Connections: Bob Kilpatrick
A Passion for Music
Bob Kilpatrick is a minister, author and Christian musician with songs such as “Lord Be Glorified” and “Here Am I (Send Me to the Nations)” to his credit. He is an inductee into the Assemblies of God Music Hall of Honor. He recently visited with Pentecostal Evangel Editor Ken Horn.
evangel: You’re known primarily for your music ministry, but you’re also an author with two books to your credit. Talk about your writing.
KILPATRICK: Some ideas are perfectly suited to the medium of music, while others are too large or too nuanced to fit within a 3-minute melody. My last album of songs, This Changes Everything, was one narrative stretched over 11 songs and a spoken word piece. Looking back on it, I can see that I was already feeling restricted and was moving toward a different, and larger, vehicle for my ideas.
I had also been writing a column for Christian Musician magazine for many years, but a column is more like a song than a book in its depth. I started writing The Art of Being You and discovered how different the book process is.
I was sending chapters to my son, Joel, who is a very good writer (and former associate editor with the Pentecostal Evangel). He would critique them, making suggestions and even writing some of his suggestions out. I would copy many of them straight into the manuscript.
Finally, I asked him to pray about writing the book with me. It took him a week to agree. There were some involved who thought it would damage our relationship to work together, but it was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. Joel brought so much to the book.
During an editing break I had a desire to write a book about the conversation of prayer and the need for quiet in our relationship with God. The result was Secrets of the Silence: The Power of Praying Without Words, a 21-day devotional that came out in 2009. I’m now working on a companion book to it, tentatively titled Sacred Synergy, about the power of praying together.
As I visit many churches both in the United States and abroad, the thing I am most aware of is the lack of corporate prayer. In my opinion, not much will change inside or outside of the church until we begin to pray together again.
evangel: How did music and ministry become your life?
KILPATRICK: I sang and acted my whole life. I moved to Los Angeles when I was 17 to be an actor, but on a visit home I was baptized in the Holy Spirit.
I never returned to L.A. Instead, I moved into a Christian commune. I burned my guitar and all my records because I didn’t want music to be my god. Music was a powerful force during the Jesus Movement, however, and when I was given a guitar a few months later, I began to write songs and sing again.
I knew I had been called into the ministry, and I thought that meant I would be in a pastoral setting. I tried being a youth pastor and a music pastor, but I couldn’t find any passion for it in my heart. My wife, Cindy, and I had formed a band while I was music pastor at Bethel Church in Redding, Calif., and it was obvious to everyone that this was where my gifts and passions lay.
So, with the encouragement and support of my pastor and the whole church family, Cindy and I stepped out into itinerate music ministry. That was 1976. I’ve been at it ever since.
evangel: You have written some well-known worship songs, such as “Lord Be Glorified” and “Here Am I (Send Me to the Nations).” Where do you normally get your inspiration?
KILPATRICK: I wrote “Lord Be Glorified” in my mother-in-law’s living room as a private prayer song for Cindy and me to sing before we would do a concert. It was Cindy who suggested I sing it publicly. Had it not been for her, that song would have remained our own little musical prayer. Because I wrote it for just the two of us, it has a simplicity to it that might not have been there had I written it for public performance.
“Here Am I (Send Me to the Nations)” came to me as I stepped onto the platform at a youth conference in Hamilton, Ontario, with David Wells (who is now general superintendent of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada) and Rich Wilkerson.
I grabbed my guitar, went back into the prayer room, figured out some chords, and sang it that night. There were hundreds of kids gathered at the altar at the end of the service singing it. It was very moving.
evangel: You have ministered alongside many top-notch ministers and musicians. Share some of your most memorable experiences.
KILPATRICK: There are so many! I’ve had the privilege of working with some great musicians on albums: Phil Keaggy, Randy Stonehill, Sara Groves, Noel ‘Paul’ Stookey and Larry Norman among others.
In the early ’80s at a retreat center in Canada, Cindy and I sat up until 3 a.m. with Jack Hayford and Ralph Mahoney, listening to them tell stories about the early days of their ministries.
A few years ago I visited Honduras with Jeremy Camp, Phil Keaggy, Andrew Peterson, Tony Campolo and some others to see the ministry of Compassion International. We were passing out meals and playing soccer with these beautiful little children.
I spent a week in Calcutta with Dr. Mark Buntain. Shortly after he died, his widow, Huldah, asked me to come back for their Christmas concert series. She is one of my heroes.
evangel: You travel a lot. What are you seeing out there? Do you think the church is healthy?
KILPATRICK: In my opinion the American church is in a malaise. In many ways we have become one more religious “self-help” choice for spiritual consumers.
Can I be bold and say we have a form of godliness but lack its power? Miracles are alarming. When they happen to people, people are jolted from their complacency. If we truly believe in signs and wonders — that Jesus heals the sick and raises the dead — then we need to make room for these things to happen. We should encourage people’s faith to believe God.
Well-behaved Christians will never change the world. My prayer for our Fellowship is that we will stop trying to attract religious consumers to our churches, stop currying the favor of man, and start being dangerous again. We may be ridiculed for it, but who cares? If we care, it is to our shame.
evangel: What does it take for a song to honor God?
KILPATRICK: It has to be true. That sounds simplistic, but the songs that make a difference don’t just have true words; they are truth. John said that what he had seen and touched of the Word of God was what he was telling about. (See 1 John 1:1.)
So many Christian songs are secondhand news. The writer is telling someone else’s story. Tell your experience with God. Read the Bible. It shows you who God is. Then make sure your lyric fits His character.
Having that as a foundation, strive to communicate in an elegant and simple way. Play skillfully, as David said in Psalm 33:3. Be the best composer you can be. Songs don’t come from God; creative gifts and ideas do. Be willing to edit, edit and edit again. Be ruthless with your own songs before anyone else has the opportunity.
I’d love to have been there when John Newton was writing and rewriting “Amazing Grace.” This is the queen mother of hymns partly because it sounds like it always existed. But it was edited until it was perfect. Dorothy L. Sayers said, “The only Christian work is good work, well done.” I am inclined to agree.
evangel: What’s going on in your ministry right now?
KILPATRICK: I’m still traveling a lot, in the United States and around the world. I’m never going to retire. I can’t figure out why I should when the ministry is my avocation. I don’t need a hobby because I’m doing what I love every day.
We did an outreach in Naples, Italy, attended by 70,000. The mayor gave us the free use of the sports arena grounds and opened the event for us. I was also with [AG Missionary] Jerry Smith in Ecuador. We packed 3,500 people in for a worship concert and got to see the great work he is doing there.
In many of the conferences I do around the world, I am able to give away musical instruments that have been supplied by Christians here in America. I can’t tell you how grateful the worship leaders are.
People remember three things: stories, songs and humor. The sad truth is they don’t often remember sermons. So I make sermons that have the truth embedded in the songs, humor and stories. That way, when people remember these things they are watering the seeds of truth.
I have been sharing the message I wrote about in The Art of Being You, that we are not a problem to be solved or broken life to be repaired, but God’s artwork to be formed, refined and displayed “in the ages to come.” I am passionate about it because I know it will change people’s understanding of God and His purpose for our lives.
evangel: What advice do you have for budding Christian musicians?
KILPATRICK: Don’t concern yourself with becoming famous, because it can cause you to focus your energy on maintaining your fame, not on doing what God made you for. The most important thing is to be faithful to the work God has given you. If you achieve riches or fame and leave that undone, you are undone yourself.
Write great, true songs and sing them to the circle God has given you. Let the circle grow through relationships. Like Paul, be content in every circumstance, abasing or abounding.
I have a free series of five manuals called The Christian Music Survival Guide that I will give as a pdf to anyone who wants it. In them I write extensively about composing, recording, booking, touring and all the other logistics of this kind of ministry.
One of them may be of interest to pastors and worship leaders as well; it is the Church Sound Survival Guide. It is a clear guide to understanding the sound system and running sound in church, written in layman’s terms.
evangel: Anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
KILPATRICK: Remember that everyone has a last day. No one lives here forever. All the things most valued in this world — riches, power, pleasure and fame — matter very little, if at all. They distract us from the only thing: meeting Jesus in this present moment and serving with Him as He serves.
Irenaeus, one of the church fathers, said, “The glory of God is man fully alive!” The way of the cross is the way of life.
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