Chris Bowater: Windows on worship

Thursday 1st April 1999

One of the most highly respected worship leaders and songwriters CHRIS BOWATER has recently released a new album. He spoke in depth about the project and his whole attitude to worship to Lukas Willcocks.

Chris Bowater
Chris Bowater

Classic songs like "Wholly Available", "Reign In Me" and "Time For Tears" have ensured that Lincoln-based pianist and singer Chris Bowater has made a huge impact on Britain's worshipping Church. Regular appearances at Bible weeks like Spring Harvest have brought his sensitive ministry to tens of thousands. Now he has returned with a critically acclaimed new album.

Lukas: We've had to wait a long, long time for a new studio album. Why so long?
Chris: "It is four years since I've done a studio album and now we have our own studio in Lincoln, dB Studios, I felt it a perfect opportunity. I've done a full circle with working with Word again, which I'm very comfortable with. The title 'All About You Jesus' is taken from a Matt Redman song. A song I feel is the most significant song of this decade, as it puts into song that which I have been teaching for a number of years. We've produced an album of integrity. It represents me, not what I could do, just me as a person. People would say, 'This is Chris'."

Lukas: Who would you say the album is for?
Chris: "Someone who truly wants to be taken on a journey, who wants to be enveloped in beautiful sounds, rich words and beautiful melodies but with the whole direction being towards Jesus. It's not hip, it wasn't meant to be. Neither is it traditional, it wasn't meant to be. I actually think, if you were to press me, that it breaks new grounds. I think that was necessary in the industry, I think it pushes back some boundaries of a worship experience. But it's ultimately for the listener to say what does it do for them. The feedback has been great. The launch has been superb. The reception from the Christian press and the Christian industry has been great. Also from people who have written, and from my peers as well. It has all been very encouraging."

Lukas: Were any of your previous albums wide of the mark?
Chris: "No, I don't think so. I've only done one album which I think in a sense the industry regrets I ever did. I think albums like 'Time For Tears' are perceived along with 'Highest Honour' as classic albums. Songs from my 'Better Than Sacrifice' album I use a great deal. So there is only one album I've done that perhaps best remains nameless. Perhaps because it was not me, because often there is an expectation of-who you are. Perhaps because it was too much of a leap at the time and I didn't take people with me. Whereas the new album represents my heart and I'm pushing back boundaries and I'm taking people with me, as opposed to leaving some people behind. From this experience I try to be true to myself.

"I don't want to settle for mediocrity. I believe that every individual has a defined destiny. I don't believe it's a case of cey cera cera, whatever will be will be. I believe there's a destiny to be discovered in our lives and then there's a destiny to be out-lived. I don't believe for any of us that destiny represents mediocrity. I believe we are to be people by the very demonstration of our lives expressing excellence and beauty, because we are to show forth his excellence, the Bible says. I believe there is a higher calling than most of us ever live in our lives, that touches family, friendships, leisure, vision and finance, all of these things. And hey! If you can fly with eagles, why peck dust with chickens?"

Lukas: In the past you've been critical of low quality praise music and worship personality cults. Do you think qualities have improved and do you think there are stilt people in the churches following worship leaders rather than God?
Chris: "I hope I've been constructive in my observations. When you're involved in fathering something, I think a Father sees what's happening and needs to speak into it -that's where my heart has been. The danger has been that worship has become me-centered, my-centered. Now it's part of a picture, but isn't epicentre. We are here for the Lord, being here for my feelings is a by product, it isn't the reason for my existence. We live in a time when self-centeredness is on the increase; it's pleasure at any cost! But the Psalmist said, 'I delight greatly in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God.' Our joy is in him, our peace is in him, our fulfilment is in him. The more he becomes the reason for our worship, then there is the overflow of Heaven. Because God will not be out-given, you cannot out-give God. He obeys his own word, It is better to give than to receive.' So the God who receives our worship also responds to that giving by being a giver himself. To which you may ask, do we make the first initiative? No, God the giver makes the first initiative, so the very desire to praise and worship him is a gift from God. So our response to him is a response to his gift. I don't want to overstate, but I think there is a redressing of this issue amongst worship increasingly. I think in the redressing there is, hopefully, an understanding of the heritage of worship we have as well. It is interesting where, with the revival of Celtic interest, there is a restoration of the depth of that culture and the heritage of it all. I think w> need to discover our heritages. Next year as & crossover to the millennium, I am doing a I project called 'Heritage And Hope'. It draws on some of the finest songs from our heritage and blends them in with new material. So we're 3 building a bridge to the future, but it has to come from somewhere. Some people build bridges in to the future, but it doesn't come from any other bank. It's got to come from somewhere. We have got to establish our heritage roots. I thank God for the heritage of my own life and hopefully that comes through in my worship. So the cult issue of cult worship leaders will always exist. That might have been said about me at one time! I think the whole ministry thing is very seductive. Most worship leaders and musicians set themselves up for all kinds of problems in their lives. I often say don't put me on a pedestal, I haven't got a head for heights."

Lukas: So the profile belongs to God?
Chris: "That's right, we've got to become deflectors and reflectors of that. There are some great guys around serving God, with integrity and pure hearts. I love what's coming out with the guys today. I am very pro Matt Redman and his music and Paul Oakley and what he's writing. I'm grateful to see this generation emerging. I want to pursue how we help the 'Millennium Generation', to break through. I see the industry as a bit of a bottleneck at the moment. How do we release the gifts in to the bigger picture?"

Lukas: It's obvious on your album you give space to other writers.
Chris: "That is part of what I am and what I do. There is a huge need for encouragement. When I first started back in the old days, it was a lonely path. Because breaking new ground from the traditional hymnology, we were not understood. I was grateful for the encouragement I received. You never lose by encouragement."

Lukas: It's obvious from some of the writers you've mentioned that worship, as a lifestyle is a message they preach. Do you think that message is getting across to the people?
Chris: "Yes, I think so. It's got to be more than a song, it really has! If it is only a song, you end up believably disillusioned and that's a tragedy. When worship is how you live your life in the real world, of how you interface in the office, hospital, college and how your faith becomes an expression at the cold face of humanity, that's worship."

Lukas: It's hard work at times.
Chris: "It's hard work, it was never promised to be easy. It's actually easy to just sing a song."

Lukas: Sometimes to sing a song in church is a sacrifice and you don't feel like doing it and yet you get on with it. Do you have experiences like this yourself?
Chris: "Constantly, especially when leading. If you've had a week dealing with the foulness of a human tongue in the office, or pressures of meeting financial deadlines, or tragedies that medics meet, or the violence that the police deal with and you're a Christian in these contexts. Or simply the hard work and worry of a single parent bringing up a family. Church isn't just an escape route. There are some times when even to sing a song, it's difficult to sing a song when you've lost your song. As worship leaders we've got to be very aware of that, especially when some of us have the privilege of giving our lives to music and worship in full time capacity. I mean, we're up for it! Or should be, most times. But we've got to be aware of where the people are at, more and more. We certainly can't abuse the congregation by telling them they should be doing this and that, we should be shepherds that guide and encourage to worship. To heal their wounds and let the presence of God be like a balm to them. Very few people are unwilling to worship; it doesn't come down to an act to that sense of will. Most of them are unable to worship due to the sheer anaesthetising qualities of existence sometimes."

Lukas: Paul in Corinthians talks about somebody bringing a song or a hymn. You often operate in a large church environment, how do you facilitate other people coming forward to do this?
Chris: "First of all this is the biggest dilemma in a church or in a celebration meeting, is to try to avoid spectator worship. Because worship isn't a spectator sport. It's a doing word, an involvement word, an engaging word and so I think everyone can bring a song, but they don't have to bring it publicly. I think this is the thing that has to be underlined, that everyone can bring something, but they don't have to leave their seat because it's bringing it from where they're at. There will be times when a prayer or a reading needs to be brought publicly. Everyone from where they are sitting, if they've got a heart to give, can bring a song or a reading. I love to encourage worshippers to worship with Bibles open, so that it's out of the revelation of the word that they worship, rather than the response of their feelings. Because worship ultimately comes out of revelation."

Lukas: There's a hint of that in the song "As Through A Darkened Glass"
Chris: "One thing I'm beginning to ask is 'what is worship like in Heaven?' To bring an eternal perspective to it, because the way worship in Heaven is the way it ought to be now! In that sense to bring eternal perspective into time. I love reading what often can't be understood, but you get the glimpse as through a darkened glass, of elders falling down and bowing and angels hiding their faces and myriads and myriads of horses and just the sheer focus of Heaven on Jesus. Heaven is all about Jesus."

Chris Bowater
Chris Bowater

Lukas: There are not any three-minute wonders there?
Chris: "I don't think so. I often say when people criticise modern songs as being twee. Do you know what the angels sing? 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord.' Verse two is the same and so is verse 1,328. It wouldn't get through a songwriters school."

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Reader Comments

Posted by Diana in London @ 00:45 on Jan 17 2016

Please can you forward this to Chris Bowater. A few years ago, at a CRE Exhibition, I asked him to pray for my elderly dad, who was not a Christian. Chris gave me a 'word' from God, that one day, in a different place, that I would simply be saying to my dad "I love you". On Christmas day 2015, my 90 year old dad was rushed into hospital. Up to 2 days before he died, he was not wanting me to speak about God with him. So I remebered what Chris Bowater had said to me a few years before, and I said to my dad, simply "I love you". He replied, "Why do you keep saying that to me". Then on 31 December I was called to the hosptal as my dad was dying. When I arrived, my dad was sleeping, and I was told he would never wake up again. So I put my hand on his head and very gently spoke into his ear, saying, "Dad - you are dying. But you don't need to be afraid, because God loves you. He loves you so much, that he sent Jesus to die on the cross for you, so that you can be forgiven from sin - from all things you have done wrong. But you now have a choice - the choice is your, and I can't make it for you. You need to accept what Jesus has done for you - to ask for that forgiveness and know that you can go to Heaven. The choice is yours, to accept what Jesus has done for you, out of God's love for you. Then as I was saying this, my husband pointed out to me that my dad had died. The machine that was showing that he was alive, had stopped. I had not noticed the point at which my dad died. He just kept on sleeping, as I was speaking into his hearing aid in his ear. From Diana

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