Interview with Mark Robins (Full Version)
In my early twenties I was part of a small group who would meet each week to pray and worship – the leader of the group gave me an acoustic guitar (with a bit of a twisted neck!) to learn to play as he thought he could see potential for me to lead songs in worship in the group. I already played the bass, still do, and had played violin at school so was in with a shout!
So it was E, A, G, C, D etc., and avoiding any songs with B in them for a while! Over the years I’ve found easier ways to play these chords as they arise in worship songs – check out “Strummyone” on Youtube, that’s me doing some instruction. If you use the standard shapes, as a beginner, playing these songs can seem impossible – too many fingers to move. I love to see people realising that it can be done with the easier ways I’ve found.
I still remember the very first time I led in a small group of six or seven people. I strummed and began to sing – and they sang with me! I know that’s what’s supposed to happen, but what I immediately felt was the responsibility of it all. They would follow me! That memory stays with me each time I lead and I count it one of the most important things to remember – we should never take it lightly.
What are some ways the Lord has used to help you grow in your worship leading and songwriting?
In terms of worship leading, realising more and more that it’s about His presence and learning to sense where the people are at within the time of worship. Is it time to go on to another song? Is it time to repeat that verse or chorus or single line? Is it time simply to wait on Him? Keeping your eyes open is important here or you won’t see what’s going on! Also, understanding that one of our main aims is to not be a distraction. We do not want to be the center of attention. So, we must be honest with ourselves about how well we do what we do, and how we can become more proficient and, consequently, more serving in our approach. By the same token, I avoid anything too flashy. I want to provide a solid platform upon which the people can stand and focus on the Father, the Son and the Spirit. That is the point of what we’re doing.
In terms of songwriting, you grow by songwriting. That’s not supposed to sound trite, but practice, practice, practice! We mustn’t be too precious over what we’ve written, either. Most of what you produce you will discard, or save somewhere just in case there’s a part of it that could be recycled. The idea that “God gave me this song and it cannot be changed!” shows an immature attitude to songwriting. I’ve learned that an initial idea is just that. The songs I took to Nick Coetzee for “The broken” demonstrate the point – he tweaked them in a way I’d never have done to get them that last step along.
There are song structures that can be learned, other “rules” that can help, but, however great you think your song is, it’ll be others who actually decide how good and useful it is. It can be tough, but the less precious we are about this, the easier it becomes. We can develop a professional attitude and take constructive criticism from those we seek to serve in song, and either rewrite or keep for another day.
One last point - make a song about one central theme or point, a song thought, if you like. It’s common to hear early efforts attempting to encapsulate the entirety of theology in a single song!
I’ve lots more to say but not the space to say it here!
What is your involvement with Worship Central and what is your favorite part of your role?
I am the Southern Regional Coordinator (UK) for Worship Central which is a school of worship headed up by Tim Hughes and Al Gordon and run out of Holy Trinity Brompton in London. Tim and Al wanted to push their vision to equip the local church out regionally across the UK; to make it less about them and London. To this end, we are building relationship between churches across the denominations in each region by gathering together those involved in the provision of musical worship. We have such a common experience and yet we have tended to get on with it on our own, in our own places of worship. What could it be like if we got together to encourage each other and share the highs and the lows? I am very excited by the possibilities – the Worship Central platform is naturally ecumenical which is wonderful and amazing. I have big hopes for next year, to encounter God, equip the worshipper and empower the local church.
My favourite part? Well, I don’t think I have a favourite part as such, it’s just very exciting to be involved in something with such great potential for the local churches to come together. Having said that, the tour night at Central Hall in Southampton was, once again, fantastic!
What inspired your debut album, The Broken? And, what do you hope the listener takes away from the recording?
Since I started to learn how to play the guitar I’ve been trying to write songs. After about twenty (yes, two zero) years I had a number of songs that I thought might be good enough to use and maybe record. But, I’d not felt a “green light” inside to record anywhere professional and I can record to demo level at home. Last year I was travelling with Roy Fields in Scandinavia and he put me in touch with his producer, Nick Coetzee. I sent Nick the demos, he liked the songs, and it was off to Florida and Nashville, and what an amazing time! I could not be happier with the album, both sonically and content-wise. It was a combination of the right people at the right time: a Brit, an American and a South African.
In terms of content, the songs are what comes out of me. This is important. We must each write about what’s in our own hearts. This makes it real. Don’t write in such and such a way because that’s what someone famous does, be you! You are the only person who can write songs God has in mind for you to write. In “The Broken” there are three main themes: 1) Praising God, 2) Expressing elements of doubt and brokenness and 3) Social justice. These are what come out when I sit and strum.
If you were invited to an event and had to pick just one of your songs to sing, what song would it be and why?
Tricky! It would depend on the vision for the event, I think. If it was mainly a big celebration then, “We Lift You Up”, if more ministry and inner healing then, “The Broken”, if social justice then, “You Are The Hungry”.
What significant challenge have you faced in life and how did you overcome that challenge? And, what did you learn from that experience?
I think one of life’s biggest challenges is simply to keep going, keep doing what you believe God wants you to do, especially when it can seem fruitless! To keep trusting in Him when it seems to be little else than an uphill struggle. The reality is that God doesn’t always make things better for us, but He does come alongside us in the difficulties and we can grow as a result. I can’t pin down one major challenge, it’s more about the many small challenges we face and how we respond to them. Will they make us stronger or will we give up? On a small scale: say a song is rejected – do we give up in a fit of pique or continue to hone our songwriting skills further? Or on a bigger scale: A friend is ill and may not get much better – do we give up on God (as if suffering only just began in the world!) or share the painful journey knowing that He will not leave us or forsake us? Big subject!!
If you could share one thing with up and coming worship leaders and songwriters, what would it be?
Beware worshipping those who lead you in worship. John Calvin said, “Every one of us is, even from his mother’s womb, a master craftsman of idols.” So true! It’s in me just the same and to be battled. Stay aware that world fame was never supposed to be the point of what we do – bringing glory to Jesus was, and is, and will be. We will fight a constant battle in this regard. We all want to be loved, respected, adored, admired... These desires will come up in us frequently; you can’t stop that, but each time hold them up to God and let Him deal with them. As the saying goes, “You can’t stop the birds flying over your head but you can stop them nesting in your hair.”
(And practically - Buy a tuner. Use the tuner. Buy a metronome. Practice with the metronome. Use a capo that doesn’t put your guitar out of tune. Get singing lessons. Learn songs accurately. Try different string gauges. Try different plectrums. Be yourself.)
Could you share with us your most embarrassing moment while leading worship?
I’ve escaped, so far anyway, any really bad moments! I did lead at a fancy wedding once and started a song in the wrong key. It only dawned on me as I saw the chorus approaching and realized there was no way I was going to make those notes now! So, I just had to stop, apologize to everyone, and start again. I did find that embarrassing...
Mark is on the musical team at New Community Church's Central Hall in Southampton where he regularly leads Sunday morning worship. He has a passion to see others released into their calling before God and as part of this has a role guiding musical direction in the team.
When not holding a guitar Mark enjoys a good game of golf, very occasional triathlons and coffee. He is married with four children, two Gibsons and a Stingray.
Be sure to check out his album, The Broken, on iTunes.Comment on Facebook Comment on Twitter
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