was involved in a mission to London called Soul in the City and there saw 10,000 young people come together to spend 10 days reaching out to the community. We picked up litter, painted old houses, organized sports for underprivileged kids, played late-night cafes and gigs for unbelievers. And when we gathered together to worship through song, there was an amazing depth to our worship. It felt like God was pleased with us because we weren't just singing the songs—we were actually living a life of worship that was making a difference to those around us."

And that goes a long way toward explaining why Hughes' primary passion isn't for the music he creates; it's first of all for those who hear it: God and the church.

"Jesus said, 'I will build my church,' so that's the focus of everything I do," Hughes emphasizes, adding that such "building" doesn't play out exclusively onstage at massive worship festivals around the world, either—in fact, quite the opposite. His role as worship director of his local congregation, Holy Trinity Brompton in London, gets top billing. "I'm involved with leading the worship on Sundays, training up other worship leaders, investing in and leading the musicians, and working with the leadership team to bring about change," Hughes explains proudly. "Our vision at the church is the 're-evangelization of the world and the transformation of society'—it's a big vision we're working toward!"

Not that music and songwriting isn't something Hughes enjoys—far from it; it's just that music is truly a means to an end, not the end in itself. "I'm passionate about writing songs that'll be a blessing to the church, that'll encourage the church to worship," he notes. "New songs, new melodies, new lyrics that'll inspire and fuel the church's worship."

Besides songwriting and worship leading, other means to an end in Hughes' speedily spinning world include a second book (aptly titled Holding Nothing Back), a devotional on worship that takes readers through some of the themes of the album's songs; he's also involved in a worship school, worshipcentral, that provides training days for worship leaders, musicians, and pastors.

"Our mission there is to encounter God, equip the worshiper, and empower the church," Hughes reveals. "So everything we do aims to train people up to be a blessing in their local churches. And to do that I must first and foremost be committed and rooted in my local church."

For Hughes, it all comes back to God—the One who freely gives us not only life, but in fact offers us the passion to love and serve him with everything we have, every day. Hughes' heart's desire is simply that everyone who hears his music would see all the wonders Jesus has created and let those discoveries fuel their worship.

All of the Universe explodes in song before designer King/Valley shaper, mountain maker/The stars sing out they can't contain the praises of their God/Earth creator, heaven shaker/Beginning of it all/The reason for it all/The centre of it all… ("Centre of It All").