Mark Cole is a touring musician turned worship leader serving at Westedge Church in Calgary, Canada.
Recently, Mark talked to Worship Links about leading worship in other countries, how he puts a service together, and finding new music before the internet came along.
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.
I’ve been married for over 30 years to a great Italian girl and we have two talented kids and two amazing grandkids. I started full time ministry 40 years ago at age 18 when I was a sax and piano player in a Christian band that travelled around the world and saw a over a hundred thousand people make decisions for Jesus.
I started full time church music ministry ten years later when my home church asked me to come off the road and conduct and write for a hundred voice choir and 30 piece orchestra.
I’ve been leading worship for 30 years and have travelled to over 50 countries leading worship and I have recorded four worship CDs. I am the founding music arranger for www.praisecharts.com and have sold tens of thousands of worship arrangements to churches around the world.
How did you get started in worship ministry?
A church hired me to produce and conduct their ‘Singing Christmas Tree’ when I was 30 and assumed that I could also lead worship. So I started leading worship and fell in love with leading people to God through music.
What’s your basic process for planning a service or worship set?
When I’m in charge of producing our Sunday morning worship services, I pick a great video for the opening of the service that gets people to start focusing on God. From there we allot 30 minutes for musical worship in our services, which usually means around five songs for our band. I try to pick a good opener (an upbeat praise oriented song) followed by an even higher energy song that gets people involved in praising God.
From there I normally pick a good medium tempo transition song that leads to worshipping God. My goal is to get people to totally focus on worshipping God and His many attributes so the last two songs usually are powerful worship ballades that do that.
From there I pass it along to one of our pastors who will transition to short prayer and greetings or communion or corporate prayer for our congregation.
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?
Of course that changes all the time… but if it happened right now the songs would be… (Here are my Top 50 for 2015)
- Here For You – (Chris Tomlin)
- 10,000 Reasons – (Matt Redman)
- This Is Amazing Grace – (Phil Wickham)
- Christ Is Enough – (Reuben Morgan)
- Holy (Jesus You Are) – (Matt Redman)
Let’s talk about leading worship in other countries. What are some of the challenges or rewards of leading in a different context like that?
1. One of the main challenges is language of course. But thankfully, English is a hugely popular language that most people are happy to try and sing in. We have translated a few songs into various languages and the local people do appreciate that immensely.
2. Another challenge is the cost and logistics of getting a band and equipment to the far flung corners of the world. Flying a ton of music equipment and ten to fifteen people can get very costly.
3. This is balanced by the rewards of people hungry to hear a live band from America and of course getting to preach the gospel to people through music and message. I’ve had some of my most fruitful ministry overseas. In the ’70s in Communist Poland we saw over 18,000 people accept the Lord in three and a half weeks of ministry there. In 2001 in Denmark we saw over 15,000 people accept Jesus in one week of ministry. (The church we worked with had over 4000 people sign up for their Alpha course that week)
You’ve seen a lot of changes to worship ministry during your career. What would you say are the most positive changes you’ve seen? What were the most harmful changes?
The most positive changes that I’ve seen is our access through the internet to great songs from around the world. Before the early days of Integrity you basically learned new worship music from traveling ministries, from your own visits to churches, or you wrote your own… it was a slow process. Also, now you have access to the great videos of worship teams from around the world… a great training tool and inspiration.
The only harmful change (and this is not true of everyone) is that bands can get so focussed on professionalism that they don’t focus on Jesus. But this can happen no matter how good (or bad) the worship band is – it’s too easy to get distracted by music and people and forget that’s about worshipping God.
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?
My most important piece of advice is to spend time with God every day. I personally spend the first hour of each morning reading the Bible and spending time with God. You won’t last if you don’t have that relationship with God. You won’t survive the trials you will encounter if you don’t have that daily relationship! I’ve seen more than a few people fall by the wayside. If you don’t keep your eyes on Jesus, you won’t last!
What do you think worship in the church will look like in ten years?
Music will change, but ten years is a relatively short time and it won’t change that much. We’ll still be using rock and pop styles and throwing in a few new styles like techno.
What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done while leading worship (that you’re willing to share)?
I’ve dreamt about quite a few embarrassing moments but so far (besides a few bad key changes and wrong words) it’s been pretty smooth sailing.
Thanks again for answering our questions. If people want to find you online, what’s the best way?
- Music ~ http://www.praisecharts.com/mark-cole
- Facebook ~ https://www.facebook.com/mmcole
- Twitter ~ https://twitter.com/#!/MarkMCole
- Blog ~ http://markcole.ca/