Listen: Chris Llewellyn chats to Laura Bennett
At the beginning of 2020 Rend Collective lead singer Chris Llewellyn was on the road with his band’s first official world tour. They’d played in Australia and NZ, and were in the first week of the US leg, when the pandemic—and all the remaining dates were cancelled.
“We found out the tour was going to end, two hours before what turned out to be our last show,” Chris told Hope 103.2. “We’d paid for all this stuff that was supposed to be our confetti cannons for the year, and our buses for the year, and so on, and we got to use them for a week – and then had to head back home.
“I remember us just picking up the pieces on the bus, talking through what we were going to do financially and everything, and I remember us just saying, ‘Well, we haven’t got any answers to those questions – but we can definitely still keep worshipping’.”
Soon after they got home, Chris and the band gathered in their bassist Steve Mitchell’s living room, pulled out an acoustic guitar and had a “sweet time of worship” that became their ‘Socially Distant Worship Club’ – a now regular online gathering, where fans join them for a stripped-back time of worship and prayer.
The sessions have amassed almost half a million views on YouTube as well as being turned into an EP, and they reflect what Chris and the band sing about on their new album Choose to Worship.
“The whole [project] is about the idea of being able to say, in the middle of difficult times, that God is good, even when life isn’t good,” Chris said.
And, now they’ve declared burnt put this great statement of faith onto a new CD – and a global pandemic has hit – “That being the theme of the record has almost forced our hand,” laughs Chris. “Now we have to live it out.”
Worship is Our Way Through Trouble
In the difficulties of 2020, Chris says believers have an opportunity to learn something new about worship: that it’s refined in times of trouble, and is our way through the trouble.
“It’s an important thing for us to be able to learn how to worship authentically in the middle of struggle,” Chris said. “…Because 98% of our lives is hard in some way; the mountain-top moments are few and far between.
“This is where worship happens. It may be a hard reality for us to accept, but worship happens in the midst of real life. It happens in the mess – and we have a mess to work with right now.”
As the band have been leading thousands in worship around the world, Chris says it’s highlighted the need for songwriters and musicians like him to write songs for the church to sing in times of true hardship – like what we’re experiencing now.
“The church is so under resourced when it comes through singing through difficult times,” said Chris. “It’s actually kind of alarming how many songs we have that only make sense if you’ve got either no problems, or really easy problems for God to just knock over. We don’t really have that many songs in the church for times when we’re experiencing sustained difficulty.”
The Challenges of 2020 Haven’t Hindered Their Joy
For a band with a reputation for raucous live shows and high energy sets, you’d think difficulty would hinder their ability to be joyful and find hope, but Chris says for them this year has really had the opposite effect.
“Humor is an amazing coping mechanism,” Chris laughed. “For an Irish person to really have a laugh we need to be a little bit miserable at the same time. I don’t know how to explain that relationship, but we’re actually at our utmost happiest when we’re a little bit grumpy. So these circumstances don’t crush it out.
“These circumstances have also forced us to spend time with our families, to spend time indoors, to be a little bit quiet and to have a Sabbath… There are many difficulties, but if you can’t on some level enjoy that Sabbath, there’s something broken.
“If we can only be happy when we’re working ourselves to the bone and we’re in the rush of everything – if we can’t appreciate that stillness for what it is and enjoy it, [that’s a path where] I think there’s trouble ahead.
“If we can only be happy when we’re working ourselves to the bone and we’re in the rush of everything – if we can’t appreciate stillness for what it is and enjoy it, I think there’s trouble ahead.”
“I would say some of the fun and some of the celebration [for Rend Collective] has risen not just in spite of our circumstances – but because of it.”
In saying that, Chris reminds us that worshiping in the midst of struggle doesn’t mean glossing over your feelings or denying what’s happening – but realising that they don’t disqualify you from reaching out to God.
“There’s nothing too negative for God to not want to hear it,” Chris said. “Our struggles and our imperfections and our difficulties – and even our anger and frustration, are things that we can absolutely bring to Him.
“[In the Bible] the Psalms are this record of God interacting with us in the middle of our struggles, in the middle of our difficulties – even when we’re kind of rude or abrasive with Him, and He still accepts those things as worship… I find a lot of hope in that: that I can be authentic with God and that He’ll never turn me away.”
Don’t Despair; The Church Will Stand!
For Christians who are despondent about the future of the church, and how it will be affected by long-term changes to how we gather, Chris has encouragement.
“The scripture says that ‘God will build His church and the gates of hell won’t stand against it’,” he said. “So I believe we’re stepping forward into a brighter future, not a worse one.
“Even now we’re beginning to see… the church is beginning to have such a huge impact digitally. People are coming to Jesus online in ways we never would have thought of in 2019. God is building His church, we can always count on that.”
Rend Collective’s new album Choose to Worship is out now.