10 Questions with Dennis Jernigan
by Debra Akins
With 26 albums recorded and more than a million records sold, worship leader Dennis Jernigan has been at the forefront of the worship movement for many years. And throughout his ministry one concept continues to cornerstone of everything: relationship. It's a theme that he returns to time and again as he ponders how life relates to worship.
S4W.com: What has been the greatest
challenge you've faced since you began pursuing music as a calling and a career?
Jernigan: Maintaining my identity as a worshiper and as a minister has probably been the greatest challenge. As a result of this focus, I have sacrificed some of the notoriety I probably could have attained had I chosen to focus more on the music and recording aspect of my life. But because of everything God brought me out of (homosexuality and all that goes with it), I knew that my first calling was to work on the message of my life. God's will was to get that message out through the music, which was a natural progression.
What has been the most profound lesson you've learned about worship over the
past few years?
Jernigan: That you don't have to beat people over the head with the need to worship. I simply need to lead people to understand that freedom from anything or freedom through anything is possible. Leading worship is this for me: I lead people to freedom, and the natural response is one of gratitude and worship.
S4W.com: What is the most profound lesson you've learned about life over the
past few years?
Jernigan: That God not only loves me, He likes me! I have nine children and I love being with them, I love laughing with them, holding them. I love just watching them. And I'm an earthly father. So how much more does our perfect heavenly Father love, rejoice in, and delight in us? I have learned to stop telling God how, when, or even asking if He can love me. I just accept that He does!
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?
Jernigan: The line between performance and ministry has always been one that sometimes gets blurred. Is worship a fad, the next musical bandwagon? Or is it an act of relationship between man and God? I'm all for excellence in presentation, but when the packaging becomes more important than the content, we have crossed the line. As long as our focus is Jesus, we'll always get back to where we need to be. In this way, our performance actually becomes an extension of our heart, and we can cease trying to make people (or God) like us. We simply perform well because our heart leads us there.
S4W.com: What does 'worship lifestyle'
mean to you?
Jernigan: Worship is about relationship. Relationship means that life is exchanged. In other words, a lifestyle of worship is one in which I open up myself in intimacy to my God. And in turn, He opens up His heart in intimacy to me! Life is exchanged, life is produced. A vital component of that lifestyle of worship is honesty. God's Word tells us that we will know the truth and that truth will set us free. I honestly admit to the Father that I cannot save, deliver or help myself, but He can. In that exchange of honesty, He brings health and freedom to my soul, and my natural response is one of gratitude and worship. That is, to me, the bare essentials of a lifestyle of worship.
is kind of the desert island question. What are the five ministry essentials
you could not do without?
Jernigan: Other people to share life with (my family), God's Word, a piano or guitar, manuscript paper and pencils, "CSI" [television show] and laughter.
S4W.com: How do you explain the powerful connection between music
and worship expression?
Jernigan: Music is so powerful as a means of worship because it incorporates our entire being. I sing to God in the midst of trials, and it gets my mind and thoughts off of me and my circumstances. When I worship through the gift of music, it takes every emotion, thought, and even my physical body to a place of peace found nowhere else.
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.
Jernigan: One of those times came several years ago during a New Year's Eve Night of Praise in Edmond, Oklahoma. I sensed that the Holy Spirit was leading me, in the midst of corporate worship, to ask if there were any who had come to the gathering as a last resort. I asked if there were any who were planning on taking their own lives if God did not meet with them on that very night. I then asked them to stand and allow me to sing God's heart over them, and over 50 people stood. Talk about God's power and tears flowing down together! We celebrated life that night, and I will never forget that moment.
What compels you to write new songs for worship?
Jernigan: What compels me to write or receive new songs for worship is relationship with people-meeting the needs of those I am in relationship with. I am not a songwriter, but a receiver. I have no established time to sit down and write. My focus is on my relationship with the Father and with His children. When I sense a need, I take it to Him in song as it simply flows out of my heart as a result of relationships I am in. In this way, the songs take on a very personal and relevant nature.
S4W.com: What person has influenced
your ministry/your music the most and how?
Jernigan: In 1977, I was introduced to the music of Annie Herring (Second Chapter of Acts) and Keith Green. Someone gave me a Second Chapter album, and I was floored by the intimacy I felt with God as I listened. Keith Green came to my university when I was a freshman. Again, I was impacted by the passion and intimacy I felt when he sang. Having heard their stories of God's redeeming love in their lives as He redeemed them from all they had to go through, I was encouraged and given hope that just maybe, God could do the same for me.
Debra Akins is a freelance writer and media
consultant who lives in Franklin, TN.