Interview: Songwriter John Chisum

John Chisum has done a bit of everything when it comes to worship music. Through the years, he’s been a songwriter, worship leader, publisher, and performer. Recently, John talked to Worship Links about how to lead musicians, what real worship looks like, and knowing your audience.

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.

You’re welcome and thanks for this opportunity! The best part of my life is being married to Donna for 36 years now and having an amazing daughter, Aly – nothing better! I’ve had the privilege of being a songwriter, publisher, and worship leader for many years and have traveled a million miles in ministry – just getting started! I’ve served as a worship pastor in several churches and now Managing Partner of Nashville Christian Songwriters.

How did you get started in worship ministry?

I came to Christ back before anyone was called a worship leader! I was bursting with this new love I’d stumbled into in Jesus and just wanted to sing about him, so I did. It developed into a regional concert ministry, but some dramatic healing in my life made me want to sing more TO Him than ABOUT Him and that was the major transition from performance to real worship for me. I had become a professional Christian songwriter in Nashville and was on staff as VP of Publishing for a company owned by Bill Gaither and others that put out a lot of music. I left there and spent some years managing songwriters and developing product for Integrity Music. All along I’ve led worship, kind of on a dual track with business and ministry. I love the local church and have always been involved there, too.

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

I think every worship leader has their “go-to” songs and set list to pull from. The first thing I do is imagine what the service should look like, then scroll through my library of songs while imagining what it’s going to feel like standing there singing and leading those songs. If it feels like it makes me happy to imagine that particular song or list of songs, I sketch it out and run through them. If they hang together, I go with it, though I’m always open to adjustments in rehearsal or otherwise. It’s a feel thing for me, always.

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?

  • One Thing Remains (Your Love Never Fails)/Johnson, Gifford, Riddle
  • How He Loves/McMillan
  • Christ Is Risen/Maher, Fieldes
  • Your Name/Packiam, Baloche
  • I Give You My Heart/Morgan

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?

The greatest challenge for me has been thinking through what my volunteers really need to follow my leadership. I assume way too often that they have the same heart and vision I do for worship, when they’re really only trying to make it through their own struggles and play a little music for Jesus. The most common complaint I received is that I didn’t communicate what was in my head often enough or clearly enough for them to get it. I just assumed they could see what I see, but they don’t and they can’t – that’s why God calls us to be leaders, because we see big picture stuff. The challenge is in communicating well enough for people to follow without being cryptic or demanding. If people hear the vision and understand it, they will often bring their gifts to it willingly and with greater passion and joy.

What scriptures speak to you the most about worship?

The entire Book of Psalms, for certain, but the Book of Hebrews is a tremendous view into the High Priesthood of Christ that always speaks to me, too. In a sense, we enter into His worship of the Father by the Holy Spirit and Hebrews is such an awesome culmination of the whole sequence of history and Biblical pictures of the heavenly worship that’s happening continually.

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?

Develop your Emotional Intelligence. I could have been a much better leader and staff member had I worked harder at being emotionally intelligent when it came to the inevitable criticisms that fly at you from other leaders and the congregation. I took myself far too seriously and took the wounds way too deep in myself without getting enough emotional help along the way.

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

Real worship isn’t about songs or music or what happens in a church service. Real worship in ten years will look like it has for the last 2,000 years — a life totally surrendered to God by loving yourself and loving others as you love yourself. Nothing else is real worship. As for musical expressions, I think we’ll see a major shift towards simplicity and deeper meaning in our lyrics like the Gettys and other “modern hymn writers” are bringing. Not every song will have to be in a hymn style, but I think people will slowly become intolerant of lighter, fluffy Christian-like songs that don’t carry the weight of eternal truth.

John Chisum

Any new worship artists on your radar at the moment?

Kings Kaleidoscope with the song I Know, for sure, and Liz Vice with her funky Abide. Awesome artists!

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

I was leading at a very formal Presbyterian church once years ago and actually said, “I’m going to get you stuck up Presbyterians to worship if it’s the last thing I do!” Ice formed on the walls. I was never asked back. It was horrible.

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

My personal site is and our new songwriter’s site is I’ve got blogs and leadership stuff at the first one and a lot of great new resources on both for worship leaders and songwriters.

One thought on “Interview: Songwriter John Chisum”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *