We asked our worship leader, Rich, to catch up with his friend and mentor Noel Robinson before he joins us for our Empowered event at Love London Sunday. Here’s what happened…
Mr Noel Robinson is in the house! How are you doing, Noel?
I’m doing good.
Now, we have known each other for a long time, upwards of eight or nine years.
A long time yeah. You were very, very young!
Noel is actually directly responsible for me meeting my wife because I was singing backing vocals for him at Spring Harvest when Lucy and I met. He’s been a close friend and mentor to me over the years and I’ve learned a lot from him.
Would you like to tell us a bit about what your current roles and responsibilities are? What does an average week look like for you?
I go to a church called City Gates in Ilford but I travel a lot from church to church leading worship. That’s the first thing. The second thing is my family so I’m responsible for them at home. So my week looks a bit like that – trying be a husband and father, and also spending time writing songs, or going to a lot of prayer meetings in this great city we live in: there are many meetings that I am invited to lead worship at. I get the privilege of experiencing lots of different denominations. For example this week I’m at Compassion’s global leadership meeting.
So it seems like what you do is very diverse; that you have access to lots of different things. What’s that like, to go round to lots of churches that have different expressions and come from different traditions?
It can be filled with trepidation but it’s really exciting, because a long time ago God spoke to me and told me He wanted me to serve the church of God. I’d been serving my local church for many years and I began to realise that everybody was painting a picture of the same Jesus, but using different colours, different shapes, and I realised that we’re all on this journey of wanting to see Jesus but go about it in different ways. He’s the subject of our awe, He’s the subject of our fascination, but we always look at Jesus through our cultural eyes, and that involves music, and the language of that culture, so for me I had to learn all these different cultural responses. It actually brings an amazing beauty to experiencing the body of Christ that many other people don’t get.
I have to say, travelling around with you I’ve eaten many foods that I wouldn’t have tried before! And actually, you were probably the first person I ever really heard who covered a song that somebody else had written but made it sound like yours. You’re the first person who introduced me to the idea that making things your own was good and should be encouraged, and that really carries through in the way we do worship at CCL. I want to have a unique arrangement for each song we do at CCL, because we want to connect with this community, which is a very diverse group of people.
Well I think people will always see things through their own cultural eyes but it’s very important for leaders to understand the cultural diversity of their local church. We know that we all want the culture of Christ but we will never be able to take away how people perceive things through their cultural heritage. What’s amazing is that the more we understand that we’re all different, the more we can take the same subject and season it differently so that people enjoy it. So I’ll do outreach concerts and then regular church events, or stuff at the Houses of Parliament, and adapt to my surroundings. As a worship leader I’ve realised that that’s been my strength and I continue to use that to serve the body of Christ.
I was fortunate enough to come along with you one of those times at the Houses of Parliament and it was such a profound experience because you have this understanding that where you’re seeking to honour and serve God is the same place where all of the key decisions about the way that this nation is governed are happening. What is that like for you? What role do you think you play in seeing Christ’s kingdom being manifest on earth?
I try to really just focus, not on the platform that I’m on, but the ministry that I’m doing. I get to become a conduit for God which is really exciting. I never take it lightly!
No matter where you go and how many people are there, your level of commitment is inspiring. Why do you think sung worship and gathering together is so important?
For me, as I began studying the Bible, it was clear that worship is so important. There’s something powerful about where it says in the Bible that when two or three come together in God’s name, He is there. We gather to meet with Jesus. We gather to worship him together so that we are strengthened by our relationship with Him and our relationship with each other. There are many forms of worship in the Bible, but they all try to emulate the relationship between Adam and God. God calls us to walk with Him and talk with Him, and when we gather together to sing it can often be a place of encouragement. I mean you’ve seen my ups and downs, but through faith we got each other through it. And faith comes when we speak words of God over one another. Words have the power to engage the soul and actually can awaken something within us. We all have a favourite song, and often we remember the lyrics of those songs more easily than spoken word. There’s something really powerful about hearing the word of God being sung and singing it ourselves.
What would you say to anybody that’s looking to get involved in worship?
I would say that if you want to get involved in local church worship, you should work on your gifting. Romans 11:29 talks about the gifting of God. If you’re musical, make the best music you can. Work on your gift and allow God to use it. But more than that; Rich is a great singer and a great musician but he also knows it’s his calling. I most certainly got involved in worship music not necessarily because I wanted to at the time, but because I realised I had to answer the call of God in my life. So make sure that you’re called to it. The stage is an altar, not a platform, and you should have a calling to get involved in it. To those who aren’t currently involved in the worship team, I would say get involved in the life of the church. It’s not just about the music, it’s about prayer, and relationships, and if you want to get involved in worship you need to build relationships with people first.
I can tell you for sure that this man is so experienced. He has worked so hard to develop his musicality and his guitar playing. I don’t know that I’ve heard a better guitarist than you, and it’s not just the notes that you play but it’s the intention behind it. It’s always been incredibly inspiring to me, how you can listen to the atmosphere in the room and unlock what God’s wanting to say. How did you come to be able to do that?
I started playing guitar when I was six, and music’s always been a part of my life. It’s always been the place where I’ve been able to express myself, but when life got difficult the truth is that the music wasn’t working. I found a solace playing music, it was an escapism, but the issue with escapism is that once you come back, the issue still exists. I needed God to help me through that. I’ve tried to live in the philosophy that you should pray more than you play, and you know, I’ve never ever achieved it. I’m still working on that: praying more than playing. I play all the time but do I pray all the time?
The worship event that you put on is called Renewal, how is that tied into everything that you do?
Early on in my career, I got a call asking if I wanted to be part of Graham Kendrick’s band. Now at the time, Graham Kendrick was probably the most well-known worship leader in the world. So I did the tour, and it’s interesting because on that whole tour I maybe saw 50 black people, whereas I’d been used to playing crowds of thousands that were pretty much all black. And I just couldn’t understand it: I’m encountering the same God but people aren’t coming together across their communities to worship. So from that God put on my heart the need for different kinds of people to all worship together. Renewal brings worship leaders from right across the church, all different tribes and denominations. It’s about a gathering of God’s people. We’re gathering cultures. We’ve been doing it for ten years.
For me the event has been really significant. God spoke to me a lot about my next steps in life at Renewal events. What can we expect from you at Love London Sunday?
Well I’m really excited to come. I’ve heard so much about ChristChurch London: I love city churches and what they represent. Basically, I hope for us to encounter God in such a way as He stains us: that we experience Him and it stays with us. I’m praying that our encounter will be like a note that resonates within the chasm of our souls. I’m all for having a great time of singing, but I want Jesus to reveal himself.
Thanks so much for chatting with me today Noel, I cannot wait for Sunday!
Noel and Rich will be leading worship together at our Empowered event on Love London Sunday, May 14, at 2pm in The Mermaid Theatre, Blackfriars.
Click here to find out more.