Chris Llewellyn is probably in for a lot of movie-watching this month; along with the rest of the Rend Collective troupe, the Northern Irish singer is embarking on his first ever trip to Australia—those long-hall flights!
It’ll be the first chance for Aussies to get a live taste of the band’s folk-worship-rock flair.
Unlike a lot of high profile worship artists, music and Jesus weren’t Chris Llewellyn’s first love, as he grew up in the Irish seaside town of Bangor. For years, Chris played high school football, enjoying the ‘tough guy’ image it fostered, and the attention it drew from fans. Sport was a career he was set on pursuing, until a shoulder injury forced him into some introspective downtime.
“I kind of started thinking about life and [wondering], ‘is there more to it than colliding with other people?’ Chris joked. “I started to investigate the Bible for myself instead of letting my parent’s views influence me, and I profoundly met Jesus in those words.”
“Sometimes the impression we get of Jesus is that He’s just ‘super nice’… When I started to understand who Jesus is, I found He’s almost the original activist.”
The ‘Jesus’ Chris discovered in that season, was unlike any he’d encountered before.
“Sometimes the impression we get of Jesus is that He’s just ‘super nice’,” said Chris. “To me… that wasn’t all that compelling; I’ve met a lot of ‘nice’ people and usually what that means is ‘passive’.
“When I started to understand who Jesus is, [I found] He’s almost the original activist. He’s the very best part of every civil rights movement that’s ever happened… There’s something so much more compelling in a Jesus and a God who is active, and isn’t just ‘nice’, but is ready to speak truth with power, and overturn empires.”
The Formation of Rend Collective
Fuelled by this newfound interest in faith, when an opportunity came up to lead worship at church, Chris was all in.
“There was an emergency and someone needed to sing some Matt Redman songs,” he laughed, “so I got thrown in the deep end and kinda loved it, and then got involved in this Bible study called ‘Rend’, led by [our drummer] Gareth… and from that Bible study we became really passionate about writing songs that explained how we felt about God that made sense to us, and didn’t sound like everything else we’d ever heard in Christian music.”
What resulted was Rend Collective Experiment (now Rend Collective), a band whose bold renegade spirit spills over into their music, stirring listeners to wildly go after life with God.
“Something that’s been a huge mantle for us to carry, and I think has become almost the signature of our band, is joy,” said Chris. “We’ve discovered, as we’ve appreciated Jesus through our twenties… that joy is at the heart of [a continuous] pursuit of Him. Without joy we’ll never have the strength to keep going.
“One of our war cries has been [a quote] that says, ‘Seriousness isn’t a fruit of the Spirit, but joy is’… So often we think deep spirituality looks like the monks in constant prayer for 24hrs with their eyes closed, but it doesn’t have to be that. Spirituality can be – as it so often is in scripture, celebration. Feasts and getting together with your friends – that is spirituality, and we try to communicate that at our events.”
All About Building God’s Kingdom
Now eight albums in, with a ninth due out in March (Choose to Worship), one of the biggest milestones the band members have shared, has been watching each other become spouses and parents.
“It’s hard to imagine something that would change your life as much,” Chris said of his role as ‘Dad’. “Honestly [having kids] really helped me re-evaluate whether or not I was in a band for a good reason… Because whenever you have to walk away from your two-year-old son for three-and-a-half weeks to go to Australia, ‘music’ isn’t a good enough reason anymore… the truth is, if it isn’t the call of God on our lives, if it isn’t actually discipleship, if this isn’t actually building the Kingdom of God, then it’s not worth it.”
Having counted the cost, one of the reasons Rend Collective keep going is share with the world a concept that’s driven them: to sing what you know and not always what you feel. On the days where they’d much rather be at home with the kids, or curled up on the couch, it’s helped clarify their purpose and refocus the band.
“This is the concept that’s driving our new record, ‘Choose to Worship’’,” said Chris. “It’s about this idea that whenever everything is telling us that we have nothing to sing about, our life circumstances are impossible… that we’re done and we’re finished and we may as well pack up and go home—that’s the time when we need to sing the most; when we’ve got to engage this active choice to worship.
“…It’s such a critical way to look at our lives with Jesus; Not so much waiting on God to intervene in our lives before we’re ready to praise Him, but doing it the other way around: praising Him and then waiting for the breakthrough. We see it time and time again in scripture… when we speak out the truths of God, that are so positive over our lives, I think things do begin to shift, even in our own spirits.
“When we start to sing, ‘Well God, I don’t know if you’re going to provide a miracle in the circumstance but I know that you’re good and you’re kind, and I’m going to choose to sing that anyway’, when we choose those things that we know, over what we fell, I think there’s something powerful when that happens.”
How The Revival Anthem was Born
The band experienced some of that power during a show in 2018 that led to them writing ‘The Revival Anthem’, a defiant rallying cry for a weary Church to awaken.
“The Pope came to Ireland for the first time in 30 years, and we were invited to play – the first Protestant band to ever be invited to do that, which is a big deal in Ireland because ‘Catholics don’t like Protestants’ and vice versa,” Chris recounts.
“We thought it was really important as a message of unity that we went and played there, and we expected to have this really special experience [but it] ended up being quite a negative experience.
“For months afterwards I would pray for Ireland, and just really cry out for our nation, hoping for a revival and a fresh breath of the Spirit in that land.”
“We got up on stage… and the whole area was laid out assuming a million-and-a-half people were going to come,” said Chris, “but because of the things the church had done, and the perception of the church [after the abuse scandal], there were nowhere near a million-and-a-half people, there were maybe 100,000.
“That’s still a lot of people, but when it was set up [for so many more] whenever we got up to play, it just looked like the church in Ireland had been totally decimated…
“Having that picture stirred something in all of us, and particularly for me; for months afterwards I would pray for Ireland, and just really cry out for our nation, hoping for a revival and a fresh breath of the Spirit in that land.
“Ireland has been so significant in missions in the past, and it seemed so sad to see it ruined… and I think that really stirred the song Revival Anthem.”
Rend Collective will perform a sold-out show in Sydney, February 17th.