Liberating King: An Interview with Stephen Miller (And A Giveaway Too)

1A few months ago at the Doxology and Theology conference in Louisville, I met Stephen Miller and enjoyed getting to know him a bit. Stephen is a worship leader, recording artist, and a song writer, not to mention a husband to Amanda, a father to five children, and a pastor. For many years Stephen led worship at The Journey in St. Louis. He’s now the worship pastor at Real Life Church in Austin.

This week Stephen released his latest album “Liberating King“. You can read a great review of the album on WorshipLinks here. I wanted you to get to know him a bit better, so I asked him to answer a few questions about worship leading and ministry.

JB: Tell us a bit of your story: how you came to put your trust in Jesus, and how you got into worship leading.

SM: I grew up in church. My mom had me there every time the doors were open. I went down to pray a prayer at a Vacation Bible School when I was 8, but I don’t know that I really connected intimately with my belief in Christ until I was a sophomore in high school. God just met me in my bedroom one day as I was listening to this song that talked about Jesus dying for me and I was just wrecked out. I fell on my face there in my bedroom and said, “God I’m yours. Whatever you want. Here I am.” Didn’t think that would be worship leading. I wasn’t into church music at that time. It was all what I call Hand Wavey Guy, leading a choir and orchestra and I just wasn’t into that as a high school kid. But later that year I went to a camp and saw band lead worship for the first time, and I remember thinking, “Maybe that’s what God’s calling me to do.” So my Junior year, my youth pastor asked if I would start leading our student ministry in worship each week, and God just sort of had his hand on it and it grew from there.

JB: What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made as a worship leader?

SM: Man, I wish I could count them all. I think not knowing the people I was leading is huge. I would try to impose my world view on a room of people who just weren’t on the same page. Rather than meeting them where they are, I would just get angry and frustrated and think it was all their fault. But in the end it was a leadership problem for me. God was saying, “Be patient. Stay faithful. Trust me.”

JB: What are three main things worship leaders should always strive to do, regardless of their context?

SM: I think so much of the modern worship leader’s role is a song leader. So choosing songs that present the Gospel in a God-centered, clear and concise manner, then striving to sing those songs as excellently as you can so that as far as it’s up to you, there is no distraction from the glory of God. You want people to see him and respond to his majesty. So I think the third thing is to ensure that your own prayer life and worship life is active and vibrant, and that you are growing in your own knowledge of God each day, as well as walking in the obedience of faith that leads people to worship off the platform.

JB: You wrote a book a few years ago called “Worship Leaders: We Are Not Rock Stars”. How can worship leaders battle the temptations of fame and popularity

SM: Fame and applause are intoxicating, man. They’re like well-trained assassins waiting to take you out. We all love attaboys and attagirls. It’s just part of who we are. But I think that the way to combat that is firstly to realize that your greatest identity is not in your functional role as a worship leader, but as a redeemed and adopted child of God. That you’re a worshiper before you’re a worship leader. When you practice that private life of intimacy with God, it does change you. When you fill your mind and mouth and memory with the Gospel – even when no one is looking – it grounds you and centers you. And then I think having people around you who know you and can help keep you on track and encourage you when you’re distracted or down – that’s so key. That’s the beauty of the local church family too I think.

JB: If you had to summarize the calling of a worship leader in one sentence, what would you say?

SM: Be faithful to love the people God puts in front of you by giving them a huge picture of who God is and what he has done, so that they can respond in worship.

Thanks, Stephen, for your heart to see God’s people sing to him and delight in him!

If you’d like to get a free copy of Stephen’s new album, leave a comment below. On Friday (5/22) at noon I’ll choose three random commenters and they’ll get a code to download the album for free.

The three winners have all been emailed a free download link. Thanks everyone!

Review of “The Gathering” by Sovereign Grace Music

Back in August I had the joy of attending the Sovereign Grace WorshipGod conference, and a highlight for me was when they recorded a live album one of the evenings. I’m always desperate for new, good, solid, congregational songs for corporate worship, and I remember thinking to myself during the recording “I can’t wait to do that one… and that one… and that one too…” You get the point.

The album was released a few weeks ago and here are my thoughts on each of the songs.

There is One Reason
I liked this one a lot when we sang it at the conference. Too often, upbeat/celebrative songs sacrifice lyrical integrity and biblical truth. The lyrics of this song are solid, biblical, and Trinitarian. As often happens, you hear the song in a different way when you try to introduce it to your congregation. My congregation struggled with the melody, and I found myself getting mixed up on the chorus (i.e. I kept singing “Christ the Lord, our Son, the Savior” but it should be “Christ our Lord, the Son, our Savior”) since it was all going by a bit quickly! I think this one depends on where your congregation is. The key of A is the best for the verses and keeps the chorus from hitting an E regularly, but it does hang out around a D a lot on the chorus.

Greater Than We Can Imagine
Great song. We’ve sung this in our church for a couple of years (it was first released on Sovereign Grace’s Psalms album) and it’s a solid, biblical (based on Psalm 145), celebrative, singable song of praise. The recorded key of G is much more comfortable for congregations than the first recorded version which was in B.

Come Praise and Glorify
Excellent song. It took 3 or 4 times for my church to get the hang of it, but I think we’ve finally gotten it. I love how each verse is full of different reasons why we should praise God, leading up to the chorus declaring “to the praise of your glory, to the praise of your mercy and grace… you are the God who saves”. The key of Bb helps this song sit in the right range.

Shine Into Our Night
Beautiful lyrics: “Jesus Christ, shine into our night, drive our dark away, till your glory fills our eyes”. A beautiful melody which is accessible and congregational without being predictable. We’ve sung this song twice at my church and I’ve had many people ask me for the lyrics and where to download it. The key of E is perfect. But then again, I do love the key of E.

Have Mercy on Me
A prayer of confession without an assurance of pardon is missing the good news of the Gospel. This song gets it right. “Have mercy on me…” followed by the assurance that Jesus was given “to make atonement for wrongs I have done” and that “there’s forgiveness with you, God”. It’s a good song, a good confession, and full of good news.

Now Why This Fear
I can’t wait to teach this song to my church. This might be my favorite of them all. Really, really good.

Isaiah 53
I love the groove of this song. And I love the lyrics. So I don’t know why I don’t love the song, but I don’t. I think the main reason is that I know it would be a challenge for my congregation to get into it. Maybe yours would be different!

Generous King
One of the other highlights of the conference for me was standing in the back during the closing session and singing this song while holding my two-year old daughter in my arms. That was the first time since she had been born that I had held her during a time of worship (I’m usually the one leading!). What a gift to sing of his “mercies unending, and love never failing”. This is a great song. The octave jump on the bridge might be tough for some congregations, but I really like it. We haven’t tried it yet at my church.

When You Move
I don’t often hear songs of pleading for God to “come and move” that are this biblically saturated and God-centered. This is a great song/prayer for the Holy Spirit to fill our lives and minds “with the radiance of Christ”. It’s specific, solid, and singable. I like it.

Your Words of Life and Show Us Christ
Two great songs to add to your church’s repertoire for preparing for and/or responding to the preaching of God’s word. Too many worship leaders don’t see that as their job or their concern, and that’s a shame. If we really believe that the bible is the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17) then we shouldn’t see the preaching of the word as competition. These songs help the congregation articulate a longing to encounter God in his living word.

All I Have is Christ
I used to have a hard time with this song, since I had a fairly straight-laced Christian upbringing, and the verses are from the perspective of someone who “once was lost in darkest night…” and “ran (a) hell-bound race”. I didn’t think that described me. Then I read Ephesians 2 and was hit in the head when Paul said “…you were once dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.” That meant me. Yes, indeed, I once was lost in darkest night and thought I knew the way. “Alleluia! All I have is Christ”. This is a great song, and the refrain of every person who has come to put their trust in Jesus Christ.

We Hunger and Thirst
A good song to sing during communion. I’m not crazy about the bridge, not because I think it’s bad, but because I think it could be better.

Lift High the Cross
This album has the highest number of songs I could see really “clicking” my congregation of any other album in recent memory. Having said that, this particular song is not one of them. I really want to like it. And I think I like the pre-chorus and the chorus. But every album has to have at least one song you don’t like, and this is it for me.

As You Go
A great song to close a service, as we “teach and admonish one another in all wisdom…” (Colossians 3:16) to go into the world, “in the grace of Christ… in the power of the Spirit” to bring God glory. The lyrics are full of great, biblical exhortations, the melody is really singable, and the key of A is just right.

This is an excellent album, full of congregational, biblical, God-glorifying songs. The musicianship is fantastic, and the arrangements will give you and your team some great new ideas for how to approach songs in a fresh way without being showy. Out of the 15 songs, I could envision using 12 or 13 at my church. If you’ve ever owned any other worship albums, you’ll know that that number is usually unthinkable. Not so with “The Gathering”. It is a gift to worship leaders and their churches.

Get it at the Sovereign Grace store.