Tony Cummings spoke to the Redding, California-based prophetic worship artist STEFFANY GRETZINGER
The rise and rise of Steffany Gretzinger to become one of the most recognisable voices in the modern worship movement has been impressive. Since she first appeared, as Steffany Frizzell, performing bvs on Bethel Music's 'Be Lifted High' (2011) and as a lead vocalist and composer on 'The Loft Sessions' (2011) she has penned songs for the Bethel Music, Redding, California-based team such as "Pieces", "Extravagant", "Be Still And Mercy" as well as for other Bethel solo worship leaders Cory Asbury ("Born Again") and Jeremy Riddle ("All hail King Jesus"). Her first solo album, 2014's 'The Undoing', was a major Christian music hit making number two in America's Top Christian Albums chart and 20 in the mainstream albums chart while her second solo album 'Blackout' released by Bethel Music in March this year brought the singer/songwriter a real sense of achievement. She said before its release, "It felt like the album I had to make. I feel his delight in what we've made."
Steffany Dawn Frizzell was born on 8th November 1984. She told Cross Rhythms, "I was born in a little town called Oskaloosa in the state of Iowa, a farm town. I'm a Nazarene pastor's daughter. I gave my heart to Jesus when I was in the first grade, and it's been growing since. We weren't in churches necessarily that talked about this stuff at the time. We were in Bible-believing churches, but it was like a slow unravelling. Things would start to break out as people pressed into the promises of God. I started having this dream when I was seven years old of this building. I would travel to this building - up this hill was a building surrounded by trees and flags from all different nations. I could never see the name that was on the building. For a number of years I had this dream. Fast-forward - I was 18 or 19, and my pastor from our little Nazarene church in Ohio had listened to some of Bill Johnson's teachings. I heard some of his teachings before I ever heard about worship: worship hadn't exploded on the scene yet. I heard the teaching and I had friends that decided they were going to be a part of the school of ministry and a part of that house.
"We had revival break out in our little Nazarene church, which was absolutely miraculous. We would have people come to visit, and they said, 'Have you heard of Bethel too? These things are starting in Bethel.' I felt like I was supposed to move there to go check it out. I went to visit. I'm driving up the hill and I start to have this dream come back to me that I had repeatedly when I was a little girl. I'm up the hill, I get to the top, and there's flags that start lining it, and they're everywhere. It was the very building that was in my dream, and I just burst into tears. It was like the Lord said, 'This is a special place for you - for you and for them: this is a special gift.' I've been with Bethel 10 years now."
Initially Steffany had no thoughts of joining the Bethel Music worship team. Steffany: "One of the things I love - I feel emotional about it as I think about the progression of that - is I never planned to actually sing for them. I went to their school of ministry and that changed my life. I ended up singing just in class, as one of our worship leaders in class. Jenn [Johnson] walked in one day, and I didn't even know her - we had never met - and she said, 'Who is that?' They were like, 'Her name is Steffany.' She said, 'I want her singing with me!' They put me on the schedule for the next Sunday morning as a backer. She'll tell you - she's told our whole worship department - sometimes God does things, and everybody's story is so different. She said, 'That is not a rule, that is not how we do things, but that day I just knew that you were supposed to be here, and I just knew that you could be trusted.' I felt so honoured and I was also terrified. I was like, 'Are you sure? I know you can trust me but you don't know you can trust me. This is really crazy!' I walked with them and I cleaned their house for a while, I did some personal assistant stuff for Jenn - I just was a part of things. I went to school and didn't think anything of it. I sang my heart out. I think when you pursue the presence and not the position, you find yourself smack-dab in the middle of it.
"At one point I was singing with William and Jeremy, back in that day,
and a song came out, one of our spontaneous moments of prophetic
worship. I sat with it for a long time and sang it at home. I wasn't
trying to write a song. My best friend growing up had passed away
suddenly so I was singing this song over and over. I was singing it
over me, I was singing to the Lord, and he started singing it back to
me. That was the song 'You Know Me'. I said to the Lord, 'No one has
ever known me like my friend. It's so strange: no one will ever have
that same history with me again.' And the Lord began to sing it back
to me. He said, 'I know you. I know when you rise and when you fall. I
know.' I just would weep, and I would play this for hours and hours
and for months. I played it for Amanda Cook. It was like the early
stages of our best-friendship. We're now best friends - as close as
you could be. We got to that place where she said, 'Steffany, you've
got to play this for someone.' I'm like, 'I don't know about that.'
She says, 'Steffany, this is not a moment that was meant for just you.
This is going to bring healing to people. You've got to share this.'
So finally I was brave enough to share it, and every time I did we all
ended up in tears - they all just cried. We're like, 'We don't know
where this is going to go,' but they put it on the album and gave me
the chance, and then from there it just grew."
'The Undoing' album was a major success. As one journalist wrote, "'The Undoing' introduced a timid, gentle, sincere side of the singer, who recorded her first album while pregnant with her first child. Everything was new, eyes wide, heart expectant."
Success and acclaim continued for Steffany. Her impassioned worship anthems like "King Of My Heart", whose video has garnered more than 19 million vies on YouTube, Gretzinger has amassed a monthly audience of 800K listeners on Spotify.
But as she began working on songs many of which were to appear on 'Blackout' things grew dark for the renowned singer/songwriter. She admitted, "This last year was probably the most intense of my life, personally, I have never felt more slammed in my entire life, but I have never been more confident that I am loved; and I've never been more confident in what I built with the Lord these last 30 years. What we've built is not fragile. You find out what you're made of when the world comes crashing in around you."
Her personal tsunami started when her father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Staring death in the face, the singer channeled her fears into melodies. "I started to ask the Lord to life me above the fear - the fear of death, the fear of loss, the fear of everything that taunts us. And I think he stared to remove all of that, to lift my awareness to another realm, to the place where he lives instead of this temporal place where everything dies."
Gretzinger came to realize she had spent her life attempting to be a rescuer and this time around proved no different. The wife and mother instinctively threw herself into trying to "save" her father; but even her earnest effort and best intentions weren't enough. That was when one of her friends stepped in and gave her some profound advice. She recalled, "My dearest friend, Melissa Helser, looked me in the eyes and said, 'Friend, you're not the hero in this story. There's only one hero, and his name is Jesus.'" The conversation became a pivotal turning point for the worship leader and the impetus for the opening track on 'Blackout', "Save Me", ultimately, a song of surrender. "All this stuff with my dad, trying to be strong for the people you love, trying to take care of them, trying to be someone they can hold on to, I realised really Jesus is all we have. He's all we have to hold on to. Our confidence comes because he's the strong one."
With producers/songwriters Jason Ingram and Paul Mabury, Steffany penned "All That Lives Forever", one of her favourite tracks on the album. In the middle of the writing session she received a text telling her a dear friend from her hometown had committed suicide. Three days later, she found herself singing the song at his funeral. "That's a really special song to me, because there was no doubt we were supposed to write it," she affirmed.
Shortly after writing "Confident" with 'Blackout' producer Bobby Strand, Gretzinger learned he and his wife had suffered a miscarriage. It was as if God gave them the song knowing they would need it in the days ahead. Said the singer, "It felt like the Lord wrote all these songs for a reason and we're finding out after the fact just how important they are. This album, these songs, are written from a place of real pain."
In light of her father's illness, this batch of songs has especially resonated with Steffany. Today, his prognosis is hopeful and the family is celebrating the small victories each breath brings, cherishing the time they have together.
I suggested to Steffany that her songs on 'Blackout' suggested there was still a greater depth of experience of God that we need to get to. She responded, "Yes! The hope is that we go from glory to glory, the closer we get. I was sitting at breakfast the other day with my little girl who's four years old - her name is Wonder - and we were eating our eggs, pretty quiet, and she says, 'Mommy!' I said, 'Yes, baby girl?' She said, 'The higher you go, the higher you see.' I said, 'That's the truth, isn't it, Wonder!' It shot through me, and I've written it down and put it up on the wall. I think that's happiness, that's 'From glory to glory': the higher we go, the higher we see. The more of him we know - the more we press in - the greater the revelation of his nearness, the greater our awareness is of what he's doing instead of what the enemy is doing to try to derail us. We find that he is right here - he's actually never left: he's always been here. He's in every fibre of our being. It's about a shift in our awareness. We were made in his image and he's made his home in us. If we really believe that, then wow! It gets really bright! 'Blackout' was almost like a prophetic charge. 'Light of the world/It's the name we were given.' It's like this prophetic charge: 'This is who you are, Church! Be the bright shining bride you were born to be.'"
Steffany admits that the tangled world we live in is a in a state of chaos. "The Word does say that darkness will roll in like a flood. I think it's our tendency as a Church to react to the darkness instead of responding to the light. We live in reaction to the devastation and the chaos. The thing is, there's nothing new under the sun when it comes to chaos: there's just more of the same. There's nothing new, there's nothing even surprising, but the truth is that God is always creating, and the light is always making things new. That's the beauty of it. So if we respond to the light of God, then we have no shadow: the darkness can't cast its shadow on us. So I think these are the moments of the Church when we invite God to come and take the chaos, and let the world see what that looks like. Invite them into it instead of anxiously trying to pull them out of darkness as if we could, as if we were their saviour. That's what I would say to that. There is a lot going on, and we're living in a crazy time. It's everywhere. But if we're more aware of what he is doing, actually this is a glorious time."
Does Steffany believe the long-held view of revivalists that we're on the cusp of a worldwide revival? She responded enthusiastically, "I do. I think it's happened in pockets for all these years. We look all through history of revival exploding and then shutting down, and then exploding and then shutting down. You wonder about each time, what it was that did that, and you think, 'Do I really need to study that part?' I think this idea of revival - it's changing. I believe we're on the cusp of another great awakening, and I believe with all of my heart it looks different than what we thought it would look like as a Church. I don't know that: this is just Steffany dreaming. As I sit and dream with God it feels to me like he's bringing us back to that intimacy, that Acts-church mindset where it says that there was no need among them. They lived so closely with God and so closely in community. Everyone was seen and everyone was known and because of that they took care of each other and they were ablaze. I feel like this next awakening is happening around tables, around people, around fires, and in homes. I can see that our greater gatherings are that much more glorious because we have houses on fire. So when we come to huge gatherings - 'big church', as I call it, staged things - that's when the signs and the wonders, that's when miracles overflow, that's when salvation takes place, because we're coming on-fire, instead of coming to start the fire. That's what I feel about that."
At the close of our uplifting interview Steffany dropped the bombshell that she, her husband, her little girl and a handful of friends will be leaving Bethel Church and relocating to Nashville, Tennessee. She was adamant though that they're "not going there to be Christian-famous." I protested that she already IS Christian-famous. She laughed before responding, "I've had words about Nashville years before I ever came to Bethel, so it feels like the Lord's just unfolding things. My husband designs furniture - he's brilliant, he can do just about anything: he even makes clothes and he's even an artist on the side. He's crazy. He's working a really beautiful job right now, and I am homeschooling our little girl. It's the joy of my life: I'm learning so much about both of us. I set up days and afternoons to do some writing and try to be faithful in those things, because I just love it. I take care of the house, I cook the meals - it's a very full life."
What about a church in Nashville?, I asked. She responded, "We'll pray about where we'll go. I have a few that have been in our hearts for a while, that we visit when we go. I also think that, on top of attending one of those places, we'll have a church-gathering with our tight-knit community at home. Quite a few of our closest friends are going to be moving with us in family."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.