In Spring of 2009, former Telecast lead singer, Josh White, decided to take a huge step of faith. He planted a church called Door of Hope in the super-artsy, liberal Hawthorne District of Southeast Portland. With a vibrant bohemian culture, Hawthorne is known more for its hippies and hipsters than its churches.
Josh’s wife Darcy grew up in East Portland and he grew up in nearby Seattle, so they felt a strong connection to the area. “I met my wife in this neighborhood fourteen years ago,” Josh says. “We know the culture and the people. Which in turn fuels the heart and vision of the church: to preach the gospel to some of the most unchurched people in the country.”
Simple Bluegrass and Folk Songs People Connect With
The church, which grew from zero to six hundred within the first year is really all about a simple approach to fellowship, worship, teaching, and discipleship. Josh is the lead teaching pastor and also a worship leader. The worship setting is one of folk and bluegrass. Simple, real music that everyone from a grandma to a teenager can connect with.
Coming from previous ministry leadership positions in other churches and as the front man for rock band Telecast, Josh grew weary of the stadium rock vibe that pervades our modern worship gatherings. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” he says. “It’s just when you add all those extra layers in it can be easy to lose the impact of the music.” He’s a big advocate of using simple stripped down music that can and will impact more than just those who like rock music.
Where he’s at in Hawthorne, the musical dialect is folk and bluegrass influenced music, which has always been a passion of White’s. “I’m a big fan of The Innocence Mission, Sufjan Stevens and Bob Dylan,” he says. “Before I was a believer folk music was a big part of my musical taste.” He credits Airport Convention, Nick Drake, Simon and Garfunkel, and Jose Gonzales as being big musical influences.
The church was really started with all this in mind. Josh wanted to create a space where the worship would be simple and the songs would really force people to think through what they were singing. “There isn’t a tight formula when it comes to worship,” he says about creating songs for the worship gathering. He feels that instead of creating only an emotional response through music it is possible to really have a thought provoking impact on people through simple, sincere music.
In a sea of overpolished, auto-tuned, pitch-corrected modern rock worship music, Achor has this genuine, honest and real live coffeehouse vibe to it. It almost feels like you could be sitting in an old rickety rocking chair on an old wooden front porch with your friends while Josh sings these bluesy, folk tunes. Sebastian Rogers (producer) helped Josh capture that raw and gritty sound that makes this album so refreshing. Josh let him hear some bluegrass and folk albums that he really liked and he and Sebastian crafted Achor from the ground up. No click tracks. No electric guitars or synth pads. They started with just the vocals and an acoustic guitar and then layered in all the other tracks with session musicians and musicians from Door of Hope.
The album makes great use of real musical instruments including flutes, recorders, banjos, and even a bass clarinet!
The entire process from start to finished mix-down took sixteen days. All of the tracks were recorded pretty spontaneously. The session musicians came in and listened one time through and then laid their parts in flawlessly. The one-take approach gives the record an alive sound that you don’t get from most studio records.
Let Me See Your Hands
Written ten years ago, Let Me See Your Hands is a great song that really captures an emotional desire and really prompts deep thought. It has a tension to it. Josh wrote it shortly after becoming a Believer. He was so passionate about his new life in Christ and wanting to share it with others, but was also frustrated with it because his nonbeliever friends didn’t want to have anything to do with him.
Rewards & Challenges
One of the most exciting things about this album was capturing and sharing what’s going on at Door of Hope. These are all songs that they use in their worship settings. Josh had never intended for this to be a label release and was totally blown away that it took off like it did.
For Josh personally, the challenging part of this whole experience has been knowing how to share it with the church. Because it’s also a “solo” album, he’s wanted to be careful not to puff himself up, so he really wants it to be more about what’s going on at Door of Hope than himself.
The Prophetic Element of Worship (Music)
I asked Josh to share about the prophetic nature of song. This was something he shared passionately. “The priest comes before God with the needs of the people. The prophet comes before the people with the words of God,” he says.
In Zephaniah 3:17 we see one of the few times in scripture where God sings over us. “There’s just something good about right theology wrapped in sincere music,” he says. “Song is prophetic in that it can truly communicate the nearness of God. The Holy Spirit breaks down walls,” Josh says. “God can use His words in a simple song to draw people to Himself.”
Since, we have an active songwriter’s group here on The Worship Community, I always love to ask worship artists about their songwriting process and what advice they’d give to worship songwriters. Josh says he doesn’t really have a process per se, but it’s more along the lines of seeing a broader picture.
“I do encourage Christian worship leaders to listen more broadly to music,” he says. “Most worship songwriters only listen to other worship songwriters and that’s pretty limiting.” He says to get a good understanding of the craft, it’s important to listen to those outside of the modern worship box.
He also encourages songwriters to spend a tremendous amount of time praying and studying Scripture. He says worship songwriters should be theologians first and musicians second. “We write about what we’re passionate about.” he says excitedly. Don’t be afraid of being cliche. “It’s never cliche if you actually mean it.”
What is God Teaching You These Days
White says that the last few months have been the hardest he’s experienced. Struggling through severe insomnia and anxiety about being a husband and pastor have given him an opportunity to seek God in humility. “It’s pretty disarming and unnerving,” he says.
The struggles have given Josh so much more grace for the people he’s ministering to. “God really does resist the proud and give grace to the humble,” he says. “Everything that I do without Jesus is truly nothing.”
The great truth the Lord has spoken into Josh’s heart is this: “I need to quit tinkering with my soul and let God take care of all that.”