West Coast Worship Conference

Let it Rise Calvary Chapel West Coast Worship Conference
West Coast Worship Conference

Let it Rise

... in spirit and truth at the CCA worship conference. Leaders came to lift up praises to their savior and find inspiration to take back to their fellowships.

Story by Carmel Palmer
Photos by Tom Price

Holland DavisGreg Gutierrez knew Holland Davis by sight, but having never met Holland, he was surprised to see CC San Clemente’s pastor making a beeline for him during the Calvary Chapel Association (CCA) West Coast Worship Conference’s opening session. “Since you entered the sanctuary, the Lord has drawn my attention to you,” Holland related earnestly. “I have a word for you.” Greg listened, dumbstruck, as Holland shared what the Holy Spirit was revealing to him. It felt as if the pastor had been listening in Greg’s prayer closet for the last month.

Currently the worship leader at CC Santa Fe Springs, CA, Greg had been with the church since its 1985 inception. Lately, however, he had sensed it was time to move on, handing the ministry over to the younger generation which he had helped raise up. Greg admitted, “I just wanted to be certain I was really following God. I’d been asking to see the Holy Spirit move in a big way at the conference, and here was Holland telling me to keep my eyes open and be ready for the next chapter. But it was so out of the blue that I had to battle my own skepticism. ‘Did my wife talk to you?’ I asked him, ‘Did my pastor?’ But they hadn’t; God was pressing it into my heart.”

“‘Did my wife talk to you?’ I asked him, ‘Did my pastor?’ But they hadn’t; God was pressing it into my heart.”

Having kicked off so powerfully, the rest of the three-day conference at CC Chino Valley (CCCV), CA, last August built on the sense of God’s presence Greg felt in that moment. Though he’s attended a plethora of worship conferences in his decades of ministry, Greg related, “It just seemed like there was more of a genuine exercise of humility here. Over the years, it’s been easy for churches to compromise spiritual integrity for musical excellence. The musicians Holland handpicked [for the conference] were amazing; I’ve seen even more talented performances, but you can discern the heart of a worship leader sometimes, and there was something incredibly powerful about their connection to the Spirit.”

Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness. Psalm 96:9a, HCS

Opening speaker Pastor Jeff Johnson ended his teaching time by inviting all who needed a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit to stand. Nearly all 300-some participants from across the country rose to their feet. As the band EQ Worship led a 40-minute afterglow, Holland recalled, “There was no altar call—God was moving all over the room, refreshing people. Many were in tears. As worship leaders we can forget we’re in the presence of God; this was the whole reason we did the conference. For me, everything from that moment on was overfill.”

The fruition of a years-long dream for Holland and CCCV Pastor David Rosales, the conference included a wide variety of teachings, workshops, and panels focusing on practical, technical, and spiritual issues for all aspects of a worship team. The overarching message was of connection to each other and return to Spirit-led worship. “There are no superstars here,” Holland declared. “This is not a marketing venue or an artists’ platform. This is a place where the community of faith comes together with one faith in one voice to celebrate what God is doing in our local churches.”

“This is not a marketing venue or an artists’ platform. This is a place where the community of faith comes together with one faith in one voice to celebrate what God is doing in our local churches.”

Return to Reverence

David Rosales understands well the importance of music—it was at a 1970 Maranatha! concert that he surrendered his life to God. Coming from a more ritualistic church, David was drawn to the modern, personal songs being sung at CC Costa Mesa during his early years of faith, but they were more than an experience—they were discipleship. “Our worship songs were actually Scripture songs,” he said. “I was being taught what the Bible said. What I think has happened, though, is that over time the church has relied more on songs driven by ‘my’ emotionality with God, how ‘I’ feel about Him. We’ve walked away from grace, reverence, and actual adoration.” David has been mentoring Holland; true worship is a frequent subject in their near-daily talks.

Worship class at West Coast Worship ConferenceHearing of Holland’s desire to hold a worship leaders’ conference for the CCA, David invited him to host it at CCCV. Their first effort had to be canceled due to too little preparation time, but the wait seems to be worthwhile—so far, they have received only positive feedback from attendees. “We wanted this conference to help us return to a biblical reality of what worship is,” David declared. “We wanted to come back to our roots and equip those leading worship to be worshipers.”

Holland drew on his own nearly lifelong experience for his workshop, “What is Calvary Chapel Worship?” After being the CC Movement’s youngest worship leader at age 16, he went on to work for Maranatha! Music, where he wrote the platinum-selling song “Let it Rise.” In time he also founded CC Costa Mesa’s School of Worship and the Worship Life Conferences, relaunched Calvary Chapel Music, and served as worship leader for a variety of CC churches before planting CC San Clemente in 2010. “Starting from scratch really changes your approach,” he related. “Before, I was always facilitating this large-scale, event-driven model timed to the second. A church plant doesn’t care about that—they just want you to lead them. God’s used it to bring me back to my beginnings, reigniting my passion for an anointed song.”

Anointed songs are filled with the Spirit’s power to change hearts and win souls to God. In the music business, Holland saw many anointed songs passed over because they weren’t marketable enough, as well as incredibly talented musicians with unanointed songs because they were more focused on stardom than the Spirit. In his workshop, he reminded people of the Jesus Movement’s band Children of the Day. “They were nothing special visually,” he admitted, “but when they sang, people got saved.” Spirit-led worship and the flexibility it requires are defining characteristics of our movement, Holland asserted. Spirit-led worship includes a willingness to use different styles or let different musicians lead according to the congregation’s needs, and it includes the congregation. “Where does your ministry’s sound come from?” he challenged participants. “If it comes from the congregation, they’re worshiping; if from the stage, you’re entertaining. Also, as you plan your sets, do you expect the Spirit to move? Rely on the Spirit in planning your services and be open to the Spirit in changing its order.”

Deven Berryhill, who taught the electric guitar workshop, remembers performing at a youth all-nighter event while touring for his second album. The youth pastor instructed him, “Tonight’s not evangelistic—we’re just getting the kids to camp.” At the concert’s end, however, Deven saw how deeply engaged the kids were, and sensed many there did not know the Gospel. “I heard the Spirit saying, ‘You know who you are. You’re not the star. Tell them what’s on your heart.’ I spent the next half-hour sharing the Gospel. The room was silent—they hung on every word. Then I closed with ‘Amazing Grace’. Afterward people were saying, ‘Wow—that was powerful—what happened?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. I just felt if I stopped then, [the kids would have left] with me. I didn’t want that.’”

“But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.” John 4:23

Jonathan Meenk of Godspeak CC, who taught the “Why We Do What We Do” workshop, warned leaders to be watchful for musicians using church as a platform for unfulfilled dreams. Once a music manager for popstars, Jonathan said, “I remember distinctly thinking at the pinnacle of my career, Wow, this is it. If this is all there is, it’s not that great. Worship is completely different. I tell my team, ‘Empty yourselves of yourself. You’re going to love this, but it’s not about what you get out of it—that’s just the kindness of our Father when we bless His bride.’”

Worship Conference panel discussion

Later in 2018, Godspeak CC’s community of Thousand Oaks, CA, was left reeling after experiencing deadly wildfires and a mass shooting. At a special service the following Sunday, Jonathan stripped down his band and strategically chose tender, Christ-centered songs. He reported, “From the first words, the entire room echoed with voices. There was no trickling in, no getting people there. They were longing to worship. Worship’s not from the pulpit out—it’s the entire church ministering to the entire church. We realize the importance of that in times of tragedy. There’s a knitting of hearts as we sing together, lifting our voices to our King when the world doesn’t have answers. A broken person can see their brothers’ and sisters’ faith and sing ‘He is faithful, He is good.’”

A Crucial Partnership

While worship leaders led workshops and panels, Holland deliberately chose senior pastors for every main teaching session. “We wanted to empower worship leaders,” he explained, “and in the local church, it’s the senior pastor who casts the vision, and the worship leader who works it out. In my experience, I saw there was either vision or division. When a senior pastor had a vision for worship, it flourished. When he didn’t, [worship] became problematic.” The conference, therefore, modeled the healthy structure that its organizers hope will be replicated in the churches they return to.

Holland remembers Pastor Chuck communicating his vision for worship when Holland became CC Costa Mesa’s worship leader. Rather than outlining a specific style, Chuck opened to Psalm 100, explaining that at the end of each worship session, he wanted to feel as if he had entered the Holy of Holies. Despite the men’s huge generational and stylistic gaps—personally, Chuck preferred hymns while Holland had been in a punk band—that shared goal forged a strong partnership and kept them on the same page. As a senior pastor himself now, Holland is passionate about senior pastors having a theology of worship and understanding their worship leader’s role. Noting that Scripture does not specifically mention worship leaders, Holland points to the spiritual gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12. “Worship leaders care for the people through music,” Holland stated, “but different gifts have different effects. A prophetic person will emphasize getting right with God. Someone with a teaching heart will often gravitate toward hymns because they care about the words. I am who I am today because my pastor saw me as a minister, not just the music guy. As busy as Chuck was, he made time every week to show me where he was in Scripture, so I could seek the Lord and partner with him in ministry.”

Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Psalm 100:4a, HCS

“There’s a knitting of hearts as we sing together, lifting our voices to our King when the world doesn’t have answers.”

Song of Faith

Michael Meador became CC West Houston, TX’s worship leader one month before attending the conference. “I felt comfortable with the technical side,” he said, “but the pastoral aspects of leading a [worship] team were still very fresh. There have been a lot of changes and challenges in my new role in our team.” Zach Hodges’ workshop “Leading a Healthy Worship Ministry” approached those issues head-on. “We caught up between sessions,” Michael related. “It ministered to me that Zach took the time to talk one on one. We’ve connected since the conference, and I’ve been implementing some of his suggestions.”

Conference attendees worship the LordIn a songwriting workshop, Michael related, the speaker “recognized that God was allowing him to experience things because that’s what the body he was ministering to was going through. He said, ‘Perhaps the Lord is allowing you to go through similar experiences and giving you an opportunity to write them down, giving you words to minister to the people.’ It challenged me. I thought of songwriting in terms of talent, not taking steps of faith.” Returning to Houston, Michael shared the challenge with his team. Currently they have five songs in progress. He concluded, “I’m by nature shy and quiet; I couldn’t see myself doing half the things God has me doing. Everyone struggles with that voice in their head saying, ‘You can’t do this,’ but it’s amplified when you’re leading a team of ten and leading 200 people into the presence of God each Sunday. But God’s the one who calls you into ministry. He puts you where He wants you. You look back and say, ‘Wow, Lord, that was all You.’”

CCCV’s worship leader Jered Caballero echoed, “Sometimes I think, What’ve I done to reach this point? I sensed the Spirit say, ‘Nothing. I placed you here. Give Me the glory and watch what I do.’ Fear of writing bad songs bottlenecks me, but God’s breaking me of that fear.” The conference’s open mic events provided a safe place for musicians to share songs they had written. A sense of unity and excitement were palpable to Jered there. He observed, “It seems today in the church at large that there’s either a dynamic worship ministry but the teaching is almost an afterthought, or vice versa. Why is that? From what I know of Calvary Chapel history, we’ve been where the Spirit brought both. Why not have a well-taught church writing vibrant songs for the Kingdom from a place of proper doctrine?”

As Rebecca Manzo’s relationship with God has grown, so have the praise songs which come unbidden into her mind at any hour. At first she shared them only with God, recording them on her iPhone or writing them in a notebook. Shortly after moving from Idaho two years ago, however, she discovered CCCV was launching a songwriting team. She decided to join. The night before the team’s first jam session, she prayed, “Lord, I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know anyone yet. I’m scared.” Later she recalled, “In the middle of the night, He woke me up and gave me a chorus and a melody.” She shared it with the team and, as they began collaborating, it came together seamlessly. One team member provided a chord progression; another, the vocals. Everyone contributed to the lyrics. The song, “Praise to the King,” was sung at the conference before David Rosales’ teaching.

“People call Chuck a pioneer,” reflected David Rosales, “but it was more that he allowed the pioneers; he had the wisdom to allow the generation being saved to express their faith in current words and themes. Because he taught us the Word, those songs were based on Scripture. I believe the Lord is awakening a new generation with deep love for Jesus Christ and a desire to worship Him. We need to be people who seek a new thing because He is the God of new things. God is always ready to move. It’s the church that needs to be prepared to allow Him.”