Over the past several decades worship music has changed dramatically. Contemporary Worship sounds more like secular Rock music than songs from a hymnal, and if one were to ignore the words and the heart behind them, one could easily argue that it is.
  But, worship was never intended to be an argument about style, but rather an expression of thankfulness and gratitude for God's sovereignty and grace. Some of us find Christian radio to be a contrived, cookie cutter experience, while others find fault with 'going off the page' in free worship. Chances are, the vast majority of the songs at either end of the spectrum started off as an expression of someone's personal time in worship that grew into something that others could join in and sing corporately.

  Bethel member Cory Asbury has been at or near the top of Billboard's CCM charts for months with "Restless Love." Josh Baldwin is doing the same with "Stand In Your Love." And the group's "Raise A Hallelujah (Live)" from their Victory cd is close behind.

  One of our favorite things about interviewing worship leaders from movements like Bethel Music, is that we get a chance to share their revelation of who Jesus is to them. This revelation is what resonates in the songs that they sing and record, and in turn what draws worship leaders the world over to sing these songs with their congregations. If I had to use one word to describe Bethel Music, it would be faithful. They have been faithful with what God has given them, and through that faithfulness, their songs of worship have spoken to a generation of believers who are hungry for Jesus.
  Regardless of whether free or spontaneous worship is 'your thing,' I encourage you to explore this interview looking for 'golden threads' that will hopefully allow you and your team to dig a little deeper as we all seek to know His face that much better.

You have 1.2 million YouTube subscribers, which is a strong indicator of how many people are resonating with your expressions of worship. As I toggled between videos for songs like "Every Be" and the extended times of spontaneous worship on Moments: Mighty Sound, I was struck by how much these seemingly different atmospheres were actually quite alike. The bridge in "You Make Me Brave" almost feels like free worship in the way it builds and build and builds. How much do you think songs like that are the expression or culmination of what happens in times of free worship?

  [Kalley Heiligenthanl] I think the birthplace of these songs and spontaneous moments start to blend together. A lot of songs have come from spontaneous moments that felt like they really worked and resonated with people. We take those moments back with us and will explore writing that out and finding other parts for it. Sometimes you bring it back into that same spontaneous moment and see if maybe another part of the song could be birthed out of it.
  A lot of it comes from the writing style, but you also never want to create in a vacuum. What we're trying to do is to partner and pair a corporate expression with what God's doing.

  [Steffany Gretzinger] Hopefully our songs get deeper and deeper, and more worshipful as we grow with God. That process of going deeper will look and sound a hundred different ways - there's no formula for it. Over the course of our walks with God, I think we could all go back to songs that have been forgettable. Without judging the heart behind them, they seem to have been written with the intent of seeing how many people could sing them. Something happens when someone has engaged in worship and broken their heart open before the Lord writes and develops a song from that place.
  When people crack themselves open like Mary broke open the jar of perfume for Jesus, those are the worship songs that cost the writer something to bring forth. Only the Lord will ever know that, but in a corporate setting we feel the weight of that cost, even if we don't necessarily know what the story behind it was.

  [Amanda Cook] I feel like a lot of the songs that we end up writing actually come out of the last song that someone else wrote. Someone else's song will grab hold of me, like "Great Are You, Lord". It's an anthem for my whole life, and I can't get away from it - and I don't want to! That song is a springboard to hundreds of other songs and moments. I get immersed in the spirit of it, and it's like an infinite field of possibility that I can launch into when I'm connected so deeply into a certain sound.

 Sometimes a producer creates a defining album for an artist, and everything after that is defined by that record. Are you saying that, in some ways, an individual song takes you someplace as a worship leader and artist that you wouldn't have been able to go without that vehicle?

  [Amanda] Totally! Yes, it definitely does, but I think we need to be careful about just writing what works, or copying the last thing that went really well. We can get stuck and build a monument there, and then miss out on the moment we're in right now. I think of all of these movements, songwriters, and leaders all around the world who I look up to and respect - they have given me language for certain areas of my heart that I wouldn't have found language for if they had not done the work of excavating it, paying attention to their season, and being obedient with their own prayer life.
  I feel like we're all a part of this experience where we're all discovering and exploring. We all see in part, and we're all discovering different facets about the nature of God. We get to write ourselves into the story, and we get to turn the pages for one another and invite the next person to write the next page. It opens up new frontiers set to language.

One of the reasons we were so excited about Moments: Mighty Sound is the 'big reveal' it provides in terms of how you open up arrangements for songs like "Spirit Move," "Reckless Love," and "Pieces."
While we love resources like Multitracks.com, the sonic benefits sometimes obscure the fact that some teams rely upon them as their 'roadmap for worship'. In our experience, many senior pastors want their worship team to be able to open things up a bit, whether it is behind announcements, prayer, and free/ spontaneous worship. This release is a great reminder that worship leaders can do more than just sing set arrangements
from top to bottom.
What are your thoughts about all of that?

  [Steffany] I think the language is changing. Worship leaders, as we've known them in the past, have been more like song leaders for the church. We sing the songs, but is that actually worship leading? You'll hear Jenn say something like, "Let's sing off the page," because that's exactly what it is. Bethel Music is moving back to that, and I think people are hungry for more than a song that someone else wrote for them to sing. I think that they are longing to engage and to actually be led in worship.
  We're all just finding it together. This is the core of who we are. We started out being all about spontaneous moments, and then it swung to the other side a bit. Coming back again and remembering what our DNA is, this is actually what God entrusted us with, and what the Lord trusts most about us -- that we would wait and not be afraid to be still and quiet. We don't have to fill everything with words. We can go a little bit deeper, and take the risk to see if there's anything else there, and to see if He wants to do something else. If He does, then we stay and we wait. If He doesn't, then we pull back or we move to another song.

  [Amanda] The whole act of recording something is to capture something that feels true and authentic in its essence. I love all of the other stuff that we get to do, and there's a part of me that really loves the studio and being in a creative mode where you're tinkering and focusing in on details and ironing things out, but there's something that happens in a moment, with a room full of people, that will never happen again.
  Making this album wasn't as much about recreating something as it was about just capturing what actually happened. When I listen back, I love the imperfection and the honesty of it. I love the untamed things that you can hear when we were singing off the mic. We didn't take those things out. To me, it enhances the beauty of the point, which was to capture the essence of what truly happens in a room when people come together to worship. It moves me to listen back and remember the moment that was happening.

  [Kalley] It's always been in our DNA to write songs and to find what God is saying in the written word. We've had a value for one end of the spectrum, which would be to develop songs that churches can take and use for their setting. But very deep in our DNA has been to run after the spontaneous. To start with a song and view it as a springboard. There comes a feeling like, "We've been in this set for a little while, and I think that behind there, somewhere, there might be something waiting. If we were to just step out of the map and take a risk, there might be something on the other side."
  That was one of the things that drew me to Bethel in the first place, eight years ago. It was the idea of chasing after the presence of God and discovering what He is saying, here and now.

While itís not a 'set in stone' kind of thing,
I love the heart behind the phrase,
You can't take the congregation someplace you haven't been yourself." In the song story video for "Pieces," Steffany mentioned something I've heard Paul Baloche talk about - singing scripture. "Steeped in the Word" is the phrase that frequently comes to mind when I think of your worship. It's like your hunger for the Word is so strong that it can't help but pour out when you sing. In the busyness of the times we live in, what are some practical steps that people can take to get to that place?

  [Kalley] That's a great question. In a song like "Spirit Move," for example, it opens up with a spontaneous moment, and there is scripture throughout. A lot of where that came from is just the cry of my heart, recognizing the times when I've needed the Lord to come through. Whether it has been a circumstance in my life that surpassed what I could do in my own efforts, or just the hunger of, "God, I would always rather do this with You than alone."
  I'd always rather have Your presence with me, hear Your opinion, and shape my life around that than just try and figure it out on my own." Proverbs 3:5-6 comes to mind, where it talks about not leaning on our own understanding, but trusting in the Lord with all of our hearts.
  Bill Johnson once said, "You know there's something wrong with children when they're not hungry. It's an indicator that they're sick, or something in their system isn't what it should be. Their natural state is to want to eat." Spiritually, we're made the same way. There's something wrong with us if we don't want to feast, or if we're not hungry. We need to come back to God and ask, "Lord, how do I get my hunger back?"
  Bill always says, "You start eating to become hungry." You feast on God's faithfulness, and in community, and in talking about Him and hearing other peoples' testimonies, and on His Word.
  I think it becomes a daily shaping of our lives that is more about overflow than it is about spontaneous. It's recognizing a hunger, a desire, and a need for God. When that is in the room you can easily put language to it because you are working at keeping yourself in that place of hunger and dependency, day in and day out. You're not just desiring for God to come be your savior, but to have a friendship with Him and a communion with Him.

  [Steffany] I think that's the biggest thing I'm trying to get to - staying connected. Not finding my connection once I get to that place of leading worship. There's no shame or judgment in any of this, because I've been in lots of different places in my worship leading. When I was younger, I would come in and not be sure of what I was looking for or where we were going. We would sing until we found something. That still happens sometimes, but the hope is that we don't wait until we are there to get connected.
  We've stayed connected and we come in continuing the open conversation. That becomes how you so easily tap into the presence of God during worship.
  It really is simple, and it's supposed to be. When you try too hard, it feels awkward for everyone in the room. I've been there. We've all been there, where we tried to push something and make it happen. That's just a part of learning, a part of growing in maturity, wisdom, and favor with God and with man. It's about learning that your power is in your position, not your push.
  Like young worship leaders who learn that they don't have to scream to be powerful. You learn that when you're already connected, you don't need to shout when you're already that close. There's a moment for shouting, and there's a moment for just breathing. And neither are more or less powerful than the other.

  [Amanda] I love the word 'practical' because it truly is about practice. When you learn an instrument, you practice, and you fail. It takes years and years to learn how to return to the well. With spiritual practice, we tend to exalt the scripture about going from "glory to glory" and we don't know what to do with that tiny little word in the middle - "to". We spend a lot of our lives in-between the glorious moments.
  One of my friends sent me an encouragement the other day from the scripture passage about Elijah, and how he was listening for the voice of God. He was looking to all of these grand displays of power, but then we get to the scripture about how God spoke to him in a still, small voice. The original text actually says that Elijah heard God in the sound of sheer silence. For me, that was deeply healing - He is tending to my minuscule needs in the still moments.
  Gratitude is something that takes daily practice too. I have a gratitude journal that sends me a prompt on my phone to take time to be grateful. Things like, "What are three things you're thankful for this morning?" It sends me daily affirmations, and then at night, too, it helps to set my heart on the right thing. It sets my heart in the path of the miraculous presence of God and opens my eyes and awareness to that. It awakens me to the fact that it's always available.

How much of your personal worship time
at home translates into what you do
in times of free worship?

  [Steffany] All of it - it's everything, and it's changed with every season of my life. When I was a teenager, I could go lock myself in my room for eight hours and just bury myself in my bible and have these beautiful worship moments as I just laid there. I built some serious history with God there, and I gained some authority.
  But it grew into something else. I got married, and I would cry with the Lord and say, "How am I going to have time for You now?" and the Lord would say, "This is a new season, and our love is deeper. It's going to look different now, and that's okay." And the season changed again when I became a mom, and the Lord said, "If you seek with me all your heart, I will be found by you. You will find Me in everything. I'm in every moment."
  It's about shifting your awareness to realize that He is Emmanuel. He is God with Us. You can't turn out a light that's shining from the inside. He is ever-present, and in every fiber of our being. It was about shifting my attention, and He said to me, "You don't have to reach for Me, I'm right here!"
  My idea of worship was so connected to what I had experienced in church, or even to sit down around a piano, or a moment like that where I felt moved to worship. And now, worship is in every breath. It's an open conversation, and it's changed everything. It's also calmed me down, internally, to where I'm not self-important, like I was when I was a teenager. When we mature in God, we realize that worship doesn't always look like a roaring room full of people, and our worship should look different when we're not in that room. It shouldn't look the same.
  I don't share intimacy with my husband outside of my house - that would be weird! There should be something sacred that is between us and the Lord that doesn't happen in corporate worship. When I catch Stephen's eyes across a crowded room of people, there's something between us that only we know.
  And it's like that with God. When we step into a corporate place, if everyone has met with God before they come and has their own history with Him, and they can catch His eye and press into that place, what can happen in that room is unstoppable because they came in connected.

  [Amanda] It's all connected, How we live is really our display of devotion, more than the markers -- and the markers are amazing! They are for remembrance and for us to be revived. There's a resurgence that happens when we gather together and have an assembly of people. We all share testimony and sing together, and there's something powerful that will always happen in that environment.
  But I think that translates to the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. The lives that we lead is the worship that will be remembered, more than the songs that any of us write.

  [Kalley] It translates quite a bit. I did a song back on Starlight called "I See the Light," and that was birthed out of a time where I was just sitting after singing through a song on the album where I felt like I had more to say. So, I sat there at my piano and I began to just sing out my story, and that's where that came from. Sometimes though, you forget about it, and then you find yourself in a worship set, while you're not trying to make anything happen or to create anything, and it mentally comes back. You remember that moment you had with God, and you think to yourself, "Why don't you try it out here? That might relate and be for more than just you."
  And then you have that to give. I'm not an accomplished musician, but I do carve out time to worship, in the traditional sense. I really value and prioritize being in corporate worship where I am not leading. It's so essential. I can't always be the leader. I have to know how to be led, I have to know how to receive. That becomes a lot of where that happens for me, as well as my time alone with the Lord, worshiping.
  I would say though that, for me, I really love the Word. A lot of my worship is in the reading. It's also in relationship with people, where I'm running with them and we have a hunger that we stoke in one another. A lot of that informs what happens in the spontaneous.

There are lots of churches who don't do free worship or lead out in the spirit for a variety of reasons. For those who are curious about it, can you share where opening up time for free worship allows you to go in a service that traditional song arrangements don't?

  [Amanda] Everything has its place. I don't think that God is boxed in by anything. The Father kneels down and gets on our level and has a conversation with us, just like a good father would have with a child. It's for the purpose of expanding our world-view. Worship is never about whether the spontaneous moments are happening.
  Anytime we get together and want to sing to God and sing about His goodness, promises, and faithfulness, He is always there. He's not confined by our services. I've watched services that are planned and plotted out to the second, and I've been deeply moved and impacted by them. It's about looking for the golden thread of wherever that particular expression of people are finding life, and what they're finding in God.
  There are communities that are more centered around contemplative prayer, and I think there is so much life in that, too. There are places that won't necessarily focus on the same kind of expression that we use, but that doesn't mean that they're not expressing their God-given ability to understand, share, and participate with what God is doing in the earth.
  As far as spontaneous worship is concerned, I think that when we learn about the exchange and the continual communion with God, then spontaneous worship is simply born out of that. When I'm with a good friend, the spontaneity flows. We talk with each other, and we express things to each other, we thank each other, and we have a conversation. When I'm in healthy communion with a friend, it just flows. It's not contrived and I don't have to try to make it happen, it just happens.
  When we teach community, the point is communion. It's going to look different for each person because we're all different, but it's more about communion with God than it is about spontaneity. Anytime the pressure is put on being spontaneous, it actually closes it up. When it's just about communion, receiving and hearing from God, and then responding, that's just a natural friendship. That's natural family. That's like walking into someone's home and going to the fridge, and just being a part of the family flow.
  To me, that's where spontaneous worship is born from. If I haven't communed in a long time, then there is an awkward re-introduction. But if the point is communion and connection, then the spontaneous worship, while taking many different forms, will flow from a heart of abundance and gratitude.

  [Kalley] It's about yielding, having flexibility and being aware that maybe God wants to do something apart from our plan. What if He did have a change of plan, or want to show up differently? Am I actively building a place for Him to do that? When we surrender to Him, those are the best times. He always has a better sense than we do of who is in the room and of what could happen. I want to live a life that is yielded, and I don't want to turn that off in a worship set.
  By nature, songs are prophetic. Our voices are prophetic. God wants to use all of it. I love to yield to what God wants to do. I'm always asking, "God, are we finished yet? This is Your service. These are Your people. I get the honor of being a part of it, but this isn't my idea, it's Yours."
  For me, it's about yielding, and checking in at certain moments when you feel like something might be rising up. You feel like maybe we should just wait here, maybe we should just give it four bars. And you don't even always have to sing something. If you're not used to it, maybe you go back into the bridge when maybe you would have just normally stuck to the arrangement.