Q&A with Jesus Culture Director Banning Liebscher
Banning Liebscher at a Jesus Culture conference
This July, Jesus Culture — a worship driven ministry that is gaining a reputation as sort of the Hillsongs of America — is putting on a conference in LA. We got to chat with Jesus Culture director Banning Liebscher about the origins of JC, the conference, and what it means to be a “revivalist”
Tell us about yourself, Banning:
Hi! Well my title is director, and I’m the founder of Jesus Culture. I was a youth pastor at Bethel (a church located in Redding, California) in ’97, and in ’99 we had our first youth conference, and called it Jesus Culture … the band came out of what we were doing there. So Chris Quilala was with us when he was like 14, and he’s 30 now. And Kim, she’s 31, she’s been with us since 18. We had a youth group, did the youth conferences, and from those conferences we were experiencing incredible moments of worship. So in 2005 we said, “let’s just record an album, so other people can experience what we’re experiencing.” So that started taking off, then it got on Youtube and ‘How He Loves’ blew up, then we started taking conferences out, and working with leaders, and so on
A lot of people are familiar with the music of JC, but what is there to it besides the music?
Well Jesus Culture is a ministry: it consists of lots of different parts, though music is the most well known. But we’re doing conferences and events, and you’ll never see the JC band apart from the message. When we’re on this tour, I’m preaching, we’re doing ministry, they’re doing worship … ultimately the band is part of a bigger movement who’s heart is to raise up revivalists in the nations and leaders to transform the nations.
What of this rumor you might be leaving Bethel to start a church in Sacramento?
Yea, Bethel is going to send us to plant a church and move JC headquarters to Sacramento, and plant a church there in 2014. I’ll be the pastor, and the (worship) team is going too. We felt like the Lord wanted us to have a local expression of what’s on our heart nationally and internationally… Our heart is to serve the local church and see cities impacted… to build a local community about what God’s shown us.
Tell us a little about the upcoming conference in LA
Our conferences are about raising up revivalists. We use the word revivalist, a word that has lots of different meanings in different circles, but our heart is to raise up a generation that’s fully awakened to the love of God, that’s encountered the power of God, that’s given themselves fully to the cause of Christ on the earth. To see nations transformed, cities saved, campuses impacted. So the conferences have been the heart and soul of who we are, where we can come together for three days and seek the Lord and be trained and equipped in the supernatural, in leadership … so we went to LA last year, and had a really incredible time, seeing some of the signs and wonders that happened, the worship times … we just have a really big heart to see young adults come in, encounter God and be sent back to their cities and campuses to see impact happen.
Some people might wonder how you would compare JC to Hillsong?
The call and mandate on Hillsong is to write songs, but we mostly do covers … people ask us why we mostly do covers, and we answer because that’s the song we’re encountering the Lord in. Those are the songs that are touching us as a group and conference, and that’s our main goal: to encounter the Lord. There’s been a lot of pressure from people saying, now that you’re at the level you are, you gotta not do covers, but I think whatever we encounter the Lord in, that’s all I want people to do. If it’s through our song, or somebody else’s song, whatever helps people’s hearts to be lifted up.
JC also does schools and training — what options are available for young people?
The first thing we have is a worship school, during the summer, which is a short term thing, a really great experience. Everything else is more like nine months. We have the School of Ministry, where you can do one or two or even three years, where you do lots of classroom stuff. It’s a pretty profound experience, and we have people from all over the world coming in. If you can’t make it to Bethel (for that long), you can come for week long, periodic schools that are happening all year long, there’s schools on everything. There’s also the Leadership development program as well.
What would you say to someone who’s gone to events like these before, and felt like the impact doesn’t last very long?
Well you gotta be about the long term. If you come to one of our events, and it doesn’t ignite within you a passion to get to the secret place, and a passion to get in the word, then I don’t feel like I’ve done my job. So on one level, I feel like my job is just to get you to Jesus.
What is the church?
It’s a curious thing how rarely a definition of the church comes up within the topic of church planting. It seems that us church planters are really good at talking about what we want to do, what we envision for our communities and for our cities. But we often stop short of defining the church as more than a gathering of individuals who share a common vision and mission.
What is the church?
Over the past decade, churches and church planters have reclaimed a much needed focus on the mission of the church. David J. Bosch captures this sentiment, “Mission is seen as a movement from God to the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission. There is church because there is mission, not vice versa.” Bosch presents the church solely as an instrument for God’s mission. The church is something that God uses for his purposes, which reflects how many view the church. While there is much to be affirmed about reclaiming the mission of the church, to emphasize the function of the church (what it does) over the nature of the church (what it is) is a mistake. More posts will follow that elaborate upon the mission of the church, but if we are in the business of starting new churches—let alone a new church in Vancouver—then we should first have a clear understanding of what the church is before we emphasize what it does. The church is not simply something that God uses to fix a broken creation or to move forth his purposes. As Simon Chan says, “creation exists to realize the church.”
Often Ephesians 1 and all of its talk about predestination becomes highly individualized. This isn’t entirely a bad thing, but the pronouns are all plural. Paul emphasizes that the church existed before the foundation of the world. Indeed the church had to exist before the foundation of the world because it is the body of Christ, the lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world.
The body of Christ
To call the church the body of Christ is not to draw attention to a society or collection of people, but it is primarily to draw attention to Christ Himself in His own being and life. The church, then, can only be understood in the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are brought into his body through baptism into his death, and we are being raised into new life through the power of resurrection (Rom. 6). We enter into his eternal body and we are brought into the union of the Trinity and God’s infinite and intimate love for his beloved Son. As Paul writes, there is “One Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things exist and through him we exist” (1 Cor. 8:6). To say that we belong to the body of Christ is not enough if we don’t dig into what the metaphor conveys: our very existence cannot be conceived outside of being in Christ, and brought into His body. This is what the church is, and nothing less. And, if this is what the church is it means that whatever function it has between now and the return of Jesus is only temporary. It can be said this way: once the mission of the church ends, the church still remains. The ultimate purpose of the church is to reciprocate God’s love to the praise of his glory (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14).
This is not just an exercise in pontificating about the theology of the church. This is actually what the church is, and it’s incredibly beautiful. Of course, we are in the process of fully becoming what we will be, and the church often falls short of its great calling. We are still a mess, a holy mess at that, and the church unfortunately reflects her broken members more than Christ at times. As St. Augustine (4th/5th Century) famously said, “The church is a whore but she is also my mother.” While I agree with this sentiment we must be very careful of how we speak about Christ’s body which he calls his bride, even when she looks and acts more like Hosea’s wife. The love Jesus has for his church is intense, emotional, and unswerving. He is her head, her provider, her redeemer, the one knitting her together in unity into his image (Eph. 1:22; 5:22-33).
Why we still need the church
We should also note the necessity of the church. Cyprian (3rd Century) wrote, “He who has not the Church for his mother, has not God for his Father.” We completely depend on God working in and through the church for our existence as Christians. We are not first saved as individuals and then incorporated into the church. To be a Christian is to be incorporated into the church by baptism and nourished by her, our Mother. Michael Ramsey has put it beautifully, “From the Church therefore the Christian never escapes; it is a part of his own existence since it is a part of Christ himself. And without the Church the Christian does not grow, since the Christ is fulfilled in the totality of all His members.” It is undeniable that we only have our faith at this point of history because God has preserved and worked through his visible church throughout the world. Our faith is not our own, it is first a gift from God and a gift received through his church.
This distinction is utterly necessary as we begin a new church in Vancouver. Yes, we are joining God in his mission to reclaim all that has been lost and tarnished by the fall, by seeking those who have been estranged from him to be incorporated into Christ’s body. While that mission is of the utmost importance it is only the means to the end. We are seeking to see the Church built up and equipped so that we might be the fullness of Christ (Eph. 1:23). We are serving his bride so that she might be to the praise of his glory. As the church is built into the image of Christ, Jesus is present in creation, and that is precisely what our city and all of creation needs: Jesus on display as Lord, Saviour, and King. Fortunately, at its most basic definition, the church is the gathering of fellow believers, as Jesus himself says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them” (Matt. 18:20). It doesn’t have to be grand in numbers, because it is glorious in content.
So, in the next three posts I will sketch out a definition of the church following three metaphors found in Scripture. First I’ll talk about the church as the people of God, second as the body of Christ, and then finally as the temple of the Spirit. Most, if not all, of my insights are indebted to Simon Chan’s Liturgical Theology, which I highly recommend.
This post originally appeared on St. Peter’s Fireside blog. You can follow the series and the journey of the new church plant in Vancouver by going to http://www.stpetersfireside.org/
One of the things you may not notice right away when attending a Sunday morning gathering, is that West Village is actually built upon community groups. These groups meet and reach out in their community throughout the rest of the six days of the week.
Synesael encourages these groups to be active in their neighbourhood and choose a mission that they can own as a community group. One group has embraced their local school, where they hold open barbeques and set up bouncy castles for the local children. “We don’t go in with the posture of trying to convert anyone or evangelize anyone . . . we just love and serve the people and the community that God has called us to,” he says.
Victoria, specifically, has had a difficult time with church attendance and has even been called one of the least churched communities in Canada. Synesael looks at this dilemma as an opportunity. He says, “The question that drove this church plant was not, ‘How can I get people to come to church?’ but ‘How do I get the church to go to people?’”
I asked Synesael about his family, and specifically how his three kids have responded to being a church planting family. He shares his kids’ response to this journey as, “fantastic . . . especially now that Daddy works from home!” The main challenge for the kids has been around “sharing their Legos” and people invading their personal space. Synesael talks about some weeks having over 100 people pass through their living room. However, he sees this more as a discipleship tool, saying to his kids, “Mission is sharing your Legos with kids, so their mommies and daddies can hear about Jesus.” This seems to be a key message for all of us, that, in a lot of ways, being church and community is more difficult than just attending church. Pastor Synesael would respond this way, in a recent tweet he wrote, “The mission of the church is not [to] make more seats in its Sunday service — it is to make more seats at your dinner table.”