Worship leader Joel Buckner had tried to run from his calling as worship leader for years, but once he saw what God was up to in his life, he put his full energy into it.
He's led worship at churches throughout the Southeastern U.S. and currently serves as part of the worship staff at National Community Church in Washington, D.C. Having been part of a number of different cultures, styles and preferences at these various churches, Buckner has learned to appreciate the differences in the Church while working to use elements of those environments to push himself creatively.
With his latest offering, "Sanctuary," Buckner has crafted a single that he believes translates the truth of God to churches, regardless of their congregational size, demographics, stylistic preferences or other labels.
I chatted with Buckner about his history, his ongoing musical/ministerial education, and about how he's already sharing what he knows with not just his audience, but with the next generation.
Joel, you're not just a solo artist, but also part of the staff at National Community Church in Washington, D.C. What's the biggest difference between what you do for the church and what you write/sing for your solo material?
At the church we write songs primarily for our series that we have. We want to make sure the songs are congregational and easy to sing with. For each series that lasts 4 weeks or more we get the main point or scripture and begin to write songs that connect with it. My songs range from personal life lessons, worship and love. They are not all congregational songs but will always be from the heart. Every now and then I will try and dabble in genres that I have not written in before. I love doing this because it always keeps my mind sharp and creative.
You started leading worship from a young age. Talk about what led to that, and the moment you realized this was God's calling on your life.
It's funny, I think I was afraid to sing at first for whatever reason. My younger brother actually started singing before me and he was actually a football player--go figure!
Sometime in my young age I mustered up enough confidence to sing. One of the first solos I had ever done was "In Christ Alone" by Michael English. I learned the song to sing in dedication to my mom.
After that I began singing in the Columbus Boys Choir, directing the youth choir at the church and leading worship. Even though I was doing all that I still wanted to be a psychologist. I went to college and found myself trying to run away from singing/leading worship and still time after time I found myself at someone's church leading worship.
I finally yielded to that call on my life, and I have watched God do amazing things over the years.
You've been on staff at a number of churches around the Southeast. How did each of those positions prepare you for what you're doing now?
Having the opportunity to sing in a number of churches with different styles of music, demographics and callings has taught me how to be flexible. As a worship leader, our main goal is to facilitate moments through song where people can connect or be exposed to the character of God in different ways.
People are coming from all different walks of life, situations that they are dealing with, religious affiliations or in a place of seeking. In order to bring together a diverse crowd like that it takes me as the worship leader to have some understanding of diverse sounds that connect to all people.
At church you can find me leading songs that are CCM, Gospel, reggae, acoustic, Latin, old hymns and sometimes even a country vibe. Being able to lead this way includes all who attend. It's not always easy or comfortable, but God didn't call us to be comfortable. He wants us to be available!
How does your work at NCC influence what you do as a singer-songwriter, and vice-versa?
My work at NCC has stretched me as a writer, learning a different genre of music. I grew up writing songs that were more the Gospel/R&B vibe. Now I am able to write in another genre, which comes through in the songs that I write now. I think it's been--and continues to be--a healthy exchange of sound and style at NCC. That's one thing I love about being on the team.
To someone who's never heard you, how would you describe your "acoustic neo-soul" sound?
Wow... hard to describe, but some of my greatest influences have been Commissioned, The Winans, Fred Hammond, Carl Thomas and India Arie. From them I get the soulful singing. Then listening to people like John Mayer, JohnnySwim, Rivers & Robots and Housefires I have learned this acoustic sound that I love. Bringing those worlds together it's like a mash-up of sounds, and that's where you get the acoustic soul sound.
If you could best sum up the calling God has placed on your life, what would it be?
I believe the greatest calling on my life whether it be through music or coaching is developing people. I try my best to do that through my music to help open people to the character and love of God. And in my coaching help them discover who they are and help them become who they're meant to be.
Mentoring is a big part of your calling. How do you find that aspect of your calling working with the music?
At this present time I find myself mentoring or pouring into a lot of younger worship leaders or artists. Having the gift or talent is one thing, but dealing with all the issues of the heart is another. The issues of the heart and soul have so much impact on one's artistry. With my life I try to be vulnerable and allow them to see my mistakes and successes. I want to be a person/artist that is simply life giving to anyone my life or music encounters.
You yourself have been mentored by Paul Baloche. What are some things you appreciate about him, and some things you've learned?
Paul is like a big brother to me. I actually wrote a blog about some things I learned from him as I watched him in action. There were three major lessons I gleaned from him: leading with humility makes you accessible, have fun because life's too short, and bring your family and friends on the journey. Those are things that I truly appreciate about him. He is one of the most humble people that I have met and is willing to share his wisdom at any time. He is also full of great laughs and, trust me, always has some joke ready.
You have a long-term dream to have a foster home for young men. Talk about that for a second.
This desire continues to take on different shapes. As I continue to grow, this vision is being refined and becoming clearer. I am not sure if I am going to have a foster home anymore. However, as I continue in this journey of life I can see myself being more of a life coach for men in transition. Only time will tell what it will fully become. I am grateful for the journey though.
The new single is "Sanctuary." Tell us about it, and what led you to write it.
Sanctuary to me is like a modern-day hymn and prayer. It's a simple congregational song in which you can hear a mesh of Gospel and contemporary. I believe it can be a universal song that touches anyone from all walks of life. The chorus came to me one day at home while I was cleaning. I brought the idea to one of our writers' retreats at the church and completed it with the team. After letting it sit for a year and with some great feedback we went back fixed some of the lyrics of the song to make it stronger.
I have a personal desire that this song connects people around the world. I wanted to keep it simple in production so that any church could do it whether they had 70 members or 5,000. I wanted it to connect to diverse audiences and cultures around the world. Since I have released it, it's beginning to do that and I look forward to it continuing to reach more people.
What's next for you, musically, etc.? How can people be praying for you?
It's my desire to continue to bring people together from all over the world. There is a project I am working on that will allow that to happen. It's crazy the creativity and talent that I hear as I travel to different places. I want to be able to expose that to people in America. I am also working on a new EP for late fall or beginning of next year that will be acoustic in nature. Continue to pray for me that I become what God has designed me to be and that I keep saying yes to the call.
Anything you'd like to add? Something I may have missed?
Marcus Hathcock is the Executive Editor of NewReleaseToday.com, a husband to Savannah, father of three and a worship leader living in Boise. He has released an EP, Songs For Tomorrow, and occasionally blogs at mheternal.com.
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