Tony Cummings quizzed worship leader Kim Walker about the radical worship aggregation JESUS CULTURE
The release by Elevation Records of the four Jesus Culture albums - 2006's 'Everything', 2007's 'We Cry Out', 2008's 'Your Love Never Fails' and 2009's 'Consumed' - brought to the UK's attention one of the most significant Christian movements in post-war America. Jesus Culture is much more than a brand of best selling worship albums (in the US Jesus Culture's "How He Loves" from the 'We Cry Out' album is a major hit). It is also a series of youth conferences that has grown to become an international movement. In the summer of 1999, the youth group led by Banning Liebscher at Bethel Church in Redding, California, launched the first Jesus Culture conference. The heart of these gatherings was to serve other churches and lead young people to experience the radical love of God. At each conference there was a strong presence of the Lord, and the youth and young adults were going back to their homes, schools, work places and churches impassioned and transformed.
Over the next few years a vision grew to equip, encourage and resource "a new breed of revivalists" which were to (in their own words) "see entire cities saved, campuses revolutionized and nations discipled." It soon became clear to Banning Liebscher and the Bethel Church's renowned pastor Bill Johnson that worship was to be a significant part of the Jesus Culture movement. Kim Walker, Chris Quilala and Melissa How were worship leaders at Bethel Church's local youth group and the Lord began to use them to bring an entire generation into whole-hearted worship as Jesus Culture conferences were organised in different regions. Kim Walker spoke about her background. "I was born in Albany, Oregon and raised in a small farm town called Klamath Falls - also in Oregon. My home background was a bit rough - my parents divorced when I was four and I had multiple stepfathers. We moved every year so I was always the new kid in school and never really made friends. This made me very shy and withdrawn. When I was 13 my mom married a Christian man who brought incredible stability to our lives and got us very involved in church. I got involved to make my mom happy but I didn't really surrender my life to Jesus until I was 18. He saved me from severe depression and anger. He brought healing and love to my life. My family for generations has been very musical and my mom put me on a stage when I was three. I grew up singing and was very involved in musical theater."
Kim had relocated to Redding, California, to go to a Christian university there. It was in that town of 108,741 people, 192 miles north of San Francisco, that Kim had an experience that was to change the direction of her life. She explained, "I wasn't very happy and found myself struggling with my grades and not really fitting in. I was driving around in the middle of the night, crying out to God and asking him what I was doing there, and I happened to drive right up to Bethel Church. At that time, they had just built a 24 hour prayer house. There were people inside worshipping and praying. I was intrigued and decided to check the church out the following Sunday. There I was introduced to the girl who, to this day, is still my best friend. She helped me get plugged in and after my year at university, I decided to leave it to go to Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. I did that for two years and about two years after graduation I was hired to be a worship pastor alongside Brian Johnson, Bill Johnson's son."
Bill Johnson is, of course, an internationally renowned speaker and the author of such books as When Heaven Invades Earth (2003),The Supernatural Power Of A Transformed Mind (2005) and Strengthen Yourself In The Lord (2007). Kim developed a particularly close relationship with her pastor. She said, "We were having a conversation once and I joked that he needed to adopt me. He said, 'Consider it done!' He told me that I was considered one of his daughters and that isn't something he says to many. He said, 'In fact, there is probably one or two others I would say that to.' I definitely see Bill as a 'father' in my life. He provides great wisdom, speaks into my life, understands me and believes in my dreams. I do feel as well, that I have grown from being a child in the house to being a contributing force behind the revival."
By 2005 the Jesus Culture worship aggregation had settled on a lineup with three worship leaders, Chris Quilala, Kim Walker and Melissa Wise (later How). The trio admit that Hillsong and Delirious? are major influences. Said Kim, "We have done mostly cover songs because we are still growing as songwriters. Eventually we would love to do all our own songs. When we started, each of the worship leaders picked songs according to what was fuelling us personally and what was fuelling our movement. So all the songs we sing are songs that mean something to us. Our value for the presence of God is held higher than anything else. Yes, we want creativity and excellence in our music, but nothing comes before the presence of God. In worship we first desire to seek him above all else. I would say it is most easily described as deep relationship with Holy Spirit. We seek him, seek to know him, listen to what he is saying, watch what he is doing, and then partner with him."
In 2006 the first Jesus Culture album 'Everything', credited Chris Quilala, Kim Walker, Melissa Wise, appeared. Recorded live at Bethel it featured some standout tracks such as "Oh, How We Want You To Come" and a powerful "Spontaneous Song". It was the following year, however, that Jesus Culture put out what has proven to be their groundbreaking release, the CD/DVD package 'We Cry Out'. Again recorded and filmed at Bethel, it featured stunning renditions of Phil Wickham's "I Adore You" (sung by Chris Quilala), Joel Houston's "The Time Has Come" (performed by Melissa Wise) and a truly awe-inspiring rendition of "How He Loves", a passionate love song to and from Christ. "How He Loves" had first appeared on the 2005 independent album 'The Song Inside The Sounds Of Breaking Down' by singer/songwriter John Mark McMillan. Kim's breathtaking interpretation of McMillan's song is utterly captivating and the Jesus Culture version went on to impact churches across America. As it turns out, Kim knows John Mark McMillan quite well. Said Kim, "He and his wife Sarah are friends of mine. I first met him when I was living for a time in North Carolina. He was the youth pastor at Morningstar Church (Rick Joyner). He sang 'How He Loves' at a conference and I was so moved and had an awesome encounter with God. I came home to Redding and decided to sing/record it. John Mark came out with his second album that had the song and then JC's came out. John Mark called me one day and told me he loved it and 'really feels God' on my version. He is doing a video right now of the story behind the song - it's going to be awesome!"
Kim admitted that despite two more excellent albums in 'Your Love Never Fails' and 'Consumed', 'We Cry Out' remains her favourite recording. She commented, "That conference we recorded it at just has something really special. The presence of God was there like no other time I have felt before."
Despite their growing fame, Jesus Culture (currently consisting of Quilala, Walker and Wise with bandmates Brandon Aaronson on bass, Josh Fisher on drums, Jeffrey Kunde on lead electric and Ian McIntosh on keys) still play regularly at Bethel Church. Explained Kim, "We have a Friday night service, four Sunday morning services (two campuses) and two Sunday night services. So, when they are not travelling with Brian Johnson, myself, or Jesus Culture, they are playing at home. Currently, I live in San Francisco with my husband. So, I'm at Bethel once to twice a month right now. We are there for a season and wanted to start off married life away from everyone. His name is Skyler Smith (I'm now Kim Walker-Smith) and we have been married nine months. We travel about three to four times a month. About 40 per cent of that is Jesus Culture."
Last year Jesus Culture ministered at the Revival Fires church in Dudley, West Midlands and will be returning there this month. Said Kim, "Jesus Culture has a big heart for England and feels that God is definitely on the move in England. Our time in Dudley was similar to the other places we went in that, God is pouring out his Spirit and truly teaching us what it means to worship in 'Spirit and in truth'. He is capturing the hearts of the young people and igniting them for revival. Skyler and I are actually going to be ministering there in March with Danny and Sheri Silk. It's the Love Revolution conference March 24-27."
As well as her appearances on the Jesus Culture albums, Kim released her solo debut in 2008 with 'Here Is My Song'. Her second solo release will hopefully be issued at the end of the year. Plans are also afoot for the next Jesus Culture album to be recorded in July. Kim remains enthused by the effect the ministry of Jesus Culture is having on people's lives. She said, "My favourite testimony right now is one from a girl who was at the Jesus Culture conference in Chicago. She had a radical encounter with God's love during worship and got set free of cutting herself. She wrote me a letter that moved me to tears in hearing how God in one moment transformed her life. I keep her picture on my refrigerator."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.