Closer' Interview with Benjamin Jackson and Jonathan Clarke
In March 2013, Catch The Fire released ‘Closer’, its first live album in 10 years. Revival Magazine interviewed worship leaders Jonathan Clarke and Benjamin Jackson about their experience of the recording.
Both from the UK, Benjamin and Jonathan originally came to Toronto to attend Catch The Fire School of Ministry. Benjamin now works as Director of Events and Communication for Catch The Fire. He is passionate about music and media, and also leads a young adult gathering in Toronto called ‘Momentum’ with his wife Sarah.
After Jonathan completed the School of Ministry, he returned to England for 3 years to gain a degree in music. He now serves as Worship Pastor at Catch The Fire and oversees worship for the local campuses around Toronto.
‘Closer’ was released in March 2013 and quickly rose to number three in the Canadian iTunes Inspirational charts. Ben and Jonathan were invited and flown to Virginia Beach, VA, for a live interview and performance of the title track on 700 Club Interactive.
HOW WAS YOUR PASSION FOR WORSHIP FIRST SPARKED?
Jonathan: My parents had a big influence on me, since they were worship leaders in the church I grew up in. However, my love for raw and intimate worship was sparked at a youth conference I attended as a teenager. At the conference, John Mark McMillan was leading worship and he cried while singing a song. Engaging emotionally this way in worship was a new concept for me.
Benjamin: Passion for worship comes out of relationship with God, and worship should always be our response to him. I have loved music since I was a kid, so bringing my passion for God and music together was completely natural. Music is the key to unlocking and expressing what is on the inside of my heart. Sometimes life can become stale and wear you down, but singing and entering into worship suddenly goes beyond what’s on the surface. In worship, you get to the core of what is really going on in your heart.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO COME TOGETHER AND RECORD THIS CD?
Benjamin: The heart of our vision was to capture the natural outflow of worship here in Toronto. Catch The Fire is a big church and there are a lot of worship leaders, so it is a real honor that we can represent them.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE HEART OF WORSHIP AT CATCH THE FIRE AT THE MOMENT?
Benjamin: The theme that the whole church here began following in 2012 was God’s presence: “Expanding Your Kingdom by Pursuing Your Presence.” Worship here has followed that vision in the last two years. We gather in His presence and welcome His glory through worship, and invite Him to live tangibly amongst us. That is a big part of what worship is about for us.
Jonathan: It is also about our horizontal level of worship: Loving God by loving each other. In doing this, we are building a community of worshippers.
HOW DID THE NAME ‘CLOSER’ COME ABOUT?
Jonathan: Benjamin wrote a song with Chris McClarney titled ‘Closer’. It felt in keeping with our theme of “Expanding Your Kingdom by Pursuing Your Presence”. The idea of us drawing closer to God, letting Him draw closer to us, and to go deeper in our hearts.
Benjamin: I am excited about having the opportunity to write and sing songs that come from our hearts. There are songs on this CD which express a part of Catch The Fire’s journey, and of us as a group. I believe ‘Closer’ was the word which embodied that.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM WORKING WITH OTHERS IN THE WORSHIP TEAM?
Jonathan: I’ve learned that the Holy Spirit is happy to move in many different directions, and everyone hears Him differently. I’ve become more flexible by learning to trust that the one leading hears the Holy Spirit, and to go with them where they feel led.
Benjamin: I think that there’s a real beauty in diversity. It’s often tempting to trap a style in your own parameters of how you want it to feel. When you pull together a group of worship leaders and musicians, something very unique is produced. What comes out of it might not be what any individual would create, but it’s beautiful, and I think that is a good overall expression of Catch The Fire. We are all a part of the body of Christ with something different to bring. If we were all “hands” in the body then we would not get very far, but honouring and appreciating everyone in their unique gifting and expression creates beauty.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE SONG YOU RECORDED AND WHY?
Benjamin: The song that feels most raw and connected to my heart is ‘The Way You Move’. It came out of a few hours of me simply on my face before God,and really pouring out my heart to Him. I think when a song comes from that place in your journey, it is always going to have that special memory and emotion attached to it.
Jonathan: My favourite often changes, but at the moment it’s ‘Show Us Your Heart’. I wrote it a few years ago but I believe God is reviving it again.
WHAT WAS THE MOST DIFFICULT THING ABOUT THIS RECORDING?
Jonathan: I found the hardest thing was sifting through everyone’s different musical opinions, but it was equally one of the best things because the result was something which was part of all of us, not just one individual.
Benjamin: We had an incredible team, but it was hard not to get distracted by the technical or musical aspects in an attempt to create a shiny, perfect piece of music to impress people. It’s important, but it’s not the goal. If it is not about God or about capturing His heart, then there is no point in creating it. I continually had to remind myself of this, because it is easy to slip into the mindset of perfection.
WHAT WAS THE ATMOSPHERE LIKE DURING THE RECORDING?
Benjamin: The first night we got swept into an incredible prophetic wave which lasted about half an hour; we were not singing any particular songs, we were flowing with Him. This really shifted something in me, and I realized that He is in this recording more than we are. He is the one who is leading, more than we can lead ourselves.
HOW HAS THE RECORDING OF ‘CLOSER’ AFFECTED YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD?
Jonathan: Recording music can send you on a slippery slope of getting into performance, causing you to worry about making a name or being someone. That’s challenging, but we had a good amount of prayer in the weeks building up to the recording. On the first night just before recording started, we were sitting in the prayer room and I felt such overwhelming peace, like we could have gone home before we’d even started. That was a massive breakthrough because God was taking me and the whole group to a place where we didn’t have to prove anything. All we wanted out of it was to capture the sound of this house and for it to bless people as they worship wherever they are.
WHAT’S THE CORE MESSAGE THAT YOU WANT THE ALBUM TO GIVE?
Benjamin: It’s all birthed from the scripture, “We love him, because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19 NKJV) What’s amazing about Catch The Fire is how the ministry carries the message of the Father’s love. The way He abundantly pours out His love for us makes everything else easier. It means that all we have to do is love Him in return. My hope is that those who listen to the CD will feel loved, and swept into their love relationship with Him.
Jonathan: His presence is here and He is completely accessible, so we can lay down all our striving to get closer to Him. We can rest, celebrate and rejoice that He’s done it all.
HOW CAN WE LIVE OUT A LIFESTYLE OF INTIMACY WITH GOD?
Benjamin: Understanding that He wants to be intimate with us, even more than we want to be intimate with Him, removes all striving. Intimacy with God is developed by involving Him in the simple decisions of everyday life, by being dependent on Him, listening to His voice and spending time with Him. For my wife and I, there is intimacy when it’s just me and her having dinner together, engaged in intense conversation. Intimacy is also developed when I am telling her what has been difficult for me that day, the decisions that I am facing at work or what I read in a blog. Involving God in everyday things is a valid part of building intimacy with Him, rather than making it a set apart thing which only happens on Sundays or during specific “God time”.
Jonathan: I think intimacy is also built when we accept that He loves us outrageously and unconditionally, and giving up trying to earn it. Intimacy with God intensifies when you know that you can’t fail or convince Him that it has been made right, because we have already been made right with Him. From that perspective, you are standing on the other side of the cross, living under grace and mercy in a new covenant with Him. Intimacy then becomes natural, whereas before it was sacrifice and striving, but God said, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” (Hosea 6:6 NIV)
WHAT’S YOUR VISION FOR WORSHIP IN THE FUTURE?
Benjamin: This feels like the beginning of something new. The impact this will have on our own community of worshippers and songwriters is exciting. It is likely to inspire songwriting and stir the “heart of worship” all across the family of churches. Hopefully we will see anointed worship leaders rising up, along with new songs carrying the message of what God is doing. I love being a part of that.