Amidst growing political divisiveness in a year already filled with anxiety, Washington, D.C.'s National Community Church and its creative arts team, NCC Worship, encourage listeners to realign their thoughts and refocus their hearts by following "The Jesus Way." Recorded earlier this year and now available globally, The Jesus Way album invites Christ-followers to "carry our cross" and "love at all costs" through every season of life.
Working with GRAMMY Award-winning Gospel and R&B artist/producer Greg Cox, NCC Worship recorded The Jesus Way live on Ash Wednesday with their church family and guests, underlining the album's purposeful creation to complement NCC's Lenten sermons and teaching resources
We are honored to be able to catch up with NCC Worship Pastor Chris Douglas for this exclusive interview.
Q: Thank you for doing this interview with us. Let's start with yourselves: who is NCC Worship?
NCC Worship is the sound and song that is coming out of our home church, National Community Church. We create music to help people discover and worship Jesus in the entire reality of the Christian experience, including praise, mourning, rejoicing, lament, prophetic declarations, and unanswered questions.
Q: In your opinion, how has the current pandemic changed or has not changed congregational worship and worship music?
As I sit here in Washington, DC, we have still not been able to open the doors of our church. The pandemic has highlighted the human need to be seen and known. We have all experienced a feeling of isolation to some extent.
We have had to get creative here, at NCC. Like so many other churches, we've moved completely online, which brings a set of specific challenges. How do we get a quality audio mix we are proud of? How do we draw excellence out of our teams? For me, leading worship for an empty room was a big adjustment. I felt that big loss of energy that congregational worship brings when we are all together. But I've really tried to lean into discipling our church through the lens of a camera. That realization has brought renewed life to an empty room. It's been encouraging to receive emails of healing and freedom because of a moment of prophetic obedience in a pre-recorded service.
NCC has also focused on smaller gatherings. We can't all meet together, but what about in our bubbles of friends and family that we see during the pandemic? Why can't we do church with them? My crew is so informal but so life giving! We have brunch while our kids play in in the backyard. We watch or discuss the weekend's message and we play worship music from The Jesus Way. ***Ha! Shameless plug! ***
As far as worship music, my observation is that people are craving depth and authenticity. We miss the fullness of what God wants to do in this season if we just bypass the mess. We need gritty worship in a gritty world.
Q: How do the songs on your new album "The Jesus Way" speak to us in this pandemic?
Here in DC, and in much of our country, 2020's gone way beyond the pandemic. We are also navigating a season of racial unrest and a polarized political climate. Culture presents us with binary choices in a prison of two ideologies, but Jesus invites us to walk a different path. The songs on The Jesus Way speak to this counter-cultural gospel where confession brings healing, weakness gives way to strength, God's peace is revealed in unanswered questions, and ordinary moments are wrapped in divine beauty. 2020 has certainly shaken our world. With great care and intentionality, this album speaks directly to the root issues of what's been shaken, and points to the hope that lies in the path of Jesus.
Q: Tell us some of the highlights in the making of this album.
This was such a communal record! There are so many fingerprints on the writing of these songs and the final album. We are growing as a multicultural church here at NCC and we were really intentional about working with people who were going to challenge, inspire and help us grow in our music and our lives. My friends, Mark Alan Schoolmeesters and Kierre Bjorn, have really been instrumental in our team's growth as songwriters over the last several years. Both guys have diverse experience as songwriters and played a big part in crafting the songs on The Jesus Way. From the production side, Greg Cox is one of the most talented and innovative producers I've worked with. Greg has roots in the gospel and hip hop world and recently won a Grammy collaborating with Kirk Franklin. To have trust and friendship with someone like Greg, who operates like a prophetic sounding board, is really special. We aren't mimicking different genres but authentically finding our own sound at the intersection of different cultures.
Q: I have read in your press release that as a team you are committed to write songs that address real, everyday life. Can you give us an example of how a song on your new record addresses everyday lives?
It really begins with the vulnerability and honesty of our songwriters. As we entered a new season of writing, the Holy Spirit whispered to my spirit, "Will you sing me your prayers?" That was easier said than done for me as I had just lost my 7 ½ month old daughter, Keelyn. Navigating that loss led to "Fall Into Kindness," a song that doesn't seek to escape the pain but speaks to the grace and kindness of God that meets us in the midst of those hardships.
Carolina Soto co-wrote on that song and drew on her experiences as a cancer survivor. She also put so much of her journey into "Ordinary," a song about reconnecting with God in life's mundane moments.
Josh Coad had recently moved his family across the country to take a job at our church when he wrote "Weakness." Processing and adjusting to change informs the song's themes of vulnerability, failure, and brokenness.
As a team, we also wrote songs that don't draw on one specific experience, but speak generally to the reality worshippers live in. For instance, "Deep Deep Well" touches on the communal nature of worship - how it connects us to each other and to God, while "Confession," gives people a grace-filled opportunity to examine their own wrongdoing and bring it to God so they can become more like Jesus.
Q: Where can worship leaders or musicians find the music resources for your songs if they want to sing them in church?
You can check out our website national.cc/nccworship for chord charts, videos and more resources from the The Jesus Way. For the latest info, follow us on Instagram and Facebook @NCCworship.
Q: Why did you entitle your new record as "The Jesus Way"? What is the Jesus way for you?
Pastor Mark Batterson pulled me aside the first time we introduced "Hope of Glory (The Jesus Way)" to our church. He said, "I am resonating so much with that idea of the Jesus Way. In fact, that would make a great title for our upcoming record!"
At NCC, we talk about the difference between the will of God and the way of God. We know that God's will for our life is good, perfect and pleasing (Romans 12:2). I think of His will as His original intent for creation. But so much of the world around us does not line up with that. The "way" to God's "will" is anything but simple. It isn't straight-forward or pain-free. "In this world you will have trouble."
In the middle of that tension, Jesus is our example. In the gospels, He embodies the will of God while navigating the confusion of human existence. We want to follow His path and His way. We want to be "conformed to the image" of Jesus. In that sense, these are songs of discipleship and formation - songs where we encounter God and become more like Him.
For more information, visit National Community Church and follow NCC Worship on Instagram @NCCWorship and on Facebook @NCCWorshipOnline. To listen to NCC Worship's music, including The Jesus Way, visit Spotify and Pandora.