I have a high degree of admiration for Reuben Morgan, Ben Fielding, and the rest of the Hillsong team as servants of the global church. Reuben has been busy with a conference at home, and we had to conduct our interview via email. So, Reuben, I’ll thank you publically here… Thank you for taking the time to process through my questions while you’ve got your hands full with ministry at home! Ben Fielding and I were able to visit while he was in Canada about a week before the Outcry Tour started.
Worship Musician: Let’s start with gear! What guitars are ya’ll playing these days?
Reuben: The guitar I play a lot is a Bourgeois acoustic. It’s a perfect writing guitar for me, and also for when I’m leading worship at home. When I travel I mix it up a little. A couple days ago I was leading worship at a Christian festival in the UK called ‘New Wine’ and I played a custom guitar by some UK based luthiers called Lakestone guitars. I was blown away with the sound and the feel. I expect we’ll hear more from them in the years to come.
Ben: Well, when I’m leading worship, I’m often playing a Collings OM1 acoustic, which I absolutely love. It’s a beautiful instrument; one of those that you will keep forever. It’s surprisingly versatile for an OM guitar; it’s got a big sound, records very nicely, and sounds great through the PA (at least that’s what the Front of House guys tell me!). For electric, I play a USA Tele that I’ve had for many years. I play that through a Matchless Lightning 2×12 amp. I’ve still got an old Duesenberg Imperial that I’ve had for quite a while and pull out when I’m looking for more of a hollow-body sound. As far as keys, I’ve got an M-Audio Axiom that I use as a controller and I run through Logic and MainStage. I have certain patches that I love using. I really love all the Omnisphere pads as well as finding some great sampled pianos. I have found that really helpful when I write…just to sit down with different sounds and different textures and layers. Every sound brings a different inspiration, I think. So, for me as a writer, that’s been huge. You know, moving away from just sitting down on acoustic guitar, which obviously is still my first instrument, but to have that flexibility and variety is really helpful.
WM: Do you bring your guitar from Australia or pick one up in the states?
Ben: Yeah, I’ve started just picking up guitars in America. I have seen too many horror videos. You just can’t replace guitars, you know!
WM: What about your in-ears?
Reuben: For in ears as a team we have been using Ultimate Ears. I’m so happy with the quality of their product.
WM: Playing live, does Hillsong use a click and enhancement tracks?
Ben: We definitely play with a click. There are some songs that we would use tracks for…more of the songs that have got lots of layers and ambient tones that we would want to reproduce, or specific drum parts. It’s that challenge in the worship context also that we have at home- that we try to make sure we don’t get so locked into the form of songs that we can’t tweak them for a specific service. We’ve got to make sure that our band stays flexible enough for us to be able to come off the track and it still sound great in the FOH. We never want to become so dependent on a track that we can’t do the song without it. We’ve been using Ableton to control the click and tracks. It’s pretty reliable.
WM: Which of the songs that you have written has had the biggest impact on you?
Reuben: I guess as a writer it’s difficult not to be completely immersed on every level in the songs that I’m writing. Spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. I’m always the most connected to the new songs that I’m writing because they speak directly out of what is most relevant to me in that season.
There’s a new song I’ve just written called, “Love So Great.” There’s a line in the first verse that says, “A billion years/ Still I’ll be singing/ How can I praise You enough.” For me, that says so much about where I’m at right now. The goodness and the kindness of God is so beyond what I could have ever imagined. Eternity won’t be enough to thank God for all the generosity and the blessing he’s poured out on our lives.
Ben: It’s so hard to say… but looking back over recent years; I’d have to say, “This I Believe (The Creed).” That was a really huge moment for me to be able to work with Matt Crocker, whom I love as a writer, and then to be in contact with an Anglican leader in Australia who initially reached out to us to say, “Will you have a go at writing a song that has a contemporary approach to the Apostle’s Creed?” We agreed to look at it, so we sat down and started to try to write something that would bring a fresh lease of life to an ancient creed. To see that come together and then to see it bring some sort of unity across the broad church was pretty inspiring. I grew up in a Baptist church, went to an Anglican school, and now I’m in a Pentecostal church, so I’ve kind of been all over the place. So, to see those bridges come together… that’s one of the incredible things about worship in general. It’s sort of the fulfillment of what Jesus said, that where there is unity in His name, He will be there. I love to see that happen when we worship in unity. It brings people together around the central thing, which is lifting Jesus’ name.
You know, particularly at this point in history where you look around the world every morning, you’re waking up to see the horrible reports of violence and there are so many things that are dividing people… whether it’s ideology, religion, nationality, or whatever it is… but to see the church coming together in unity, there is something really powerful about that today. So, we have a really important ministry as worship leaders and worship musicians… to bring people to that place where firstly, there is a connection with God and an acknowledgement of His sovereignty… that the world revolves around God and not around our ideas. And secondly, that it brings people together. People will know that we love Christ by the way that we love one another.
WM: Is there a song you wrote that became popular with the church that surprised you?
Reuben: I’m always amazed when a song gets carried beyond the room that it was written in. I feel like it’s an absolute miracle every time. Particularly, I never expected ‘Cornerstone’ to have the kind of longevity that it has had. When we brought it to the team I think we all kind of felt like it belonged on a more niche kind of project rather than as a core church song or church album song. But when we started rehearsing it for a chapel project we all had the same reaction to it- it just felt different and special, in a way that’s difficult to explain, and when we introduced it to the church, the response was immediate. Writing worship songs is such a combination of God’s sovereignty, timing, and inspiration and our own hard work. I believe more than ever it’s all grace.
Ben: Well, there is an element of surprise in every song! You work really hard as a writer…it’s a craft full of hard work. You know, when you finally finish a song and stand up to lead it, there’s always this moment when you’re thinking, “Oh, I really hope this works!” I think for me, I go back to one of the first songs that I saw really work in church. A song I wrote with Reuben, “Mighty to Save.” I remember standing in church and Reuben was leading at the time and I was looking around and hearing the church just belt the song out the first time they had sung it. I was like, “Wow! There’s something really special about this song.” It was something of a confirmation for us. For writers and musicians that are about equipping the church, that’s the ultimate measure…seeing people get on board with it and making the song their own.
Another song in recent times is a song called, “What a Beautiful Name,” that will be on our new record that comes out this coming October. This is a song I wrote with Brooke (Fraser) Ligertwood and that was just another one of those songs that (worked). You always know if a song worked by how many text messages you get afterword. If it doesn’t work, it’s just like an eerie silence!
WM: What does your songwriting process look like? What are some of the different stages before the song is complete?
Ben: It’s so tricky. I think, for me, one of the greatest gifts is collaboration. The privilege of being able to work with other writers that are really pushing to get better and to write better songs. The process is often the same…first comes inspiration that drives an idea – it might be a lyric or a theme with a little melody that comes together really neatly. Then there’s just hours of crafting and going back through the lyrics and, if you’ve set the theme, that the verses all speak to where the chorus is sitting and that you’re not saying too much or too little and that there is a narrative or structure to the way the song works.
Reuben: No song ever happens the same way. Some take months and some take minutes. It’s a mystery, an art, and a science. I believe God is our co-writer, our inspiration, and our muse; He is the source of our ideas and the goal of our finest work. I think writing is a spiritual discipline and a pastoral exercise. A song that I work on usually comes from a theme that I love, and melody idea that I’ve spent time searching for, auditioning different ideas over and over. Once I’m on an idea that I love it’s usually the lyric that gets the most drafts and is the last thing to be finished. We are passionate about the church singing transformational truth. The smallest detail matters, and it matters more and more to me. I write best in a co-write situation with a healthy amount of time on my own to work through different sections and ideas. Songwriting is painful and wonderful. I find it hard to stay away from it.
WM: Tell me about the new project that will drop in October. What is the overall theme?
Ben: The new project is titled, “Let There Be Light.” The concept of the title is that when we worship, we get a clarity of who God is and the attributes of God. It’s like, when light is cast upon something, we see it more clearly. That is our hope as we worship through this project and more generally, when we worship, that we see more clearly who God is. The other side of it is that the light drives out darkness. In the world today, there’s every need for the Light to be shining in the darkest places…for the light of God, the glory of God, the beauty of God, the love and peace of God to be made known. The thing about God’s light is that it’s not intimidated by darkness, but the darkness becomes a place where God’s sovereignty and His power can be made fully known. I love the theme for a time such as now! So many of the songs speak…there’s an incredible song called “Behold” on this project that is talking about being in awe of God, and it unpacks the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It’s a really rich song. Then, there’s the song I mentioned before, “What a Beautiful Name,” which our church has really latched onto. That song goes through…”what a beautiful name, what a wonderful name, what a powerful name”… then each verse sort of speaks from that angle of who Jesus is and what’s in His name. It’s based on Hebrews 1 that says, “Now God speaks through the Son,” and we see the radiance of God’s glory through the Son and that He’s now seated at the right hand and given the name that is above all other names. I think sometimes we can underestimate the name of Jesus. You know, the scripture says, “Even greater things you will do in my name.” I believe that is an absolutely remarkable statement! That in the name of Jesus, we can see even greater things today than what Jesus was doing. He gave us that name that we might continue doing the work that He started. It’s always powerful to sing back the name of Jesus, but I love that this song kind of talks about the beauty that’s in His name.
WM: Give us a couple songs to watch for on the project? What is the message?
Ben: To me this project feels really fresh. What I love about it is that the new songs are bringing so much life to our church services at the moment. Songs like, “Beautiful Name,” we sing over and over. It’s such an inspiring response to Christ and all that He’s done for us.
Another landmark song is “Behold,” which has a kind of Keith Green flavor to it. It’s a huge declaration, and really loved by our church.
WM: Reuben, as the Worship Pastor of Hillsong London. How do you and the H.L. church stay connected with Hillsong home church?
Reuben: I think this is so much a heart thing. I’d been part of the Sydney team for 15 years before moving to London, so we are very much family. Every one of our global worship pastors make the personal choice to lean in to the bigger picture. Unity and commitment to the vision of our church ultimately comes down to my own willingness to be part of the team, whether I live down the road or on the other side of the world. There is so much more room for misunderstanding when there is distance, so we’ve all had to work at clear and honest communication, and really choosing to stay on the same page together. Cass Langton is an incredible Creative leader, and I’m really grateful for her ability to bring the whole thing together the way she does.
WM: Can you elaborate on some of issues or challenges you face at Hillsong London that the readers of Worship Musician can relate to, and how you deal with them?
Reuben: I think as a pastor I am always conscious of people staying connected and not getting jaded in and out of season. It’s so easy for any of us on team to get disappointed or let down over some issue or other. Am I in favor this month? How many times am I on roster? Too much? Too little? Is my leader living up to my expectations? And on and on . . .
I’ve realized there’s always going to be things that could potentially take us off track and ultimately out of the will of God. Hopefully we are all getting better at dealing with things quickly and moving on, while keeping a free spirit in it all. It’s so hard to be our creative best when there are things weighing us down. Keeping our eyes wide open with wonder is what I hope we all aspire to. A team whose individual members walk close with Christ is the dream.
Ben: I think one of the biggest challenges we face is that question of, “What do you do when you have musicians that lack the competency to play the songs?” You know, back in Australia, we do something like 76 services across the week. And, that means there are big services, there are smaller services and our team is spread so thin. So, there’s greater need than ever for people to play, you know. And one of the challenges with that is at some point, you’ve got to sort of draw a line and say, “If you don’t have this level of competency, you don’t make the cut.” I think that’s hard for churches because we want to be inclusive and we want to help people engage with the gifts that God has given them and to be able to use that in church, but then at the same time, as leaders, we have the responsibility to make sure what we’re doing is good and is helping people worship and is not becoming a distraction. One of the things I feel fortunate to have come into is an environment where there is a commitment to excellence. It has not been this intangible thing, but that the level of excellence has always been just being a little better than we were last week. Just pushing to keep improving what we’re doing. I can connect with that because we can’t expect someone who has been playing for two years and new to the team to come in playing like Nigel Hendroff! But, what we can expect is that they are committed to their gift and committed to the craft and getting better and working harder. That is the kind of culture that has been fostered over the decades of our church.
WM: Are there any major differences you see in the church between London/AUS/USA?
Reuben: Diversity is one of my favorite things about church. We see that from campus to campus in the same city as well as across Europe in entirely different cultures, world over. The church is diverse. But there’s a like-mindedness that keeps us close as a team. There is a church culture that we share, mostly nurtured by strong lasting relationships. It’s the hard work of building good relationships that keeps us together.
Ben: One thing about America is that it’s such an incredible country with an incredible history. I think today, I see more coming together…more unity across the church and, again, I think that worship has a more central role to play in that. I’ve seen a lot more conversation and collaboration among worship leaders. I think that God richly rewards that. And then to see that right across the (entire) church, that there is a lot of conversation across many areas of the church where traditionally there was not a lot of free-flowing communication. That’s really powerful and I think there is a real passion to see people connect with the things of God. The methods of doing church, I think, are more open and people are more flexible about the things that don’t really matter so much and they are more passionate about seeing souls saved and seeing people come to know the hope they can have in Jesus. It’s really exciting.
WM: What are some pre-show preparations that you do that keep you focused on worship?
Reuben: I tend to think we need to live prepared. Consistent devotion to Christ sets us up well in and out of season as worship leaders. I think simple spiritual habits like Bible memorization, reading the Bible every day, and fasting every now and then allow for a really thriving and fresh spiritual life. When we move away from some of these ancient disciplines, we can easily become a little jaded and familiar, well I know that I do anyway. What I know about myself is that I am so far from perfect; I need all the help I can get. I can never earn the favor of God, but I know I can position myself so I can enjoy it. This is a prayer that I use a lot, “God, I can’t, but You can. Thank you. Amen.”
Ben: Yeah, absolutely. Since I can remember, we’ve always met together and prayed together for the city that we’re in, for the people that are coming, and for the church in that city. You know, our pastor, Brian Houston… his heart has always been for the local church. Our mission statement is, “Empowering Local Churches Everywhere.” Yes, it’s about singing, it’s about worship, but ultimately, we want to see people come to know Jesus… and to see the church in that city move forward. We want to see worship leaders and musicians come and encounter the presence of God and to carry that back into their churches, inspired and enthused to press in harder. It’s really an incredible opportunity. One of the other things I love to do is to get to sit down with the worship leaders and musicians and get to talk a little bit about respectively what we do and how we do what we do. Hopefully, if we can learn from each other, then the church moves forward. You know, ultimately it’s not about building “A” church, but building what Jesus said He was building, which is “THE” church – His church.
WM: Can you describe how you approach the line between performance and song presentation in leading worship?
Reuben: I think that song presentation, performance, and worship leading is just like preaching and pastoring, leading (etc.) They are all crafts to be worked at and improved as a skill. Being a great worship leader may have a lot to do with the calling and gifting of God on your life, but there is also a degree of skill involved in leading a congregation. We can always get better at what we do. When you see someone like Chris Tomlin or Kari Jobe lead worship, you realize there is grace in every part of what they do, but it’s clearly something they have worked on and become better and better at over time. A good worship leader should lead in such a way that people are able to take in the glory of God and also respond to Him in a way that’s true, passionate, and biblical. Making it not about you as the worship leader, but also leading with strength, is an art and a grace. Pray for your church and believe God to give you a burden for them and their authentic worship. Submit to your leadership and be open to feedback in areas you need to work on.
WM: The readers of Worship Musician Magazine are a believing/praying group. How can we pray for you specifically?
Reuben: We are in transition at the moment as a family. We’re moving back to Hillsong Sydney from the UK, where we have been leading our creative team at Hillsong Church in London. It’s an exciting new season in front of us, but we would appreciate all your prayers as we step into the new thing God has for us.
Ben: Well, I am sure our team would echo this… just prayer for continued revelation as far as what it is we need to be singing, what is the new sound for the church. Another side of that, too, is just more on a team level that there would be continued unity on our team and in our church. I would love to see God keep moving the way He has been moving…seeing churches coming together in collaboration. There is great reward in that.
WM: There are countless people who have connected with the Father through words you have penned. Would you speak a blessing over these readers?
Ben: Absolutely! May God continue to bless your diligence and your generosity and your faithfulness wherever you find yourself with the opportunity to serve God and to serve people.
I think that being in an environment where we can use our creativity and use music for, what I believe is music’s intended purpose, and that is to reveal who God is and to point people towards all of the things that God is… His beauty as well as His grace, His mercy, His sovereignty, and His holiness. I believe there is an incredible opportunity and mantle on musicians and songwriters to be able to reveal God in a way that I don’t think just spoken words can. There is something mysterious about what we get to do, and so I would encourage all musicians and all writers to keep pressing in and keep going after the thing that God is doing and saying. I think authenticity is an incredibly powerful thing. We don’t have to try to replicate something coming out of somebody else, but to discover who it is that God’s made us to be, and what unique, creative expression we have as individuals. Musicians need to feel empowered to be authentic in that and to speak honestly about our relationship with God, but also to feel musically like we can express ourselves in a way that’s creative; but that is also authentic to who we are. As well, being aware of our context and the unity that’s required to create something cohesive. I just pray a prayer of blessing over all the readers that God will continue to bless them and their churches and their teams.
Reuben: I believe for God’s blessing and favor to rest on you…in your waking and your sleeping, in your coming in and going out. In everything you put your hand to, may God’s blessing be on your family, your relationships, your endeavors, and your initiatives.