Currently touring Britain is a prophetic musician from Australia STEPHEN BENNETT. He spoke at length to Tony Cummings.
Those hip to all that is good in contemporary Christian music will be aware that Australia is throwing up many major Aussie rockers. Steve Grace, Chris Falson and John Dickson have all had highly acclaimed albums released in the UK over the last year or two. However it's another gifted Antipodean, and one without the benefit of a UK release, who is currently gripping the hearts and spirits of Britain's churchgoers. Stephen Bennett is currently undertaking a tour of Britain, appearing with such musical ministers as Noel Richards. Cross Rhythms questioned him just before he came to Britain to begin his two and a half months musical mission.
Where were you born?
"Believe it or not, Croydon Surrey! My family emigrated to Australia as one of the last few on a Ten Pound scheme when I was a kid, So with my little handmade Spanish guitar that my Grandma gave me, we went to the Colonies! We started in Melbourne, where I then went onto the tropical state of Queensland, then down to Sydney, New South Wales where I now live.
Were your parents Christians?
"No. I was brought up to be open minded, so I sat on the fence wasting a few years. My dad became a Christian six years ago, it's like having a new dad! A few days after he became a Christian I caught a bus to go and see him in Melbourne. When I got off the bus I looked to the right to see my dad coming towards me like a grey-haired version of Bo Derek in '10' running slow motion for me, crying his eyes out - "son, son... you were right all along!" The anointing at the bus stop was amazing as he started to preach to everybody, people crying and stuff."
How did you become a Christian yourself?
"I thought you were going to ask that. I was living with a multimillionaire family on their yacht in the Pacific Ocean when I realized their world was kinda hollow. So I went back to OZ. I got interested in card reading and clairvoyance for about a year. This was when I discovered that the spiritual realm was real. Anyway, a few Christians used to witness to me. So I did the intelligent thing and went and obtained a Bible Study Guide and found out for myself. I had met all sorts of people, from different religions and groups, and studied their claim, but found only Jesus claims He was the only way to God. I figured it had to be a relationship based on love and not the traditions and institutions of men. The Bible made so much logical sense to me. The Holy Spirit began to move on my life and circumstances began to point the way to Christ. So I gave my life to Jesus to serve and follow Him whatever the cost, and I have never looked back. It hasn't always been easy but it's real and with Christ all things are possible."
How did you make a start in music?
"It goes back to when I was a kid in school- musicals, stuff like that. But really, my music didn't really come to anything significant until I became a Christian. Before that I had written a lot of songs, you know songs about., mushy love, "I'm lost". "What is the meaning of life?" type stuff. I sang in a couple of bands but nothing significant. I used to have my own poetry segment on TV for two years-l love playing with words. The music 'in me' started to develop by being faithful in my local church for six years. My pastor back then had a strong prophetic gift and used to encourage it, so we used to prophesy in song a lot and sing songs to the Lord. So my song writing started to develop that type of edge. At the latter part of that time I birthed a band called Sons Of Thunder - we were 'contemporary warrior prophet musicians', what a mouthful! We didn't actually perform as such, but we just did what we did -evangelising, preaching, and bringing a strong anointing that unlocked many lives to come to Jesus. It just happened to be in a 'contemporary' relevant manner. This phase started to happen in the mid-80s, although I had done various things from the early 80s."
Can you tell us a little about the Christian music scene in Australia?
"It really started to come alive in the 80s, with a lot of great talent emerging. It is still quite small here though, but is growing. I think the major impact that has been made is from the 'live' praise and worship material that has come out of some of the bigger churches. Some of that is now available in England -Chris Falson - who now lives in America, Dave Evans, Darlene Zschech, John Dickson, and the Totally Radical Youth Alive Music are all quite popular and have been around for several years. There are other bands of course, but it is not easy for them surviving full-time. You really have to get out there and minister as well as just play. The Christian market here is not big, so you have to be quite resourceful and self-sufficient; big backing and support is a rarity. There is a lot of American imported music which helps to support the few Australian distribution/record companies, but the Aussies have a unique 'edge' and it's beginning to find niches around the globe. Australian music is a fairly "rock based culture". This strong edge is now evident in a lot of our modern church music here. It's good, honest, sincere and in your face!
Have you travelled much overseas?
"Well my wife and I have done 70 plane rides in the last year or so -the flyer points are healthy! Yeah, I guess I've been round the world a few times. In the early eighties I went to India four times and up into Thailand on mission work with International Outreach, where I filmed broadcast video documentaries for them to encourage people to 'go into all the world and preach the gospel'. It was a great learning time.- I wrote songs for some of the sound tracks, which is how my band started, It's amazing how things start when you serve other people's dreams! In recent times we have been to the Philippines with a band, New Zealand several times- great country, USA, and of course we snuck into the UK and Scotland last year. I'd love to take a band through Europe one day!"
Can you summarise what recording you've done.
"Sure! In 1982 I put an acoustic set of songs on tape, which I sold for a dollar each! In the early 80s I was also involved in the music ministry called Celebrate Shalom, a ministry to the Jews. I did two albums with them-'Celebrate Shalom' and 'Go Through The Gates', which I sang on and wrote a few songs including the title tracks. I want to record another album of my own with that sort of music eventually, it is very passionate. In 1986 my band Sons Of Thunder recorded a single called "Go" and an album 'Angry Young Men', on our label Sonshine Songs. The album was quite popular and we still hear good feedback from it today. In 1990-91 I was executive producer of our church's first two live praise and worship albums - 'Stand' and 'War' - by Christian City Church Sydney. I also sang on these and had one of my songs 'Pray' on 'War'. In 1992 I recorded my solo album 'Hear The Sound', which was originally released on Heartland Records here in OZ. I have sung on a few other albums, but that's about it."
'Hear The Sound' got a rave review in Cross Rhythms recently. Tell us a bit about it.
"'Hear The Sound' was recorded at Nightlight Music/Heartland Records in Sydney over several months in early 1992, and produced by my good friend and neighbour David Holmes, who would have to be one of Australia's best Christian guitarists, and a great bloke! The theme of the album is for the listener 'to have an ear to hear what the Spirit is saying' through the music, which has a strong militant and intimate edge. People say the 'edge' of my music is strongly prophetic, and that would be true. Music itself is a spiritual thing, and was created by God for His purposes. I felt to make a strong prophetic statement that hopefully encapsulated some of His heart in a strong, musically-accessible style that came out of my walk with Him. This particular album was the culmination of a 10 year vision."
Do any memories of experiences on the road come to mind?
"I lead twenty thousand Indians in simple worship on an acoustic guitar once, that was an experience! There are always a lot of great recollections - from cockroach and lizard infested rooms to the mega five star hotels! And all the laughs and the lugging in between! But I guess one of the great things of travelling is that you realise how HUGE the Body Of Christ is. It's so multi- coloured, multi-expressive and textured, any religious 'boxes' you build soon get broken.
"I also enjoy getting out and seeing some of the sights when travelling, it helps to pace things and gives you a genuine feel for where you are. You know like Disneyland, the Empire State Building, Westminster Abbey or Lindesfarne Castle covered in snow! One of the funniest memories that comes to mind when I was on the road with my band a few years ago, was when we had to push a van loaded with all of our gear along a busy highway in Oz for a few miles to a gas station at some unearthly hour in the morning in OZ. We had just had an amazing night of ministry with people saved and so on. The contrast of pushing our beaten-up van down the highway was hilarious, Hey, support your "musicianaries"! Another highlight was watching my wife bungy jump 145ft into a ravine over wild rapids in Queenstown, New Zealand - that took faith. Now there's a beautiful spot definitely worth a visit! In the Philippines last year right before our second concert my lead guitarist had a speaker cabinet fall on his little right pinky which snapped in half, Ouch! He played the whole tour with a splint bandage wrapped around his hand. He was a hero, and he reckoned he developed a new style! He was great!"
We understand you are working in the prophetic area of music. What do you mean by that?
"The very nature of music and the arts is prophetic, ie. that it can speak the heart and mind of God for NOW and indicate challenge, exhort, and stir people to what will be, The very nature of the Christian musician from a biblical premise is prophetic. The "prophetic musician" has a spirit that can change the very atmosphere when he/she plays, which effects the spirit world releasing the Spirit of God which can unlock individuals, cities and nations.
"In Christendom there are many 'entertainers', market-driven projects, and "production-line praise". But it's time for the oracles of God for the 90s and beyond to ride on the voice of the prophetic psalmist singers and musicians -people who are yielded to the Spirit of God, not just the good ideas of men. Musically relevant, but the music itself is God-breathed, inspired by Him, and carries a mighty strong anointing in it. It is what I call "the sound within the sound", which is able to unlock the hardest heart, re-unite broken love, "open doors that no man can shut"(Revelation 3:7),"make the heavens tremble"(Joel 2:10), bring "deep calling unto deep"(Psalm 42:7), help gather the church to unify, declare 'spiritual war' and "Wake up the mighty men" of the church (Joel 3:9-11), cut deep into the wilderness deserts that the "old" can't do anymore, and bring the kiss of Christ (Song of Solomon 1:2) to a thirsty world - revealing the TRUE Awesomeness of God.
"If you study the Old Testament types of the Church, the Tabernacle of Moses, the Tabernacle of David, and Solomon's Temple, you will find that it was the artists and the musicians who built the "House of the Lord"- i.e. the creative ones. Take creativity and its' effect on us out of the world today and you realise how important a role it plays in our lives. The very nature of the arts 'builds' either the things of God or the things of the world. Elvis was a classic example of someone who had a very strong charismatic musical gift in a time of world change, As a young man he was brought up in the Assembly of God movement, influenced by the black gospel singers, which were his favourite songs to sing. A man who apparently loved the Lord and died a Christian. His 'gifting' was definitely 'prophetic' in its' nature -he literally shook up the world and helped bring a liberality that was probably needed. His liberality of spirit and style of music could have been in the 'church' but they didn't allow it back then like we may do now. So he ended up building a 'kingdom of the world'. "The prophet musician has the ability to change things, and we will see more of them rise in this hour to do the work and will of God in whatever context He desires. A friend of mine Kevin Prosch, who you may have heard of, has that edge in his music - when he plays something is released in the Spirit."
A speaker recently said at a meeting to coincide with Britain's National Day Of Prayer And Fasting For Christian Music that contemporary Christian music is going to be a spearhead in forthcoming revival. Do you believe that?
"Absolutely! But if anything it will be the 'contemporary prophet musicians', who the Lord is raising up, that will have the impact, and maybe not the "stars"! Musicians that may come from relative obscurity! I think it's a fantastic thing, a National Day of Prayer and Fasting! Wow, that must be a first -the first I've heard of anyway. One of the things the Lord is doing is raising up intercession. We have six intercessors who are dedicated in prayer to our ministry, our head intercessor has just written a small book 'Walking In High Places', which is an easy read, down-to-earth guide. The spiritual warfare in these days will require that intercession. For the Devil hates musicians like this, because he knows all-to-well the power of it, especially against him. There will be a great battle in the heavenlies for the souls of men and women before Christ returns, and it will take more than pumped up, religious entertainment to combat that! Or pious, limp irrelevance for that matter! We honestly don't need more Christmas Carol versions even though they are 'nice', but "resurrection power music" that has the 'current life' of Christ in it, that will split the heavens and the hearts of men open, and will help bring reformation not just revival! I think it is perhaps significant that this national approach is happening in England. She is a beautiful nation with very deep heritage in the gospel; God hasn't finished with her yet!
What are your hopes and vision for the future?
"Personally at the moment I'm finishing writing a book on the 'Prophet Musician' and am looking for a publisher! We have another album in the pipeline with a current working title 'Future Dreams'. David Holmes will produce again and as resources come in we will finish it hopefully August/September. Our vision with Awesome City Music, which is our ministry, is to continue to help release the Lord's creative people into understanding who they are in their gift and function - through seminars, concerts and church ministry; working with the local church and city-wide and national events. I would ultimately like to work with a dedicated band of musicians full-time with the support of committed people/record company etc, who are totally given to the purposes of God in any setting. I have written a number of 'nation calling anthems'. One for America is on the 'Hear The Sound' album. I've written one for England and one for Scotland which I will be playing on the April -June 1994 tour. Finally, the greatest birthing will be our new baby due in August conceived on the last trip in your country!"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.