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.

Continued from page 1

Over the years, Paul Baloche has had a few songs that have become successful in different parts of the globe. Does he think of them as "hits"? He laughs, "Oh, you know, I don't sit around thinking about it. They're almost like children that have grown up and gone to college and left the home. I kind of look at them in that way. Like they went off and made something of themselves. I remember 'raising' them if you will, you know what I mean? But I don't feel like I own them anymore."

But it must be weird for him when he starts writing a song and has no idea how popular it's going to become. He agrees, "You never know. They all feel good in the moment. You want it to be a real expression of worship that hopefully resonates with other people."

Even as I write this piece, I'm aware that there will be people who come to read this feature who have no idea about Paul Baloche but have sung his songs. Does Baloche think that it's strange that his songs are more famous than him? "I just try not to think about it," he counters. "I'm grateful for anything. It's just all been an honour, to go to another country and hear them sing any of these songs, like in Russian. Or I'll hear them singing in Romania. I've got all these recordings on my cell phone. A lot of times I'll be in another country or someone will be here and they'll say, 'Oh, we sing your song in Azerbaijan!' And you're like, 'YOU'RE KIDDING ME?!' So I get them to sing it in their language." I tell him I'd like to hear "Above All" sung in Russian. That must be quite interesting! "It's fascinating." He confesses, "But I can't sing it for you, sorry!"

Shame! Another part of the life of a worship leader/songwriter that a lot of people don't understand is that once a song becomes popular and is sung in churches, every time it's sung it generates income. The practical upshot is that it supplies Paul with a living so he can actually concentrate on what he's doing. So it's like a reward but at the same time it just sets him free to do what he's called to do. "Yeah," he agrees. "It's so ironic, honestly. Because we came down to Texas years ago to work with Last Days Ministries and Youth With A Mission. It was just missions. We lived in Melody Green's motor home. I started eventually working at the church and they said, 'Well, we can pay you 50 dollars a week and give you an office.' Because all these kids, they only put a dollar in the offering plate. We always had, just no income! We just started writing songs in our church, for our church. And then little by little Integrity Music happened to hear something. I ended up doing a couple of projects with them over the years. It's sort of ironic to me that that's how the Lord has provided for us. Because our church; we still get very little income from our church because it's primarily a missions-type church."

He continues, "So I look at it as almost a grant from the Lord to say, 'Okay, there's no pressure for you to feel like you have to make something happen. Just seek my face. Spend time with me. Worship me for real and let songs rise up and serve the church with those songs and let your provision come as a by-product.'"

It does mean that Baloche has the means to travel around and meet with other worship leaders and writers and the benefits of that are felt on 'A Greater Song'. There are plenty of songs that have been co-written on the new album. Was collaborating a stretching experience? "It was," admits Paul. "It was fun. For this particular album, most of the songs were written in England with Graham Kendrick, Brenton Brown and Matt Redman. I felt like it was a 'time to do a new record' kind of thing. I'd been on the road doing a lot of conferences. I was kind of burnt and I thought: man I need my own heart to be inspired. I need to do something for my own soul and get stirred up. I don't want to just write some Christian jingles, you know? Graham had invited me to this UK songwriter's retreat. There were about 20 writers. It was really good. And they brought in a couple of theologian guys and they kind of challenged us to raise the bar lyrically. To try to say some things that haven't been said already. That these modern worship songs need more content because most people get their theology from the songs they sing. Like it or not, that's just the way it is."

He continues, "So after that conference I spent 10 days with these guys. A couple of days separately in each of their homes. Mainly to build relationship, to fellowship, to get my own heart stirred up. And as a by-product, each place that I stayed, we spent a little time worshipping and praying and writing. So it really has a real UK connection, this project, more than anything else I've ever done. Like I said, it really was good for my soul."

I pick out some songs on the album and ask Paul to describe something of the writing process. He explains the genesis of "Hosanna" and remembers, "Brenton Brown was actually at my house. He came over to Texas. Spent a few days there. This was last year. We'd just come through the Easter season and as a worship pastor I happened to say to him, 'Man, you know what? It seems like there's not enough hosanna-type songs or Palm Sunday-type songs. We tend to sing the same handful of songs every year.' So he said, 'Man, let's think about that.'

Baloche continues, "So the idea behind it was thinking about Jesus coming into town and the anticipation of people looking down the street: 'I think I see him!' And getting on somebody's shoulder: 'Wait a minute! I see him! He's comin'!' And that anticipation linked with the anticipation of when we come into a time of worship, that sense that, hey, maybe God's gonna really do something fresh this morning. So the whole verse is this sense of anticipation: 'Praise is rising, hearts are turning to you, Lord we turn to you/Hope is stirring, hearts are yearning for you, because when we see you we find strength to face the day/And in your presence all our fears are washed away.' Hosanna means 'Lord save us'. So again, trying to teach what that word means within the song: 'Hosanna, you are the God who saves us, worthy of all our praises.'"

I wonder what was it like writing with Brown? What was it like being in a room with him? "Oh he's just hilarious," says Baloche. "We laugh all the time. He's from South Africa originally. I met him 10 years ago at a YWAM school. I was teaching there and he was 18 years old. He was one of eight people in this class. We have remained friends over the years. But he always makes me laugh because he's kind of had this South African accent combined with a London accent, and yet it's English! So he'll speak to me and I always repeat back to him but I always misunderstand him and it's hilarious. I'll say, 'I'm sorry, did you say blah, blah, blah?' And he'll go, 'No, no man.' I can't think of an example but that happens all the time. So I laughed more just the three days at his house than I have in the last couple of years. I mean, it was really therapeutic!"

The album's title cut was co-written with Matt Redman. "I was hanging down South in England with Matt Redman. There is this hundred-year-old little Methodist chapel near his house. We went and hung out there. It was kind of no agenda. We just said, 'You know, let's not try to hurry up and write a song. Let's just spend time worshipping with some familiar songs.' And then that led to some prayer. And then we kind of read a bit of the Word to each other. Then we got this idea of 'A Greater Song'. The idea was like, looking at the stars and the planets and the moon and the sun and just seeing how the Scripture says, 'The heavens declare the glory of God.' It's almost like this sense of jealousy of: Wow! Look how they get to glorify the Lord! That's amazing! Look at the stars! And it's like, 'Lord, I see the heavens declaring you day after day and I know in my heart that there must be a way for us to sing a greater song to you on the earth.' That's the heart behind it. Almost a frustration. Almost like, 'Lord, we want to jealously shout a greater song to you! Greater than the stars'! Greater than the sun's!'"

What about writing with Matt, what was that like? "It was great. He's such a humble but funny person. He's profound one minute and funny the next. I was just grateful to develop a friendship with him. We kind of went in there with that in mind and said, 'Look, let's just hang out. No agenda. If we write a song? Great! But let's not make it about that.' So we got most of the song when we were together and then when I came back here we would email each other various lyrics back and forth and talk on the phone and finished up a few of the songs that way."

As a worship leader who straddles both the British and American scene, I wondered what it is about the British scene that is distinctive? "I hate to generalise", he confesses, "but my initial gut feeling was it didn't seem as commercial. There just wasn't the whole idea of industry or the business side. It doesn't come into play as much for some reason. That's the feeling I got and that was refreshing. That's kind of why I don't live in Nashville. I have nothing against Nashville but when you come here you can't help feel a lot of these pressures. I try, when I go back home, to cultivate a naïveté if you will. 'Well if I were to write a song and it were to become big and blah, blah, blah.and there could be income and this could be.' I try to constantly shake that off and just try to pray, 'Help me Lord to get back to a pure place. To where I'm not thinking about that.' And that's hard. Maybe all of us are challenged by what we do. To try to keep what we do as pure as possible. We're always going to be fighting the flesh. Fighting pride and fighting those issues in our hearts." CR

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.
About Mike Rimmer
Mike RimmerMike Rimmer is a broadcaster and journalist based in Birmingham.

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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

The opinions expressed in the Reader Comments are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms.

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