One of the things you first notice about Tim Hughes is how down to earth he is. However, it’s his passion for worship, songwriting and bringing people to a place of praise that marks him out.
Worship Central was launched in 2006 out of HTB in London as a school of worship, designed to train up worship leaders, foster creativity and bring people around the world into close encounters with God. Their first album, ‘Spirit Break Out’, was recorded live at the HMV Forum and shot straight into the top 10 iTunes album chart when it was released in 2011. Their second album, ‘Let It Be Known’, featured over 2,000 fellow worshippers singing out some old favourites along with twelve newly penned tracks.
How do you write in an authentic way?
Creativity is not something you can just switch on. You learn to tune in, whether you’re listening to a talk and a phrase jumps out, or watching a film. For example, I watched Les Miserables recently and you see all these amazing things about grace. I am always kind of thinking, ‘Gosh, that could be amazing to sing.’ Or even the things you go through – the ups and downs of life. I am always recording little melodies on my phone and lyrics in my journal, and then I allow those ideas to develop. I have tried to do it that way, rather than thinking, ‘Right, I am going to write a song on the cross, because we need that.’
Chris Tomlin’s latest album reached number one in the US charts – do you feel that worship music has a place in the mainstream charts as well as the church?
Yes – the charts should be responding to great music, and it doesn’t necessarily matter whether it is music about God, or music about love or dancing or whatever. Great art and music always used to be birthed from the church, but I sometimes think that we have reduced faith to a much more rational, intellectual thing, and that we’ve lost that sense of emotion. Christians are in relationship with the creator God – who created music – and filled with his Spirit. We should be creating such amazing music and art that the rest of the world comes to us and asks how we’re doing it!
There seems to be a demand with worship music to remain culturally relevant – how do you see worship music changing in the next decade?
I think we are definitely in danger of getting a bit predictable in the style of music in worship. I would love to see a bit more diversity – different styles and sounds – in the church. Perhaps even more creativity in things we sing about and the way we express our music and our worship.
I think God is stirring something up and it’s going to be birthed from spending more time in his presence. I think out of these things we can stumble across new ways of singing new songs that will surprise us by how they connect and where they end up being used.
Could you describe the most memorable time you have experienced God move as you were leading worship? What happened and why was it so powerful?
Leading worship with Alpha in a prison in Texas. It was the first time I had been in a prison, and it was this maximum-security prison with about 500 men. The guy doing our sound was serving a 99-year sentence. All these men were dressed in white, and I didn’t know whether they would be all hardened and against singing hymns and worship songs. I remember seeing these men singing at the top of their voices – and this one man with hands held high and tears streaming down his face, singing the words, ‘Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me.’ It was incredible to see that level of brokenness – a group of people who had really messed up but were receiving and enjoying God’s grace and allowing it to change them. It was just so real and raw.
Why are you excited about the partnership with Alpha Lab to raise up the next generation?
Because I believe worship isn’t simply singing songs. An old Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, once said, ‘This world can be saved from political chaos and collapse by one thing only – and that is worship.’ I think that is right. We look at our world – economic collapse, so much abuse of power, so many of these different spheres of influence being shaken. And what is the answer? God. In worship, we re-order our perspective and shift our perspective off ourselves, what we can create and what man can succeed in. We remind ourselves that we are nothing without God and we look to him to find purpose, love and acceptance.
And we see transformation – people are changed. I think if we want to see lives changed it is not going to happen unless people are caught on fire in worship and fall more in love with God, because when you fall more in love with God you can’t help but share who he is with others.
Alpha Lab, Worship Central and this whole notion of training are really important. I think a younger generation instinctively get that we don’t separate evangelism to just ‘I am going to tell people the gospel’ – it is holistic, it is all of our lives: who we are, how we think, and the choices we make.
Photography by Beetle Rhind