In this special feature by CityRadio—”here to connect”—we speak to worship leaders across various churches and parachurch organisations to reveal the hearts and minds of those who carry the presence into a church meeting.
Psalm 71:8 says, “My mouth is filled with your praise, declaring your splendor all day long.” In our Christian walk, it’s impossible to remove worship from being a part of our lives. Particularly in a time when congregations cannot gather fully, worship is a very necessary part of every Christian’s life.
During a service, whether in an auditorium or in an online meeting, the worship leader is the one who ushers in the presence of God. What lies in the heart of a worship leader? What inspired him to become a carrier of God’s presence through song? What, to him, is the most important thing in worship? How has worship changed over the years?
We posed these questions to four wonderful worship leaders across the island to find out. Each has had their hearts touched and their minds renewed from their own personal encounters with God. Our of these encounters and revelations, God has moved mightily in their ministries, blessing the hearts of the Church in Singapore.
PASTOR ANDREW YEO: “FESTIVAL OF PRAISE CHANGED MY LIFE”
Pastor Andrew Yeo is Worship Pastor at Cornerstone Community Church and Executive Director of FOPx, an annual inter-church worship event with a focus on youth.
CityRadio: You have led worship in many inter-church events. What inspired you to be a worship leader to begin with?
Pastor Andrew: When I first got saved, my friend invited me to the Singapore Indoor Stadium for the Festival of Praise (FOP). I was initially a bit frustrated because the queue was so long, but I was very impacted by the event. Back then it was Bob Fitts and some of the local worship leaders, like Clement Chow, leading worship. The stadium was packed and it was the first time in my whole life I had seen so many people worshipping together as a body of Christ. I never knew an event could rally so many different churches to come and celebrate Christ.
I was so touched by the even that when I walked out, I said to my friend, “Someday I am going to lead worship in this stadium!” I was only a three-month-old Christian then, so my friends kind of mocked at me. But then I saw the National Stadium as well, and I told them, “I’m also going to lead worship at that stadium!” And God made it happen.
I think that’s how God gave me a dream, not just to lead worship but to rally the people as a nation. At FOP was where my life really changed because that’s where I encountered God.
How has worship changed over the years, though your eyes?
I think worship has evolved through the years, even from David’s time in the Bible. But I think worship is supposed to be prophetic. When you look through the Psalms, you will see “Selah” where it’s “free-flow music”. Just imagine David writing new songs every day in worship.
I think creativity-wise, we have evolved though the years. With resources like YouTube, we can learn and play everything. I think we must thank Hillsong for the excellence they have put into their work, and that’s why all over the world we can have that standard of worship. They were the first one to kickstart the contemporary style we hear in today’s worship music. Even if you look at the hymns, in those days, composers like John and Charles Wesley would go to the pubs and bars and listen to the style of music being played back then [to write hymns]. So I think it evolves through time but it depends on the culture of the people.
Some of the old songs still hold a touch of God even today. Why do you feel this is so?
I think some of the songs by Don Moen, Kent Henry and Bob Fitts are evergreen. Sometimes it brings you back to the encounters you’ve had with God. The songs then can be sung even today. When I think back, was it because of the price that the songwriters paid in their day?
Let’s take “Shout to The Lord” for example. Darlene Zschech was sharing with my church on the story of song. When she wrote it, it was a tough time for her as she was going through a crisis at the time. But there was one day, she went to the home of a fellow worship leader and played on his piano and worshipped. And out of that worship, this song came out. It’s written really out of the encounter with God.
If a song is not written out of one’s heart, it may be a hit for a while but it may not last long. There must be a price you have to pay to write a song. Because it carries the spirit of the songwriter.
There are a few CHC songs that I really love. One is “Making a Difference” by Poh and the other one is “Come Holy Spirit” by Caroline Tjen. These are really very powerful songs because these songs came out of their encounters with God.
TEO POH HENG: CAPTURING THE SOUND OF A GENERATION
Teo Poh Heng is a worship leader with CityWorship and writer of many of our favourite worship songs such as “Making A Difference”, “Remember Us”, “Miracle” and “Saturate”.
CityRadio: What was worship like back in the old days in CHC?
Poh: Some of the songs we sang were by artists like Andrew Ironside, Ron Kenoly, Christ for All Nations, Maranatha! and C3 church. When Don Moen became the music director and president for Integrity Music in the ’80s, Integrity and its band Hosanna ushered in a decade of revival in praise and worship. In those years, people were continually waiting for the next album to come out so that they would have songs to worship with. It was a revival that swept through America and touched the world, including CHC.
How different is the worship back then as compared to now?
The song styles today are more “pop” and the chords are more straight-forward. In the old days, they use the lyrics to make the song sound good in terms of melody. But right now, songwriters are going more for the vibe and the feel.
The tastes of the listeners change too. Today, as long as the vibe and the atmosphere the band creates are good, people will like the song. They focus a lot more on sound and atmosphere than the lyrics.
That is something I have to grow into. I cannot write like how I used to. I feel that I have to keep evolving. I have to change the sound of the songs that I write to suit the next generation. I go to my children, who are teenagers, and ask them for their feedback.
But I do feel that we have to have both: the younger generation may like the vibe but they may not have had the encounters that we—the older generation—have had. So we have to write our encounters and explain them in a new way so that the younger generation can understand those kind of encounters.
How does a generation create the sound of their revival? What is needed?
I think in every revival, there must be a sacrifice. If there is no sacrifice, there is no revival. For the new generation, we have to impart what we have to them. Worship is a very sacred ministry—there is always a price that we have to pay, and the people must be willing to pay the price. That is how the anointing births forth.
Darlene Zschech has done her very best. She planted a seed in the next generation and that next generation experienced a revival and starting writing their own songs. Every generation must experience the breakthrough, and once it comes, you can write you own experience, you can keep the sound of your revival.
Darlene is one of the most influential worship leaders of our generation; she has indeed inspired many to want to be like her. Her years spent as the voice of Hillsong Worship changed the sound of contemporary praise and worship.
PASTOR DAPHNE JUNE LAU: INSPIRED BY DARLENE ZSCHECH
Daphne June Lau, Worship Pastor at Eternal Life Assembly is currently pursuing her Doctorate in Worship Studies at Robert Webber Institute for Worship Studies in Florida.
CityRadio: Your love for Darlene Zschech is well-known. Can you share with us why?
Pastor Daphne: I wanted to be like Darlene! It was first her voice that drew me to her, obviously, but I grew to love her songwriting. The lyrics of her songs are very different when compared to other writers: they are simple but deep, and very God-centred. Her songs are not so much about us but always about God. I admire her energy and her confidence—and there is always a lot of genuineness about her.
I was also inspired by Kent Henry, by his deep spirit, and he was also very prophetic. It was really his prophetic heart that drew me. Before Bethel, it was him. He was very respectful of the Holy Spirit.
Many have named Darlene Zschech and Hillsong Worship as their biggest influence. How do you feel they changed the praise and worship scene?
If we go back: after hymns, there was a period of time where Scripture in Song (a series of worship albums) was very popular. These would really be songs set to Scriptures. They may be pretty short choruses, but they really helped you to remember the Scriptures. They were spiritually formational for me.
After that Integrity Music came in, with Don Moen, Kent Henry and Bob Fitts. The scene started changing because there were a lot of contemporary sounds. You also had Christian Contemporary Music going on at that time. The songs were a lot more personal and expressive, although Integrity (Music) had songs that were more Scripturally upfront.
With Hillsong Worship coming in, praise and worship songs changed quite drastically because now they had a lot of personal reflections and were quite modern. Personally, I felt they were wordier, as compared to Scripture in Song where they were short but we could sing it by memory easily, so people in older age groups still remember how to sing them to this day. But Hillsong pretty much modelled their songs—their song structures—after contemporary music. The songs have become very elaborate.
ALARICE HONG: “WE SING THE WORD OF GOD BACK TO HIM”
Alarice Hong is the Senior Leader and resident mentor at Awaken Generation, a non-profit organisation that trains and equips worship musicians and creatives to serve God to their fullest potential.
As Pastor Daphne explained, Kent Henry was one of the earliest movers in prophetic worship. In recent years, the likes of Bethel Music, Upperroom and Maverick City Music have come to the forefront of prophetic worship songs that many have been singing in churches the world over. These songs are generally more intimate and raw, with spontaneous moments that allow for the Holy Spirit to move. Alarice Hong shares what Awake Generation is doing in this form of worship.
CityRadio: What is it about prophetic worship that draws you?
Alarice: The Prophetic Move in the area of worship has been one of the most refreshing and the most amazing channels in which the Lord Himself has pours out His spirit and touches His people. In the past, we would have one speaker, an anointed man of God and only him on stage to facilitate that move, but now, through prophetic worship, the whole body of Christ is empowered to do that. We are not even preaching, we are singing the Word of God back to Him and His Presence comes.
I think we sometimes find the word “prophetic” very mystical or weighty. But the heart of the prophetic is simply that you hear from God, and you release what He is saying. You’re hearing his heart, and you are communicating that.
Why I love the prophetic is that you may be overwhelmed and not know what’s going on, but you have that one worship leader who is in tune with God, hears His heart and releases what He is saying. In that moment, it changes everything. It breaks the cloud of confusion, and you are able to hear the voice of God over the weight of confusion and depression. You know that this is who God is and this is what He is saying. That word is able to bring life to people because in Romans 10:17 it says that “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”
The prophetic shouldn’t be a trend—it should be ingrained into every worshipper. It shouldn’t be a one way thing, as if we are performing for God—that’s a wrong understanding. But it’s like we are pouring our heart, our genuine love to the Lord, and at the same time, He speaks to us. So it’s like a living conversation, a relationship— it’s God speaking to us in the moment.
Indeed, worship has changed much from the styles of Integrity Music and Hillsong Worship to ministries like Bethel Music and Upperroom today. Given the work that you are doing in training up and equipping worshippers at Awaken Generation, what is the most important thing to you in worship?
What’s important can be seen in John 15, where it talks about abiding in the Lord. In the Passion Translation, verse 4, it says: “So you must remain in life-union with me, for I remain in life-union with you. For as a branch severed from the vine will not bear fruit, so your life will be fruitless unless you live your life intimately joined to mine.”
This really is one of my life’s verses. There is nothing I can do in ministry if I’m not intimately joined in life union with Jesus. I could technically do it, but it would be a form of godliness but it will carry no power. Because it would just be a religious activity of me pleasing people. So for worship leaders, you have to be overflowing yourself. You are first rich in your identity in God, you are hearing from God every day. You are reading the Word not just for the sake of head knowledge—you’re reading His Word because you want to connect to his heart, and that’s because He is your life source. If you don’t have that, you can’t expect others to walk in it when you lead.
In worship, your first ministry is not to minister to people, I think that’s wrong. If your first priority is to minister to people, everything caters to just making them feel better. The Biblical model of worship is all about you bringing your sacrifice to God. So in worship, I must come to Him in worship, ministering to God Himself. That means, first and foremost, I don’t care about what other people think. Because I am here to unashamedly give my everything to God.