Tony Cummings chronicles the life and times of radical worshipper DANIEL BASHTA
Atlanta-based prophetic worship leader Daniel Bashta is best known for penning "Like A Lion" which made a big impact when performed by The David Crowder Band on the 'Passion: Awakening' album. Daniel's own version of the song and indeed the whole album on which it is featured has truly split the critics and the old adage "one man's meat is another man's poison" seems particularly appropriate. The release by Integrity Music of 'The Sounds Of Daniel Bashta' has brought forth a head-spinning variety of reviews. JesusFreakHideout wrote, "'The Sounds. . .' is very well done, creative and bold offering of some fresh worship music" while Christianity Today begged to differ. Their reviewer thought, "There's so much open space and so many lengthy transitions, overwrought climaxes and multiple loud-quiet-loud moments within a song that the album feels more meandering than powerful." Even the Cross Rhythms team were divided about 'The Sounds Of Daniel Bashta'. Reviewer Gareth Hills suggested that "some of the songs have a tendency to drag on a bit too long without as much variety as might befit pieces of this length" while CR's Jonathan Bellamy has selected a record breaking 10 songs for airplay on Cross Rhythms' worship programme Verticality. Whatever the differing viewpoints of Daniel's debut full length album one thing is obvious, Daniel Bashta is a far from typical composer of congregational worship songs. He is to many a prophet and one whose music has much to say to all churchgoers.
Today Daniel is the worship pastor of what he calls "an awakening church", RiverStone in Atlanta, Georgia. Right from the earliest times God had a clear grip on Daniel's life. He recounted, "I entered the world in two bold moves: I was the first baby born in the city of New Orleans in the year 1982. That, right off the start, marked something special. Second, when I made my appearance, I was an interesting shade of blue and not breathing. The story goes that after four or five minutes of bright lights, codes, and the doctor and nurses franticly trying to resuscitate me, my dad broke through the commotion, touched my body, and commanded life to fill my lungs in the name of Jesus. Well, life indeed entered into me at that moment, and ever since then it has been quite an incredible adventure!"
Daniel's father, Dick Bashta, was the Area Director of the New Orleans 700 Club Counseling Center. Daniel grew up in Reserve, Louisiana, a small town outside of New Orleans where his father pastured a church. Said Daniel, "My parents instilled in me and my four siblings a passion for mission and church planting around the world. From a young child through my teenage years, I was a part of some pretty powerful missions work. Before I was 16, I had travelled to Mexico 17 times and lived in Russia with my parents from 1993-1995 (helping to start 25 different churches in 25 different cities of a million or more population east of Moscow). I also went to China three years in a row, smuggling in suitcases of Bibles, spent a summer in Amsterdam and participated in trips to Nicaragua, Guatemala, Puerto Rico and Jamaica."
Daniel continued, "Music was also branded into my DNA when I was very young. When my mom was a teenager, she played piano for the New Jersey Philharmonic, so my love of music was destined from the start. I started playing music when I was three. My first instrument was the violin, which I played until I was eight. During the time that I was eight to 12 years old, I learned how to play the drums. While we were living in Russia, I was able to play for many of the crusades that we had and saw thousands and thousands of lives changed because of the power of worship. When I lived in Russia, I started teaching myself guitar. So through my early teenage years, I really focused on playing guitar bass, and piano. In the process, I also started singing and writing songs. One of my best childhood memories is waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of my mom sitting at a piano writing a new worship song. Both of my parents were very instrumental in encouraging my pursuit of music."
Music was very much in Daniel's genes. He played in the adult worship team at the age of 10. He was also a young anti-abortion activist. He stated, "I can remember rallies at the Baton Rouge state capital and getting up early on Saturday mornings to travel to different abortion clinics where churches throughout the New Orleans area would rally together trying to save the lives of unborn babies. Many times our worship team would actually set up their instruments on the sidewalk and play music for hours and hours, as others reached out to mothers coming into the clinic parking lot. I guess you could say that growing up in my family was pretty intense! This was all for the name of 'church' and 'God'. However, as I look back, I'm not sure I really understood what a true relationship with God meant or really what worship was even about. For even in the core of all this 'Christian' activity, I was empty and had no direction or idea what I actually believed."
Daniel's personal spiritual breakthrough came in the summer of his junior year in high school. He recounted, "Somehow my parents trusted me and my best friend, Ben, enough to let us move to Amsterdam and help a pastor friend and his wife who had started a church there, right outside the red light district. We had taken a youth mission trip there that spring, and as soon as I got back to the US, something inside of me knew I needed to go back. That summer, I had a crash course in learning more about God, more about love and more about how broken our world truly is. One of the first things that shocked me is that most of the time, I was hanging out with a ministry that was doing radical outreach in the city. One night they told us where we were meeting, and it turned out to be a bar! I was so offended as I walked into the bar and saw these people I knew actually laughing, talking and befriending sinners who were drinking and lighting up cigarettes. I just couldn't believe it as, growing up, I was taught that drinking, smoking and listening to rock and roll music would send you straight to hell. So my first thoughts were astonishment that all the new friends that I had made had somehow lost their faith and now were going right to hell. I completely missed the meaning of what was happening. This was actually worship in motion; true faith in action.
"Obviously the culture in Amsterdam is that of a different world. But up until that point, all I had known of missions was someone passing out a Gospel tract or standing on a street corner preaching and hoping some poor soul would hear their words and fall on the ground to beg for God's mercy. I really don't believe that this evangelistic approach is the most effective. What I did learn that summer is this: I saw a group of people identify with what the culture of a city was, target a specific group of people and then build true relationships with them, regardless of what they were into. I saw trust form and that brought radical change and repentance in many lives. This new breed of missions forever wrecked my life. I had finally found a call and a cause that I could recklessly run with. I truly found the merciful God of the universe, who bleeds with such love for the outcasts of this world, that he would give his life. Then my question to answer was, 'Why should I not give my life in endless return?'"
The following year Daniel's family moved to Colorado Springs. There he lead worship for the youth group at New Life Church before he decided to move to London to attend the International Bible Institute. He recounted, "This was probably the most significant year of my life. There was such impacting worship coming out of the UK at that time with guys like Delirious?, Matt Redman and Tim Hughes. I just knew I needed to breathe in some of that same air. I started attending the church, Soul Survivor, where Matt and Tim led worship. This experience completely helped shape me into who I am today. Hearing songs like 'Heart Of Worship' and 'Here I Am To Worship' come out of this local gathering really provoked me into action with the thought of how I could be a part of an awakening that not only would change a generation, but fuel it! My worldview continued to expand. I visited Paris, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. As my view expanded, so did my heart!"
Back in the US Daniel moved to Birmingham, Alabama, where he was involved in a church plant called Church Of The Highlands. Said the worship leader, "Through the next few years, I saw God move in a community and a city like I had never seen before. In 2009, Church Of The Highlands was ranked the fastest growing church in America, with over 10,000 people. Being part of this church plant was an incredible adventure! While on staff, I met and married my incredibly astonishing wife, Taylor, who was also on staff at the church. Together we led mission trips with high school and college students to Romania, the Germany World Cup, Hong Kong and China. It was a great chapter in our lives, but we sensed that God was calling us into a different season. In the beginning of 2008, we resigned from being on staff and began a new, groundbreaking journey together."
In December 2007 Daniel released an independent eight-song project, 'My Worship In Motion'. Said the songsmith, "The EP was based on everything I have learned about worship and missions, with the concept that worship with no action equals a dead God and dead faith. Basically, God challenged me to answer the question, 'What can we give and live with our lives to put our worship into a living motion and provoke change in our local communities, our nation and then the world?' Out of my new zeal for the nations, I wrote a song called 'Awakening'. God showed me a generation of dreamers that have been cast away; a roaring generation that has been silenced; and such a powerful army of worshipers that the Devil would try with all his might to kill. Basically, the song talks about the Valley of Dry Bones having a defying, 'come to life' moment; that out of this generation there would arise an Awakening unlike anything ever seen in history. That out of the ruins, the Living God would build his Kingdom with broken vessels that would shake and change this planet."
In 2009 Daniel began working on a song which was to subsequently impact the world church. He told BreatheCast website how "Like A Lion" was birthed during a season when he and his wife, Taylor, were experiencing difficulties in their walk with God. He explained, "We had just left, resigned, from a church that we had been on staff at for the last five years. And we were going through just a real [trying] point in our lives, in the church and relationships. We were just so tired of fake relationships. . . We had been hurt by situations. So all of a sudden, we were so accustomed and comfortable in our own little world being on the staff of this church that when we left, it was like we [were] in open water and we had no safety net. It forced us to become really desperate and [know] what our belief in God was and who our God was. I think that's really healthy for every person to go through because it's so easy to get comfortable and its so easy to go into auto pilot. I think when we get in situations that we're tested and things are hot, it forces us to rise and say this is who my God is."
This time of testing brought out the conviction that is in the chorus of "Like A Lion". "My God's not dead/He's surely alive and he's living on the inside/Roaring like a lion."
The song "Like A Lion" came to international church attention when it was featured on the live recording made at Passion 10, the 2010 gathering of the hugely influential Passion student conferences. The 'Awakening' album, featuring the David Crowder Band's powerful rendition of "Like A Lion", debuted at number one in the US Christian Album chart and even made 15 in the mainstream album chart Billboard 200. A popular cover of the song was also released on the Newsboys' 2011 album 'God's Not Dead'.
Soon "Like A Lion" was being sung in churches across America and its writer was signed to Integrity Music. The subsequent album 'The Sounds Of Daniel Bashta' was produced by Daniel and multi-instrumentalist Jason Morant and featured a couple of high profile guests in Jesus Culture's Kim Walker-Smith and Third Day's Morant. Some of the songs (like "With Everything", "Heaven" and "Potter's Wheel") were expanded versions of songs originally released on the 'My Worship In Motion' EP. The theme of the album is clearly about empowering the body of Christ to live in the truth that God has won the battle over sin and the enemy is defeated. "Unlock My Roar" and "Like A Lion" both exhort the Church to grab hold of this truth, the former featuring lyrics like "The gates of Hell will tremble when love becomes the anthem that we sing." "Heaven", featuring Mac Powell, also contains a telling stanza when the songwriter sings "I'm not looking for another touch/I'm just looking for the real Jesus."
The most perceptive review of 'The Sounds Of Daniel Bashta' was posted on the NewReleaseTuesday website, who commented, "The first track, 'Dreamers', could easily serve as the theme song for the entire album. Before any instruments are even introduced, there are sounds of people chatting and milling about, like right before a show or concert begins. Then, slowly the music starts and Bashta sings, 'Awake, awake all you dreamers, awake, awake and be free,' calling the Church to 'come alive, out of the ruins we will rise.' Throughout the song you still can occasionally hear the murmuring of people's voices in the background, creating the feeling that no one is listening to Bashta's cry to 'wake up all you dreamers, sing you sons of freedom.' Unfortunately this paints an accurate picture of the Church today, comfortable and safe, while God is calling us to wake up and live the lives he died for us to have. And Bashta intends on reminding us of this with every song, from here on out."