One of the Vineyard Music's most celebrated worship leaders, BRIAN DOERKSEN talks to Ian Matthews about his upbringing, his ministry, his move to England and his latest release, 'Come, Now is the Time".
For over a decade the worship ministry coming from the Vineyard network of fellowships has had a profound impact on the Church in the UK. One songwriter and worship leader that is often talked about is Brian Doerksen, whose songs such as 'Refiner's Fire' and 'Faithful One' have proved consistently popular.
He really came to prominence in Britain with the 1994 release of 'Light The Fire Again', which is still one of the biggest selling Vineyard albums in the UK. Here, he talks about his background and the influences that led him to relocate to England last year, and about the first British Vineyard album, 'Come, Now is the Time'.
"I was born in Abbotsford, British Columbia. 1965. It was only 10 - 15 miles above the border between Canada and the USA, close to Seattle, so that is also home to me. My parents were Mennonite Brethren. You could trace my family back for many generations and they would be Mennonites. They originally fled religious persecution in Germany and Holland, went to Russia for a few years until they had to flee there during the revolution. So there is a strong religious and also cultural heritage, and it is somehow hard to define what was there, because we were Christians, and what was there because we were Mennonites culturally. We didn't wear black or anything like though, just normal clothes! It is hard for me to pinpoint when I really met Jesus. I talked with him my whole life, and grew up in a Christian home. I grew up on a farm, and it was when I was outside, with nature, that I think I really heard his voice. I was probably fifteen or so, and this presence came into my room, and I just knew he was asking, 'will you give me your whole life to serve me?"'
"Even by fifteen I already had most of my life figured out. I loved God, but I wasn't planning to go down a 'ministry' path, but that all changed that day."
"I know it sounds strange, but I am fanatical about growing flowers. At this time we had a rose farm, and I was being groomed to build up and manage this rose company, and I had already looked at how I was going to succeed in this business, have a big car, that sort of thing. I was also into athletics and I was a basketball player. I was a little bit more success driven than now, but overnight, a lot of things just started to look light a lot of hot air."
It seems that his childhood was not one that led him to becoming a leading figure in the world of worship. He explains how he was drawn to music. "My grandfather was a very special man. He played the mandolin, and when they were living in Paraguay he formed a band. My father and I did some teaching together on the father heart of God in worship. My dad was recounting of how my Grandfather loved to worship outside, with nature. He struggled with typical church services, and he was a little bit more 'arty' and mystical. I don't think he was ever really understood in the church community he was a part of. Although I have a lot of my Dad's characteristics, I think I got a lot of my characteristics from my grandfather."
"My uncle used to turn on, heaven forbid (!), the radio. I used to hear Billy Joel or James Taylor and thought 'wow!' I used to get the records and hide them, only playing them when my parents went away. I used to spend hours listening to music, while my brother would be outside. He was a lot stronger and more athletic than I was, but he was also the more intellectual one, whereas I was more creative and emotional. He was, until recently, a Vineyard pastor."
He then goes on to explain his own musical development. "My first band was called New Page when I was about fifteen, which lasted about a year. After that I had a band, which lasted for about three and a half years called Load Star. It was here that I started writing a little bit - rather 'classic' Christian rock with such great titles as 'Devil's Thunder' and 'Never Too Far from Home'. We were really writing about things that we really didn't have a clue about, but what we thought a Christian evangelistic band ought to write about, such as drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll and how you need Jesus! I probably wrote about five songs as a teenager, but never found a niche. I walked away from writing for years. I moved to a larger Mennonite church, where I worked with the youth."
"I usually did something controversial, which got me into trouble. I finally left and went to work with Youth with a Mission. That was probably the last direct contact I had with the Mennonite church, although I have had a lot of friends and renewed contacts with them. I have recently found out that this larger Mennonite church are using songs from our latest CD, 'Come, Now is the Time'."
"I spent a year with YWAM, which was particularly influential. Through them I was able to see Christians from so many different cultures, and from across the denominations. I grew up in a situation where I was told, mostly indirectly, that we were 'it' and that everything wasn't really to be trusted. The Mennonite's were convinced pacifists, and one of the first friends I made in YWAM was a son of a fighter pilot, and yet he loved Jesus!"
This still didn't explain his connection with Vineyard or charismatic churches generally. He talked about the struggles he had, "I was married just after I turned nineteen, and my wife and I went out onto the mission field. While I was overseas, I had many questions regarding healing and other related issues. The only answers I could see seemed to suggest I had to either 'put my brain on the shelf, and throw out all conservative evangelicalism, or deny that the charismatic even existed. I was looking for a place that was conservative in their theology and charismatic in their practice. My mother wrote to me and told how she had been to a meeting with someone called John Wimber. I distinctly remember my first Vineyard conference in 1985, Kansas City. I remember walking in the back door and one of the very first Vineyard recordings, 'Come Like You Promise' was being played over the sound system."
"The worship was so simple and intimate and I just felt so happy to meet other people who were feeling the way I did. I didn't meet John Wimber personally until 1989. I am basically shy, and I don't find it easy to go up and talk to leaders. Someone else sent in some of my songs and they published and recorded them. John then heard my first published song, 'Father, I Want You To Hold Me' which really touched him, because his own dad had left him when he was a young child. He said something like, 'Young man, that is a very special song, and it makes me cry.' It was after that that I started to do worship with him at some of his meetings."
The death of John Wimber in autumn 1997 had quite an effect on the church; Brian explains the influence John had on his own life. "I'm still trying to come to terms with John being gone, and so when I think of this there is just so much. I think his 'come as you are' attitude to God, that he just told it like it was. Yet, when he was talking about issues, he would have a lot of practical, honest wisdom. I was always amazed at how he could combine his incredible integrity with a sharp sense of practical issues. He has been called one of the great reformers of the church. When people would come up to him and say things like, 'So many people will be saved because of you,' he would chuckle and say, 'I'm just still trying to save myself!'"
"Earlier on in the charismatic movement there was a lot of hype and exaggeration, but with John it was much more relaxed. His heart as a pastor and a leader was huge. He so wanted to make room for people to work, and in that he made some mistakes and regretted some of the decisions he made. We'll miss him dearly."
Brian Doerksen moved to the United Kingdom last year, to work in the training and encouraging of songwriters and worship leaders. He describes the events surrounding the decision to come here. "After finishing the project, 'Father's House', we were basically broke and homeless. We were living in a caravan in California, waiting to hear from God. We had breakfast with John and Carol Wimber, which I will always treasure, as it was the last time that my wife and I were together alone with John and Carol. It was a special time, as John was going through some similar difficult circumstances to myself. John asked me, 'So, what's next?' I said, 'I'm not sure, but I think we're going to England.' John got this twinkle in his eye and said, 'Well, actually, I was just on the phone to John Mumford (who oversees Vineyard in the UK), and I think you're going there too.' It turned out that John (Mumford) had been looking for someone to come in and pour energy into the music here, such as training songwriters and worship leaders. John (Wimber) said, 'I think you're the guy, and this is the time.' So, within weeks, I was flying over to lead worship at a leaders conference and to have what was really a series of interviews."
"Before I was here about seven days, we met with John and Eleanor (Mumford), and they eventually offered us the job."
Brian's main job here is in a training and oversight capacity. He was asked what he considers he looks for in a potential worship leader. "I have a very simple approach in what I look for, the gift of worship and the gift of music. The gift of worship is someone who loves to walk with God and be surrendered to Him, and in a gathering loves to express that in a way which is inviting and contagious."
"The gift of music is someone who can play and sing so that other people feel safe. In other words, if someone is playing or singing and they don't have this gift then others will feel nervous. If they have then you will feel safe and 'drawn in'. That's what I'm looking for. There are lots of people who want to get into worship ministry, but don't have those gifts."
Perhaps the hardest part of his task was the evaluating of songs. The latest Vineyard release, 'Come, Now is the Time' was intended as an expression of the worship coming out of the UK Vineyard network. He describes the evaluation process. "For this new CD (Come, Now is the Time), we received about 250 songs. I obviously couldn't listen to every song, so we divided them up between three people, including myself. We simply picked out those, which we felt needed to be brought and evaluated more."
"By the 70th or 80th song, I was at the point where, if by thirty seconds in I was thinking 'no way' then I went onto the next song. If I felt that there was something there then I would listen some more. At this point I wasn't looking for detailed feedback; we formed a panel of ten people who spent the day together listening and doing that. If I'm doing a workshop and someone plays a song then I have to find the good stuff, the essence. I might say, "You are trying to say three things in this song, but it is only designed to say one thing. Here is the one thing I see, cut out the others and rewrite it.' I am greatly reducing how much I am doing this, only because I just don't have the time."
He is as well known as a worship leader as he is a songwriter. He was asked about the dangers such a person faces in his or her ministry. "One of the key dangers is that you start to feel like a prostitute. If you are leading worship, then you have to get up in front of other people and be intimate with God. This is something so precious, so holy, that when you are constantly doing it in front of other people as your task, it actually becomes, like a prostitute looks at sex, just a job. I know that this may seem a bit crude, but it's actually real, I have actually felt that way. You get introduced, 'so and so is just going to come up here and worship God.' But at the same time, I am committed to being a servant, and doing that with which I serve the church. I have to think that these people are coming here to worship God, and my job is to create a setting for them to be intimate with God, and to be as invisible as possible."
"There is a danger that the pastor can put too much on the worship leader, and expect them to facilitate things that they are not supposed to facilitate, such as ministry times in Charismatic churches. Or they might thrust the worship out into the front line without any training. The other huge danger is obviously pride. When you're leading worship and people are meeting with God, and they come up to you and say how great it was, you can begin to feel that you're special, and it is not true."
He describes his feeling about the new album. "I feel a deep inner sense of peace and satisfaction with this project because we did what we set out to do, to document Vineyard worship in the UK and Ireland. Vineyard churches here received their material from North America for years and years, but we want our own voice as well. People originally asked, 'What is a Canadian doing overseeing a so-called British production?' This was fair enough, but someone else did point out that I could be more objective than someone from the UK as I wouldn't have any regional prejudice. I wanted to represent all the diverse cultures here, which was really a daunting task."
"We gathered musicians from all over the country and rehearsed together for a couple of days before the recording. We really became like a family. On the night there was so much excitement, joy, reverence and worship."
"The response to the album has been amazing. Some of the letters I have received have been incredible. When I look back over my discography, I do wish that about half of the recordings had never happened. But this new album is something that I will treasure for the rest of my life as a special recording. It is my first ever worship recording that I have supervised every aspect of the recording, from choosing the musicians and the songs to editing recording. I would do it again, when it is the right time."
It was clear that he had a clear vision for what he wanted in ministry, and what he wanted for the Church. He describes this vision, "I know it sounds like a stuck record, but I have two things that I want to communicate to the church here. I still think that we, the church, get together to sing about God, but we don't always get to be with God. Number two is the father heart of God, to really flood England with the heart of the Father. I think that this is yet to come. When it does it will touch so many areas, such as the homosexual community. I know that God wants to touch the arts in the church as well. Basically, this comes down to Intimacy."
"I know that I'll never be British, but I am here as a citizen of the Kingdom."
He was finally asked about his plans for the future. "My contract is
until summer 1999, so I am at least here until then. With five kids it
takes a little while to organise a move anywhere. One of my kids has
special needs, and needs a full time helper, which causes other
pressures. My kids are flourishing and my wife has made some of the
best friends she has ever had. I love being in England, and I am
really content to be here for as long as God wants me to be here."