Paul Baloche: The worship leader reaching for a great song

Tuesday 12th December 2006

Mike Rimmer has a lengthy chat with the American writer of many praise and worship "hits", PAUL BALOCHE.

Paul Baloche
Paul Baloche

It was the song "Open The Eyes Of My Heart" which created a worldwide interest in worship leader and songwriter Paul Baloche. These days you'll find him writing with a variety of Brit worship leaders on his new album 'A Greater Song'. The new Graham Kendrick album features a couple of co-writes with Baloche, as does the new Matt Redman, so it's interesting that he remains a less prominent figure than Chris Tomlin or David Crowder on this side of the pond where we love worship music.

In person, Baloche is friendly and clearly comfortable in his own skin. As he flops into the arm chair opposite me, he is relaxed yet ready for action and we have a lot to talk about. Although he grew up in Philadelphia, most of his ministry emanates from Texas where he's been serving the church that sprung out of Keith Green's Last Days Ministries for the past 17 years.

Paul elaborates, "Many years ago Keith used to lead worship. It was just a warehouse. Then when he was gone others kind of came along. Then I was just playing guitar in the band and all of a sudden became the worship leader. I've been growing up for 17 years there. Still trying to figure out how to do this effectively, you know?" So how much of Keith's legacy truly lives on there? "Anybody that comes and visits me," he shares, "I always take them to his tomb, his graveside. It's just inspiring to consider his life and his commitment and his passion and his, almost clich├ęd, 'no compromise'. But really that's kind of how he lived his life. He was pretty much all or nothing. Then right next to him is Leonard Ravenhill. Leonard (the famed preacher and author of the international best seller Why Revival Tarries) had a great influence on Keith. Even on Leonard's gravestone it says, 'Are the things you're living for worth Christ dying for?' It's so classic Leonard. Even from the grave he's challenging you. He used to preach at our church and after I'd get done leading worship he'd look over and say, 'Alright young man, put away that backslidden harp and let's sing a hymn!' Baloche laughs at the memory. "I'd be, 'Thanks Leonard! Whatever you say!'"

I tell Paul that when I visited the revival at Pensacola in the late '90s, Leonard's son Dave Ravenhill was teaching at the church there. Baloche updates me. "Yes. Dave in fact goes to our church now. Most Sundays I'd look out and if he's not somewhere preaching he's usually there with his wife Nancy. He is challenging us and it's good. We need that. We need people that really emphasise the grace of God and we need other people to remind us of God's standard and God's call to holiness. For us to reach higher and to dig deeper and to allow the Lord to change us and to become more like him. I think that's his emphasis for sure."

I ask Baloche to describe his church. "It's non-denominational," he begins. "We get a lot of these YWAM and Teenmania kids who are from different denominations. So we kind of shoot from the middle in terms of the real emphasis, just in connecting to God through worship and then the Word of God. It tends to be creative and there are a lot of surprises. We try to keep things open-ended a little bit during the service. A lot of times a young person will come up and ask me, 'Hey, I got a word from the Lord! I felt like I was seeing something from the Lord!' I always feels like it's a 'spiritual laboratory', that's what I call it. After all these years, we don't want to settle in to this thing, this Sunday morning thing. I always want to keep a little bit of it that's open-ended. That feeling that maybe God could come and turn things upside down today. I don't want to make that happen, you know? Just for the sake of craziness but we just say, 'Lord, come have your way. Teach us how to connect with you and keep us from getting too stuck into a rut.'"

One of the great things with the charismatic Church was that the gifts of the Spirit were rediscovered in the '70s but in a lot of places, that's dried up in today's generation. Is Paul seeing the gifts of the Spirit expressed in his church? "That's a good question." He pauses to think for a second, "I don't think they look like they did in the '70s but I think that what we're trying to do is leave room for the gifts of the Spirit to operate without putting everything in a box. Thinking this is what it has to look like. This Pentecostal 1972 box if you will. We're just trying to allow the gifts to come forward. I guess the one that we see most is a young person, during worship, maybe will have a vision. Or 'As we were worshipping I kind of saw a picture of the Lord here.' I think that's great. That's creative. It's expressive. Or maybe they'll be led to a Scripture and you could call it prophecy. You could call it visions. But again, we're not trying to make it conform and fit this preconceived model of gifts of the Spirits. So we're trying to keep it real."

But surely if it's taught in Scripture then there is a model that's there that we need to stir up isn't there? Paul isn't convinced, "There is the model in Scripture, but sometimes I think in the past we've tried to chase the model of a Pentecostal Azusa Street model, or this model or that model. We try hard to duplicate or replicate what happened then instead of calling upon the Lord and allowing something fresh and new. Who knows, maybe 50 years from now people will try and emulate what's happening now, if we just give God a chance to express himself the way he wants to be expressed through his body during this season."

I tell him that I like the idea of the Church service being a laboratory. The concept pushes my buttons because I believe that in order for people in a church to reach maturity, there has to be the opportunity to stretch. Sometimes we will stumble and fall and make mistakes and learn through our lessons as we step out. "I think that's the choice we have," he says. "You can either play it super safe, and a lot of churches go that way. It's tempting because it's like: Let's just keep it safe here! Thank you! No surprises! Thank you very much! Or, you keep a foundation of safety there to some degree but then there HAS to be room for something of God. Something fresh. Something new. Something surprising. Something other-worldly to perhaps happen. And yet I want to resist the temptation in leadership to try to make that happen. I want it to be God or nothing. I'd rather have it be a boring service and at least we worship God and we got the written Word of God in our hearts than try to manufacture or create this 'Spirit' thing and pretend like it's a God thing. Because I think we've all seen that at times in the church. Man, I don't want that either. But when it's the real thing there's just something really satisfying about that."

Interestingly, Baloche recorded his latest album at his home church. I ask if it was just that he wanted his family and friends singing along and adding to the atmosphere or were there other benefits of recording the album on home territory? "I think after all these years, Sunday after Sunday, many times I'll just hear the people singing loud. And I look over at my keyboard player and go, 'Man! Listen to that! Isn't that beautiful?' Just the sound of non-musicians singing to their God; there's just something real and honest and I love that. I really wanted to capture that but I think in years past I didn't because I'm from a smaller church. I say smaller, I mean it's about 800 people on a Sunday morning. We're kind of in the middle of nowhere and it's mostly these ministry kids. But that's where God's had me and I thought, I want to capture that."

He continues, "It's funny. Somebody listened to the album and they said, 'Man, the crowd sounds like you're in a club or something!' It doesn't sound like this massive Hillsong stadium crowd. You could actually hear individual claps and voices and people praying. And that's good. I hope. I just feel like it captures what we do at our church. I wanted to honour my church and say, 'You know guys, let's just do it here.' I've always gone to this other bigger venue or a theatre and this is the first time I just thought: I want to do it at home."

So what does Paul Baloche go through when he's preparing to lead worship? What preparation happens inside him as he heads towards Sunday? "I think it's just a life thing," he says simply. "I'm constantly chewing on new songs. I think being a worship leader helps me as a Christian really because it forces me to constantly be thinking about songs, thinking of creative ways to try to inspire other people to think about the Lord; to get their mind on the Lord, their hearts on the Lord. So consequently it forces me to do the same throughout the week. Just having that responsibility week in and week out. To know that I've got to stand up in front of people this Sunday and encourage them in worship. It's a healthy thing for my own spiritual life because I can't totally kick back. It's almost like peer pressure. It forces me to draw near to God, to walk with the Lord, knowing that I have to stand up in front of some people and in some degree of integrity, hopefully, lead them into some honest experience of worship."

When you read about the high priest going into the Holy of Holies in the Old Testament, you discover they would tie a rope round him. So that if he dropped dead in the presence of God they could pull him back out again. Thankfully there's no danger of that happening to Baloche but there's always been a responsibility for believers in coming face to face with God. "I hope so," he ponders. "I think if we don't have this fear of the Lord. it's like a concept we don't talk about much and yet it's all through the Bible. Just cultivating a fear of the Lord. A healthy, reverent. like we would have a fear of a tsunami or a fear of a hurricane or an earthquake. Just the recognition that God is so awesome in his power that," Baloche clicks fingers, "our life is just a mere breath or vapour. Just walking with that awareness, I think that evokes gratitude in our hearts that we can have a relationship with this powerful, awesome being and yet it's kind of like the friendly giant. Not to be disrespectful, but here is this AWESOME Creator and yet he has made a way for us to have this sort of mysterious relationship with him. And it's a never-ending journey. An experience where we're trying to go deeper. Deeper in our understanding of who he is."

For every worship leader, there comes a responsibility when you're leading worship in terms of weighing what is going on and trying to perceive for yourself what God is doing in the moment. It's a challenge to avoid simply trotting things out in the hope that it's God. There is a responsibility to learn to be sensitive and hear God. How does Baloche feel that he's developed in this area over the years? He responds, "The Apostle Paul said, 'Walk in the Spirit.' I think it's an art. Walking in the Lord is something that hopefully we get better at. We get better at discerning his voice. The more we try to discern his voice I think the better we get at picking up on the language of the Spirit. You know, those urgings, those promptings? And sometimes we don't know. And in the beginning we're just baby-stepping. We're crawling like a baby in the Spirit. But hopefully as we mature in our walk by trying to renew our minds on the written Word and 'letting the Word of Christ dwell in us richly,' as the Scripture says, I think we get better at discerning that still small voice."

He continues, "We take advantage of this adventure of relationship we can have with him. It's not just this text where we try to live by this written code, but he meant for us to have this living, active, dynamic relationship. From the time we wake up and even as we sleep! The potential of dreams and trying to pay attention to our dreams even in our sleep and say, 'Lord, what did that mean?' Sometimes it was just pizza and sometimes it's perhaps him just trying to tell us something."

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Reader Comments

Posted by Kristy Jones in Medina Ohio @ 19:23 on Mar 2 2010

On May 1, 2010 were having a benefit concert to raise money for Breast Cancer. My Sister in law died this past November...leaving behind two little kids. Very sad deal! I'm standing up to Breast Cancer!!!

I wanted to see what it would take to have Paul sing for that event? Every dollar we raise will go to the Breast Cancer Foundation.

Kristy Jones

Posted by PastorlarryHernandez in Silverdale, Wa @ 04:08 on May 5 2008

I am a local pastor in kitsap County who would like to know how we can contact Paul for a concert here in Washington.
I am the brother of Frank Hernandez and his wife Betsy. Can you send us information via email or by phone?
Thank you,
Pastor Larry Hernandez/ Spirit Song Church / (360) 598-3770 /

Posted by wilderlopez in peru lima @ 04:23 on Mar 6 2007

thanks for their music, are a blessing. it helps me much, in my life

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