Interview with Paul Baloche
Interview w/ Paul Bloche by Steven Reed
The ministry of Paul Baloche has literally touched the lives of millions of people around the globe. His 1997 song, “Open The Eyes of My Heart” is still in the CCLI top 100. We caught up with Paul over the phone this week to ask him about life, keys to longevity in ministry, and about his new album that just released on October 7th. With the bustling sounds of a New York street in the background, one of the most influential worship leaders humbly imparted some incredibly massive wisdom for any worship leader to follow. How to stay fresh, hear the voice of God, how to reach millennials, where the best worship songs come from and much more. Read the interview here and get ready to take some notes.
All About Worship: Paul thanks for taking the time to talk to us today.
Your ministry has had such a massive platform over so many decades that some people consider you the ‘Godfather of Modern Worship’ and yet others may just now be learning about you.
When you meet people for the first time how do you describe what you do?
Paul: I try to help others worship through songs and training resources. Really, I just want to help others worship. That’s the simple answer. I leave it up to them if they want to Google my name and see the rest.
It also depends if they are a stranger or a believer. If my Jewish neighbor were to ask me, “Hey Paul, what do you do?” To keep the conversation alive I would maybe say, “I’m a musician. That I play guitar and write songs”, cause you if you tell someone right off the bat that, “I do Christian music” it shuts it down right away.
All About Worship: For those of us who have such a rich history in worshiping God to the songs you’ve written, what is your response to the gratitude people express?
Paul: I think people are very kind and I’m always super encouraged in my spirit, not for my ego but in my spirit. I’m especially encouraged when people comment about the training resources that I made years ago by faith, as it almost seemed presumptuous to make them. I thought, “Who am I to make a guitar video? You know, Phil Keaggy should be making this,” but it was just a desire to pass on some things I’ve learned.
It’s really gratifying to meet people, who are in their 20’s whose dad had a set of my VHS videos, back before YouTube and all. To have them say something like, “I grew up learning guitar and worship from watching your videos and now I’m a worship pastor at such a church in such a city.” That just blows me away
Then there is another group of folks that have been touched by a certain song and again, usually, they are very kind. They will share some personal story about some sort of difficult time in their life when maybe one of the songs really helped them to process and get through. That again is humbling and super encouraging.
But for myself, I feel disconnected at this point. Not trying to be Mr. Humble here, but it’s a true feeling. I had a part in delivering those songs, almost like a mid-wife or something. I kind of helped birth the song but eventually the song grows up and becomes and adult and gets translated into 10 different languages. It becomes objective and I can appreciate it like, “Hey good for you little song, way to go!”
All About Worship: What does God have you doing in the season of life?
Paul: God has me continuing to be a husband of what will be 30 years next year, a dad, and recently a granddad. Just had a little grandson, so that’s on my mind. I want to stay healthy physically and spiritually. Live a healthy life to be available to my immediate family and have the energy to serve in ministry until God taps me on the shoulder and says that I’m done.
New York become home for us last year. After 26 years in the same church, same neighborhood, we moved to New York really because our kids grew up and then moved to here and to Philadelphia. Seeing the empty bedrooms and having the feeling like 25 years is maybe a good time, while the church is healthy and after the 2nd generation of worship leaders had been trained, to hand it over. We tested the waters a bit and thought, “let’s go down the road.”
You know Proverbs 3:6 says, “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your steps.” We’d all love a parchment to fall out the sky with the will of God written on it. Usually, it’s a bit more difficult. I find taking little steps towards the leaning of your heart, while acknowledging the Lord daily, and if you don’t feel any resistance or breaks then you should keep moving in that direction.
It’s almost like your computer when you’ve got all these windows and tabs open and it’s getting kind of crazy. You think, “I need to close things down and reboot.” That’s kind of what we did. Rebooted. Here we are. Plugged into a local church. Not working there or on staff but I attend and worship. Then occasionally I’ll look up and see they need a bass player and I jump in. It’s been fun. I’ve led a couple times when the main person is out of town. Just recently I’ve become a staff member of a church in Chicago where I lead 8-10 times a year and are a part of their team, the projects, and get to speak into the life of their ministry.
All About Worship: You’ve led worship around the world, recorded many albums, written many songs, and helped so many people with your training. Is there any one of those that is more your passion than the others?
Paul: I do love the training, equipping, and the encouraging of leaders, especially next generation leaders. So it’s Pastoral. I always feel like more of a pastor anyway. It’s not like I’m an amazing singer anyway. I’m good enough to lead worship and I’m really glad I get to do a project. Those are all wonderful.
All About Worship: Has that changed over time?
Paul: It’s almost like the process of breathing. There is an inhale and an exhale. It feels like the leading worship, the prayer, the preparation, and the leading is like an inhale. Then your lungs expel the air and then out comes new songs, training, and ministry. You kind of can’t have the one without the other. You can’t exhale all the time. I can’t see myself not leading worship because to me it’s where the best songs begin. You’re not trying to write a clever song but you’re just worshiping God and then, in the midst of worship, out of your mouth comes a line that sounds sincere. You say, “Hey that’s worth spending some time with and seeing if a song might arise.”
All About Worship: Would you say there is a key to your relevance and longevity of ministry?
Paul: Adapt or die: musically and spiritually! Just having your natural and spiritual ear to the wind to discern when things are changing. I would say that in the last 5 years I’m just paying attention to the 20 some-things, for one because my kids are that age. I’m looking for the things most of them resonate with and the things they have rejected in terms of their expression of worship. 20 some-things don’t have much patience for entertainment. They are not really looking to be entertained, in general. Though there will always be a percentage of people who are. They are looking for something authentic and transparent even if it doesn’t all look pretty and shinny. They would rather have the honesty. So I’m challenged by that and am trying to grow. Even in my spiritual life I want to continue to grow and adapt and not be stuck.
I’m having an open mind to the idea that what may have been effective in ministry before may not be as effective now. What might be a bit outdated could be worth being updated. I’m not saying that you got to be a 25 year old kid again and make a fool of yourself, but I’m saying just be open and pay attention.
All About Worship: Your new album drops on October 7th. What is the focus of this project?
Paul: The focus has never really changed for me. I’m a local church guy, that all I know. I never had an agent and never had a manager. I’ve always seen myself as a local church guy and not an artist. Not that there’s anything wrong with being an artist. There are true artist out there, but I’m a worship pastor that gets to do a worship album every year and half. The focus is always to help others worship. I want to write songs that when people read the lyric, when they hear the song, and feel the experience it helps them engage emotionally and spiritually in every way. I would say that sounds generic and yet it’s not. It’s always been the focus. It’s sounds too simple but that’ the bull’s-eye.
All About Worship: What’s you’re favorite song on this project and why?
Paul: That’s hard. It’s like saying whose your favorite child? That sounds like, “Oh come on now Paul,” but it’s still really fresh. These 12 songs have received a lot of time, attention, and care over the last 9 months, it’s still so early. In each one of them there are things about it that I look at and say, “Yep, that’s why you made the team.” If the album is like a football team you intentionally make them different because you don’t want 12 quarterbacks. You need some running backs and some blockers and someone to play defense. So I think on an album, I like to shoot for the variety. We need some outer court songs. I find those challenging to write. An up-tempo happy song that‘s not cheesy. I feel like “Psalm 92” and “Found In You” are two songs you could start your service with.
You can’t have an entire album of intense songs, but there are a couple of songs that are deeper. “I Will Worship You” and “Your Mercy” are more confessional, more about acknowledging the reality of life. Most of us have the season where we’ve lost our way or turned our eyes and got distracted but God, Your mercy.
All About Worship: We asked some people to submit questions via social media and so here are a few questions:
@sarahahopkins asked: What is the most important lesson you have learned in ministering to others through music?
Paul: The most important lesson is appreciating the mystery of how powerful music is in the context of God’s spirit. I’m always surprised because, as a musician you’re around it so much that, we can forget how much of an effect it has on people. I’ve found myself diminishing that. Then I’m just amazed when you hear from people about how they are impacted by the song you’ve written or the songs you’ve led. Like someone coming up in tears to the worship pastor and saying how much it means to them.
@jeffdlivsey asked: What are some “North Stars” or “Guiding Principles” you have?
Paul: So heavy, but I like being put on the spot here. Wow! It’s sounds so cliché but you got to start with the word of God. In terms of a “North Star” it is becoming steeped in the scriptures. Doing Col 3:16, “letting the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” I know in my 20’s I did a lot of studying and memorization. We were also writing a lot of scripture memory songs at the time. There are so many scriptures that I can’t forget. I’ve read them and sang them so many times that as soon as I hear the first two words I know them. It needs to be said because it can be overlooked. We’re looking for the next book from the next leader and that’s all good but we really need to be reading a Psalm, a Proverb, and something out of the New Testament every day. Then you can work the Old Testament stories and the Pentateuch. Try to memorize passages. I used to use 3x5 cards. Sermon on the mount, Mathew 5-7, is so rich. Get it off the page and into your heart, off the page and into your mind. If you read through the NIV then next year do another version. Be a student of the word. Listen to the Bible on tape. Not that they have those anymore. Ha that’s hilarious, cassette tape!
@KelsieR95 asked: Worship leaders have a fine line between leading worship and performing. How have you found the middle ground?
Paul: I think this answer has evolved over the years. It’s too easy to say, “Oh yeah we don’t want to be performing we just want to lead worship.” Which of course, but we can’t deny, whether we call it performing or not, there is a role to play. I liken it to a waiter or waitress. When they come to your table and they have a good attitude and they offer great service. Is he performing? He’s bringing the best version of himself because he has a role to play. Maybe he’s having a bad day but because of what his job is, he has to bring the best.
As worship leaders we have to comfortable. The performing aspect would include being able to stand on a platform with an instrument or microphone and relax in that role. It needs to be like driving a stick shift. To be able to put the clutch in and shift gears without even thinking about it. To get there, we can’t kid ourselves, you have to practice performance. In a mirror or videotape your services and see how you come across. Maybe you have some weird quirk or something is a little awkward. You can even ask some close friends about things that seem funny to them.
You practice your performance just like you’d practice your guitar so it’s become more realistic, more natural, and you don’t have to think about it anymore. Then you can be relaxed and be thinking about what’s going in the room. What do I sense from the Lord? What feels like the right thing to do? Do I pray or go onto the next song?
You’ll be a much better ministry when the practical is second nature. Well, that is, becoming second nature because frankly I still struggle. I have to play in two days and I get a little nervous. I need to practice so I don’t choke. It never goes away.
Check out more about Paul Baloche, his music, and training resources on his website http://www.paulbaloche.comComment on Facebook Comment on Twitter
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