Depending on how you look at it, not much has changed for Tim Hughes. He is today - as he ever was - just a guy with a guitar who does what he can to help people sing a better song of praise and live a bolder life of worship. Whether as a teenager in a church house group or as director of worship at Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB), the essentials have remained the same for Hughes.
And yet, there is a story worth telling of how the son of an Anglican Vicar grew to become a songwriter and worship leader whose songs are strengthening the global Church across every continent.
The basic facts about where Tim Hughes has been are known: how he grew up in Birmingham, UK, how he was inspired by Matt Redman and started leading worship as a teenager at the Soul Survivor youth festivals. He eventually became Director of Worship at the Soul Survivor church before moving to London in 2005 to take on the responsibility of overseeing worship at HTB - one of the largest churches in the UK and home to the global phenomenon, The Alpha Course (http://alphausa.org). A year into the job, Tim launched Worship Central, along with fellow worship leader Al Gordon, as a school of worship designed to encounter God, equip the worshipper and empower the local church.
As for the songs, Tim’s first full-length solo album, Here I Am To Worship, released in 2001 and gave lungs to songs like “Jesus You Alone,” “If There’s One Thing,” “My Jesus My Lifeline” and the title track that went on to become a defining anthem, hitting No. 1 on the CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing International) chart. A No. 1 on this chart means that about 45 million people are singing the song every week in church services around the world!
Of course, that wasn’t the last of those defining anthems, and his follow-up album in 2004, When Silence Falls (also on the Kingsway-owned Survivor label), unleashed “Beautiful One,” “Consuming Fire and “Whole World In His Hands.”
After the move to HTB, and once he’d unpacked the boxes and launched Worship Central, Tim was ready for a third album, 2007’s Holding Nothing Back. The album featured such defining anthems as “How about Everything,” “Almighty God” and “Happy Day,” which became the title track for 2009’s live DVD/CD that included four new tracks, including “Give Us Your Courage” and “Jesus Saves,” combined with eight of Tim’s earlier songs to make for an album Worship Leader magazine called “Easily, the best live worship recording of the year.”
Yet Tim’s story goes beyond job-stats or discographies. Talking to him in the final days of the creation of his fourth studio album, Love Shine Through, it’s clear that what matters most in all of this is heart behind the songs.
Love Shine Through is a far more collaborative affair than any of Tim’s previous albums. For proof just look at any element of the project from the choice of producer (Martin Smith) to the songwriting
partners (Ben Cantelon, Nick Herbert, Martin Smith, Nikki Fletcher, Kees Kraayenoord and Stu G) and the team of musicians brought in to play - everyone from Jesus Culture’s Kim Walker-Smith to
members of Rend Collective Experiment, plus Michael Guy Chislet (Hillsong United), David Grant and Fay Simpson, Marc James (Vineyard, Verra Cruz) and Jerry Brown on drums (Girls Aloud).
“Some of these are people I often work with at live events,” Tim explains, “so it was great to be in the studio together. Because of this we were able to be a bit more bold, to make more of an artistic album, one that captures a bit more beauty perhaps.”
Before we get on to the beauty, that sense of the power of the collective is worth looking into. It seems that it’s not just albums that work better together:
“One of the comments we get back from Worship Central that people love is the sense of community. It’s what people crave and so I think in terms of music it needs to have an element of that. As much as anything it’s the healthy arguments and discussions. So many of the songs had Martin Smith and I coming at things from very different perspectives. I’d be thinking about how it could work in a 9:30 am service with a wide age range, but Martin’s wonderfully artistic and brings out such emotion in a song. With the lyrics I was in a place exploring grand themes, while Martin was pushing for that deeply personal and intimate aspect. I hope the result is a collection of songs that the whole church can sing, but that are honest and vulnerable as well.”
Asked for one word to sum up the journey taken by the eleven tracks on Love Shine Through and Tim comes back with this: “Emotion.” How come? He says it’s partly out of being secure and working with friends, and partly it’s just down to getting older, more confident and wanting to capture something that’s meaningful.
‘Capturing the meaningful’ could well be three words that sum up not just this album, but its three
predecessors. So how, almost a decade in, do you keep things fresh? One key component to the album is producer Martin Smith. After only a few months since the end of Delirious?, Martin’s home studio was home to the Love Shine Through project.
“Martin and I wrote a few songs together, then chatted and dreamed together. I asked him to produce. He wasn’t sure: it was supposed to be a year where he could take time out, and he felt initially that he might just have input with the songs. A little later he agreed to help with the arrangements, and then - bit by bit - it felt right for him to produce. He seemed to really enjoy it, was hands on, owned it and ran with it.”
Their synergy is clear, with songs like “God Is Coming,” “Wake Up” and “Saviour’s Song” appearing to revel in the space of a broader, more artistic and emotional production. Not that it sounds like Tim Hughes singing Delirious? songs - not at all: this is classic Hughes, with melodies that will soar through any church service with all the passion, power and Jesus-centered-truth you could hope for.
And while that Jesus-centered-truth never changes, the way it is communicated is more fluid, as Tim explains:
“I know our songs need to be carefully considered theologically, and I’m all for that - and I’m studying to become a vicar and I value it enough to give up three years to study theology - but at the same time you look at the Psalms and some of the language is so strong, extreme, emotional that it’s actually quite confronting. It’s human, it’s earthy but it connects.”
“One of the lines on the album is ‘you stole my heart’ and there were discussions about referring to God as a thief. Can we call God a thief, knowing he is without sin? It’s a metaphor that Jesus used when he described God as coming like a thief in the night, and Jesus’ parables always provoked a response in people. Ultimately it’s a poetic phrase not to be taken literally. I keep on thinking about the John Mark Macmillan song ‘How He Loves’ with the line ‘heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss.’ Some people have questioned how helpful it is to sing.”
“Whether you love these words or struggle with them I think it’s great that these songs are provoking people to think a bit more about the character and nature of the God they worship. Perhaps more like the Psalms do. Great preaching makes us ask big questions with a view to living better lives. Worship can do the same.”
That’s Tim Hughes: just a guy with a guitar who does what he can to help people sing a better song of praise and live a bolder life of worship.