As 1/4th of the Juno and Covenant Award winning band The City Harmonic Elias has traveled the world to worship alongside churches and Christians of all kinds. He is passionate about faith, ideas, music, culture and the Church, writing and songwriting, worship leading, and all the ways they collide. Though originally from Hamilton (Ontario, Canada) Elias now lives in Nashville, TN with his wife Meaghan, four kids and a cat who is presently missing (having not come back the very next day).
What are your roles and responsibilities in your church?
As a member of The City Harmonic, I travel to lead worship a lot – and so I often find myself at a different church from Sunday to Sunday leading worship in a new context – it’s exciting and strange all at the same time. At home, my wife and I just moved from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, to Nashville, TN this year. While my wife has quickly plugged into Children’s ministries when I’m able to attend the Sunday service I’ve enjoyed just getting to know folks at our new church and in our small group setting, which our church calls “Villages”.
Tell us about your church (style of worship, size of church, what church looks like in your part of the world, how the church is impacting the community, etc.):
We’re part of Journey Church in Franklin, TN. On any given Sunday there are probably 750-900 people in the room. Stylistically it’s pretty a modern Evangelical church with a healthy respect for the fact that Christians of all stripes may be a part of the church. Journey is pretty intentional about having various opportunities around the room for people who may have come from different Christian traditions and feel most “at home” doing something a bit differently, and they allow space for Communion (or the Eucharist) every Sunday – which is kind of a reflection of one of the things we appreciated most about the church when we first joined: it’s sense of the bigger picture and gracious spirit when it comes to different traditions. Musically speaking, If you’ve heard of “All Sons & Daughters” they are on staff at the church so that’s probably a good sign of the overall feel.
One awesome thing the church does pretty regularly are SERVE Sundays in which small groups are asked to serve at a specific setting in the community in lieu of attending the Sunday service. I thinks it’s fantastic and I know that there’s a definite tangible impact. One of my favourite sayings this is this old Celtic proverb “Milking the cow is Holy”. The SERVE Sunday thing is a beautiful reminder that worship is much, much more than singing together.
What is the spiritual climate of your city?
We’re still finding our feet here of course but Nashville seems to be a really interesting mix. On one hand, it’s in the Bible belt and that’s kind of always “out there”, but on the other hand it seems as though a ton of people who either have never engaged Christianity at all or are completely disenchanted with it. As a result you have this mix of a church on every street corner and all kinds of church plants popping up in rented buildings (like ours) and at the same time, something akin to a cynical hipster’s paradise. As someone passionate about the church, discipleship and culture It’s actually kind of an exciting place to be!
With that said, we moved here from Hamilton, Ontario – which has a very unique spiritual climate. There has been a pretty awesome thing happening where churches of different traditions are working together for the good of the city and growing up in that environment has been very influential for me. Our band actually started because of an event we helped to start that partnered students from different christian traditions together and sent them out to serve throughout the city (Hamilton has a pretty high poverty rate overall and a noticeably high child poverty rate) – we used to serve regularly as the house band for this event, aiming to help students connect the idea of worship with living in a loving, missional way.
One word that best describes how you work:
How do you prepare to lead?
If we’re going to be visiting a church I like to connect ahead of time with the pastor or worship pastor when possible and just try to get a sense of what might be going on at the church and what their expectations may be. We usually try to plan our set in light of that. When it comes to “day-of” – it’s more about making sure everybody’s in a good space as we head on-stage – but we don’t have a ritual or anything like that, although we try to pray together and for everyone attending before heading out to lead.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget could you not live without?
Maybe this is cheating, but Notes apps. I take copious notes on everything all the time and write down almost every idea that enters my brain.
What apps, software, instruments, or other tools do you recommend?
We regularly use Ableton Live, Reason and ProPresenter. I find Evernote and Logos Bible Software to be indispensable day-to-day and when writing. I believe that making sure our songs have a sound theological base is extremely important so we’ve used Logos Bible Software when writing every TCH record to-date as it allows us access to an entire library of resources.
What’s your workspace like?
The contents of my backpack! Most of the time I have to work in other people’s spaces. I must tell you that the worship pastor’s of America have some pretty sick workspaces. The nurseries /green rooms on the other hand? …
How do you balance ministry and personal time?
My wife and I have four young kids so when I get home it’s all hands on deck! Every day that I’m home I try really hard to make sure I spend real-time fully engaged with my kids and my wife, but of course some days are more successful than others. One tip I use from time-to-time is to have “gadgets” on a shelf by the door or off your person in the house, like on the charger or something. I do this some of the time and appreciate the freedom from the “digital ball-and-chain”.
What are you listening to right now?
The new Arcade Fire, the new Elton John album, and like much of the rest of the world, Lorde.
Can you tell us a recent setlist you’ve used?
When we get pulled in to lead worship as guests at a church there is usually some expectation that we’ll play our own songs, and there’s an interesting balance of using songs that are meaningful to the congregation and going from there – we’ve really loved “Cornerstone” for that reason as it’s fresh but familiar, and we also like to “reach deep” into some of the old worship choruses we all grew up singing at summer camp.
So a Sunday morning setlist for us will sometimes look something like this:
As The Deer
Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? How does it affect your leadership style?
I’m close to the middle, but an extrovert. According to those personality tests my “adaptive” style is MORE extroverted than my natural style.
This probably has a ton of implications for me but I suppose one way is that I’m pretty intentional about engaging congregants as we lead worship. I’m very conscious that there IS a 5th wall in the room where a stage is involved and that worship culture has a tendency to pretend that we’re in our own little “worship bubbles”. I feel compelled that one of our responsibilities in the Western church is to not simply cater to our individualistic culture but instead encourage people to open their eyes and take part in the beauty of shared experience! This doesn’t take away from worshipping Christ at all – instead it reminds us of the role we play in the world as the Church!
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
You’re there for the whole room, not just the “shotgun worshippers”, who would probably shout “amen!” at the sound of feedback. The guy at the back of the room with his arms crossed who doesn’t even like church music, that’s the guy who needs to see Jesus today. Watch him too.
Any advice you want to give to other worship leaders?
Lead the whole person! Consider what it is people are bringing with them when they come to church or an event and recognize that there’s more to worship than just that one intimate moment – our worship songs and sets can be a reflection of people’s WHOLE lives, not just a few minutes of intimate adoration. Worship music at church can sometimes feel like you’re getting engaged on your first date and you can’t figure out how to say “no” — all you needed was a few minutes to warm up to the idea! Meanwhile you’ve just come from trying to get your screaming kids to stay with the nursery volunteer. I don’t see worship as an escape from our troubles but an opportunity to bring our whole selves to God and worship in the midst of all of those real life things.
What’s a useless talent that you have?
My eyes can shake from side-to-side VERY rapidly.
Fill in the blank. I’d like to see ____________ answer these same questions.
Bob Dylan circa 1979.