Interview: Worship Leader Mal Smith

Mal Smith is a worship leader, songwriter, and recording artist in New South Wales, Australia (we previously featured him in a NoiseTrade Roundup). Recently, Mal talked to Worship Links about the next generation of minstrels, why he loves the Psalms, and why he’s thankful for a gracious church.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions for us. It’s truly appreciated! The first question is an easy one. Tell us a little bit about yourself in five sentences.

I was born in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, as the son of medical parents involved in mission, and was honoured to experience the presence of God over a spiritual people. Our family returned home to Sydney, Australia, for high school, where I have lived until recently, learning the guitar, studying Horticultural and Environmental Science, and later Theology, where I met my wife. Since marrying, we have been involved in sharing the love and power of Christ wherever the Holy Spirit has lead us – to university students, the homeless, fringe communities in the inner west of Sydney, in the pubs of Newtown, and the lounge room. We currently live with our two kids on The Central Coast, NSW, where my wife is a full time writer under the pen name Melina Grace, whilst I assist young people generate employability skills, write songs and develop our music and worship team at Grace Community Wamberal.

How did you get started in worship ministry?

I bought my first guitar when I was 15 at a garage sale for $15, and started playing it 1-2 hours every afternoon after school. Shortly afterward, my mum asked a young man who was a musician and soundy in our church to teach me. He introduced me into the church music team after six months of lessons. I think it’s so important to encourage the next generation of minstrels.

What’s your basic process for planning a service or worship set?

I like to spend some time in His presence, playing, singing, listening, being, meditating.

My favourite questions are: “God what is your heart for your people this week?” “What songs are on your heart?”

“What do you want to emphasise?” “What do you want to release?” “Where/how do you want to break through?”

From here, I have a prompting from The Holy Spirit about where we are heading, and plan around it.

It’s not a rigourous and religious formula, but I generally like to start with celebration and thanksgiving, moving into high praise and end in adoration (Psalm 100 – enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise)

A friend and worshipper, Marty Mitchell, has written an excellent book which I have found very helpful on this topic, titled ‘Beholding The Glory.’

Desert Island Worship Mix: You’re trapped on a desert island, and for reasons too ridiculous to explain, you can only have one CD with five worship songs on it. What are they?

It’s so hard to pick just five songs – these ones have never left me, and take me to a place of declaration, intimacy, adoration or thanksgiving.

  • How Great Thou Art – World Outreach Church Version. I’ve attached a must see youtube link below for a glimpse of the epic throne room celebrations we’ve got to look forward to.
  • Revelation Song, by Jenny Lee Riddle, from the album Consumed (Jesus Culture, Live)
  • What A Friend I’ve Found, by Delirious? from the album King Of Fools.
  • Break Every Chain, by Will Reagan and United Pursuit from the album In the Night Season.
  • Good Good Father, by Pat Barrett and Anthony Brown, from the album Housefires II.

What have you found are some of your greatest challenges in managing a worship team? How do you handle the balance between being a musician and being a manager?

One of the most important challenges is developing a culture of honour. If we honour each other as team members, we will be a united worshipping front. We will sound better as musicians, and we will be looking out for each other’s hearts during the week. Getting the attitude in check is important – after set up, we hand the whole thing over to God. It’s His service, not mine.

I find my music takes a back seat. As a worship leader, my guitaring becomes a lot more stripped back and simplified due to everything that I’m aware of happening around me in the service. There’s a lot. “What are you doing Holy Spirit?” “Where are we going?” I’m trusting and listening, being directed as I direct. Doing the practice during the week makes this stuff a lot easier, and honours the other team members, the church and The Lord.

What scriptures speak to you the most about worship?

I love the psalms. I love their honesty, openness, wisdom and intimacy. Brian Simmons calls them “Poetry on Fire”. My heart, mind and being are lit up by encountering our Maker through the Psalms. Some of my favourites are Psalm 8, 23, 24, 46, 91, 100 and 139.

If you could give one piece of advice to up and coming worship leaders, what would it be? Conversely, what’s some advice you wish you’d received earlier on?

Worship leading is never about a performance. Worship leading is about enjoying the presence of Christ, and welcoming His presence. Learning to love His presence during the week (Monday – Saturday) is the key to good worship leading on Sunday. (see The Practice of The Presence of Christ, by Brother Lawrence).

What do you think worship in the church will look like in ten years?

Over the past ten years, the church has had an identity shift towards a greater understanding of what it means to be sons and daughters of The King. The next ten years will see an unravelling of our identity as co-heirs of The Kingdom. I sense greater freedom, authority and release in worship where we will see an increase of The kingdom of Heaven being poured out on earth through supernatural healings, miracles, revival, joy, celebration, revelation and kids dancing on injustice. These things will become more normal.

Any new worship artists on your radar at the moment?

There are some churches within Australia that I have great admiration for, and God is doing an awesome work through their heart of worship. New Earth Tribe (Byron Bay) have been undoubtedly my greatest mentor for worship. Also keep an eye out for Liberty (Gosford), Dayspring (Sydney), and Jubilee (Sydney).

What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done while leading worship (that you’re willing to share)?

We’ve got a very gracious church, but every now and then I get a complete mental blank and can’t remember a song, how it goes, what the rhythm is, anything about it – even though we rehearsed it prior. I just stare at the paper blankly. I’ve learned now, that if this happens, not to panic, but just wait, or go to the next song. Earlier on I used to try and play through it, and nobody knew what was going on.

Thanks again for answering our questions. If people want to find you online, what’s the best way?

Thanks so much for your time. I hope the interview has been a blessing.

My web page is the best way – all the songs, social media links, contact details etc can be found from there.

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