Last week I wrote a few thoughts about what it looks like to be an “anti rock star worship leader.” This week I’m excited to introduce you to Jamie Barnes from Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY. Jamie is the worship pastor for one of Sojourn’s four campuses, and writes extensively for Sojourn’s worship albums. Many of Sojourn’s artists and musicians are leading voices within the Louisville scene, including Jamie. Sojourn focuses on creativity and collaboration, blending the gospel with a relentless pursuit of innovative art and music.
I first met Jamie at a songwriting workshop given by the always-wise Bob Kauflin. We had a brief chat and Jamie humbly offered, “If there’s anything we can do to serve or help your church in Columbus, let me know.” In my interactions with Jamie, he’s been a great encouragement in creating quality music and leading the church in worshiping God.
I asked Jamie a few questions about what it looks like to be an anti rock star worship leader. Jamie shared a bit about his beginnings as a worship leader, discipling musicians, and how the gospel informs our worship. Here’s the whole interview:
Nick: You recorded & toured as a singer/songwriter way before you ever thought about leading worship. You’ve said that you were somewhat reluctant to start leading worship when worship pastor Mike Cosper first approached you. What was that transition like, and how is leading worship different from performing and touring? Practically, was there ever a tension for you between worshiping and performing?
Jamie: I was reluctant because of the background I came from, which was the brand of Church of Christ that worship with no instrumentation. I had only played music in clubs, theaters and various other venues – but never in church and I had no formed philosophy or theology on what it meant to lead a body of believers in corporate worship. The difference is very vast – because my goal isn’t too wow people with my art, it’s to clearly portray the truth of the gospel and help people participate. In clubs, I’m trying to bowl them over …envelop them. In the gatherings of the church, I want to invite them.
Fast forward 6 years later and I’ll still feel the weight of the tension of leading versus performing. I keep a constant reminder before me on what my overall goal is when I lead on Sundays, but there is still the civil war of the soul raging on within me of selfish ambitions. Thankfully, grace covers my sinful pride and our worship isn’t accepted by God based on our purity of intentions, but by the mediating blood of Jesus. Remembering the truth of the gospel always helps to get my heart aligned.
Nick: Sojourn has a pretty liturgical way of conducting church, and yet you guys are about as hip as churches come. The last time my wife and I attended a service at your Midtown campus (when it was still at the 930 Art Center), it was like a Holy Spirit rock & roll revival. How does the balance of liturgy and rock & roll inform the way Sojourn conducts worship services?
Jamie: Ha. The idea of hip is becoming increasingly strange to me as I get older! We like a sense of being rooted in church history, a traditional liturgy where the Gospel is central and formative, but we also want to remain true to who we are here in the present, while looking forward with hope to the future of who God has called us to be and is shaping us into.
The rock ‘n’ roll side of it is just us being true to who we are. This church was founded by a lot of artists and musicians who found a lot of our identity (for better or for worse) in the music we played and listened to. It’s just the voice of our context, not an attempt to be hip or be someone else. I’m sure our gatherings would look and sound different had Sojourn been planted in a different part of the commonwealth rather than in the artsy-fartsy part of Louisville.
Nick: You guys have a pretty intense focus on mentoring and discipleship at Sojourn. How does that affect the way the musicians look at themselves and other musicians?
Jamie: We try to do this, though sometimes we aren’t great at it. I think it helps artists/musicians see more of a role they can play than perhaps the church has historically allowed them to. Since the age of the Puritans, the Church at wide has had a love/hate affair with artist types and I know for my generation, it’s often hard for certain guys who think/dress/emote a certain way to think they may ever have anything to give to the local church other than filling in on guitar on the weekends.
We have a huge desire to raise up pastors…arming folks with guitars in one hand and shepherd staffs in the other. I don’t think we are being innovative with this, but rather just Biblical. We see a pattern in scripture of living life together, pouring into one another and helping each other grow in Christ.
Musicians aren’t exempt from that type of discipleship, in fact, I’ve seen them thrive. Instead of looking at our gifts in an individualistic way, this helps us think about the community at large and leveraging our gifts together as a family for the sake of those inside and outside the church. The musician is tempted to see his identity solely through the music he or she plays. We want to see our music servants embrace who they really are, adopted sons and daughters of the living God. This truth will influence their art, rather than the other way around.
Nick: How can congregations help to combat the “worship leader rock star” mentality?
Jamie: Prayer and keeping the Gospel central. Fight for God being the biggest personality of your gatherings. Sundays are not the time for musicians to shine – it’s a time to serve. We use the language of “servant” a lot when we talk about our gifts and the music team at our church. It’s a constant reminder that we are there for the sake of building the body of Christ, and not to sell records or build our band’s following.
I believe it was Michael Card who used the imagery in one of his books that musicians help “wash the feet” of the church with their gifts. This symbolism established by the service of our Savior is a great way to talk and think about our own ministry.