As a man who admits to wrestling with his own ‘tough questions’, Tim Hughes was kind enough to answer some of ours too. With the Worship Central live recording just days away, we talked openly about Tim’s worship ministry, music and money. Here are the results.
(c) Brodie Robertson
You’re going to be recording another live Worship Central album in London on 26th and 27th of October. [tickets here]. What’s the purpose?
The purpose is worship. The aim is to come together and worship God and express our gratitude and spend time in his presence. That in itself is amazing. Sometimes we forget that’s what we’re created for and we’ll be spending eternity worshipping.
But also obviously in terms of recording an album we hope and believe some of these songs are going to be a real blessing to churches. It will be great for people to have the album on in their devotional times to draw them closer to God.
Last year you recorded Spirit Break Out at a secular venue. This time you’ll be in a church. Why the move?
Last year we did it at Kentish Forum in Camden but we felt we're trying to capture the worship that's coming out of the church at HTB so why not do it at our home church, have two nights and gather people and have something that's local?
You’ve said previously there wasn’t a big marketing budget when it came to Spirit Break Out. Yet it did very well in the charts. Are you going to invest more in marketing this time around in the hope this new album will do even better?
We’d love for it to do really well, but you can’t make that happen. Some albums really capture people’s imaginations. We had those amazing few days where the momentum picked up an we got to number 9 in the iTunes chart. If that happens again it will be amazing but our goal is not ultimately to get it high up on the iTunes chart. Sometimes that can disguise how well an album is really doing. We want this to be a resource for years to come.
Is it possible to write songs that are both creative and interesting to listen to but also easy for most churches to play on a Sunday morning?
I think ultimately it is. The Beatles were the masters of simplicity; their stuff was really hooky and simple.
All of these songs ultimately have been written on a piano or acoustic guitar and you can strip them back. We recorded the demos for all of the songs on an acoustic guitar with Ben Cantelon singing them all and he said ‘if it doesn’t work in this setting, in this format, if we’re not listening to it saying 'I’m enjoying this', then there’s no point creating fancy arrangements.’
The great thing about worship songs is people arrange them different depending on their community and the musicians they have around. I think that’s really exciting. I’ve been sent hundreds of different version of Here I Am To Worship and I love hearing them all.
Does Worship Central make a lot of money?
We’re under Alpha International and we never make any profit. We rely on donors and fundraisers to cover some of the stuff like staff salaries.
We want this to be a resource that blesses people. For example we’ve just launched the Worship Central course. In the last year over 1200 courses have been run in 60 nations. We put that all up on the website for free.
We had the discussion of ‘should we charge for it?’ But we’re about resourcing so we don’t want money to stop people from using it. At the same time there are some areas where we need to cover our costs for example the live recording, we’re going to have to charge for it. I wish it could be completely free but there are costs within it like organising and running it, production costs and the equipment to record.
For this live recording yes we're charging but at the moment if anything we’re going to make a loss. I know it’s a sensitive issue in the church and around worship. I always feel split between what I’d love; doing it for free, but at the same time we’ve got to pay for salaries, recording equipment and production stuff so it’s a hard balance to hold together.
Why do some people assume there’s money to be made in worship music?
People think if an album is selling, there’s lots of money in it. With the Spirit Break Out album the number of copies we need to sell before we break even is a lot higher than people would think. The reality is a lot of these albums, unless they are selling millions, which we’re certainly not, there isn’t significant money to be made. Even in Worship Central any profits we make from sales of the album would go into ministry and resourcing worship leaders.
What about music that comes under Tim Hughes, rather than Worship Central?
I have to be upfront and honest and say in terms of the songs and songwriting I do receive a bit of an income from song royalties. Things like CCLI when songs are sung all over the world, there’s some money that comes in from that and there’s a tension I have to live in of what do I do with that.
A song like Here I Am To Worship I wrote it while I was at Uni, 19 years old studying history. No idea of what I was going to do with my life. Suddenly things take off and I receive an income through that. I didn’t write that to earn money but money has come in. I see it as a gift from God and when God gives us gifts he does it so we can give them away and bless others and be generous.
I meet with a key person in our church and senior leadership and go openly through accounts with them and they can ask me the tough questions about what I’m doing with my money so I can be really open in that way. My wife and I are constantly wrestling with what shall we do with this money. It is hard.
How are you preventing Worship Central from being a UK initiative that just exports British songs to other cultures?
We’ve got a Worship Central ministry in Netherlands Malaysia, Hong Kong, South Africa, Philippines, Canada and what we’re longing for is these different teams and groups begin to find their own expression of worship but also ways of training others.
Tom Read is a great example. He’s based in Hong Kong and heads up Worship Central for us there. The Worship Central Course is being translated into Mandarin, and he’s going to be able to take that all over to train churches. He’s also writing songs. Some of them in English some of them in Mandarin and bringing his flavor and sound to that.
Do people come up to you at big events and tell you they want to be a full-time Worship Leader? How do you respond?
I get asked that a lot and I say ‘it’s fantastic, great you’ve got this passion, go for it. But that’s going to be worked out in the local church’. No one who leads worship on a national level as it were, starts there. Matt [Redman], Martin [Smith], Darlene [Zschech] all these people were faithful and still are in leading worship in a local context for years before they started writing songs or got asked to lead at a big conference or event.
Sometimes people go to a big event like Soul Survivor, they see the stage and think ‘wow that looks so exciting’. The most glorious and fulfilling place to lead worship, and sometimes the hardest, is your local church. Where no one is really bothered about who you are. You’re just Tim, their friend who sings every Sunday.
I’ve always believed that if God wants to raise you up he will. I remember when I was 16 years old I made a promise to God I said ‘God I feel called to lead worship but I’m never ever going to ask for an opportunity to lead. I’m never going to ask to lead at an event or a church.’
I can stand here now 35 years old being able to do all these amazing things and say 'God I know it was you who opened these doors because I never asked'. I never asked Mike if I could lead at Soul Survivor. That’s my story and I’d rather look back and say 'God I can see how you did that' rather than 'gosh did I try and make that happen in my own strength?'
October 18th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Sam Hailes