Ross Christopher is a worship leader, touring artist, and music producer. Recently, Ross talked to Worship Links about going on tour with Jars Of Clay, record production, and why correct hymn titles are important.
WL: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions for us. It’s truly appreciated! The first question is an easy one. Tell us a little bit about yourself in five sentences.
RC: I’m an artist from the Midwest (St. Louis, MO). I have an amazing wife (Kate) and two incredible girls (Cora and Olive). I write and produce music, compose and record string arrangements for artists/bands, tour, and lead worship. I love to travel and experience new things. I’m always eager for a great surprise!How did you get started in worship ministry?
When I was in college, I was touring with a band throughout the Midwest. I was also playing violin at Damascus Road (a campus ministry). One thing led to another, and by the end of my first semester of my freshman year, a local church asked me to come on board to lead their contemporary service. I bought an acoustic guitar, a capo, and taught myself how to play enough chords to lead by the time I went back to school in January. Its hard to believe that was nearly 15 years ago!What’s your basic process for planning a service or worship set?
I like to start a creative plan about 6-8 weeks in advance, so nothing is last minute. Once the pastor and I have a basic series/theme, I hold a creative brainstorm meeting dinner. I typically get 10-20 people to come out. At the brainstorm we each begin by naming 3 un-churched or dis-churched friends or family members. We discuss the questions and conversations we’ve had with them surrounding the upcoming series/theme, and use that as our springboard for everything we create. We’re not really interested in just playing our favorite new songs, or discussing what we already know, but rather, tackling the questions, doubts, and frustrations surrounding any given topic. We try to create an atmosphere that speaks to the theme, and then unpack the following questions/elements through each service: historical, theological, scriptural, contextual, and experiential. Each of these are wide open to various art mediums and activities.While we were setting up the interview, you mentioned that you recently toured with Jars of Clay and Sleeping at Last. Can you share a great road story with us?
I had the absolute time of my life! All of the Jars guys are so genuine and fun to be with. And Ryan (Sleeping at Last) might actually be the nicest human ever. Each and every night, it was a thrill to be part of creating amazing art.Desert Island Worship Mix: You’re trapped on a desert island, and for reasons too ridiculous to explain, you can only have one CD with five worship songs on it. What are they?
A couple nights, late after the shows, we headed out for 24 hour food. Healthy 24 hour eateries are basically nonexistent, so we decided to indulge in what must have been a week’s worth of calories, when the entire band ordered deep fried mozzarella stuffed grilled cheese sandwiches. There’s nothing like engorging in 5,000 calories of fried-cheesy-goodness and laughing into the wee hours of the night with friends (several nights in a row).
If you could give one piece of advice to up and coming worship leaders, what would it be? Conversely, what’s some advice you wish you’d received earlier on?
- This Is Not the End (Gungor)
- In The Embers (Sleeping at Last)
- You Are Mine (MuteMath)
- Where The Streets Have No Name (U2)
- Psalm 145 (Shane & Shane)
Don’t do it alone!What do you think worship in the church will look like in ten years?
Build teams and friendships – even deep relationships with people outside of your local church. Listen and grow. Don’t feel like you need to do this by yourself. Network, network, network. And finally write! The power of your local voice speaking to your local context is invaluable. It’s fine to sing the popular songs, but there’s something visceral about singing the real, tangible, and local struggles, joys, etc.
I believe that with economies shifting, postmodern leaders emerging, and post-christian America being a reality, our churches will move to the fringe. They will be smaller, but stronger. The nominal church-goer will no longer feel the need to check off that Sunday morning box, and the people that do decide to participate in “church” will actually live and breath a priesthood of all believers. I think a worship service will look more like “service.” I think being the hands and feet will be real. The fluff that flies today will die, and what has been institutionalized over the past decades will no longer resonate with postmodern worshipers.Give us the ten thousand foot view of producing an album. For those that haven’t been through the recording and/or production process, what should we expect?
It’s an incredible view – of possibility. I’m wrapping up an album that I’m producing of a great Nashville artist. He came to my studio back in September and we knocked out structures, vocals, and acoustic guitar. Then he left. He gave me complete freedom to produce everything else. There’s obviously a great amount of trust in this. But over the past months I recorded the rest of the sounds that would accompany these songs and help them take flight. The freedom can be intoxicating. But the real task is taking risks and peeling back layers until you’ve got a perfect piece of art. Trusting your ears and your heart can be difficult and has taken me almost 15 years to get to where I am, but every single album I produce, I honestly say that it’s the best piece of art I’ve ever worked on. So there’s a deep sense of pushing oneself forward, refinement, and continued excellence.Any new worship artists on your radar at the moment?
I had the chance to write and record strings for John Tibbs this past year. He’s a great guy and his stuff breaks the typical pop-worship mold. Personally, I tend to worship more from non-traditional worship artists. So I’ll frequently leave a concert or an art experience drained from a night of worship (whether or not that was their intention).
Sleeping at Last captures beauty like no one else. The Lone Bellow creates a communal experience better than any artist I’ve seen. Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead) writes the most prolific symphonic pieces out there.
Back in college, I was asked to lead worship at an uber-traditional church one Sunday. I asked one of my buddies to come play keys for me. At one point I asked everyone to “turn in your hymnals to page 365 as we sing ‘It Is Well With My Hole’”…I was mortified. My keyboardist lost it. I fought the 18 year old laughter within. And still to this day I can’t sing ‘It Is Well’ without a little chuckle.Thanks again for answering our questions. If people want to find you online, what’s the best way?