One of the UK's emerging worship leaders, SIMON BRADING spoke to Tony Cummings about his life and ministry.
Such is the nature of Britain's flourishing worship music industry that it usually takes a high profile national event to catapult a worship leader and songwriter from the relative obscurity of local church ministry to national church prominence. Such a process is now underway for Simon Brading thanks to the youth culture event Newday organised by the New Frontiers stream of churches. Simon's songs and singing are featured on the 'Newday Live 2006: Shout From The Roof' album and Survivor have also released Simon's 'Going Your Way' mini-album in their Emerge series. So things look bright for the 20 year old university student-come-worship leader. Simon is a member of a local church which in terms of worship music has more talent than any other - Brighton's Church of Christ the King which, as well as Simon, can call on the services of Stuart Townend, Paul Oakley, Kate Simmons and Phatfish. Simon began by talking about the Newday event. "Newday was a real first for me. The first Newday (in 2004) was about 4500 people and there was lots and lots of rain! A lot of the sessions got cancelled. I was down to lead three times and the rain cancelled all three of my sessions! It was quite a funny time. The leaders were really gracious, they let me lead another session. I actually co-led a session with Matt Redman who was also there for the week. So that first Newday was quite a big thing for me. Then in 2005 we had about 5,000 people and I did a few sessions there and last year at Newday we had 6,000 people and I was leading there. It was a fantastic experience."
The song which really "hit" for Simon at last year's Newday was the hugely catchy "Going Your Way". Simon spoke about the song, "It's a song about surrender, giving yourself to God but it's a bit more upbeat than "This Is My Desire", which is about just giving all you have to him. The chorus is 'we're all in' and that phrase 'all in' I took from poker. When you play poker there's a phrase you use, 'all in', meaning all your chips in. So I was chatting to a friend of mine about that phrase and how our lives with God should be like that. We should give all we have to him. There's a line in there, 'We are all in, everything we have is yours. A full surrender we will bring, nothing less than everything.'"
Simon grew up in a Christian home. He explained, "My dad, Steve
Brading, was actually a pastor at our local church in Hastings and so
I was brought up in a Christian family. Every week I would go to
church. At the age of 12 we moved to Woking and my dad was the leader
in the New Frontiers' church in Woking. The Hastings fellowship was
originally a church plant but the one in Woking was quite a big
church, about 500 people, when we joined."
Simon grew up in a musical environment. "I was made to learn piano at the age of eight or nine. I used to hate it actually! I really didn't like it at all and then at about 13 or 14 I just suddenly started liking it! Around nine or 10 I also started to learn guitar. Mum and dad taught me. They both played guitar." Simon also experienced the Holy Spirit in his youth. "I was about eight years old, I think it was in '94, when I was moved by the Holy Spirit at the New Frontiers Stoneleigh event in quite an intense way. So I was filled with the Holy Spirit."
Simon remembered that when he was 12 or 13 years old the song "This Is My Desire" had a major impact on him at a youth weekend. He began to lead worship. "I played lead guitar and started leading at around 12 years old. I led my local youth group and then at church when I was about 16, 17. I never really felt God say 'go be a worship leader'. When you are in that moment of just engaging with God, he whispers different things into your heart. It's not always as big as 'go and do this!' Sometimes it's words of affirmation, words of love. Sometimes it's the Holy Spirit highlighting something in you or telling you something, sanctifying you. I never really felt God say go and lead worship or go and write songs. Over the last kind of year I've felt that a bit more. That's probably part of my calling."
Simon's 'Going Your Way' Emerge recording was cut at Eastbourne's ICC studios with producer Trevor Michael (who also produced the Newday albums). Simon took to the gruelling recording process like a duck to water. "It was quite a new thing but I really did enjoy it. I really loved being in the studio. Funny enough I think one of my favourite things about recording was the food! I'm a student and we don't have much food! Every night we got takeaway so it was quite a special thing for me. I really loved being in the studio, just seeing session musicians, how good they are, it made me wanna practice and become a better player. It was a good experience."
Despite possessing a warmly expressive voice, Simon is quite modest about his vocal abilities. "I'm not much of a singer, you know. I'm trying to be better and having lessons and stuff. When I'm leading worship and there are people in front of me I find it easier to sing, be more passionate. But when I am in front of a microphone with some headphones on singing my songs, I really have to kind of get in the zone myself, otherwise it sounds quite dry and a bit fake. It took a while to really get a good sound. Hopefully I've achieved that on the album. It's kind of a new thing for me just singing in a studio."
Simon has some interesting views about the current Church enthusiasm for congregational worship. "I think the way we label our times of singing on a Sunday as the 'worship time' can often be unhelpful. Worship is biblically so much more than singing, it doesn't stop when we stop singing - it's the posture of the heart and the way we live our lives before God. Although singing is an important part of our worship, I'm concerned that a whole generation of young people are viewing worship as just singing, and that's all." Simon also has some pertinent thoughts on worship and culture. "Culture is always changing. The songs they were singing in church 200 years ago, hymns and things, were reflecting the culture of the day. So I guess 40 years ago when guys were writing songs they were kind of reflecting the culture and music of their day. In some ways the Church is a little bit behind culture so some of the young people who are coming to church now find the music a bit alien. It's not the sort of music they would normally listen to. They listen to hip-hop or they listen to newer bands and stuff."
Simon is convinced that there will be many more cultural changes in worship music. It's only a matter of time before we see churches using hip-hop, UK grime or some other new form in their worship services. Said Simon, "I think the first acoustic guitars were introduced into church about 40 years ago, followed be a lot of raised eyebrows and in some cases horror. However, that was just the norm of the day in that culture. So I often wonder what's the next 'acoustic guitar' for this generation. What will we be bringing to Church that may raise some eyebrows? Although, back then it wasn't just about the acoustic guitar, it was also the restoration of worship, the Spirit moving amongst us and experiencing the presence of God, etc. But I do often wonder what new things this age has in store for us, in terms of sounds and creativity. So I'm trying to be more creative and get plugged into the culture of Brighton; see what the people in my city are listening to, see what bands are coming up, and trying to write songs which aren't alien to them."
Simon agrees with those critics who feel that modern worship sometimes overemphasises songs about personal feelings towards God. "There's definitely a place to respond to God and to tell him how you feel and to tell him what you want to do. But if your whole worship is centered around those songs then it suddenly becomes shallower and your engagement with God is a lot less. I think people walk away from church having learnt more from the song words than from the sermon. I often think what would happen if an alien came down to our church? What theology would he build about God just from listening to our songs? Could he tell you who God is just by looking at our song list? One of our concerns is if churches are singing only these 'me' songs then there's a whole generation of people who don't have an idea of the grandeur of God, his attributes and his character. Personally I strive to write songs that are rooted deeply in the Word, just full of truth. I am trying to find ways of expressing the character and attributes of God in a fresh way with accessible melodies that people will get."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.