One of the pieces of content I’d like to feature on this site is interviews with musicians and theologians that help us think clearly and biblically.
I had the privilege in 2015 to feature an interview/profile of Luke Morton, who serves as a worship pastor in Seattle.
Interestingly enough, I attended church with his brother at Keyport Bible Church (Keyport, WA). I came across his album “Beggar” on Bandcamp, that includes some impressively rich texts in modern hymn style. It’s a fine collection of retuned hymn texts written for the corporate church.
He kindly obliged when I asked if he would field some questions for our benefit, here are his answers below.
How did you come to Christ and become a worship leader?
I grew up in a wonderful Christian home and really can’t recall not walking with the Lord. Yet when I was thirteen or fourteen I had an awakening to the wickedness of my heart. Though I believe I had a real faith prior to that time, the work of Christ and his cross became something I had to have. My illusion of a good Christian boy was shattered. What was left was a petty, prideful, lust-filled and broken young man in need of grace.
It wasn’t until late in high school that I even attempted to lead worship. For years I had played my trumpet in church and loved working with the musicians but not until my junior or senior year did I learn guitar and awkwardly begin “leading” worship. The more I did it the more I loved it and desired to improve. Through the patience of many gracious souls and the encouragement of a few different pastors/mentors I was consistently serving in worship leadership midway through college.
What does it mean for worship leaders to be clear and specific?
Less is more. Whether in the midst of service or rehearsal worship leaders should take care to be succinct and direct. As creatives I think it’s easy to meander and get adrift on a sea of feelings and abstractions. Certainly our blood, sweat and tears are invested but this is no excuse for being opaque.
This question also makes me think of the Flannery O’Connor quote, “Show, don’t tell.” Though it sounds like a contradiction to what I said above, I think it actually coheres. Sometimes, in the name of clarity, worship leaders say something like, “Sing with all your hearts! Give him everything!” I understand these calls and they’re no doubt present in the Psalms, but more often than not (like the psalmists!) we need to set before God’s people the greatness of his character, the mightiness of his deeds and allow those realities to provoke the praise. It’s ironic, but I think we sometimes are less clear when we tell people to do something in worship or to have some specific response. In my mind it’s better to lift up Christ and allow to Spirit to move people how he will.
Should we give preference to our voices over the music?
Here is a tremendously important question.
I wholeheartedly believe a majority of the problems that ail modern worship (showmanship, over-production, keeping up the technologies of the church down the street, etc.) would be remedied if the corporate voice was seen as the dominant sonic feature when we gather. Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely jealous for the church to have razor-sharp musicianship, lush arrangements and quality sound systems but when these things obscure and effectively make irrelevant the singing of God’s people something has gone very wrong. When I read the Psalms (e.g. 33:1, 47:1, etc.) it seems the Lord isn’t so much interested in hearing massive subs or cranked amps. By all means let the music be heard, let the distinction of instruments be beautiful in the mix but may all these things serve and assist the corporate voice.
How should we think about the cultural barriers at work in music?
We need to be ever so careful with this issue, perhaps now more than ever given the explosion of music and instant accessibility to countless artists and genres. So many now have micro-tuned taste and with astonishing nuance can tell you what does and does not move them. The worship leader should acknowledge this in the culture and at the same time strive to make music that pushes back. We’re on a tightrope. On the one side is a shrewdness to what’s happening around us, i.e. contextualization. At some level the music has to make aesthetic sense to the person coming in from our neighborhoods. On the other side we must not simply turn on a city’s top 40 radio and say, “Okay, let’s get that sound!” If we do this, we are constantly the victim of pop culture and we stifle the particular creativity that exists in each congregation.
How do you handle criticism?
I try to always consider the individual who has brought the criticism. If they are a visitor or on the margins of the church community I will typically not give it much thought. On the other hand if the critique comes from someone deeply invested in the church, someone who knows me well, I try to listen very closely to what they’re saying knowing it’s coming from a place of love and real concern.
Luke Morton serves as the Pastor of Worship at Greek Lake Presbyterian Church in Seattle, WA. He graduated with his B.A. in History from the University of Washington, and an M.Div. from Covenant Theological Seminary in 2009. He describes his work as an effort “…to wake a sleeping giant, the church’s corporate voice raised in song.” You can follow him on Facebook and Soundcloud.