For someone who now considers himself a worship leader above all else, nine years ago Bryan Brown sure didn’t want anyone telling him that was what he’d end up doing.
Bryan grew up just going through the motions in church. “Nothing that was said or done on Sunday ever connected with my heart,” he remembers. “But one day this woman approached me out of nowhere and said, ‘I want to tell you I think you’re going to be a worship leader some day,’” recalls the 27-year old Missouri-born, Nashville, Tenn. transplant. “For some reason it really bothered me when she said that. I remember thinking, ‘That woman is out of her mind. I’ll never do that. I don’t even like worship music.”
In his teenage years, playing guitar—especially songs from the Beatles’ White Album—became a favorite pastime, but Bryan had already decided on what to do after graduating high school. With a plan to stay in his current record store job, the store suddenly shut down without warning. Plan B was to move to Chicago where his friends were, but that wasn’t meant to be either. That was because he had a powerful dream about Christ’s return to the earth – and it shook him to the core and changed everything.
“I felt as if my heart was turned inside out,” he marvels. “Before that night, all I ever wanted to do was drink, mess around with drugs, waste time with my friends and basically live an existence seemingly independent from God. After that dream, all I wanted was Jesus. I wanted to talk about Him, read about Him, and live everyday with Him.”
Bryan dove into serving in a church, working with the worship leader and absorbing everything he could, all the while feeling a growing desire to lead worship himself.
“I remember sitting in the church office and getting this incredible vision of this sea of people worshiping God together,” he says. “The crazy part was that I was leading the song. You have to understand, at this point in my life I had barely even sung in front of anyone, much less led worship. In that moment I thought, 'I don't know how, but I'm going to be worship leader.'” Two years later, he led for the very first time at a college group.
Over the past seven years, Bryan has served three churches as worship leader, previously Christian Fellowship and The Crossing—both in Columbia, Missouri—and now West End Community Church in Nashville. He’s also come into his own as a songwriter and recorded two albums. His 2004 debut, Sing, (released by Integrity Europe) has an affecting rawness and immediacy, because he recorded it with his brother Christopher in their parents’ basement. Stephen Gause (Downhere, Nathan Angelo, Laura Story) produced Bryan’s new album, Shine, an epic ebb and flow laced with regally ringing guitars and anthemic choruses.
Bryan has a clear vision for his songwriting. “I want to write and sing these songs in a way that others can sing along,” he explains. “Through that, I want people's emotions to be raised by the melody and by the truth they are singing. My job at that point is to direct those feelings and affections to where they belong. Not to me, or a band, or a stage, but to God.”
Renowned UK-based worship leader, songwriter and author Matt Redman profoundly shaped Bryan’s God-centered perspective on worship leading. “More than anything, I'm just in awe of his humility,” says Bryan. “He's probably written some of the most recognizable and powerful songs the church has ever sung [“Heart of Worship,” “Once Again” and “Blessed Be Your Name,” just to name a few], yet he remains completely humble in what he is doing.”
Bryan’s vision for elevating people’s hearts and guiding their eyes upward is at the core of Shine. The eleven songs are a worship experience from start to finish, with accessible lyrics and exhilarating, ascending melodies, leading from the opening invitation to a deeply intimate moment before God. “Even the opening line of the album [‘As we worship you today’] is a call to worship,” says Bryan. “I thought about it a lot, because I want it to be an experience all the way through.”
The title track—inspired by Numbers 6:24-26—opens the album with an earnest prayer set to steadily pulsing piano and a swooping bass line and overlaid with shimmering guitars. Three tracks later comes the reflective “It’s Your Love,” which draws from a scripture Bryan finds particularly captivating: Psalm 63:3. “‘Because your loving kindness is better than life, my lips will praise you’—that’s the gist of it,” he says. “David was fleeing for his life in that moment. His desire to live was less than his desire for the love of God. One day when I was reading that I was just stuck there. That is a huge statement.”
The journey through the second half of Shine arrives at Bryan’s meditations on his humble position in relation to God. “Any time I’m able to put those things back to back, I connect with it when I’m singing it, because I see my nothingness in the light of God’s glory and how because of Christ I am not nothing anymore.” That idea is at the heart of both the gliding, melodically rich “Great I Am” and the album closer, “Nothing,” a reverent track that slowly builds to an urgent pitch. By the time the final note fades, the listener is enveloped in a feeling of deep need for God.
Considering that Bryan Brown once thought it was impossible that he’d ever devote himself to merging uplifting melodies and God-centered truths—and that that’s exactly what he’s done on Shine— having to “eat his words” wasn’t a bad thing at all.