Susanne Martin talks to Wayne Sanders the worship leader at C3, one of Britain's fastest growing churches.
Few worship leaders can claim to minister in one of the UK's fastest growing churches. But that is exactly what South African born Wayne Sanders has been called to do at the lively Purpose Driven Church, C3, in Cambridge. The worship leader who writes his own songs to perform at the Sunday celebration services has just recorded them on his second praise and worship album 'Free To Fly'. "I reached a point many years ago and got before God and realised what a privilege it was to be able to lead worship," he says, speaking about why he recorded his recent album. "The heart for it and worship behind this album are totally for God. But, I've recorded it more for people, to be a vehicle for them to worship God in and for God's glory."
Wayne energetically bounds up late to our interview looking out of breathe explaining he'd got lost trying to find our Cross Rhythms offices. Once he's freshened up a bit he combs his fingers through his big dark curly hair, beams a wide happy smile and we're soon talking. The beginning is a good place to get going and so he starts to explain in his strong South African accent where his music career first began. Wayne was born and raised in Durban where he was part of a church similar to C3. He tells how the church grew despite the political situation of the country, where a black/white divide ruled. "Just across from my house was an African township," he explains, "so we had fair number of domestic workers in the church who worked with African people, and they started bringing them to church. We also had a lot of visiting guest speakers who my pastors had contact with. They had to travel a fair distance to come and speak at our church. But, in order for them to do that they had to stay over night in Westville, the white area, which was illegal. It was pretty atrocious. Our pastors got together and asked some really tough questions about the politics of our country. We have to honour the leaders of the country and the decisions that they make, but the question is where you stop doing that and it starts becoming contrary to the word of God."
But the church still grew as more African people started to join. Children came and enjoyed the Sunday school and were also given free drinks and biscuits. "It was holy mayhem, it really was," he says. "For some of the poor little blighters that's probably the most they got fed the whole week so they used to go off with armfuls of biscuits and stuff. Plus it was just something that was taught to them that the white people are really wealthy because they all have insurance, so if you take from the white people then that's not stealing, it is ok. I was robbed at church quite a number of times. That was quite interesting, people used to go to church and get robbed. Although a lot of those kids are still serving the church now, which is really exciting."
During that time the church was singing many English songs when most
the congregation's first language was Zulu. "I could only just get my
tongue around some of the words. We thought how can we expect to sing
these songs and be a true representation of the church we were
building? So we looked at how we did worship and decided we needed
some African songs. And that's when things all started."
Wayne even set up a multi-ethnic church choir. "It was a no-brainer really," he says. "African people can generally sing, even if they don't sound great on their own, get a whole bunch together and they sound great. It seemed stupid not to try and put some sort of choir together."
Wayne moved to England in 1996 with a two-year work visa. He went to church in London where he met wife Lisa and carried on writing and recording. Through that work he was called to C3 church in Cambridge. He explains, "Eventually the guys at C3 got to hear about it and they invited me and my wife up for a conference with them." He was offered a full time position with the church and is now working as their worship leader and music director. Asked to describe the C3 church that has been turning heads for its rapid growth, Wayne declares, "It's great! You should come sometime." They have the best facility they could find in Cambridge, a school hall, which they have transformed with lighting and PA equipment. "It's pretty expensive stuff," he admits, "but we don't want to go too overboard on that. We recognised that generally the people we're trying to reach and the stuff that makes sense to them is the stuff they see on TV. So if they walk into somewhere with stained glass windows and organ blasting, it'll make sense to some people mainly in the older generation, but its not going to reach the people we're after. So we're not trying to make things too contrived but just trying to do church in such a way that it'll make sense to people who are not yet in the church. So we've got a big old band playing up there with lots of electric guitars and lights and other stuff."
I put to him that some people would say that new worship songs in churches are being sung a lot more than older hymns, and these songs, even though they have good lyrics, are being pushed out. "I learnt the Bible says sing a new song, so we are," he laughs in response. Then more seriously he continues, "I think that's a fair statement though. I think it is accurate to say the Bible says sing a new song. At the same time, I also don't think God is going to get bored of old hymns that were written a thousand years ago. But people do. And there are people who are coming into church that may sing some hymns that just may not make sense them. I was talking with our pastor about this just yesterday and I said to him, 'It seems that we have a conversation every six months about bringing hymns in.' There are some great hymns. I have no problem walking in a church with an organ and singing those songs out. I remember not too long ago I went to a graduation and the worship started with the song "Great Is Thy Faithfulness". I don't really know it that well and the thing with hymns is that they go up and down a lot and I just get caught out all the time. But I just sat there and I couldn't even sing the song. It started with a piano playing and I just stood there weeping, I was so moved by it. So, I would never throw those out. Although I don't think I'm particularly the best person to sing them. I'd have no problem with getting someone else in my church to come up and sing a hymn. But personally I'm always writing new songs because I just enjoy doing that. I hope I get a balance between those two though."
As well as their Sunday celebration services the church also meets in the school once a month for a time of chilled out worship with Wayne playing on a grand piano. "A lot of my songs originate from that situation or setting where I just get on the piano and worship God. Or, sometimes I don't even get inspiration from the meeting, it'll be after when we're packing up and I'll just be singing something. Or maybe in the middle of a service on Sunday morning and I'll think, 'yeah I really need to make a note of that'. I'll write it down and think 'that could be a song' and things start from there."
Wayne's first album 'Giver Of Life' was recorded in 2005 at C3 and produced by himself. "It went well," he said, "we did it all independently and got some good write ups. We managed to sell enough to do alright and cover costs. On the back of that ICC got to hear it and were interested in doing another project." Hence the second album was made with ICC, although he had already starting writing for it before they approached him. "I finished that first record and, because I love writing songs, I pretty much went straight back into my little studio and started writing some more songs. People say that you can pour blood, sweat and tears into it and think 'Oh my goodness, how can I ever write songs like that again?' But I guess the next week you start to write new songs, and some stuff is good and some is not. I enjoy writing so got back to it straight away. It came more as an overflow of what I'd already been doing. So we had a bunch of songs ready when they came to us."
So, what was he learning between the first and second album? "In terms of my personal walk with God, I've learnt so much! We learn that God is gracious and merciful but then you continue to learn just how gracious and how merciful he is. It sounds like it isn't a new lesson, but it is. You thought you knew just how gracious God was and then a few years down the line you realise that he's blown your mind once again. Just recently I re-visited the concept that God is the same yesterday, today and forever, he stays the same. That's what inspired one of the songs on the record. Things around us change for good or for bad, God doesn't change. Firstly because he doesn't need to change because he's already perfect. I mean, I need a change, and you need a change, I'm sure, everyone needs a change. The Bible talks about us changing and becoming more like Christ but God doesn't because he's got nowhere more to go because he's perfect. There's quite something in that. That's the one constant in my life and in everyone's life even though some people don't realise it, sadly. Situations and circumstances may change around us, things will be good and then they'll be really bad. Last year was a really weird year for my wife and I. We like to call it the year two thousand and 666! It was a crazy year. We just recently had a little baby. About this time last year my wife found out she was pregnant. And about half way through the pregnancy we got a phone call from the doctor saying they'd done a few tests and things were not looking good in some areas. That was probably the most difficult thing to deal with. Praise God we had a perfectly normal healthy little baby. But we spent certainly the second part of last year wrestling with that. With all sorts of options being put to us. People saying, 'well let us come and discuss your options with you,' knowing full well what that meant. In it all we were just going before God and he was sharing the whole time, 'I don't change. Your situation may seem a real mess but hang on to me because I won't let you go and I don't change.' So I think that's one of the biggest things that I've learnt."
After co-producing his first album it seems that Wayne found it quite a challenge to hand over the reigns to ICC and their choice of producer, the well-known Neil Costello. "I did enjoy co-producing the first one because you can bring in your own ideas. You'll always try and give a song the best you can. So anyone who produces their own stuff will always think that what they're bringing is the best. And that's the challenge in letting someone else come in with slightly different ideas. There are aspects of the album, especially on the first two tracks, that brought it to life in a different way than I would have. So it's always a challenge. But, I am generally pleased with it. I can imagine that for any producer it's really difficult to produce for other people."
Wayne's favourite track from 'Free To Fly' is "the first two and the last one. So that's three! I do like the first two ("Let Your Mercy" and "Stay The Same"). They were probably not even written a year ago, whereas some of the others were written a little while back. You always tend to like your latest stuff. But I do like what they're about."
Wayne's vision and purpose for writing and recording has always been the same, and that is to "provide some means by which people can put something on and get into the presence of God. That sounds horribly simple," he confesses, "but I think that's pretty much it. Obviously I'd like as many people to listen to it as possible but with the sole purpose of using it as a way of drawing closer to God. I said that when we did the launch of the first album. Just yesterday I got a text message from someone from our church saying, 'I'm in a traffic jam but I'm flying free listening to your CD.' That really blesses me because that's what it's all about. I'll continue to make CDs as best I can, at any opportunity I get, and it will be for God's glory."
He describes his style of music as somewhere between rock and pop, with vocal harmonies influenced by gospel music. "I do like working with the choir," he says. "My challenge is now to move away from that and just do smaller vocal arrangements. Although, I don't think I'll move away from the gospel thing ever, I think that's a bit of an African thing. But there's always a danger you can fall into a rut if you're not careful. I hope I haven't fallen into a rut and hope I never will. But just deliberately trying to do something different than what you've already done can be quite a good thing."
Wayne has a few projects he's looking forward to this year, including a leadership conference in June and a women's conference in October. During the same weekend he is also looking forward to Graham Kendrick visiting C3 to preach in the morning and to do a concert in the evening. Wayne and his worship band will be opening for him. Destined to keep writing and singing songs of praise to God, Wayne feels he will never tire. "I will just keep writing. Even when I'm 89 I'll still be writing! I think the plan is to record more stuff. I'm not sure when yet. But, I will keep writing and I've already started to write a bit with my team at C3. Once we've got a few songs together we'll do it again."