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.
Concerts, beauty and glory [Reflections]
I’m in the audience, listening to a popular band play their latest record. I’m surrounded by a lot of people that are as excited as I am to be at the feet of the lead singer we paid good money to spend an evening near. I buy a t-shirt, turn my camera back towards myself with the band in the background, and post the picture on Facebook. I’m guessing the post will be around a ten or twelve “comment-er” considering the popularity of the band, most of the comments coming from those who were also at the concert or wanted to be. What is it about the band on stage that creates in us a sense of excitement and connection? I could say it’s the lights, large crowd, or beat, but I know it is something more. We want to be like them or at least have a little taste of the power beaming from their presence.
Then it strikes me that although I am at a concert, I am also in a sense, at a worship service. The music is not religious, per se, but it draws me in and I can’t help but want something to do with its source. I want to drink deeply the glory before my eyes, like I do when I see a beautiful sunset. Interestingly, the band on stage also wants to drink in the same glory that we see in them. They want to drink in the power of the audience, this magnitude of people that are giving them undivided attention and cheers. So, both the band and those of us in the audience want to touch this invisible power, this glory that makes the air electric. But given the fact that this concert will only last for another half hour, we eventually realize that this glory is fleeting, as the reverberations of the concert quickly fade.
To behold glory is to behold the fullest and purest expression of beauty. At our core we know that we both possess and do not possess this beauty in ourselves. As many times as I have been encouraged to see myself as beautiful, I can and can not do so. In the past I may have concluded that it was a self-esteem failure to not be able to see myself full of beauty. But now I am coming to see that my beauty, while present, is simply not complete. While I can enjoy my capacity for beauty in myself and in the wonderful things in life, I can’t experience the perfection of its fullness to the point of completely embodying it. This doesn’t stop me from wanting these partial experiences of the real thing. The real thing is the pure, lasting, and glorious beauty of God. While there are very substantial experiences of beauty here on earth, its fullness is only located in the Creator.
Many of our disappointments in life are in some way related to the realization there is nothing on earth that holds the purity of beauty that God’s very essence is. While wonderful in very substantial ways, our experiences of kindness, peace, and even love are often only momentary. But the good news is that pure kindness, peace, love and beauty exist in God, who loves us greatly. God finds great joy in tending to our hearts by revealing to us the good things that we long for, dose after dose. What hope we have, that one eternal day pure beauty will be fully embodied, fully embraced as we are finally in the presence of God. In the meantime, we can enjoy a good night of music and friendship that gives us a glimpse of the goodness coming our way.
Originally published in the Summer 2011 Converge magazine
Nine O Five Tour at Christian Life Assembly
On March 9th the Nine O Five tour swung by good ol’ town of Langley and great number of youth gathered at Christian Life Assembly to worship with Nine O Five, Aaron Gillespie and Parachute Band.
ConvergeTV: Nine O Five & Parachute
Interview with Parachute Band
Photo by Carmen Bright
Converge Magazine caught up with Parachute Band members Sam De Jong, Omega Levine, Elliot Francis, Callum Galloway, and Jeremy Gregory on a cloudy Tuesday afternoon at a quaint coffee shop in old Fort Langley. Originally formed in 1995 by De Jong’s parents, Parachute Band is in its second generation. Sixteen years later the band continues to perform for people all over the world. The band opened up about their vision, their “rivalry” with Hillsong United, and what they saw in Christ Church.
Take us back to the beginning:
Sam: Parachute Music was started in 1989 by my parents and it’s a music ministry that is set up to champion and encourage and up-skill Christian musicians in our country. It’s been going for 22 years now. One of the biggest things we do is the Parachute Festival. Around 25,000 young people come in tents for four days for a summer music festival. There’s over a hundred local bands and a whole bunch of international headliners as well, so it’s an amazing time. A group of people did that for like 10 years, my parents and some other people. In about 2006 it really felt like it was time for that to finish and to change and to morph. It just felt right to fully transition the thing over to this next generation, keep the same name, heart, but different sound and different people.
How do you feel you’ve come together as a band in terms of unity and vision?
Jeremy: I think the band has a unique thing. You’re kind of thrown into a whole lot of different personalities and a whole lot of different backgrounds. And obviously we’re from different churches, but that’s what’s really cool. Being around people for so long that kind of becomes your family. You share your lives, your struggles, and also the good times as well. You get that bond that comes just from touring and that’s something that doesn’t really happen outside of that traveling ministry life.
Do you guys have family?
Sam: None of us are married. It’s not like a prerequisite for the band but it’s something that we look for in new people just because the schedule has been so crazy. Last year we toured for about nine months, this year was a little bit less but still we only go home for about a week or two then it’s back out again.
What was it like self-producing because you did it for your latest album?
Sam: It was really cool. In some ways it wasn’t a really big change because in the first two I was very involved as well. For this one I felt that I had the confidence and the ability to do it. I made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot of stuff along the way but it was a really freeing process.
Do you feel any sort of rivalry between you and Hillsong United?
Omega: No we’re really good friends with those guys. They’ve taught us a lot over the years. I remember when we first played and we were backstage talking to Joel [Houston, leader of Hillsong United] and he was just encouraging us to stay true to ourselves, stay true to the music that we have. They’ve been a big inspiration to us. We’ve gone over to their church and played a couple of times so we have a great relationship. There’s no rivalry at all.
Sam: Them and Delirious are the two bands in a similar field that we’ve looked up to and aspired to do what they’ve done. Except we do have rivalry when it comes to sport with them. We had a wrestle at our festival and we won. They said that we cheated, but we had a wrestle in the middle of our 25,000 crowd. We wrestled them, even though they’re a lot bigger than us.
Christ Church. Talk about the earthquake and how you’ve responded.
Omega: It was so close to home and we have a lot of friends down there. We were singing this one new song off our latest record, “You Remain” and the lyrics really impacted the people of Christ Church. It was almost like it was prophetic over that city. It really hit us hard as a band.
Sam: It was so powerful getting to lead worship down there. Hearing them scream out these songs of worship after what they’d been through just ministered to us as much as it ministered to them. We were blown away that in the midst of such tragedy they were able to cry out to God. And it’s like Psalm 34, God is close to the brokenhearted and he’s right there and you can feel it. You can feel that he hadn’t abandoned them even though it looked like he had. We went down kind of apprehensive but we left quite encouraged about the future and its just amazing to be able to do something.
Jeremy: I think it’s also one of those things that you don’t really get an idea of what it’s like until you actually went down. Definitely felt a bit helpless like you can’t really do anything and you just want to go down there like anybody else and help people. To go down was a real honour.
Elliot: To have something to offer was a great thing. On TV they’re saying do not come here because you’ll just be in the way. And to see these horrific images on TV and when you have friends and family down there, you feel connected because it’s so close but you feel so disconnected because you’re not allowed there. It’s hard to sit and be watching and then go get a cheese burger and then watch a funny TV show cause of what people are going through right at that time. It was a real privilege to actually have the opportunity to go down and be a bit of a breath of fresh air for some people.
What do you see your role as a band?
Sam: Our new album is called Love without Measure and we’re so passionate about it because it’s like a like a real mandate that God has put on our heart which is to use your art to share the message of Christ’s love. We have a platform, we can influence people toward helping and understanding the concept of love, understanding the way in which we were loved. Understanding there’s a crazy imbalance and a crazy need in the world and there’s something every one can do about it. We’re realistic in that we’re just five boys but we also know we have a big platform.
Can you talk about music as a tool for ministry?
Sam: I think art is most powerful when it’s transparent, when it’s honest. The best artists are the people who have the ability to express what’s on the inside of them in a way that can’t be expressed otherwise. We see music as an incredibly powerful tool. It can change the atmosphere of the room, it can break down walls that people put around their hearts, it can soften people, it can pierce into the hearts of people, or stir people towards action. We’ve seen someone like Bono can speak into people and governments ears to get them to debate about issues. Because he has the platform of his art, people respect him for what he does.
Were you guys in a band in high school and what musical instrument did you play?
Omega: I was in a band. You know Incubus? We were like a cover band for Incubus and I was the singer/drummer. I had a humongous afro.
Sam: I had to play flute for a little bit but I hated it. [After] my exam for entering music school they assigned me the flute cause I scored quite high but then I quit after a week. I was like no way.
Elliot: My parents said that me and my brothers had to play recorder for two years before we could learn any instrument.
Jeremy: I played saxophone in the school orchestra, but I got kicked out cause I could never hit the notes right. So I got demoted to percussion.
Sam: That’s not a demotion man, it’s a promotion.
Callum: I did win a state competition for our choir. We all had kazoos. So we did one song with kazoos. We just pulled them out, and it’s all very formal but it was quite interesting in that demographic.
What is each of your morning routines?
Omega: On the road we’re all pretty busy. If we’re playing, I’d get up, do some warm-ups, for half an hour or 20 minutes, then go get breakfast with Sam, go get Starbucks or whatever. And then we’ll go down to the venue and get ready for the night.
Sam: We try to do devotions as often as possible with the crew. We get together, one person reads a scripture and we pray with each other. Not every day but we try to do personal ones every day.
Callum: I’m not a morning person. I just ignore everyone and generally come across as very grumpy. So I just do my thing, get my coffee, and go straight to the event.
What were you each afraid of as a child?
Sam: I’m afraid of dogs. My granddad had a golden retriever which is like the friendliest dog and it bowled me over when I was very young, and now if I see any dog I freak out.
Omega: I’m afraid of eating spicy food. My brother gave me 10 of those spicy chilies and said they were tomatoes so I ate them all at once and it burnt my mouth for a couple of hours. So I’ve kind of tried to stay away from spicy food.
Elliot: I didn’t enjoy theme parks. Yeah I was scared of theme parks. And at primary when kids would pick up worms and spiders and stuff? No deal. I could not take that, I was just like, that is disgusting.
Callum: Australians don’t fear anything. We’re just generally quite confident.
Jeremy: Clowns, definitely clowns. We’ve got the AMP show which is a really bogus circus kind of thing and the clowns there are just horrific. I’m still scared of clowns today.
Guilty internet obsession?
Guilty celebrity obsession?
Sam: Jessica Alba.
Omega: Mine would have to be Johnny Depp. I just think he’s the man.
Elliot: For the last year and a half I’ve been a huge fan of this Korean pop band called SNSD. It’s awesome.
Callum: I actually don’t have one but Jeremy Gregory, his obsession is Keri Jobe.
Jeremy: No comment
What is your unofficial role of the band?
Omega: I’m the social network system
Sam: I guess I’m the leader.
Elliot: I set up the merch table.
Jeremy: I’m the janitor.
Hillsong UNITED Vancouver 2011
Thousands braved the freezing Fraser Valley temperatures, huddling and using their excitement as their heat source as they waited for the widely popular Australian band originating from Hillsong Church.
Converge was fortunate to be at the Abbotsford Sports and Entertainment Centre with a table for the Hillsong UNITED Vancouver 2011 concert, as they kicked off their Aftermath tour here in Vancouver! (Technically Abbotsford, but close enough. The Greater Vancouver Zoo is technically in Abbotsford too!)
The lines were long and the temperatures felt like subzero. Eager concert goers clutched their tickets while shivering and huddling in bundles as they waited for the doors to finally open. I was lucky enough to have Jeremy fetch me from inside so I could help set up our table in between Praise 106.5 and History Maker.
But to keep things short, Hillsong UNITED was amazing.
I snuck in my camera and successfully snapped a few shots. They really know how to lift the crowd:
For more photos of the band, freezing people and the Converge team, go to our Facebook page! Don’t forget to like!