Darlene Zschech Interview

This interview was done in Sydney in 1997. I caught up with Darlene and Mark over a cappuccino at Cafe Tropez.I actually took a great photograph of Mark and Darlene which appeared along with the interview, unfortunately the photo got wrecked and was just one of the joys of publishing a magazine. Mark and Darlene are a great couple, they make you feel totally at home - Don Gillespie 2005.

Darlene Zschech is known throughout the world for the song "Shout To The Lord" which has become one of the most popular modem day praise and worship songs on the planet. Mark, her husband, is responsible for video and production at their church and together they make a powerful team that is dedicated to serving the church. They don't claim to have all the answers, but it is very obvious they are passionate about serving God and are totally dedicated to inspiring and motivating people to a closer walk with God. Receiving the first Gold award for a Christian album in over 20 years (Sister Janet Meade received a Gold Record for her "Lord's Prayer" album in the early 70's), Darlene is Worship Pastor at Hills Christian Life Centre in Castle Hill, Sydney, Australia.

Darlene, give us your testimony, briefly.

D: I was saved when I was fifteen and started going to church. God accepted me as I was, warts and all. Two things, not having to perform and being loved unconditionally, have stayed with me ever since. My Christian walk has grown from there, but I've always sung. My parents were both singers, so it is very much a part of me, not something I just do on the weekend.

Looking back on it now, do you feel you've gotten over your parents divorce?

D: It took a long time for that to heal. But now, I have got a real compassion for kids in that situation. It is now the rule, not the exception. Our next generation is definitely going to need answers. In our church, we've got a program called "KIC"', which is `kids in change' and I am doing anything I can to help that program because having taken years to work through that in my own life I feel like I've got something to say, but it has taken a long time.

You hear so often from people getting divorced, "Oh, it won't affect the kids".

D: My parents are both very loving, but I remember being at the divorce court. It was the first real divorce in our church, involving four children, two parents who weren't prepared to give up any of them and the judge said to my parents, "I wish you two could get it together, because I've never seen two people so committed to their children". It was a tragedy and I don't believe a child can go through that naturally and not be affected. I had grandparents who prayed for us and I believed that pulled us all through. I really believe in the power of prayer, but divorce can definitely leave scars. You may not see them immediately but they'll come out somewhere.

There's a trend to blame parents for the way we are and not take responsibility for our actions. But we have to accept what has happened and just get on with the rest of life. Did you come to a place like that?

D: Totally, yes. But it was a hard road to get to that point. I had to go round the mountain a few times before I realised that I had to get over it.

As a teenager, when I was apart from both of my parents, I still remember to this day the times when I didn't hear from my father at Christmas or didn't hear from them on special occasions but I don't remember the gifts they bought me. As a child you think that gifts and toys really matter, but even years later I can still pinpoint those times. To a child those are the things that really matter - the love, unconditional love which is not about money or gifts, it's about time and relationship.

Why did you move from Brisbane to Sydney?

D: Mark and I met in a church band. He was the drummer, I was the singer. We eventually went back to Ipswich where Mark comes from and were assistant youth pastors there. Mark really wanted to get to Sydney, to get to play music. I did not want to move to Sydney. This was about a year after we got married. I'd just rekindled my relationship with my Mum and I did not want to leave her. No way! Mark felt like God was really saying that we were going to move. So we prayed together, probably for the first time in our married life. Mark prayed, "We're going to move to Sydney, God. I really feel this is you. Please tell us when". I'm secretly going, "Please, God, let it not be".

The next day, we went to a little church on the way home where they didn't know us. They had a guest preacher and half way through his preaching, he stopped and said to us, "You two stand up". He said, "This doesn't happen to me very often, but whatever it is you two prayed last night, God says do it now". Nobody else knew about it and I was devastated, so I asked God for one more sign. How gracious He is. My Mum wasn't saved then and I knew she'd be devastated, so I thought I'd ring her. When I rang, she said, "If that's what God wants then you've got to do it." That had to be God because it was a total miracle that she would even talk like that. Six weeks later, we had moved and both had jobs. We knew Pat Mesiti from Hills and we felt it was right to go to there.

M: We went from the largest church in the country to come to Hills Christian Life Centre, which at the time had about a hundred people.

D: We had no support. What we had was a word from God so we went on that. We have always done what needed to be done. Hillsong Conference was Mark's idea. For the first one, I did the lunches and played piano at the rallies and did the billeting, and Mark did the tape duplicating and all that. That was eleven years ago.

M: When we arrived at Hills, we had an appointment with Brian and he asked what we were going to do now that we were here. I said, "We've always been involved in youth ministry". He said, "Well, I've got a youth pastor, you're going to have to find something else to do". We then got involved in music and that whole area. It's never been a big deal for us what we do as long as we're serving God and doing it with all that we've got.

You are both travelling a lot, you're very involved in church. How do you keep your marriage and family together?

D: My cooking!! No - it's our priority. It comes above all else. My ministry is our ministry. It's not my thing and Mark tags along. His television work is our ministry. We have never, and will never, separate it because it's too important. I really believe in any ministry, if it's not working at home, it's almost false because home has got to be great. Your ministry has to be coming out of an overflow rather than just making it. Mark is so totally committed to seeing me released into my ministry, and encourages me when I feel I can't do it anymore. It takes a special kind of guy to do that. Not every man could do it. I really believe our marriage was not just a good idea, it was meant to be. We complete each other. I could never do what I do without Mark. I need him and he needs me.

Do you feel that you're under constant pressure with all your commitments?

D: We don't do this because we have to. We do this because there is a call of God on our lives. Yes, it is busy. Yes, there is a lot to do, but we do this with God. This is not something we do on our own. We don't come out at the end feeling like wrecks. That could only be the Holy Spirit and that's actually what God promised. He said that we will run and not grow weary. If you know in your heart of hearts that you're doing what you're called to do, then you have every right to believe that God will be the difference. He has to be. You cannot exist without that.

We want our marriage, and our children to be a testimony to the grace of God, rather than another Christian artist down the drain. No way.

M: To be an ambassador of Christ, the Bible clearly says that you've got to qualify for that. To be in a position of authority, to be able to speak into other people's lives, the Bible says to get your house in order.

Tell us the story of "Shout to the Lord" ? 1993.

D: That came out of a very simple time at my piano. It was like the song needed to be written and I was there. That's how I really feel about it. I went into the piano room and grabbed my Bible - if I'm writing I always have my Bible in front of me - and it was very easy. I remember playing it to Geoff (Bullock) and Russell (Fragar), and it took me a good twenty minutes. I was apologising and stopping and starting, and saying, "You can change whatever you want to change". In the end I had them standing with their backs to me while I played it to them. Geoff just said, "That's one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard". It was bizarre because we've never promoted it. It's just a song that is easy for people to sing and the words reflect many people's thoughts. It's easy for people to identify with. It's known right around the world. I've had letters from Antarctica to Nigeria saying how much the song means to people.

M: There was a guy shipwrecked in Australia, on a fishing trip. The boat was destroyed and he swam for ages to a buoy and thought he'd never get saved. He said one of the things that really carried him through in the nearly twenty four hour period where he was sitting in the ocean was singing that song. It gave strength to his soul.

D: There have been lots of things like that. The little son of a friend of mine was in a tragic accident and was in a coma, and he's still recovering, it's taken a long time. But I got a letter from them saying that he was in a coma, couldn't talk to anybody, yet he kept singing "Shout to the Lord". That was so powerful to me, because it affected his soul and his soul could sing.

Do you feel any pressure to come up with another great song?

D: I did initially, but I didn't write that song feeling any pressure and I refuse to now. Different songs bring life to people in different ways. One song I wrote for a lady in our church who had breast cancer, "Let the Peace of God Reign", and that's something she really holds on to.

There is a perception that Hills is a music machine and a money machine. Just in the short time I've been meeting with you guys, I realise it's not. What do you say to folks who have that perception?

M: From the outside you could easily think that someone has sat down, drawn up a marketing strategy, put all of the elements together and decided that this is going to be a powerful combination. I can tell you it's far from that. People forget that we're a local church, they forget that we pastor the people, that we hold Sunday services and that we're trying to get people saved. That is the whole criteria for what we do. It's out of that, that all the other things flow, be it albums, conferences or whatever.

There is a question about whether Hills is a church or a music company.

M: I can answer that question very quickly. We are a church. Our mandate for our church is to reach and impact the world. One of the ways to do that is through praise and worship music, but that's also the mantle that God has given Hills Christian Life Centre. We are one of the leaders in the area of praise and worship but there are lots of other churches in the same area, like Paradise in Adelaide. We're not the only people doing it and we're looking abroad ourselves to see what we can embrace to help the local church. It's like Brian's ministry and giftings in leadership. God has clearly given Brian those giftings and abilities, so do people say that we're a motivational factory? It's the mantle that's on the church, and we could completely change our personnel tomorrow, but the mantle that's on Hills Christian Life Centre would still be there. The church is the answer and it's the dedicated machine that God ordained to preach the gospel. It's not record companies, it's not artists, it's not individuals running around doing their own thing. It's actually the local church, because it's not until you get in the local church environment that all the pieces of the body add up and become a complete body and are much more effective. So our mandate is to be a local church, but we want to reach and influence the world.

D: The more public area of our church is the music, but we have a great youth program, we have a counselling and medical centre that's seeing over four hundred people a week, every week in our pastors meetings we pray for all the hurting people and see the needs. We are committed to seeing the answers and we want to be a voice in the community. We want to be a big church that has a voice that can make a difference. It's very hard to do that when you're tiny, although not impossible, but we want to have a voice rather than be dictated to, because we want people to see the church as the answer.

What about the pastor of the little country church who comes to the Hillsong conference, sees everything happening, and when he goes home, he's struggling with a piano that's out of tune, a guitar player who can't really play, and so on.

D: At Hillsong conference we have things to help small churches. The thing I love is that we were there. We started as a really small church. We didn't start with the staff that we have now. We started where every little church is now, with just a few dedicated people.

M: What we teach, I suppose, isn't so much skill and talent, it's much more about attitude and approaching things enthusiastically, rather than concentrating on not being a very good piano player. You can take an OK musician, but if you can change the way they think then all of a sudden the whole dynamic changes because of the way they approach everything. Talent does attract talent, there's no doubt about that, but you've also got to build a platform of, "We're going for it! I've got the resources God has given me and I'm going to apply that 100% and just let the gospel do the work". You've got to put in the effort behind that.

What qualifies you to do what you're doing?

M: Just that I'm a servant of God. I don't have any particular qualifications, no background in this industry. We've never been a record company before, grown a large church before, or run conferences that 50,000 people attended before. We don't have any qualifications but the fact that we serve God, we outwork the calling that he's given us. My personal thing is that I want to see the church fulfilled. I want to see the church reach its full potential. I think that we can do that in all areas of life, not only in praise and worship, but in lots of other areas.

D: Back to the small church. I was at a conference once and a girl said, " I am the music director, I am the band, I am the singer. We've got thirty people".
I said, "Why don't you start having rehearsals?"
She said, "Why?"
I said, "Have you got anything for people to come to?"
"Well, it's only me".
I said, "Why don't you just pray and have rehearsals."
For three weeks she went to rehearsal on her own and she thought, "What am I doing?"

I got a letter from her about three months later saying that the fourth week a musician turned up and after three months, she's got two singers and two players. You can either sit there and complain about what you haven't got or get out there and start doing it. If God has given all of us what we need to move forward, he doesn't just dangle a carrot in front of us that we can't have, he gives us a dream and a desire in our heart so that we will get up. He doesn't do it just to frustrate us. If you dare to put Him to the test, if you dare to actually trust Him, He is so faithful, He always meets you halfway. Always - but you have to take that first step. Never once has God let me down. I've let myself down and a lot of people have let me down, but never once has God let me down.

Everyone expected our church to fall over. We had a time of adjustment, with everyone rethinking things, but what happened? We had all these writers suddenly spring up, and I really believe that a lot of the songs we're doing now are by far our best songs ever. If someone's not going to do it, he just goes, "OK. Tag. Next. You're it!" No-one is indispensable to God.

With you being involved in seminars around the world now, how does that relate back to the church and also to you as a couple in your marriage?

D: Internationally now, we just take it for granted that people understand about having a servant heart, about as a musician when it comes to praise and worship, that you're not the artist. You lay that down to be part of a team, to be committed to your pastor and his vision, despite yours. You know that praise and worship is always going to be the secondary area in church, it's never going to be the number one. It is a part of the bigger picture. We often take it for granted that people know that, but you go to places around the world and they don't.

We're very strategic about our travel planning now but if we really believe that God wants to say something to people, then we will go. Often we work with Brian and Bobbie, and the four of us will travel together as a team, but we don't go to things because it will be good for our image or whatever. We go because we believe that it's in the right timing, We never just go to do our thing, we're always sent by our church, then you know that the people at home are praying for you and it's powerful. This keeps us accountable to our church, which helps keep our motivation, our heart, all that in order. We have very honest relationships with Brian and Bobbie. We can talk about anything and we get the truth. They have been in place for a long time and I've got to say about them, that they are the best pastors that I could ever wish for and I defend them wholeheartedly.

Anything else you'd like to add?... and I hate it when people say that in an interview.

D: If only people would believe the word of God and take it at its full value. I have been down the path where I went after things and that really appealed to me and all it brought me was frustration.

Mark and I decided that we would just seek after God, whatever it is He wants. We will be available and whatever He wants we will do. We don't focus on all that has happened to us. The shock is that you stop sometimes and you look behind you and all these things that you didn't search for, you didn't strive for, things that you would never dare to ask God for, are sitting there.

Even the fact I had to walk away from my family when we first got married because their voices were so negative, and in the last three months my family is getting saved one after another. That's God's promise. If I build His house, he'll look after mine. If I do seek Him first, then He will honour that. If people could just trust God in that because it is a big step, to take our eyes off our desires and literally hand them over. Be available to God and the results will be beyond your wildest thoughts and dreams. That's what He promised us. I continually have to check on my attitudes, the Holy Spirit reminds me to get things dealt with all the time, but that's what I want. We're on the edge of something powerful in our country, we need a country full of artists who have that heart.

Who are you accountable to?

M: Directly to Brian and Bobbie, and we feel very comfortable with that. With the pressures that are on you in life, if you cannot go to someone and say, "What do you think about this?" all of a sudden you can be down a path where God doesn't want you to be, and you don't understand how you got there and you don't feel like you made any wrong decisions, but all of a sudden you're off the track. It happens so suddenly.

D: Any invitations I get now, Mark and I go through with Brian. All my invitations look great, so you need wisdom and you need people around you who are totally honest. We want to be accountable. If you want to be an artist, great! God has blessed a lot of people with great gifts, and that's great, go down that road. But if you want to give everything to praise and worship, then that's what you do. It is not about your art. It is about God. It is something that is holy and is sovereign, and is not about you and I. It is about God.

M: It's about bringing people into the presence of God.

D: It's very different from being an artist and that's where a lot of people get it wrong.

M: The new buzzword we hear is being a "worship artist".

D: What is a "worship artist"? I'm a worshipper, just like you're a worshipper. I might be a worship leader and I might write songs but it's just a tool so that people can open their hearts and worship the living God. I don't know what that's got to do with me being an artist. I still write and sing other songs, but I know that's not the greatest call on my life, so that's why we have decided to dedicate our lives to seeing people open up and enter the throne room of God. When they're open like that and the word is preached, they'll never be the same. That is fantastic and that's where the preaching and the worship work so beautifully together.

Maranatha Music fell into the trap of having to produce 6 or 8 albums a year. Is there pressure at Hills to produce more albums?

M: Because we are not a record company, we don't feel the pressure of putting out another product to boost sales. We are a local church, so our albums represent the resource of the local church. We have to fit that into the church's schedule, so in terms of our church calendar there's not much room to be doing an album a month. The songs that we use are the ones that come out of the life of our church. There are probably some opportunities for us to repackage some songs. Already we've just recorded a new album called "All Things Are Possible". We've probably got enough new, fresh, alive, great worship songs to record another album next month, but that's not going to happen. So it's got to come out of the life that's really happening in church.

There's another misconception, I suppose, that people do have about us. They think that we would never sing their song. We're not that narrow to think that this has got to be the Hillsong show. This is actually about the body of Christ, the church. So, if there's a song out there touching people, we want to know about it!