Worship leader Chris Quilala talks about personal revival, “keeping it fresh” and what it’s like to work with Kim Walker-Smith.
In 1999, Jesus Culture was formed as a youth outreach ministry by Banning Liebscher, a youth pastor at Bethel Church, Redding, California, with the aim to ignite its youth into personal encounters of God’s radical love through intimate worship.
With revival being the overriding theme championed by the church’s senior pastor, Bill Johnson, Jesus Culture strove to usher in believers into the presence of God where they will “experience His love and be healed and regenerated.”
Over the years, it evolved, under the leadership of Liebscher together with youth worship leaders Kim Walker-Smith and Chris Quilala, from covering songs by other artistes to releasing its first live album in 2006, Everything.
Today, Jesus Culture is known all over the world for songs such as “Love Came Down” and “Your Love Never Fails”, with the latest being a remix album, “Jesus Culture Reconstructed vol. 1.”
Currently on tour through Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand, the band ministered in Singapore to a near capacity crowd of about 5,000 at The Star Performing Arts Centre on April 10.
Right from the get go, Liebscher declared that it was not merely a concert, and that it was the band’s aim to see the crowd have a personal encounter with Jesus. Interspersed with prayer and preaching, the team brought the crowd, comprising mostly youth, into a time of deep worship with well-known anthems such as “Rooftops,” “Show Me Your Glory” and “Alleluia.”
Between the two sets, Liebscher preached a stirring message about God calling out to a generation to seek Him. As the night wrapped up with “One Thing Remains” and “Dance”, the one thing that remained in my heart was a greater yearning to encounter God more, much like I did this night.
Earlier that day, I had a chat with worship leader Chris Quilala. Here’s an excerpt from our interview.
Malaysia was your first stop before Singapore. How’s the tour going?
It was amazing to see and be a part of what felt like the beginning; or rather, there were so many people in the room whom I felt were history-makers, world-changers—it’s a bit clichéd, but people were just so hungry for God and to carry His presence, so it was just cool to see people surrender to God, on their knees during worship, during prayer, giving everything to God. That’s always what we love to see. We’re not really about a concert or putting on a show—we just want people to connect to God and take it back to their cities, their universities. It was our first stop, and it was a good one!
Bethel Church is at the forefront of this. What does revival look like to you, personally?
On a personal level, I think revival is about being completely surrendered to God, yielded to His presence and His Spirit, the word “sanctified” in the Bible means to be set apart. When I was 14, I encountered God’s presence in such a powerful way during worship that I knew I wanted to give my life fully to making Him known and bringing Him honor. As a ministry, that’s always our goal—to put the Holy Spirit first and see Him have His way, flow with whatever He wants to do.
For instance, when we make an album, we’ll have our arrangements, and we’re happy with it, but we always try to arrange the songs in such a way that they can go anywhere so that we can step outside of that if we feel like the Lord is going somewhere else. So we try to arrange our songs in a way that’s not just start to finish. Especially for Kim (Walker), she doesn’t play an instrument, so her being able to just sing and feel the freedom—I mean, we use hand signals and all that, but we try to arrange our songs so that we’re not stuck within the structure, but are free to move.
You’re one of the core worship leaders of Jesus Culture now. What were your early days in ministry like?
I never actually wanted to be a worship leader, I don’t personally love being in front of people, being on stage … I was a drummer for years, playing with Brian and Jenn Johnson and other worship leaders. I felt totally fine hiding behind the drums, and I felt comfortable back there, I loved it. But Banning (Liebscher), the director of Jesus Culture, was always encouraging me to be a leader, to be on stage. I think I am where I am today not necessarily because of skill but because I was faithful … I think, again, it goes back to being a servant, to putting God’s presence first. I would encourage people to take any opportunity, if it takes a step of courage or whatever, and God will meet you there. So we encourage our young people to be a servant, to be willing.
Did you ever get stuck in a rut? How do you get out of it?
I’d say, musically, if I’ve felt like I reached a plateau, I would always try to surround myself with people who’re better than me. For instance, when I was drumming, there were a few musicians that I played with who were just so, so much better than me, so when I played with them I would be so inspired to be better.
As far as a worship leader, I don’t know if I’ve ever felt discouraged. I mean, there’s the side of us playing the same songs over and over and I think I just try to put myself in people’s shoes, you know, they may be hearing the song for the first time, or they may be encountering the Lord in a worship service for the first time, so I just try to remind myself that God is touching someone, and through that I feel refreshed, just knowing that people are being blessed.
Before you guys came onto the scene, there was Hillsong, there was the Passion movement with people like Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman … how did Jesus Culture find its own voice amid the very high standards that were already in place?
Again, it was just the Lord breathing on what we were doing. We never really set out to be a band, and the funny thing is, the music kinda took off, but we’ve always been a ministry and a movement before that, so we were just being faithful with what God had put before us. We’re just a community of friends that just wanna see God show up in people’s lives. And we decided to make an album, and then another one, and things just kinda took off from there. We did covers for years—those were the songs that ministered to us, and we experienced the Lord through those, and so I think it was just God blessing our faithfulness …
What can you share with worship leaders who are challenged to “keep it fresh” every week during service?
I would just say, you know, worship is an overflow, and I would encourage worship leaders not to approach every worship set as an end goal. When we get up to lead, it should just be an overflow of our daily life of worship. It takes a lot of pressure off from trying to work something up for a Sunday set or Wednesday youth group or whatever. Just pursue God daily, worship, but also let Him love on you, take time to receive His love. I think, leading out of that overflow of personal time with God, will affect your corporate worship.
And lastly, a fan question: what’s it like working with Kim Walker, and why’s she so awesome?
(laughs) Working with Kim Walker. It is amazing. I love her courage, not just on stage, but off stage. She knows what she wants, she knows who she is in Christ, and she goes for it. She always inspires me to press in further, whether it’s in worship, in my calling and gifting, to see what God has for me, in a deeper way. It comes across during worship, especially. She just always wants to go to the next level and push through, and not just give God something she’s given Him before. It’s really inspiring, it’s awesome.
Interview transcribed by Yong Yung Shin