Thursday, December 6, 2007

Mobilizing an Army of Worshipers - Darlene Zschech

By Bruce Adolph, courtesy of Christian Musician Magazine

Can one woman with a heart for God and a desire to serve the church really make that much of a difference? In Darlene Zschech's case, she sure can. Not only has she helped to change the face of contemporary corporate worship with her worship leading and song writing, but she works hard at imparting these gifts to other worship leaders and church musicians as well. Darlene is a devoted staff member at Hills Christian Life Centre in Australia and the many Hillsongs P&W CDs that she leads worship on have sold over 600,000 copies. Onstage she's a dynamo, encouraging the church to answer the call to worship. CM recently sat down with her and found her to be a remarkable woman with a deep passion for serving the Lord.

CHRISTIAN MUSICIAN: How did you get involved with leading praise and worship?

Darlene Zschech: I sang behind a great worship leader - Geoff Bullock - for eight or nine years. I sang two feet behind him, and basically made him sound better. He is a phenomenal songwriter/singer, and I'm more of a singer/songwriter. I didn't know it, but I was being trained all that time under a great, anointed worship leader. When he got busy with other things and eventually moved on, I shied away from it. The responsibility is so great, I much rather be in the back! But God had other plans. My pastor had asked me to lead worship and I said, "I can't. I do not have the confidence." So one day he literally yelled at me. He took the microphone and said, "Get up here." And he walked off and left me there. Now I thank God for great leaders who can see potential. So that was my illustrious start in praise and worship leading!


DARLENE ZSCHECH: I was pathetic! (laughing) and so I told everyone to shut their eyes, so they couldn't see me. I learned after awhile that a lot of my insecurities was because I was doing it for the wrong reasons and I was very conscious of what people thought about me, and whether I would let them down. I learned that beforehand I was quite prideful, really. It took me a few years to learn to tilt the pressure the other way, and now I couldn't care less what people think. I know the call of God on my life, and I know where I'm headed. Now I try to point people upwards. That's what I love to do. It's totally an honor and a privilege.

I used to literally write down beforehand, "Hello church, how are you?" I'd ask my husband, "What am I going to say?" He'd say, "Don't say anything, just sing." And I'd say, "But how am I going to start the service?" So I'd write it down: "Hi church?

CHRISTIAN MUSICIAN: You lead a large department of musicians at Hills. What is the "team approach" to worship?

DARLENE ZSCHECH: There are a few levels. You coach people individually to be worshipers on their own, so that it becomes something that they are and something that they do. We spend the majority of our time teaching that philosophy, so that when they come to the platform, they're doing the same thing as everyone else: singing and playing before the King. We want everyone to leave what they need at the door, getting that fulfillment in other things. The heart when we come together as a team is to press through as a team and become an army of worshipers. I think of the story of how Jesus is looking for great people to do His work, but the great men say, "I'm too busy," and eventually He had to go to the lame, the weak, and the crippled and they said, "We'll give it a shot!" And I look around at our team, myself included, isn't it strange, how God uses these ordinary people, who have caught a glimpse of Him, and have taken that big step to trust their future in His hands. When we all come together, it's powerful. It's taken a lot of years. We've always got new people coming in, but there are those that have been there seven, ten, twelve years, and that's where the strength of the team comes in. We don't just play together; we do life together. That adds a dynamic in worship that you just can't explain. It doesn't exclude people who haven't been there for a long time, but it gives that solid anchor. Our bass player came on staff part time last year as our musician's pastor. He's a great bass player who's a champion for God and he loves people. All he's ever wanted to do is pastor people. It's people like that who have grabbed the revelation of what God wants to do and when it comes to worship he understands how to take his place. He cranks that bass and calls heaven down. It overwhelms me consistently.

CHRISTIAN MUSICIAN: You work with a lot of different musicians with different skill levels. How do you diplomatically tell someone that they're not quite what you need?

DARLENE ZSCHECH: We audition people, and often point out areas that they can work on, and ask them to come back in a few months. We don't write people off. There have been a couple of people that I've suggested might belong in a different area of ministry (laughing), but there really haven't been many. What we try to do in the team is help people to understand the dynamic of what we're about. Say there's a new guitarist: we'll make sure that he's rostered with a giant, so that even if he falls over, no one's going to know. We try to put a lot of support around him. It's harder for the rhythm section because they're out there in front, and we'll maybe start them off in not-so-public services. All the mistakes that a musician makes are so public. We don't get to do our falling down in private. We do the same with vocalists, try to pair new people with someone who will mentor and help them.

CHRISTIAN MUSICIAN: Does everyone read music on the team?

DARLENE ZSCHECH: We give everyone charts, and we teach a lot of new music. There are a few who play by ear, and a lot can only read a basic chord chart, and that's cool.

CHRISTIAN MUSICIAN: Being that musicians will be musicians, what kind of policies do you have in place regarding rehearsals and attendance on Sundays and such?

DARLENE ZSCHECH: (laughing) Ours is not a popular policy. But I've worked under other leaders, and seen programs that have worked and those that haven't. Right now we have a vision night once a month that everyone has to be at. We have a rehearsal every week, and if you don't rehearse, you don't play. Now if someone's sick or something, we are flexible - it's not like the Gestapo. But there is a basic policy that if you can't play you get replaced. Most of our players could show up and play and they'd sound fine, but what they miss out on is the team dynamic, the relationship building, which causes the music to be great. There are moments that happen when you've been playing together, and those moments make the music beautiful. We have small group time in our rehearsal that's like a Bible study, and that's very precious time. I feel that with what God's asking our church to do right now, I would be a bad leader if I didn't get people to be a part of the process. They'd miss out.

CHRISTIAN MUSICIAN: Can you contrast the differences you see in corporate worship in Australia and America?

DARLENE ZSCHECH: That's a hard question. I think great things are happening around America, I really do.

CHRISTIAN MUSICIAN: Do you think American congregations get what you're doing all the time?

DARLENE ZSCHECH: No. I didn't get it, and I'm in it! It took me a while to understand the dynamic and the power of what we're involved in, and what God's put in all of our hands. I think everyone - not just the American church - has to be very careful of their motives. Worship is very en vogue right now, but we must be careful of our reasons for being involved. When you're playing before the throne, you're accountable for that. It worries me sometimes that we get caught up in worshipping the worship, in a way. I think there are a few dangers, but we've all got to keep our hearts open, because in the end we're each accountable. The first time I came to Nashville I talked to a few pastors who really wore their musicians like a badge on their shirts, "So and so goes to my church?" I went away so heavy hearted and got a burden for these beautiful musicians who are missing out on accountability and on the power of community. The Word says that those who are planted in the House of the Lord will flourish. I saw the need for pastors who understand how to embrace musicians and not put up with any garbage, but love them to excellence.

CHRISTIAN MUSICIAN: What's your approach to songwriting?

DARLENE ZSCHECH: I used to write love songs for people's weddings, which is fantastic, but then I caught a glimpse of what you can do to the human heart when you help them connect with heaven, and I'm totally sold out to that. I don't care if the songs are popular or unpopular; I just care if one person is helped by them. Once a friend of mine had written a song that he couldn't sell to any publishers, and we were together one night when I was really low. She was playing a bunch of old standards on the piano, and then she played this song that she couldn't get picked up. It totally ministered to me where I was at. So I have seen how a song can do more than stir emotions and I decided, "That's what I want to do. I want to connect people to Jesus, and I don't care what others think about the songs."

CHRISTIAN MUSICIAN: Do you encourage your team members to write as well?

DARLENE ZSCHECH: Oh yeah. In fact, we just had a meeting. I got all the songwriters together. I reminded them what we've been called to do for the church. The songs we write can't be all about "me." They've got to take the church out of "me." I've encouraged them to dig deeper and not be satisfied with the first thing that comes out. So after they write a song, I encourage them to almost write it again, to ask themselves, "Is this a first draft?"

CHRISTIAN MUSICIAN: How are the rights for the songs you and your team write handled?

DARLENE ZSCHECH: Our writers don't sign a rider. We do single song assignments, so our writers are free to sell any songs that the church doesn't pick up. We have a publishing company (Hillsongs), but essentially we're a local church. For a while the church didn't receive any income from the albums. We got all the writers together and decided on a figure that was reasonable and approached the church and said, "We want to honor you for the vehicle you've given us to have our music played." Everything's really uncomplicated, and everyone's hands are free.

CHRISTIAN MUSICIAN: Did you ever expect Hillsongs' music to have such an impact?

DARLENE ZSCHECH: Oh no way! Who does?

CHRISTIAN MUSICIAN: What's your latest music project?

DARLENE ZSCHECH: We do a yearly church album, and the new one is called "For This Cause." We'll be going in to mix it this month. It's really powerful. These albums are always a snapshot of where the church is at, and the last twelve months have been really significant at our church. People have been really stirred, and I think this album reflects that.

CHRISTIAN MUSICIAN: What advice do you have for other worship leaders?

DARLENE ZSCHECH: Serve. Serve your pastor and his vision. If you go in with your vision and try to turn him around you're going to end up really frustrated. II Timothy talks about serving those you've been put under as if you're serving God himself. That's how I am with my pastor, and I've noticed that when I've made his vision my own, there's such a joy. That filters down through the team, and that attitude is universal now. Our job is to release the pastor to preach, and to see heaven come down every time we get together.

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