We talk with world acclaimed singer, songwriter and worship leader Darlene Zschech…
What brings you to the United States?
We’re doing a women’s conference in St. Louis and visiting a friends’ church in Oklahoma. We’ve had a wonderful time.
Let’s start at the beginning. How did you become a Christian?
I became a Christian when I was 15. I had known a lot about God, my grandparents grew up in the church and loved the Lord. Through a family breakdown — my father began searching what he had lost, which was his relationship with Christ. He took me back to church and I was saved. I’ve never been the same.
Where did your passion for worship come from?
I think it happened automatically when I was saved. Being a paid, full-time musician since I was ten, I had a good understanding of music and the industry at a young age. Then, when I got saved, my spiritual eyes were opened and I started to hear music differently, that’s where my worship journey began.
In fact it perplexed me on many levels. Music for music sake is so segregating, but I could walk into a church and all ages would gather around a common cause and the music would carry us to a common passion. I’m still on my journey of the wonder of that. It’s quite incredible. It’s much, much more than a musical expression.
Was that a challenge, transitioning from the secular music marketplace to worship music?
The challenge was if I sang well, then I was a worthwhile person. So my challenge was undoing the performer. That was all the work of the Holy Spirit, a defining moment where God spoke to me and said, “You never have to perform for me.” And I thought, good! (laughs)
And that so changed everything. You know, your discovery of who you are in Christ.
What would you say to a new believer who is interested in worship as a next step?
As a new believer, there are many reasons you should participate in worship.
Well, if you start outside-in, you end up with performers, people who are worried about what people think. You need to start inside-out. The bible talks about worship in the context of ‘revelation’ — their worship came out of revelation. So once they got a glimpse of who God was or who Jesus was, they fell on their face, or they ran and told others.
The musicians brought only their finest — They were passionate about making His house so glorious. Through revelation they were set apart in their life.
If you really allow your heart to speak, it will want to commune with God. Sometimes the battle for new believers is getting past their head and letting their heart speak. A good start is getting some worship music and changing the atmosphere in your home or car — The atmosphere of heaven is worship; the currency is people. To bring that into your atmosphere is critical for the development of a hungry heart.
As a worship leader, what responsibility do you feel on stage? It’s more than just singing. You’re getting people engaged…
Myself and the team, we’re always prepared spiritually, and then I just try to get out of the way and point people to Jesus. That’s the deal. Because whether it’s worship or not is not up to me — that’s up to them. I’m coming to worship God, but it’s either worship or a performance to them. Either they open their heart or they sit and spectate. I’ve learned to take that pressure off myself and lead the best way I know how.
You make it sound so simple.
Well, you need to fight to keep it as simple as the Gospel.
I love your latest album, A Kiss of Heaven. How is that project different from the Hillsong albums?
The Hillsong songs have been tried and tested for congregational participation. So they’re written for the local church environment, it’s an interactive worship encounter.
The Kiss of Heaven songs, like everything I do, will come out as worship. That’s who I am; I’m a worshiper. But some of these songs a congregation can’t sing, which is good (laughs). Low on the priority list is doing a good vocal — it’s about them singing, not about me singing.
So I thought it would be nice to do an album where she sings (laughs) and ministers that way. You know, sings into the hearts of people and helps them in a different way.
I’ve had such a great, encouraging response. I wrote a song to my husband, which you can’t put on a worship album. I’m so sick of hearing songs about love gone wrong, one night stands, my wife left me, my dog left me…
Sounds like a Country tune I know…
(Laughs) You know, it doesn’t have to be like that. I thought, I’m going to write a song to honor my husband. I thought, cool! That’s music. That’s the power of music.
Did you surprise him?
He knew I was doing it, but hadn’t heard it until I sang the vocal. He was in the studio while I was singing… We got all emotional, it was really nice. I just started writing a list of all the things I loved about him. I could have written a really long song, but I condensed it. You know, we were married last week for 20 years.
Thanks. I come from a broken home. For me it’s such a miracle and a great tribute to the goodness of God.
Tell us about your signature song that many regard as the most important Christian song in the last fifty years. How has it affected you?
I never get sick of it (Shout to the Lord) and never talk about it flippantly. It came out of a hard time; I didn’t set out to write a song, I was crying out to God. I was at the end of myself.
Our ministry dreams (Mark and I) were so far from reality. I was thinking there is no bridge here. It was a tough time where I went to God and the song quickly took a life of it’s own.
I didn’t sing it to anyone for a while, I wasn’t confident. I’m still not really confident as a songwriter; it’s just something that I do. It was only after a few weeks I thought the church might like this song (laughs).
I never get tired of it.
What I never get tired of is seeing how people respond.
Your song Pray received some secular play in Australia. Was that intentional, or is it easier to get that exposure in Australia?
I know that Sony-Integrity Music cannot ignore the fact that worship is the only growth area in the music industry. I think they have been thinking, “What do we do with this?” Welcome to the world of the Holy Spirit! (laughs)
I was in a music store and I was looking at this album called, Songs that Matter, and I thought what a cool title. And there were some great secular songs on it with great meaning. And at the end of the list is this song I’ve written for Mark, and I thought this is so cool! It’s amazing.
Our new praise and worship album from church went #1 on the Australia Billboard charts. I get to do media and receive awards and I get to talk about the Lord — it’s just freaky. God is really moving.
What does the song writing process look like for you?
It’s quite different for me because I don’t have a lot of time. I’m always journaling and thinking and going to my iPod and singing something.
My time is a few hours a week where I gather my ideas and sit down with (producer) David Holmes and start creating. Some songs take all of ten minutes and others you spend weeks and months on the lyrics and in the end you say, “I just wrote a really bad song.” (laughs) If there were a process, there would be many more great songs out there.
So, what’s coming up?
I’m always writing. I’ll be doing a follow-up to the Kiss of Heaven project; I’m working on that now. I just chip away at that.
I’m a pastor at my church, and my passion is the team and the worship; and just a couple nights a week I do my hobby, which is my music. That’s how I treat it: I give my house my first and try to be a good steward of what I have left.
I’m a working mom so my daughters are a priority too. Every mom knows exactly what I mean (laughs). We’re all busy.
To use a phrase from your book, Kiss of Heaven, have you been kissed by God’s grace lately?
All the time. I feel like that every day. There are lots of meanings attached to the word ‘worship’. One of them is to ‘kiss toward’, to actually sense that close intimacy with God. And always when you’re going after God, He’s coming after you. If you seek the Lord with all your heart, you will find him.
I use the word kiss because it is very intimate. It’s an exchange, never a one-way street. I first used that phrase when we had our first daughter. All day I kept saying I feel like God has kissed me on the head.
Even on the hard days, He’s with you. There is still a sense that it would be so much harder without his grace. Even when you can’t see Him, you know He has spoken because His word speaks. You will end up in the middle of sensing His favor.
It comes down to this: Jesus is alive. It’s pretty clear to me.
Copyright © Growthtrac Ministries.
Australian Darlene Zschech has achieved worldwide acclaim as a singer, songwriter and worship leader in recent years, following years of training, Gospel singing and recording at the pinnacle of the Australian session scene.
She is lead vocalist, worship leader, and producer of Hillsong Music Australia’s best selling albums. The live worship albums have all achieved gold status, and include “Stone’s Been Rolled Away”, “People Just Like Us”, “God Is In The House”, “Friends In High Places”, “All Things Are Possible”, “Touching Heaven, Changing Earth”, “By Your Side”, “For This Cause”, “You Are My World”, “Blessed” and “Hope”.
Shout to the Lord, a beautiful chorus written by Darlene, is sung by an estimated 25 to 30 million churchgoers every week. This song is the title track for the first live album co-produced with Integrity Music featuring Darlene as a prominent female worship leader. Shout To The Lord was nominated as ‘Song of the Year’ for the 1998 Dove Awards and was nominated as ‘Album of the year’ for the 1997 Dove Awards and has been recorded on over 20 different albums. In the year 2000 Darlene received a Dove Award nomination for Songwriter of the year.