This worship movement is rising out of Montana with a number of callings in delightful tension.
What do Hillsong Worship, Bethel Music, Elevation Worship and Passion have in common? Besides being the songbooks to a vast number of churches in the U.S. and around the world, the common thread between them is their dedication and hyperfocus on the local church.
Fast rising (but hardly new) Fresh Life Worship has that same heart and passion, and the Montana-based movement is sharing the creative outflow of its congregation at home and abroad. Rooted at international evangelist and pastor Levi Lusko's Fresh Life Church, Fresh Life Worship makes vertical songs that meet people in a variety of environments--Sunday morning services, evening commutes, personal devotional times, and many places in between.
With their new project, More/Enough, the Fresh Life team discovered that in the midst of a number of different songwriters creating many different songs at various times, the theme of wanting more of God, yet being satisfied in Him reigns supreme.
I asked the Fresh Life Worship team about how they approach balance--balancing being artists and worship leaders, writers of personal and corporate worship songs, and local and global influencers.
Your church turns 10 years old this year. How has worship been a hallmark of what you do out there?
Jess Ekegren, (Fresh Life Worship label director, singer/songwriter): Worship is definitely a hallmark of our church, in the good times and the bad, in times of rejoicing and in sorrow and our songs have been written out of each of those seasons as well we have endured as a body. We sing about the lessons we learn and we sing songs of hope that strengthen us in days of trial. We approach everything we do with excellence. We give our blood, sweat and tears, but only God can bring the power.
Your pastor, Levi Lusko, has been across the country and the world preaching the Gospel. How has his leadership driven your ministry?
Jess: Pastor Levi is such an incredible leader, and we don't say that out of obligation; we truly believe it. He travels the world and gets invited to speak countless times not only because of his giftings as a communicator, but he has also worked very hard to be the leader, speaker, husband, father, and man of God that he is. He is inspiring and an easy leader to follow because of his humility. He is constantly reading and studying how to better himself in each of his roles, and as a result, our ministry thrives and moves forward with him. The diligence, excellence and dedication of the people of our ministry is a reflection of his great leadership. As he grows, we grow. As he learns, we learn. It's truly and honor and we believe the best is yet to come.
Tell us how the life of your church has affected the songwriting for your latest album, More/Enough. What did you go through or study as a church that prompted these songs?
Jess: When we first started the project, we didn't exactly know what the direction was that we were going in. Some songs like "Heaven Come," for example, were written as a request from Pastor to have a song inspired by our series "Below As in Above," which led us into Easter. That song was one we as a church sang as we celebrated Easter together. As a songwriting team, our approach has been to write a song, submit a demo and see what sticks. With More/Enough, once we had enough to put a record together, we looked at the common thread between the songs submitted and a common theme we saw in the lyrics was that God is enough for us.
Talk about the whole theme of More/Enough, that tension between wanting God to do more with assurance that He's already enough.
Kevin Guido (Fresh Life Worship Pastor, singer/songwriter): He completes us in every measure. But yet, even as we have Him in our hearts and in our lives, we always find ourselves wanting more. He's all together more and enough. It's a beautiful contradiction.
Shayla Smith (worship singer/songwriter): I think anyone who knows Jesus personally can attest to this tension. Our fallenness, which is very real and unfortunately very persuasive, tries to convince us that something outside of God can fill us, and that the emptiness we feel in our lives is due to us simply not striving hard enough in our own powers and abilities. Deep down though, we know that in the same way that the houses we live in and the cars we drive are prone to decay and will end up in a junkyard somewhere, the temporary cannot satisfy the space we have inside us that seems endless. Only someone endless could ever possibly do that.
So a realignment to our great need for Him is ever relevant, in times of great growth or when we find ourselves lost in the wilderness; no one gets a pass from this. We believe that God wants us to understand this truth, that He will fill whatever we give Him and He won't leave us empty to the degree that we open up to Him. He wants to do great things in our lives and through our lives. We know this. The question is though, do WE want Him to? Do we have the hearts of "YES" to what He wills? That part is up to us.
How would you best describe your goals and focus as a worship ministry? Local? Global? A little of both?
Kevin: Our goal is wrapped up in the vision of Fresh Life Church. We want to see people who are stranded in sin find life and liberty in Jesus. It has both an evangelistic and a pastoral focus. We want to write songs that are honest and heartfelt, songs that would create a sense of wonder and connection for those who would visit our church, songs that speak to the basic needs of who we are as people in desperate need of God.
Our hope is that through our music, we could prepare a path for the gospel to change lives. We also want to create music that lifts the heads and the hearts of our church family and encourages them with the love of Jesus. Great songs don't change lives. Jesus does. So if we can point people to Jesus, either within the walls of our campuses or spread out around the world, then we are accomplishing what we have set out to do.
How many albums have you come out with besides More/Enough, Heartbeat and Fall Afresh?
Kevin: The Glorious EP and the "Hark!" single are a couple of other small projects that we have released as Fresh Life Worship. We also have an evangelistic outreach event called Skull Church. In 2012, we release a full-length record as Skull Church called When Darkness Shakes. The songs on that project are a little bit different than typical congregational worship songs. They are songs that have a distinct evangelistic bent but fueled by a heart of worship.
What are some things you've learned as a worship ministry and as recording artists in that time?
Solomon Ray (Fresh Life Worship Director, producer/singer/songwriter): I think those labels right there are actually important. I've had to really remind myself that even though we are recording artists to some extent, we're still a worship ministry at the end of the day. We're members of our church, writing songs for our church, and others are welcome to listen in. It can be easy as musicians to get caught up in tones and jams or whatever. The danger in that is our heart may be more excited about what we sound like rather than what we're singing about. So I guess we've learned to be aware of our tendency to drift.
What are some other worship movements or who are some worship artists you've worked with or learned from?
Kevin: We are students of everybody. There are some incredible churches and musicians writing amazing songs for the church to sing. We probably sing most of their songs in our church! Hillsong, Elevation, Bethel and Passion have been doing this for many years. They have paved the way for the church to sing songs filled with passion and and with purpose. We have been so ridiculously privileged to cross paths with some of these fantastic teams.
But more than writing sweet jams and catchy hooks, they lead the church in desperation for God. Their lives are marked by a genuine longing for God and His glory in their lives. They are groups of people sold out, holding nothing back for Jesus. It's evidenced in their songs but more so in the things they say, the way they live how they love. They tour the world, but personally invest in their church, in the local congregation. We are constantly challenged and inspired by them all.
How do you go about songwriting? Staff musicians, volunteers, a mix? How do you pick and choose which songs work? Does the congregation hear them first?
Jess: We encourage anyone on our worship teams and in our church with a song to write with us! The majority of our songwriters are true introverts, so most of the time, we write on our own and submit songs individually. But there are a few people who get together and collaborate on projects. Some have even collaborated from our different campuses across the Northwest. For example, Tanner Kanning from Fresh Life Bozeman and Solomon and Kevin at Fresh Life in Kalispell collaborated on "Know My Heart." With technology today, it's easy to collaborate and we encourage that on our teams.
Ultimately, when we pick songs that will be released on a record, we have God's people in mind. We ask ourselves which songs best communicate to and strengthen His people. Some of the songs we release are not meant to be corporate worship songs, but to be songs that strengthen you during your commute and encourage you throughout the day. One may be written to comfort you in the quiet of the night. Some songs are blessings to be sung over God's people.
Many of the songs we release will first be heard and sung by our congregation and will be anthems for different seasons that we go through. However because not every song we release is fit for a corporate worship setting, there is an element of surprise for our church family when a record comes out, and that's exciting for them! For them, there will be the songs they love on a record but also some that they have not heard before.
What are some things as a ministry you believe God is showing you for the future?
Jess: As we mentioned before, Pastor Levi gets many opportunities to speak all over the world and as a result our ministry gets a lot of exposure. It's a wild ride we are on. We pretty much buckle up and brace ourselves for anything. We have no idea what the future holds, but we will never stop singing, and will continue to explore new songs and be ready for the opportunities God entrusts us with.
How can people be praying for you and your ministry and church?
Marquis Ashley (Fresh Life Worship admin, singer/songwriter): I guess this list could be pretty long! First, it's amazing to think that in a world so connected, communication can be so difficult. It has to be intentional. It is an artform in and of itself. Communication to teams spread out across several states is something we could always get better at. Secondly, Fresh Life is one house with many different rooms. Some of those rooms are a 12-hour drive from each other. Unity in heart and vision is something we have to always fight for.
Next, we want to be able to raise up people well and multiply our teams effectively as new campuses are established and new people get involved. Pray that we would know how to serve the church, but also continue to seize the opportunity to help those who don't know Jesus have the opportunity to encounter him through our ministry--to get to know who He is and experience Him in our worship experiences at Fresh Life and through our record releases.
Finally, and most importantly, we'd love prayer that we would continue to fix our eyes on Him and that everything we do would be driven by Him and not ourselves. Nothing we do will hold power without Him.