The Worship Initiative
Release Date: October 7th 2022
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Eye To Eye
- Anyone But You
- Desert Places (feat. Demi Pyle)
- Come Closer In
- I Need You More
- Take Your Time
- No One Else
- There’s Peace
- Still (Reprise)
The album is a remembrance of the faithfulness of God through various points of my life. The themes that have emerged are dependence, struggle and faith, and I hope people can get to know me through these songs. My story—warts and all—points to Jesus. Oh, how He loves me, still. In spite of habitual sin, still. In the midst of doubt and depression, still. When I succumb to my pride and a false sense of superiority, still. There is no fault, sin, or failure too great, too deep, or too wide for the perfect blood of Jesus to cover.
One of the most earnest, authentic, vulnerable, honest, and inspiring worship artists to originate within the past few years, is John Marc Kohl from Shane & Shane’s band The Worship Initiative. I know, I know; we all might be at worship saturation at the moment. Bands like Hillsong (all formats), Elevation Worship, Passion, Bethel Music, Jesus Culture, Vertical Worship, North Point Worship and Planetshakers; have all garnered varying degrees of success. And that’s not including the solo worship artists that have been topping the charts and wowing the hearts of many- artists like Kari Jobe, Phil Wickham, Chris Tomlin, Crowder, Matt Maher, Matt Redman, Martin Smith (formerly from Delirious?), Mack Brock, Tasha Layton, London Gatch, David Leonard, Meredith Andrews, Laura Story, Rebecca St. James, Jeremy Camp, Darlene Zschech, Paul Baloche and Lincoln Brewster. Yes, it probably is accurate that we all are suffering from worship saturation and fatigue. Yet, when I first heard of John’s music (leading numerous songs from many albums from The Worship Initiative); I was intrigued. And this was simply because of the fact that John has an uncanny resemblance to Sean Curran in terms of vocal similarity. He is also a compelling, powerful, honest, inspiring, and impacting worship leader. It’s as simple as that; and last year, it was made known that John released his debut album Still. I knew I needed to check out his music and I knew I needed to give my ‘two cents’ worth’ and review the album. It just so happens that my ‘review’ is around about 8 months late… due to various circumstances in my life. And so… is John’s music worshipful and inspiring and comforting in a year where we are just getting back to normal, and in a year where we still need encouragement and inspiration?
Is this review really needed 9 months out from release date? Probably not. But for those of us who missed this album- maybe it flew by underneath the radar… I’ll briefly touch upon a few things. First of all, John’s music and vocals are… well, they’re nothing special in the sense that I could listen to Passion or Sean Curran or Chris Tomlin or Matt Redman or Phil Wickham or ____ (insert your favourite worship artist here!), and I’d gain similar lyrical goodness and hard-hitting melodies any day of the week. In that sense, John’s music probably needs to be a bit more distinctive and unique to avoid being ‘run of the mill’. Having said that though, these songs are still solid and still point me into communion with Jesus. They’re not flash, maybe they’re not meant to be; but this debut isn’t the ’wow’ that I was hoping for. Regardless, these individual songs are good, even if as a unit, they weren’t that cohesive. “Tapestry” is a pop/CCM song about God being ever-creating a tapestry full of our brokenness and every inch of our experiences- good or bad- and us fully knowing and grasping that everything in our lives points to Him and gives glory to Jesus; while “Eye To Eye” is a serene and contemplative worship ballad about wanting to dive deeper and further into relationship with Jesus, and wanting to be more in love with Him. “I Need You More”, an electronic EDM piece, speaks about surrendering our entire everything over to Jesus and trusting in His sovereign plan, as John declares that he needs Jesus more than anything and everything else in this earth; while “Calvary”, an album highlight, plays out like a modern hymn, and is a track that I fully expect Passion to cover one day, with John earnestly crying out that the cross means so much to our own salvation and our freedom, and should mean so much to everyone else as well. Lead single “Desert Places” conveys a longing for Jesus to come and restore, regenerate, and heal every part of us; while the title track ends the album with a song that showcases God’s unending and unbridled love, that ‘Still’ was one of the first songs I ever wrote about Jesus. I remember staying up until 3 am, crying and struggling through the writing of it. I was so angry with myself because of persistent sin in my life, and I felt like I deserved more punishment. I really couldn’t believe that Jesus would still love me after all the messes I’ve made; the wreckage of sin in my life; and the people I’ve hurt. I’ll never fully understand the persistence of His love for His beloved.
I held on to it [the title track] for a long time. I didn’t want to do Christian music for a long time. I love the Lord and serving at my church, but I listened to other types of music and pursued that for a while. Recently I had this shift where God made the priority clear to be writing songs about Him. There’s a fulfillment I think I was missing when I was doing the pop and singer/songwriter thing. It’s so cool to finally not withhold that song anymore. It’s been humbling to see the Lord use it and impact people already.
[so] I wrote it [the title track] in a very dark and horrible place. I was in college so frustrated with sin patterns in my life and not seeing growth. I stayed up all night and wrote “Still” through tears and anger. I didn’t understand how God could still love me. It didn’t make sense. The chorus is a question. So it didn’t feel like a worship song for a long time because it had a question in it. You’re supposed to give truths and I have a song asking “God, why do you love me?” It took me years to realize that He does because it is who He is and the blood of Jesus is enough. It took me a long time, and I still feel like I’m applying that element of the Gospel to myself. All of my sin is real and there, but the blood of Jesus can handle it. I have to submit to that. So now I love the song. It encourages me in the moment! I look back and I see how God used that difficult time to grow and understand and learn his forgiveness.
My goal was for the listener to feel like they knew me. It’s kind of a narcissistic goal as a worship leader, but the end goal wasn’t to know me to know how cool I am, but I want you to know how messed up I am. I struggled with my faith and applying elements of the Gospel to me. I knew them in my head but not applying in my heart. I want them to know me to know that I was impacted by Jesus and is the only thing that sustains me. I want it to be approachable, authentic, real, honest, and not too polished.
Even though I haven’t written about every song in depth; musically, John Marc Kohl’s debut album features a myriad and smorgasbord of genres- vertical worship songs, pop songs, and ballads. But overall, as a worship album and as a debut album, John has recorded a solid debut project. It’s an album that probably won’t win awards no gain recognition. John isn’t signed to a major label, and thus I’m sure not that many people will know about this album. However, I’d say listen to this release at least once. Even if you don’t resonate with the melodies at first, you may find your next favourite worship song on here. Well done, John, I can’t wait to hear what’s next from you in the future!
3 songs to listen to: Tapestry, Calvary, I Need You More
RIYL: Shane & Shane, Crowder, Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, Cody Carnes, Kari Jobe, Davy Flowers