Who Is Benj Haisch?

We are thrilled to have our current series of Gospel Songs paired with a set of photos by photographer Benj Haisch

What is the first photo you ever remember taking?  Any good?

In 2005, I went on a 3 month trip to India with YWAM and it was my first experience with a camera that I can really remember. I had 756MB of memory on a little point and shoot for the entire trip, but that trip is really what sparked my interest in photography in the first place. I blogged those photos a few years ago if anyone is interested. I’d say I did a decent job of only showing the one’s that aren’t terrible.

"Oh God"

"Oh God"

You have an ongoing Instagram series called “This Week at Church,” that is super intriguing considering the diverse crowd of people you attract.  Tell us a little bit about why you do it.

Before I was a photographer, I worked doing music and media at a church full time, which meant that I had lots of opportunities to talk to people of my church, but had lots of other friends in ministry at other churches. I loved getting together with those friends periodically and hearing what’s going on in their churches, what they’re learning, and how things were going with them. It made me wonder what else everyone else across the country and world was being impacted by, so I started posting little “nuggets” [as one of my pastors used to call them] onto my Instagram under the #thisweekatchurch hashtag and then started encouraging others to do the same. Like you mentioned, my audience is fairly diverse, so I often try to keep things simple and easily consumable with song lyrics, short verses, or quotes I heard at church, studies, or interactions with others that week. My goal with these is to share small bits of God’s great love for us to those who don’t believe and to encourage and remind those of us who do.

What role do gospel songs play in your life?

Music in general has been an enormous part of my life for as long as I can remember. I memorize music very easily and often have a song stuck in my head. That means for me personally, I have the opportunity to continually remind myself of God’s goodness and grace to me through song throughout the day. One of my favorite things to do is what I consider to be gospel song studies. I’ll take every line of a song, figure out what concept it is trying to tell me, and look up some of the passages in scripture where that particular concept is talked about. On a corporate level, I also feel that playing/singing/listening to gospel music together with other believers is incredibly unifying, people coming together and proclaiming truths of scripture in unison. I love it.

"In Tenderness"

"In Tenderness"

How often do you find gospel songs or even music in general influencing you as a photographer?

I’m often traveling solo for my work over weekends, meaning I miss Sunday services more times than not. Because of this, I’m super thankful for the resources like podcasts and great gospel centered music to take with me. Travel can be an absolute pain, but long flights and car rides can often be incredibly meditative for me. When I’m out scouting locations, I’ll often bring a set of head phones as well. I feel like music and photography can easily go hand in hand for me. I feel like I actually have slight synesthesia in that many songs have a very particular visual feel/mood/color/aesthetic to them, so I’ll often try to match the music I’m listening to my surroundings.

As a photographer with a large and growing following, what is the main thing you hope people take away from your art? 

With my work that I put out there on social media my big takeaway would hopefully be to the things that ultimately matter in life. Especially with things like my #thisweekatchurch posts, I feel like photography has been what has given my permission into people’s lives via this little rectangle we keep in our pockets. The posts aren’t typically massive paragraphs, but I’m hoping that a solid photo will stop someone from quick-scrolling long enough to see a glimpse into what ultimately makes me tick.

Any last words?

I’ll just end with saying that one of the biggest things I hear from believers who follow me in real life is how they love how I share my faith online, but they’re too scared to do the same thing, worried that it will affect their business/career. It’s just a bummer for me that people seem to keep something that is such an important part of their lives completely hidden other than maybe a “saved by grace” line in their bio or something. People share all sorts of content about all of the other things they experience in life, why should faith be any different? For my audience, I just try not to get too preachy and like I said earlier, I try to keep the content fairly “consumable” by the masses. Thanks!

Benj Haisch

I’m a big fan of coffee dates with my wife, the great outdoors, hiking, good music, sunny days, last minute trips, and Apple products. I love Jesus, my wife, photography [obviously], playing music, traveling, experiencing new cultures, my family, and helping others. Visit benjhaisch.com to check out my work.

The Sound Of Your City

By Rob Wilson

As worship teams, we have the beautiful opportunity to use music and the arts as a means of exalting Christ and providing space in people’s hearts and lives for the Spirit to do what only He can. More specifically, we hold the great honor of pastoring our congregations through the arts, readying them for gospel-centered living. 

That should look and sound different for each one of us. We lead differently because we’re involved pastorally. 

To be effective pastors and leaders, I would argue that just as important as the Truths we’re singing are the means by which we sing them. Throughout scripture, we see Jesus and the Biblical writers contextualizing the message for their hearers. We have the opportunity to do the same with music. 

That’s one reason I love the band, Citizens & Saints. One quick pass at their driving-grunge bass and near-breaking vocals and you can tell they’re clearly from the Seattle area. They’re writing gospel-saturated songs in a way that resonates Truths in their congregant’s hearts and minds; their songs are involved and woven into the fabric of their people. Their sound is authentic to who they are and the community they belong to. 

Now, as much I personally connect with Citizens & Saints, I’ve only led their song, “Made Alive,” a couple of times in my current North Texas context. I’ve found it’s simply not the sound of our community and, therefore, isn’t as effective in providing our people with the means of worshipping God and encouraging one another. 

To lead pastorally is to have a growing knowledge and practice of the best ways to strengthen your people’s pursuit of, and dependence on, Christ. Worship planning with anyone in mind other than those who gather with you each week leads to shallow and narrow worship.

What is the sound of your city? Even more, what is the sound of your people (not the sound of the people you hope to attract)? Take Citizens & Saints’ example of authenticity as you pastor your people through the arts. 

Rob Wilson is a family-man, singer/songwriter, worship leader and pastor at Bent Tree in Dallas, Texas. You can find his music and worship resources at www.robwilsonmusic.com and connect with him on Twitter @robwilsonmusic.

"Jesus!" - Keep the Song About the Song

By Chris Horton

“Keep the song about the song!”  That might have been the best piece of advice on songwriting I’ve ever gotten. As an amateur songwriter, I had a problem with jumping from topic to topic.  I wouldn’t stay focused on what the song needed to truly be about.  As worship leaders, we put words in people’s mouths every week.  It’s pretty important for it to be a clear, coherent message that is doctrinally sound and accessible for congregations of people to be able to sing. 

Many times we’ve sung songs, and maybe even written songs ourselves, that start on a topic like creation and made our way all the way to the cross.  Where I would never argue it’s a bad thing to sing about the cross, I think we need to ask ourselves “what are we trying to accomplish in writing that particular song?”  I would push that if we aim to teach and be faithful to the context of a particular subject matter in the time it takes to sing a song on a Sunday morning, we should aim to have a bit more of a laser focus in what we are saying.  Lets reach deep to keep the song about the song so as to give the people a clear take away of what we are singing.

The song Jesus! by Citizens & Saints is a great example of a song that accomplishes all these things.  In 3 short verses the song speaks to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as well as highlights such truths as our righteousness being imputed from Jesus himself and the fact that every knee will bow and worship Him and His eternal reign in glory!

This song is an anthem, one of more complete anthems I might add, to the good and perfect character and nature of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and can fit well anywhere in a service structure and serve the purpose of making Jesus famous!

Chris Horton

Chris Horton is the worship leader at The Journey St. Louis and member of The Journey Collective, helping run Worship Cohort.

Who Is Donald Zimmerman?

Where do you serve? For how long?

I came on staff at Doxa Church right after it was born last year in 2015. I've been leading worship for 17 years and coaching worship leaders for 7 years.

Tell us a little bit about your church. What is a Sunday gathering like?

Doxa is a church of missional communities, and we're working hard to have great Sundays while simultaneously equipping people to live for Jesus in the everyday stuff of life. We have lots of young families, with college students, young artists/professionals, and older generations in the mix as well. It's the most economically diverse church I've seen, with CEOs and homeless singing alongside each other. 

How do you personally prepare for Sunday gatherings?

Our sermon series is chosen months in advance, so I try to first familiarize myself with the primary themes of the book of the Bible we'll be in. Our teaching pastor, Jeff Vanderstelt is really helpful in providing a 3-4 sentence overview of each Sunday at the beginning of a new series, so that becomes a guiding document for setting liturgy, selecting songs, and even writing. We do a Thursday night rehearsal to prepare for the upcoming Sunday like most churches. Many of the key volunteers that play with me regularly are also in my missional community which is helpful for personal relationship and connection. We eat and laugh together a lot.

Sunday mornings we get line checked, run through the set with the necessary transitions, and then I lead a liturgy meeting with all production and worship volunteers. We talk about the big idea and purpose for the day, hear an executive summary of the sermon from Jeff, take communion together and then pray for the church and the gatherings. The prayers are informed by the central theme.

What has been the hardest obstacle you have had to overcome as a song leader?

Leaving a church I helped plant and served in for over a decade has been the hardest thing I've ever done. Add to that all of the unique challenges that come with a replant , and the reminders of how much I need Christ are unavoidably near at hand. A replant is a beautiful thing because it's such a tangible picture of God's redemption, but building a worship culture among hundreds of people takes time, and it requires steady, patient, and faithful leadership. God has been very kind and gracious to our church thus far, and I'm expectant to see what a church of people on mission can do for the Eastside.

Donald Zimmerman is the Worship Pastor at Doxa Church in downtown Bellevue. Donald moved to the northwest with his wife and kids in early 2015. He’s led worship for 17 years in churches of all sizes and loves investing in leaders, and helping artists find their place in ministry.

He coaches worship leaders all over the country and blogs about leading artists in the local church at zimmermanband.com



The Freedom Of Rest

I remember as a child seeing a television clip that featured the proper tactics for trapping a baboon. It was a painfully simple strategy:

Step 1: Make sure the baboon is watching.
Step 2: Dig a small hole in an ant mound and place seeds inside.

Step 3: Watch the baboon wait for your absence, put his hand in the mound, and refuse to loosen his grip.
Step 4: Go fetch your baboon.

The entire plan hinges on the unwillingness of the baboon to let go of the seeds inside the hole. With the bait in his clenched fist, he cannot pull his hand back out. He is effectively pinned down. After the trapper approaches him and hauls him off, the narrator says something about the baboon that is both obvious and snarky:

“Now he lets go, when it’s too late.”



Artists have a bad rap. They’re moody, brooding, lazy, self-absorbed. They’re couch-surfing drifters with arrested development. They have little to no employment and make few commitments. And while some have fed this narrative, most of the artists I know are anything but the traits described above. They’re industrious and ambitious. They’re the ones likely to create something that powerfully ripples through culture. They have a hand firmly planted on the lens of how the church sees the world. They dream big and work incredibly hard to make the beauty, sights, and sounds inside them become a tangible reality. They take the rawest parts of themselves and bravely put them on display for public consumption.

That said, a dark side exists in most of us because of how we involve our ourselves in our work. We deeply identify with the song, sculpture, or computer code that we create, and we often have a hard time seeing where we end and our work begins.

I have found one antidote, more powerful than any other I know, to push back against this dark side: rest. There isn’t a more essential or difficult spiritual discipline for the creative than rest.

I would argue that creatives in the church have two strikes against them as it relates to practicing rest. Outside of our tendency to overwork because of our art, we work in ministry. Ministry work matters. We deal with the souls of men and women, and the weight of that can drive us even further away from giving ourselves permission to rest. Our fists hold furiously tight to our roles, our projects, our timelines, our inbox, and our mobile device, because we’re dedicated to serving our congregation. So if you’re an artist in the church, it’s even more imperative that you seek and practice rest.

With this in view, let me offer a few practical tips on resting well in this next season.

Rest With Intention
Rest is something that gets suffocated and squandered because it’s important, but never urgent. If you won’t plan it, it won’t happen. Plan short times of weekly rest and bigger slots way in advance. Take vacations. Seek environments that help you disconnect. Spend time in solitude and silence, where you can listen to the Spirit, take time talking to the Father, and dream about the future.  

Rest In Connection
Who do you have fun with? Who helps you see God more clearly? Who is life-giving? Make time to be with them. Especially if you are in ministry, the amount of time you spend pouring out is often disproportionate to the time you spend with others that charge you up. Be known and transparent with a few that you trust. Being known is a basic need of the human soul and that need increases with any form of leadership. Barbecue with friends. Have a picnic with your spouse. Visit family you miss. Host parties. Be with people that fill your tank.

Rest In Identity
We hold on to nonessential things the tightest when we have forgotten who we are. If we misalign the order and priority of our roles (e.g child of God, wife, father, pastor, designer, songwriter, etc.), we are destined to become weary and feel trapped. If you have trusted Christ for salvation, you are, first and foremost, a purchased son or daughter of the most powerful and kind King ever. Jesus is your rest. You belong to Him forever, and nothing that you can hold or create will change that.

Don’t Waste This Summer
Anyone who has worked in ministry or served through many seasons knows that summer is a time where churches tend to take a breath. Summer is a time to work on your craft and not just in it. Get away from the office this summer and think about your next year while you have the margin to do so.

There is nothing more disheartening than seeing someone ignore rest and in turn find wreckage. The narrator’s commentary on the baboon says it all:

“Now he lets go, when it’s too late.”

Photo by  Benj Haisch

Photo by Benj Haisch

Ignoring rest is costly. We get weary. We become lifeless. Our creativity drains. In some cases leaders have disqualified themselves, largely because their exhaustion lead to morally compromising decisions.
If we are willing to let go of the busyness and chaos that rules us, we realize that peace is closer that we think. Surrender the need to be busy and experience real freedom in Christ. Creating space in your life will deepen your love of the Savior, make you a better friend/spouse/employee, and ultimately bring about your best creative work. Loosen your grip—it’s worth it.

P.S. You can watch the original baboon video here

Donald Zimmerman is the Worship Pastor at Doxa Church in downtown Bellevue. Donald moved to the northwest with his wife and kids in early 2015. He’s led worship for 17 years in churches of all sizes and loves investing in leaders, and helping artists find their place in ministry.

He coaches worship leaders all over the country and blogs about leading artists in the local church at zimmermanband.com

Recommended Reading:

Leading on Empty by Wayne Cordeiro
The Relational Soul by Jim Cofield and Rich Plass
Surrender to Love by David Benner
Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning