The senior editor of The Christian Index, J. Gerald Harris, interviewed concert artist and worship leader, Al Holley to get his take on worship and trends in Christian music. Holley makes his home in metro Atlanta where he has been involved in a personal ministry of singing for over forty years. He has been in concerts with some of the nations finest Christian music artists, including Newsong, 4Him, Babbie Mason, Kathy Troccoli, and Point of Grace.
Holley was the featured concert artist for Dawson McAllister Conferences, allowing him to minister to over 200,000 high school students and leaders annually. He was the worship leader for the Metro Bible study in Atlanta for 20 years with a weekly attendance that grew to 3,000 people. He has hosted his own television music program and recorded eleven album projects, including his latest, “Another Good Day.” Here is the interview:
The Christian Index: Al, you have been a prominent personality in Christian music for some time, particularly in the Atlanta area. Your ministry is called PassionPoint Life. What do you want to accomplish in your life and ministry at this point?
Al Holley: Our prayer is that the Lord will use us at PassionPoint Life to “Reignite Passion in People” for Jesus Christ. We will do this in concerts, conferences, and one day events. When I do concert ministry it is designed to encourage people to be fully devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ. So many people in my generation as well as our current culture have become so complacent in their walk with Christ that it can only be described as “lukewarm” in many cases. We have lost our sense of urgency in sharing the Good News of salvation found only in Jesus Christ. I feel I am called to help the local church proclaim this message of salvation with a focus on evangelism in this concert ministry.
The Christian Index: We have had what some call worship wars in our churches for 20-25 years. Since worship is supposed to connect us to God and bring unity to the body of Christ, how can churches avoid conflict in worship preferences?
Al Holley: Love is the answer. Love – for the Lord, one another, and the lost ones that do not know Christ as Lord and Savior. I believe when we seek to demonstrate love to our church body, and individuals gain a sense that they are valued more than personal worship preference, it can begin to open the doorway for understanding, kindness, humility, and harmony. Love builds and brings people to common ground and reduces conflict. It takes an investment of time in loving people so that the focus begins to shift from music preference to people and their need for Christ’s love and forgiveness, which brings us all to common ground and connection.
The Christian Index: What kind of advice would you give to a pastor or worship leader who wanted to change the style of worship?
Al Holley: Pray… I know that it is understood that prayer is the first step in any direction we move. However sometimes we may not pray long enough.
I have learned that worship is a language for the individual. They have developed a personal expression of communication of their love, repentance, need, and obedience to the Lord in their music worship style or language. It is uncomfortable to be forced to learn another language too quickly. Given enough time and understanding guidance, a new language can become enjoyable. It may never replace their native language or worship style as an individual, but it can become another beautiful form of expression of love and surrender to our Lord.
So, by prayer and the multitude of counsel, I would encourage moving a congregation slowly into a new worship style or language (so to speak).
The Christian Index: I know you have a heart to see those who are lost come to faith in Christ, but it appears that many churches have lost their passion for lost souls? Why do you think that has happened and how can that passion be restored? How can music be used to restore that passion?
Al Holley: Now that’s a big question for this simple-minded musician.
I think possibly, we tried to be too focused on making the lost comfortable in our church environment. That has carried over to not wanting to offend people with our faith in our daily environment. When people stop sharing their faith they lose the joy of remembrance for all the Lord has done in their lives. Our worship is born out of deep awareness and appreciation for the grace that is shown through the forgiveness displayed at Calvary. “Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow!”
If we will place depth of leadership in those leading worship, the focus will not only be upward but inward. “Wretched sinner that I am, who can set me free? I thank God through Jesus Christ. He has done it for me!”
I believe in excellence when it comes to leadership in our worship service. The emphasis on excellence begins with the heart of the one leading. If the leader does not have a passion for souls, he will not be able to lead people to have a passion for souls; it will just be music…
The Christian Index: The church music of the 1980-90s seemed to be the bridge from traditional church music to the contemporary music that is present in many churches today. I loved the worship and praise songs of the 90s like “In the Presence of Jehovah,” “Jesus, We Crown You with Praise,” Shout to the Lord,” “Thou Art Worthy” “Lord, We Lift Your Name on High,” and “We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise.” Those songs had great words and beautiful melodies, and we are supposed to make melody in our heart to the Lord. I miss those songs. Why do you think we don’t sing those songs any longer?
Al Holley: Those are amazingly wonderful songs. I miss them as well. I think just as we see things in our world changing more rapidly than ever because of technology, we are flooded with more creative expression through media than any other time in our history. Everybody has a new song or video to play every millisecond. That massive quantity has overshadowed quality. There does seem to be a lack of attention given to lyrics and melody, making it difficult to even care to remember either. We would be wise to reintroduce many of these types of songs you mentioned because so many of our younger brothers and sisters have not had opportunity to hear them due to the constant pressure on some worship leaders to keep up with what is happening across town or at that “other church.”
The Christian Index: I know you do all genres of Christian music. What do you want to accomplish during the musical part of the worship experience? Is there a way to plan a worship service so as to meet the needs of children, their parents, and grandparents in one service? How can that be accomplished?
Al Holley: Being “all things to all men, that some may be won,” is a great challenge when speaking about music these days. It is difficult for the worship pastor to make everybody happy and we also need to be sensitive to his or her challenge. I have always appreciated so many genres of music, and I have to be flexible. My desire in the musical part of worship is to provide moments of connection with everyone in the service so as to prepare the heart to ready itself for the spoken word from the pastor as he brings the message from God’s Holy Word.
I believe you can have a worship service that will meet the needs of multigenerational congregations if you as a staff will be committed to each other as servants to one another. It is a team effort of prayer and love and support for a common cause of coming together as a body to worship our Savior. Worship happens when the family gathers. All staff play a huge role in the atmosphere that makes worship possible. Their heart will be reflected in the people. So… you can have a great music ministry with a talented leader and musicians. You can have a great message delivered by a gifted dynamic preacher. However, I believe a great worship service” comes from the heart of all the leadership being united long before the service begins. Worship is from the heart.
The Christian Index: Hymnology is a word that describes the story behind the hymns that are sung in many churches. Many of those stories are inspirational and heartwarming. Are there stories behind the contemporary Christian songs today? You have a new album called “Another Good Day.” Is there a story behind the songs you wrote in that album or a story behind one of the songs you could share with our readers?
Al Holley: I believe the best songs come from the story of our personal life experience. No doubt many of our contemporary or modern Christian songs are birthed from the writer’s life. Those songs are easy to spot because they will resonate with the listener either from shared experience or the desire to have that experience. I usually only write what I know.
The reason I made this album “Another Good Day” was out of a desire to speak to my generation as an encouragement to renew their passion for Christ. I hope it will speak to every listener no matter the age.
My songs are simple and easy to grasp. They are an expression of where I’ve been, where I am, or where I hope to be. Every song comes from a story of my life. The song “Mighty Man of God” is a result of serving in ministry for over 4 decades and being privileged to see so many godly men serving the Lord. Yet it seems that it is becoming more difficult to find these men of God. It is hard to find men who really live the life they pray. I at times am convicted that I too fall into that category. I have a wonderful wife and two precious daughters. I want to be a mighty man of God they can see daily.
The Christian Index: We all have our preferences regarding church music, but what advice would you give to the younger generations regarding church music, and what kind of advice would you give to the older generations regarding church music?
Al Holley: It would be the same for both generations. Look for ways to honor one another or prefer one another. Try to out-love one another. Love covers all. It is about relationship building. Talking, listening, sharing, caring, and giving time. We can come together musically if we are concerned for each other personally. It sounds simple, but it is complex because it is a matter of the heart.
The Christian Index: Regarding church music do you feel like the church is significantly influencing the culture or do you feel like the culture is having a greater influence upon the church?
Al Holley: Initially I believe church music was a tremendous influence on culture. Now it is culture that is the greater music influencer on the church. It is easier than ever to be a carbon copy of what culture offers musically, because of the advances in technology.
It is difficult for younger generations to have the advantage to even become unique individuals as God created them to be, because they are constantly inundated with the next soundalike. Culture and reality TV says everyone can and deserves to be a “star.” So, I think more effort has been placed on being the next “big thing” instead of being the next “real thing”.