For Leeland, the Grammy-nominated band, comprised of founding frontman Leeland Mooring and fellow singer-songwriting worship leader Casey Moore, has spent a decade-plus career carefully considering what worship truly means through the medium they know best: music.
Having inspired and facilitated the collective cries of musical worship in settings great and small across the world, Mooring and Moore have been afforded a unique front-row vantage point to observe how people's personal moments of praise shape their everyday perspectives about God, about others, and about themselves.
It’s no wonder why the band’s eighth release, Better Word, is a live 12-song worship experience, which was captured during an epic gathering of fellow worshippers at Christ For The Nations (CFN) in Dallas, Texas, last year.
I caught up with Leeland Mooring for a quick life update and a chat about all things worship: pastoring, facilitating spontaneous songs in worship leading, and singing God's powerful word.
Give us a quick life update. What are some things going on that you're excited about in your personal life, and with ministry, since releasing Better Word?
The past three years have been a wild ride for us. Releasing our record, Better Word, has been really special. In 2014, we did a live house recording for the album Christ Be All Around Me. And, we thought one day we'd like to record another live worship album in that house. After leaving Bethel Music and joining our music label, Integrity Music, one of the first things we talked about was wanting to record another live album.
Right after that, my wife and I walked through about a year-long journey of adopting our baby girl. We've been married for 13 years. We've walked through infertility (it's been a huge part of our journey with God). But, instead, God led us into the miracle of adoption.
One of the dreams I had near the beginning of our marriage was that we have a non-white child. We were leading worship and the presence of God was so real in the room and my child was lying face down at the altar weeping in God's presence. My wife had a dream of us walking into our new home. And, the child she saw in that dream was not white. So, we knew adoption would be part of our lives. We just didn't know when.
There were a number of prophetic words surrounding it. We were getting ready to pursue in vitro fertilization (IVF) and raise support online. We were ready to post. And, my wife and I looked at each other and said, "What if we just prayed three more days to make sure this is the right decision for our family?"
The next day, I went to Dallas to minister with the band. After the service, the pastor pulled me aside and said, "I have a word for you. Have you and your wife been trying to have kids for a long time? I hear God saying part of the reason for this long wait is so that your heart can be open to adoption." Then he says, "I see you guys adopting a non-white child. And, I see this is going to be a miracle how God is going to do it. Adoption is going to be a major part of your family story." So, we joined with a Christian adoption organization. And, God led us through the process of adopting our baby girl, Journey.
I'm currently on staff as a worship pastor at Gateway Church in Houston, Texas. This year, I'm splitting my time between traveling with the band and plugging into a local house, carrying a lot of responsibility as a pastor. We've also been creating a lot of music and writing a lot.
Thinking back on your season of infertility, waiting for Journey to become a part of your life, what's the biggest way you've experienced God growing your heart and fulfilling His promises?
Trust would be a big one. When you go through any problem like that, especially when it goes on for years, it's easy to start questioning the goodness of God. In hindsight, it's given me greater confidence that, because God is a good father, and He knows me better than I know myself, He also knows what will make me most happy. He also has a purpose, destiny, and plan that's unique to our lives. I don't think God sends suffering to people. But, I do believe He redeems.
Coming from being a touring artist to being on a church staff as a worship pastor, what's been the biggest learning curve for you, so far?
Definitely the administrative side of things. It's kind of cliché, but it's kind of a given. Most creatives aren't great at administration. Yes, some are. But, I fall more into that classic vein. I'm very scatter-brained--even in the way I write songs. That's been a massive learning curve.
I think one of the challenges is that because it's so administrative--building systems, thinking about Sunday, making chord charts--it's easy to forget throughout the week why I'm doing what I'm doing.
One thing I've loved about traveling for the last 16 years is seeing the height and the breadth of the body of Christ. Every denomination is loved by God. They're special in their expression of the nature and glory of God. It's easy to lose sight of the magnitude of what we're doing.
We forget about what such an honor it is to be a part of the body of Christ. To serve in any capacity--running the front of the house board, leading or singing worship music, and greeting people at the door--is an honor because we're getting to be a part of the broader body of Christ that's been going on for 2,000 years.
I've loved the balance of walking in the administrative area and, at the same time, the special dynamic that I'm just one small part of what God's doing in His family. You need every single person to function in their unique giftings to make Sunday happen.
The point of it is to know the systems so well that you forget about it. So, you can worship the Lord. You have these people with trouble and trauma. They all walk into the church at the same time. Some people are ready to sing, some don't feel like singing at all. When I think of that, I realize what an honor it is to partner with the Holy Spirit to put words in their mouths.
You've always been comfortable with following the leading of the Spirit in worship, making room for the spontaneous. And, encouraging people to sing out their own songs to God. Where did that value come from?
I grew up watching my mom and dad do that. They were worship leaders. My dad played piano at church growing up. And, my mom is an amazing singer. We grew up watching our parents lead, as well as watching them worship and pray in our house. Multiple times in my childhood, I would wake up and hear my parents worshipping.
One of them would have a large bible laid out. They would go from singing an old hymn together to singing a more modern song. Then there would be a lull. At that point, my dad would play the piano. And, my mom would just start singing the word of God. She'd sing it over our family, sing it over our city. She would take the promises of God and make them personal. So, I think that's where we started to learn about the spontaneous song.
Why do you think it's important for believers to learn to engage in special moments, as they grow in learning to worship God? And, how do you practically make space for it when you lead a congregation in worship?
The great thing about it is it encourages people that they have their own song to sing to God; there's power in their voice. If you get in a habit of just going song to song, you can get to a place where it's robotic. "I've sung this song before." Both leading and standing in the congregation can be like that.
He wants to hear your voice sing to Him. Maybe it's not singing. Maybe it's praying. But, there's something about those reprieves, those breaths that allow people to have an intimate moment with God in a corporate setting.
In the same way that singing and leading songs can be robotic, my spontaneous song can become highly emotional if I'm not spending personal time in meditating on the Word of God. Emotions involve love. But, emotions aren't what's going to get me through my circumstances. God wants me to express my emotions. But, emotions aren't going to bring hope. It's the Word of God written on my heart that will bring life and hope.
Spending time singing and meditating on the Word of God will revolutionize your whole life because the Holy Spirit starts making His word alive to you. But, it will also change your spontaneous song. When you sing spontaneously, God's word is affecting your language. It comes out in the tone of God's voice and His word. You might still be singing about an issue but now there's hope in it because the Word of God is in it. This unifies the room. They might not know what the next word is you're going to sing, but it's edifying them because they are having the word of God sung over them. You'll never go wrong singing the Word of God.
What plans with music do you have coming up that we can look out for?
We're about to release our song, "Better Word," on the radio. I did a guest vocal with Nashville Life Music on "Shepherd," a song that hopefully will be released this year. Those are the most recent things that have been happening.
Better Word (Live) is available now. Buy the album on Apple Music or stream it on Spotify.
NRT contributor Jasmin Patterson is a lifelong fan of Christian music who is passionate about helping others connect with Christ. She lives in Kansas City where she serves in college ministry and runs a blog to help seekers and believers discover and live biblical Christianity.
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