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Worship songwriter stands the test of time

Singer/songwriter Graham Kendrick

Known as the Father of modern contemporary praise and worship music Graham Kendrick is continuing to make an impact on today’s worship music scene.

The likes of Matt Redman, Paul Baloche and Martin Smith of Delirious have all been influenced by him in their songwriting and worship leading.

Graham recently hit Australian shores and shared some of his insights into his journey in the worship arena over several decades.

Worship is far more than Cultural Expression

Travelling the world over the years has provided Graham with numerous opportunities to connect and worship with people from different nationalities. When asked if there are major differences in the way people worship in different countries, Graham says that culture does play a significant role.

“For example I love to be with the Africans worshipping who are so vibrant, so physical and so totally given to worship,” he said. “And then I love rich liturgies and worship text of the more formal cultures. We can always learn something from different cultures.”

Graham Kendrick understands that worship is far more than cultural expression and relates more to the heart of the worshipper, something that can translate across all cultures.

“The key thing is to find the heart of a worshipper, somebody who is passionate about God,” he said. “You may be able to see this on the face of an elderly person who loves nothing better than to sing traditional hymns and loves God with all their heart and mind.”

Graham believes that in any worship tradition we can find ourselves going through the motions of worship without the heart being engaged. “It can be a completely empty experience if people’s hearts are not engaged and if their lives are not consistent with what is coming out of their mouths.”

Influencers of Songwriting – Traditional Hymns and Beatles

With over 67 Kendrick songs in the UK Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) top 500 including the renowned worship song, Shine Jesus Shine, Graham’s love for writing worship songs has been heavily influenced by a mixture of traditional hymns and some of the great pop writers of the sixties and seventies including the Beatles and Paul Simon.

“It was a great season of song writing because it was all new,” he said. “You were hearing sounds year after year that had never been heard before and now as we look back we recognize that there was something very creative going on.”

The Christian worship scene had only started to develop in the seventies through rising artists like Larry Norman, another of Graham Kendrick’s major influencers of the time.

Conversely, traditional church music has also been foundational in stirring Graham’s creativity.

“I always loved traditional hymns as I was bought up on the Baptist hymn book and they still resonate very deeply with me.”

The Eighties: A New Sense of Boldness and Hope

The eighties was a period of intense corporate growth as Graham’s name became associated with many of the Church’s success stories: ‘March for Jesus’ and the boom of Spring Harvest. Songs like The Servant King and Shine Jesus Shine rose out of these incredible experiences.

“My involvement with events like the ‘March for Jesus’ started out of this little mustard seed of faith where you could not have planned what was to take place.”

Millions of people around the world were caught up in the spirit of the ‘March for Jesus’ campaign and were able to express their heartfelt love for Jesus by unifying and marching together as one.

“From my perspective having been caught up in the wave of praise and worship back in the eighties, I remember reflecting on how there were fresh songs, fresh expression of worship, new freedom, new joy but it was all shut behind the four church walls.”

This motivated Graham along with others to push outside the church wall boundaries and start to walk the streets singing songs of praise and worship.

“It was the right time to take it to the streets as there was a new sense of boldness and hope that we could make a difference.”

Graham Kendrick’s writing during this time became focused on serving this movement and consequently shaped the worship music of this era. When reflecting back on his songwriting career, he says that the one song that touches and connects people all over the world is his worship song, the Servant King.

“The Servant King has that enduring quality to it because of what it tries to say about the character of God, the story of the gospel, the humility of God, God making himself vulnerable but also this example we should follow,” he said.

A Father Figure to the Emerging Generation of Worship

In 2001 the release of the acclaimed album What Grace, featuring duets with Matt Redman and Martin Smith, signposted a fresh direction as Graham consolidated his new role as a much appreciated father figure to the emerging generation of worship songwriters.

“I remember Martin Smith, the lead singer of Delirious, saying how he regards what his generation is doing is standing on the shoulders of my generation.”

Graham has an appreciation of all worship singer/songwriters of today’s era however he speaks with a deep respect of one songwriter who thinks a lot about the content of songs, not unlike himself.

“I particularly appreciate Matt Redman’s writing,” he said. “He is very thoughtful about the songs he writes and he has made a contribution to help us see how the trinity – Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are essential to our worship.”

“Matt’s songs incorporate truths and take us on a journey of understanding as well as a journey of heart expression.”

When questioned whether Graham will ever retire from the worship music scene, he chuckles briefly and shares that it is very hard to walk away from something that is very much in your blood.

“I imagine that I will just carry on as long as I have ideas in my head, and in terms of my ministry I am in a very fruitful time as ever, in terms of getting up and leading worship or ministering in various ways.”

His experience and knowledge from several decades have given him a spiritual authenticity of having stood the test of time and survived.

Graham Kendrick has just released his Christmas album “Dreaming of a Holy Night” on which all songs have been written by him.

Photo : Singer/songwriter Graham Kendrick