The years between 1999 and 2003 saw unprecedented growth and change in our Hillsong worship team, with the emergence of new songwriters and a fresh sound. During this time Marty Sampson, Ray Badham, Aran Puddle and Luke Munns all became a part of the team and were mentored in their craft as young songwriters. We spoke to them about these early foundations and the Hillsong worship journey they have been a part of since then.
How did you all end up having a song on a Hillsong worship album at such a young age?
Aran: I was attending Hillsong College and doing my practical ministry with some of the creative leaders. My housemate – who was a vocalist on the worship team – encouraged me to let someone hear the songs I was writing (rather than just him!), so I showed Reuben (Morgan) a song I thought might work. He wasn’t sure and encouraged me to keep working on it. One day I cheekily ‘stole’ our music pastor Russell Fragar’s office to do just that (he wasn’t supposed to be coming in that day!) when he came in a little surprised to find me in it. He asked me if the song I was singing was mine and then asked me to play it to him, which I did. He got Darlene Zschech and I played it again… and then we did it in church, and then as a team we worked on it… and that’s how it ended up on the album, I guess.
Luke: We had been doing Delirious covers at Youth & Summercamp, and our Youth Pastor, Phil Dooley, asked the youth worship team to try to write some songs for Summercamp. Marty Sampson and I wrote a song each, he wrote ‘By Your Side’ and I wrote ‘Stay’. We did them at Summercamp and they went really well… the youth were really touched by the fact that their peers had personally written worship songs. Word got out that we’d started doing some of our songs at Summercamp, so Russell helped us to shape the music and Darlene helped me tweak the lyrics for church.
Marty: I don’t know to be honest! It’s the biggest privilege and I am so humbled that anyone would use a song I’ve written at all! It’s God being God I guess. It’s also the culture in our church that believes in the next generation. We were genuinely encouraged to be involved and to be creative. I’m so grateful to Darlene and to Pastor Brian for that. It’s the most important thing when you’re young, to have someone believe in you. We really had no idea what we were doing but they let us do it anyway!
Ray: I had been involved in the worship team for a year or more, playing guitar at youth and at church. One Friday afternoon I asked Reuben if I could play him a song I was working on. It was ‘I Feel Like I’m Falling’ and he did and said we should do it that night at youth. Everything happened so quickly. It went really well at youth. Darlene heard about the song on Sunday morning and said we should do it that night at church. I only had one verse, the chorus, and the bridge, so I was asked to write another verse. I worked hard that afternoon, to write verse 2 of the song – a lot of pressure for a new songwriter! – I got it done and it all unfolded from there.
What did you learn through the whole process?
Marty: I learned that we are all people just trying to do our best. Everyone is treated the same, there’s no superstars, no egos. Just a bunch of people trying to worship God in Spirit and in truth (and to be honest I still don’t know if I do that or not) but we do our best. I think I also learned not to take it all too seriously, not to get your self-esteem from what you do for God or not. Just know that He loves you and that’s enough. Let what you do be a reaction to His love, and not an attempt to get His approval or anyone else’s either. He loves us. That is the most overwhelming realisation all on its own.
Ray: I had written songs before this, but how God used this song established in me the understanding that God had called me to be a songwriter.
Aran: I suppose what I learned was both to be a little more at ease to bring other songs I was working on, and sense of responsibility to work on making my next songs better. I also had to learn to “let my song go” in a way where I allowed the more experienced members of our Hillsong worship team contribute to my song so that it could become the best it could be for our church. The way the song was recorded was a pretty different arrangement wise to what I envisioned it to be, but I learned that “my song” was actually always “our song” – definitely a great lesson to learn!
Luke: I felt like I had taken the first steps towards my God given calling of worship ministry. I knew where I fit, and what I wanted to do with my life. From there I’ve never stopped or looked back, just following God’s plan for my life and letting him lead me to wherever He wants to use me – which has looked very different than my plans for my life. I knew that my relationship with God, and the pursuit of worshipping Him wasn’t going to be a side thing, but it was going to be an all-consuming lifestyle for me. And it has been, and will be.
How did you keep your feet on the ground as a young guy with such great opportunities given to you?
Marty: Good friends and honest leaders that cared enough to treat us the same as every other kid in church.
Ray: I’d have to say that it was our leadership that kept us grounded. They always kept our focus on Jesus. Darlene would constantly encourage the younger generation to write songs. Yet there were always a clear standard: The songs were to be about Jesus, be Holy Spirit-inspired, and biblically-based –songs that would touch heaven and change earth. Darlene would constantly say that our songs should contain both scripture and the name of Jesus.
Aran: Yeah I agree, I feel that this is also the story of the core values & messages of our Hillsong creative ministry. By HIS Grace, it has ALWAYS been about a passion for JESUS to be seen, JESUS to be experienced, JESUS to be known, JESUS to presence Himself with us tangibly where He is lifted up, so that all people within the sound of our worship would be drawn to Him! Equally important, is that as a team we would provide a wonderful, alive, sensitive platform for the preaching of God’s Word. So scriptures like Romans 12:1, John 4:23, Psalm 100 became foundational to us as a creative team back then and remain so today.
Luke: So many things! Ps Darlene Zschech was our worship pastor, and she raised us pretty much as kids to focus on purity of heart, worshipping in spirit and truth, extravagant worship – always referring to David in the bible – dancing in his underwear in abandonment before God – never bringing anything that didn’t cost him. She taught us to bring a ‘sacrifice of praise’ even in life’s stormy circumstances. And to have a ‘whatever it takes’ attitude.
That it wasn’t about us, but always about Jesus. She taught us not to entertain Christians, or put on concerts but how to Lead Worship. She taught us that wherever we went around the world, and whatever we did that “Home was the prize” and to make church strong on Sundays. That no matter how influential we might seem or whatever accolades might come from humans, we should always give the glory to God – and that Glory was never meant for man to receive but to reflect upon God.
You’re all still very much involved or still good friends with the Hillsong worship team now, from your perspective, what has changed and what has stayed the same?
Marty: Yeah still involved – I think a lot of people have moved overseas now! I’m the old guy going bald with grey hair, looking out for these young punks ha – nah you know the culture is still so similar, and there are obviously plenty of changes and that’s life I guess, but the heart of what we are doing and why is still the same (at least it is for me). I think the whole thing is only for God. If you cut away at everything else, I’m doing this because it’s what I think God wants. We do church because of what He’s done for us. We are serving in reaction to His love. I guess that is the same as it ever was.
Ray: I think that the heart of our team remains the same: it is always about Jesus. As a songwriter, I need to run the race marked out for me – to keep writing songs, continually refine my craft, and remain deeply passionate about Jesus.
Aran: What has changed? People have come and gone, songs have come and gone, instruments have come and gone… and come back again! Technology has changed.
What hasn’t changed is that our Hillsong creative team has genuinely always been all about Jesus. We want to meet Jesus afresh today, we want others to know Him with us today, we want to reflect a passion for Jesus that is incredibly inspiring to our Church, so they would feel beautifully led to do the same! Our relevance comes out of a team of people who know the power of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ and our love for one another.
Luke: Yeah our heart is always the same – we want to connect people with God by creating an atmosphere for people to encounter Him in a fresh way. This has never changed, I was living this out then when I was 18 and I’m still passionately living it out every day at 33 years of age.
Like Aran said, music styles come and go, but music is only a vehicle to carry the presence of God. You can worship God in any style and in any fashion as long as your heart is right. So essentially we’re all doing the same thing we’ve always done – finding new ways, methods, sounds and styles to express our praise and worship to God and lead others in this.