Justin Graves is a talented and experience worship leader and a good friend of mine. He and his wife, Michelle have been leading people in worship over the past 15 years and together they founded the Justin Grave Band.
Here are 3 questions I recently asked Justin:
As you have been traveling around the country for the past 15 years or so leading worship, what have you seen change in churches over the years for good and for bad?
I started leading worship back in the 90's which was the era of big church choirs. Every church had a choir and did a big choir anthem each week. I even directed a youth choir for a few years! No matter how big or small your choir was, there was a lot of time and effort put into making sure the choir's special song was perfect each week.
Over the last 15 years the trend turned from having a big choir to having a big worship team. Every church wanted to have a killer band that rivaled any big name stadium tour. It seemed that it was all about the lights and the show and hoping that somehow would attract new people to the church. Yes, they were doing worship songs, but it felt more like a rock concert where people just come and watch a band sing worship songs instead of participating in worship.
There are many churches still using the big choir or rock concert format, but recently it seems as though the people going to church are looking for something more authentic, more genuine. They don't care about how cool the band is or even if they are great musicians, they just want someone to lead them in worship. There are churches who have gone to a smaller more intimate group of musicians that make it feel more like you are sitting in someones living room worshiping together than watching a concert.
Don't get me wrong, I think that there is a place for all of these types of worship experiences. I do think that any of them can lead people into worship, but it starts with what the motivation is for the choir/worship team.
If you could share 1 piece of advice with a young worship leader what would it be?
Wow! Only one?! I would encourage young worship leaders not to over think things. Don't worry about creating a good 'show.' Focus your time on making sure that the songs you sing are not just fun, popular and cool, but that they connect with the theme or message each week and have a cohesive flow.
Just be real and authentic. Your congregation wants to know you as a person, they probably don't even care how good of a musician you are. You don't have to impress them, just be yourself. Be exactly who God created you to be!
Recently, you picked up and moved your family across the country to Los Angeles, can you share a little bit about why you made the move and what your prayers are in taking such a great risk?
Michelle and I have a 9 year old daughter, Gabi, who is now a working actor and through a crazy, God filled series of events, we spent some time in LA this past spring to get our feet wet to see what an 'acting carer' is all about. After some great response, Gabi signed with a manager and agent and we felt God calling our family to relocate to LA for at least the next year.
After being born and raised in Texas and having our ministry based there for the last 15 years, this is very new and unfamiliar territory! We are used to being on the road full time, traveling to different churches and leading worship across the country and now we will be more stationary in LA so that we can be available for auditions and bookings for Gabi's new career. We are excited about this new opportunity for our family, but have no idea what to expect!
You are right, this is a BIG risk! There is no guarantee in the entertainment business and to uproot our ministry and pull ourselves off the road is quite scary. By doing this we have decreased our ministry's income because we are not on the road leading worship on a regular basis and are now relying solely on the support from donors. We are also currently changing our ministry model to start providing free, high quality video worship sets and worship leader training for churches that have little to no budget for these types of resources.
I have been making some great ministry connections in the LA area and have had the opportunity to lead worship at several churches and we are hoping to grow our ministry on the West coast. This is a crazy step of faith and we know that God will provide as He always has, but it doesn't make it any less overwhelming. I have also started working at Starbucks again to help make ends meet and have made some great connections there as well!
Our prayer is that God will open doors, provide resources, give clear direction and that He would help us trust Him even when it gets tough. I also pray that Gabi will continue to enjoy her career and that God would use her to be His light!