Just four years ago, the music coming out of Bethel Church
in Redding, California, was intriguing. The church had experienced many profound moves of the Holy Spirit—signs and wonders, they say—and responded to God's presence with powerful, homegrown worship songs.
Those songs resonated with churches around the country (and world), and what started as a trickle of music out of Northern California quickly and forcefully became a massive wave. Now, Bethel Music is an entity (and record label) of itself, and is steadily producing songs hundreds of churches sing each week.
With a worship project that is easily their most eclectic and artistic to date, Bethel's new album, Tides
, deploys various musical styles, arrangements and instrumentations to communicate the same message they've expressed all along: Jesus is worthy to be praised. Behind that metanarrative are themes of life's inevitable changes, and the God whose presence and love never changes.
I sat down with Bethel worship leader and songwriter Brian Johnson
during the Portland stop of the West Coast Tides Tour to talk about worship amidst life's changing tides.
First of all, talk about the title, Tides, and the imagery there and how you arrived at that and what it means to you.
I didn't arrive at it, actually. Some of our team members did. Actually I had a dream, though. I had a dream about turning tides. A lot of it, though, has to do with the season we're in. There's been a lot of coming, a lot of going with people—a totally different, shifting kind of season. I guess that's the creative way of saying what that season was. We had the idea last-minute to take the whole team to the coast and do the photo shoot at the water.
I was reading that you guys did a mega collaboration on this with your church—something like 50 people touching every aspect of the album. What did that produce in you, and what did that produce fruit-wise for the album?
I think in anything—songwriting or whatever, specifically with the songwriting—you're not going to have the lyric or the right thing to say until you go through that season of trial. I don't think God is into us being sick for a reason. I don't believe that at all, but I do know sometimes we have a lot more to say when we experience things in life.
Sometimes we just want that song done—and I'm talking in metaphors now—that song has to be done quick, it has to be amazing, but life isn't like that, right? It was a long process, ups and downs, and relational things. It was tough, but I felt like we made it through really well.
The fact that you had so many people working together on it is probably a real flesh burning process, I'm sure.
Trying to keep everyone feeling powerful, that's difficult, because it's easier to just tell everyone what to do all the time, every second of the way, saying, "I'm the boss and you're going to have to do exactly what I say." But you don't really attractive powerful and talented people with that kind of structure. But the flip side is everyone having a say is so difficult. The goal is making it through that and having good communication. We learned a lot about that—a constant learning experience. It's worth it in the end.
What are you seeing out there? You go all over the world. You get to see what's happening in the Church out there. What are you seeing in regards to worship?
I'm seeing that worship is amazing because it's becoming a cross-cultural language. You can have a song go way past the message. Where some churches, they might not get along because of a message or a belief, but you write a song, that's not an issue. Everyone sings the song.
I do think though that there is a unity thing happening through worship, honestly, especially in my generation. I'm not like a youthful 35, but we have a tolerance for one another a lot more I feel than the older generation. You might not believe in whatever, but we can agree on this. I feel that's really strong.
A lot of times I feel like it's just words that have been stumbling blocks. It's not really the actual what it is. It's like prophecy. Prophecy is in the Bible, but it's been so abused, and it's scary to a lot of people. They don't believe in it or they're scared of it. There's a good reason why they're scared of it—because it's been abused. Let's take these certain terms and words out and boil it down to, "Do we believe God speaks to us?" Yeah, we do. We agree with that. I think with worship music we can say these profound things in a really simple way and it tears down a lot of those dividing walls. I feel like I've seen that.
It's a crazy ride in the last four years. In that time, how much has changed for you all?
It feels like a different world even for us, specifically the last couple of years, because we started the label a few years ago.
With the new album, the songs are so diverse in their instrumentation. You've got synth. You've got saxophone.
We just wanted to have fun. We just said, "Forget it. Let's just do our best and have fun." I think some of them work better for live worship. Some of them don't, but we've been setting them up, explaining, "We're going to do this song. Here's the background." Just do it. Have fun with it.
Live, we kind of intermingle those corporate worship scenes where people can just sing along with worship songs than those newer songs that are Tides songs that maybe are a little bit different, but it feels like it's been working OK doing that. The Tides album, I told the guys just have fun with it. Each song is kind of different. I would never say, "This is the new sound." It's not. I feel like we've still got some catching up to do in a big way.
But it is our attempt. We did our best to just have fun with it. We had a sax and did the '80s kind of thing. Did our best with the songs that we had, basically.
What are you getting excited about these days? What's God showing you personally and your team?
I'm excited about a ton of stuff. I'm excited about our new property we just bought. We were in a nine month escrow. It was terrible. Finally we got this property. It just feels like the Lord. I'm excited about songs. I love songs. And seeing the signs and wonders of God. I don't know. All of the above.