Noel Richards is best known for his songs All Heaven Declares and You Laid Aside Your Majesty. Previously a key figure in the March for Jesus movement and instigator of the vision to see football stadiums filled with worship, the Welshman now lives in Spain. We caught up with him at the National Day of Prayer and Worship at Wembley stadium to find out more…
Noel, you’re no stranger to big stadium worship events like this are you?
Yeah that’s right. We basically got this idea for doing stadium events when I saw a TV program with Queen playing at Wembley way back in 1986 singing We Are The Champions. I got this sense it would be great to see places like this filled with Church declaring there is a champion of the world and his name is Jesus.
Then the March For Jesus events started to happen in the late 80s early 90s. I remember seeing 80,000 people gathering in Hyde Park in 1984 and thinking that would easily fill a stadium. From that period on we began to go on a journey to fill the old Wembley stadium with worship. We called the event Champion Of The World.
That was in 1997 with 45,000 people [see video]. What happened next?
We thought there were other stadiums we needed to play in. I had the privilege of being involved with Songs of Praise at the Millennium stadium in Wales. Being from Cardiff, I had big dreams of playing rugby there. I got to play there, but not quite in the way I’d imagined! There were 66,000 people the first Sunday in the new millennium live on BBC television.
Now it’s great to come here all these years later and see the new stadium filled with worshippers from around the country and to see a new generation of people with a vision to gather large crowds because I think there’s a place for the large assemblies.
If I sense I’ve heard God speak. A very wise leader said to me some years ago ‘if God orders it he pays for it. If God doesn’t order it guess who pays for it?!’
Those words always ring in my ears. I never have a shortage of ideas but to take on something like this is a very demanding project. You really need to know that you’ve heard God direct you clearly because it’s a lot of pressure, stress and work.
Are you working on any new songs at the moment?
I’m constantly working on new ideas and new songs. I think the nature of what we do musically has changed. CD sales in the UK have dropped off and it’s much more the MP3 type of things. So what I’ve been doing in recent years is when I’ve written new worship songs, I’ve done a reasonable demo and my publisher Kingsway puts it up on their website. It’s getting the song into people’s hands to use.
You’re now living in Spain. How long have you been there and what are you doing?
We felt when we moved there we really had to integrate into the Spanish culture and learn the language, so that’s what we’re attempting to do. We’ve been there almost 4 years off and on and 2 years permanently.
We went with no church agenda. Just a small group of friends who felt that’s what we needed to be. We’re not missionaries, but we’ve just moved sideways and thought ‘wow there’s a big world out there’.
How has moving away from British culture affected you?
This isn’t meant to come across as negative or critical, but when you step outside of your bubble you realise there’s this big world out there.
I’ve spent my life writing songs for the Church and it’s been very fulfilling to have the privilege of gathering people in the old stadium then to be in front of a large crowd today, sharing some of those songs. I feel very privileged to write songs that have helped people in their journey of faith.
Having stepped outside of it I’ve realised I could continue to do that but there’s this big world I’ve suddenly discovered of people who don’t know anything about God.
They don’t really care that I’ve written songs and played in stadiums, I’m just Noel who happens to live here and we get on as friends. That effects your thinking a lot.
Have you been leading worship and writing songs in Spanish?
Last year I did a weekend for a church in mainland Spain and they were fans of my older songs so they had them translated into Spanish.
We need to encourage the national sound in Spain, Portugal, Germany, encourage people to write in their own language. It’s not good enough to take our songs and put them in another language. Let’s encourage the indigenous sound.
Do we need to encourage Christians to write music for the mainstream, or should our focus be on worship songs for the Church?
If we say ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ [and people reply] ‘I want to be a worship leader’, I think that’s very incestuous. I don’t want to pour cold water on people who feel called to do that and minister to the church because that’s vital as well.
When I was starting out there wasn’t the opportunity to go into the world because that was seen as backsliding. But now we’re saying, ‘you can do anything’. You can play to the biggest audiences in the world. [We should] get our values out whether it’s writing a book, writing songs or in business. I’m so glad we’re realising we’re a part of this world and not retreating from it.
I’m encouraged by bands like Mumford & Sons, I was listening to one of their songs on Radio 1 yesterday and I thought ‘there’s a hint of God in this’, which of course there is because they grew up in the Church.
[We need to] encourage a generation of emerging singer songwriters to take this message and take it outside the walls of the church.
What’s the best Christian book you’ve read?
In the early years there was a book I read by Josh Mcdowell when I was going into schools and colleges talking about my faith. He wrote some really good books on apologetics back in the 70s. It was such a helpful resource. I can’t think of anything recently that I’ve read. I can tell you all the novels I’ve read. I’m totally pagan in my reading material. [laughs]
What has God been teaching you recently?
A day like this is wonderful, it’s encouraging, it’s unique. But in a lot of ways its irrelevant to our wider community as a whole. That’s not meaning to sound critical, harsh or discouraging because these events are fantastic. We can go away from here saying 'this is great God is on the move, we’re going to win, it’s historic and its significant!'
What we’ve got to is get back to our cities, towns and villages and make Christ real. So the challenge is how can I make Christ real to the people I’m coming into contact with?
We find ourselves living in a different country and a different culture, saying how can we bring God’s love to these people we’re getting to know? How can we in daily life make Christ real?
We need to look for those opportunities daily where we can hear God whisper something to us and act on that whisper. Pray for the sick, see miracles happen, rather than waiting for it to happen in the church building with someone playing softly on the keyboards.
October 19th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Sam Hailes