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Church Worship

10 Questions With Stuart Townend

  • Debra Akins Contributing Writer
  • 2003 27 May
10 Questions With Stuart Townend

 S4W.com: What has been the greatest challenge you've faced since you began pursuing music as a calling and a career?
Probably the biggest challenge I find is to keep pressing on with God. When you see some measure of success in leading worship, it's easy to keep on using the same songs, doing the same things because they've worked before. But then you begin to rely on yourself and your experience, instead of putting your trust in God and allowing him to take you into new areas. These days I find things become stale very quickly unless I seek God for the 'fresh manna.'

S4W.com: What has been the most profound lesson you've learned about worship over the past few years?
A few years ago God spoke to me very clearly about priorities-that I should please God and serve the people, not the other way round. At the time I was too driven by trying to please people. Sure, I wanted to serve God by my worship leading, but the most important thing was how much positive feedback I got from individuals in the congregation. I was working on a human level rather than a spiritual one, and I wasn't ready to step out in obedience to God if it meant making people feel uncomfortable. God really began to sort out my priorities, and now when I'm preparing to lead worship, I'm looking to serve people by leading them in a way that they will connect with God. But my primary question is, "Lord, where do you want to take us?"

Stuart Townend's "How Deep the Father's Love" appears on Let Your Glory Fall by Phillips, Craig & Dean. Listen to samples from that album.

S4W.com: What is the most profound lesson you've learned about life over the past few years?
That the most important responsibility I've got is to my family, above career or ministry. We're probably all aware of the stereotype of the businessman who spends so much time away from home providing for his family that he misses out on his children growing up. Well, it can happen just as easily to a person in Christian ministry. In fact, it's probably more likely because the rationale for being away is linked to a worthy cause. Someone said to me recently, "If you don't have time for your child in the first ten years of their life, they won't have time for you in the next ten years." That stopped me in my tracks and I pulled back my traveling time significantly, and our family is better for it.
S4W.com: What is the most common misunderstanding about worship you see in the current worship climate, and how have you tried to reshape it?
I am concerned about our obsession with the "worship experience." Don't get me wrong. I am an advocate of the heartfelt, emotional expression of worship to God. I also absolutely believe in the activity of the Holy Spirit in our worship, revealing Christ afresh to us, stirring our hearts (making them "strangely warmed," as Wesley once put it) and inspiring spiritual gifts among us. The danger now is that we are so focused on the experience our worship can become self-seeking and self-serving. When all of our songs are about how we feel and what we need, we're missing the point. There is a wonderful, omnipotent God who deserves our highest praise, and how we feel about it is in many ways irrelevant!  I want to encourage the expression of joy, passion and adoration, but I want those things to be the by-product of focusing on God - I don't want them to become the subject matter. I'm trying to write songs that refer to us as little as possible, and to Him as much as possible!

S4W.com: What does 'worship lifestyle' mean to you?
A worship lifestyle for me means being 'God conscious' in the daily routine of life. It's something I'm really trying to work on at the moment because so much of my time and attention is devoted to the context of the congregational worship meeting. And yet when I read the New Testament, it has very little to say about our worship services, but a lot to say about a worshipping heart in the other six days and 22 hours of each week! So I'm trying to learn to give thanks in everything, appreciate his daily mercies, hear him speak as I work through the day, bless others with acts of kindness and confess my sin when I lose my cool or act selfishly. This, I believe, is the sacrifice of worship that God requires.

S4W.com: This is kind of the desert island question. What are the five ministry essentials you could not do without?
A Bible, music manuscript paper to write down song ideas (I have a terrible memory), a rhyming dictionary, a piano, and a guitar. Oh, and a guitar pick...

S4W.com: How do you explain the powerful connection between music and worship expression?
Music is clearly a powerful way to express yourself, not only in augmenting the impact of words, but in communicating on levels that words cannot. As such, it's ideally suited to the expression of truth in a memorable way, the expression of emotions that words can't contain and the dynamic of the Holy Spirit touching us in ways that words can't express.

S4W.com: Describe one of the most compelling, most powerful worship experiences you've had and tell how that affected you as a worshiper and as a leader since that time.
There was a time a few years ago in many churches, including our own, when the presence of God was so intense as we worshipped that there were many extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit. On one particular occasion I was leading worship with David Fellingham (another UK worship leader), and we reached a point not unlike the description in 1 Kings 8, where the cloud of God's presence descended and the priests couldn't minister. I stood there, not daring to move, let alone say anything, for the presence of God was so strong! It's made me realize how superficial we can be sometimes. We talk a lot about the presence of God, but if He were to reveal to us even the tiniest glimpse of His glory, I don't think we'd be singing our happy little songs. We'd be on our faces, or maybe running out of the room!

S4W.com: What compels you to write new songs for worship?
Townend: I'm really motivated by the opportunity to put truth into the mouths and hearts of people through a song. Truth is so vital-the truth about God and about how He sees us-it needs to be the foundation of our worship times. Truth brings revelation, and revelation brings change in our lives.

S4W.com: What person has influenced your ministry/your music the most and how?
I've been influenced by many people through books and sermons, as well as through personal relationships. Central in my formative years were my parents, especially my father, who was a Church of England minister. In the last ten years David Fellingham has had a huge influence, not only theologically and in leading worship, but in his passion for God, and his willingness to step out in faith and see God work. 

-Debra Akins