If you haven’t heard of Michael Bleecker, you may have heard of a song he wrote called “Glorious Day,” which received a Dove award nomination and was crowned the 2012 ASCAP Christian Song of the Year. You should also know – as many of you do – that Michael Bleecker is the Worship Pastor at The Village Church, a multi-campus church in the Dallas, TX region that has produced several worship albums and is led by Matt Chandler, who is also president of the Acts 29 Network.
I caught up with Michael a couple weeks’ ago when he came to my hometown Louisville to record vocals for an upcoming worship album by The Gospel Coalition. Sit back and enjoy this My Song In The Night interview. Michael’s responses to questions about “Glorious Day,” how to pastor musicians, working with other songwriters and being part of a gospel-centered community will bless and inform you, as they did me. And look for the new EP by The Village, Look And See, here on iTunes.
Bobby Gilles: You were nominated for the “Song of the Year” Dove Award this year for “Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me)” along Mark Hall of Casting Crowns. How did that collaboration come about, and what was the relationship like with Casting Crowns?
Michael Bleecker: They were good to work with. The collaboration came with me working with Word Publishing, when I signed a single song agreement with them for “Glorious Day.” A lady from Word heard my song and sent it to Mark Hall, whom she knew from her days at EMI. and it went to his manager. It’s really cool how all this happened—I found this out later: Mark was working on the hymn “One Day” which is where “Glorious Day” comes from. He’s trying to work out the verses–he has some chorus material written which you now hear in “Glorious Day,” but he couldn’t figure out verses — he couldn’t figure out the melody.
So his manager told him there was this young worship leader in Dallas who had rewritten the melody if he wanted to hear it. He listened to it and said he immediately loved it. There were 120 songs that they were trying to work out for one slot on the next Casting Crowns album—everyone had submitted all these songs. He really wanted “One Day” to work but it wasn’t working, and then he heard my version.
He called me after they got out of the studio after recording it. He said although they’d never met, he loved the verses and had written choruses, and wanted to know if we could split it 50/50. I told him sure, yeah! The reach that they have is phenomenal—so it was easy for me to say “As long as you don’t mess with the content of those verses, because that’s the entirety of the gospel from birth to return in future glory.” It was a fun partnership for sure.
Bobby Gilles: And of course you recorded “Glorious Day” for God of Victory, The Village album. And I’d read somewhere I think that you said that album was six years in the making—not necessarily the recording process but just the germination of the songs that you’d been doing in worship services at The Village. Tell me about that process.
Michael Bleecker: I wrote some of the songs literally six years ago. The Village has been such a changing organization as far as growth — constantly more people coming in, which is great. But it means at various times we’ve had to build another campus or buy another campus and expand. So every time I’d budget for our new album, it would get nixed—and for good reason—because we needed to make space for all these people coming in. I was fine with it because I write for the church, so I want what is best for the church.
But I also wanted good recordings for my church. And they kept asking for recordings so I would have to give them board recordings from live services of these six year old songs. So when we finally came to the point of recording God of Victory, I just looked at my guys and said, “Some of these songs are outdated, some we haven’t sung in a long time but I would love to get them recorded well and breathe new life into some of these old songs.”
Bobby Gilles: What does the songwriting process itself look like at The Village? Do you all host songwriting retreats and do a lot of collaboration with each other?
Michael Bleecker: We just started collaborating with the staff—so there’s four worship pastors on staff now and there’s an associate. And we’ve just started writing together—we’re writing for this new Advent season. So that’s sweet. But as far as retreats, we haven’t started that yet. But I am directing my gaze more toward my church. I’m still writing outside, but that was all that I was doing before. So it’s been a shift in having to say “No” to some of the guys that I do love writing with — and I’ll continue it at certain points but I’m putting The Village first, and we’re just now starting to collaborate together. So it’s a brand new season of that.
Bobby Gilles: What’s it like to be a pastor, not only of the congregation, but you’re pastoring musicians directly and all the issues that might go with the artistic temperament. What does it look like for you to pastor fellow songwriters, worship leaders and musicians?
Michael Bleecker: I don’t necessarily look at them as musicians—they’re just members of the Village Church. So when I walk with them it’s not necessarily musically. The volunteers we have at the church are crazy gifted so I don’t need to spend a lot of time with them musically. I expect them to grow musically on their own.
I would really to spend more time with each of them but we have about 40 volunteers, so the time I do get is very pointed. I ask questions like, “How’s your marriage?” “How’s your heart?” “How’s your personal life?” “Are you in love with Jesus and reading the scriptures?” I meet with each of the men individually once per quarter.
Also, I’ve chosen three women leaders in my group and then split up the women volunteers among them. My leaders go and meet with them and then email me back things to pray for them. And they really minister to those womens. So that’s been a really sweet process. I’ll do email encouragement to them and have their names written on my whiteboard in my office so I can pray for them. So those are just some of the ways that I can encourage and love on my musicians and volunteers.
Bobby Gilles: I would call you a very trinitarian songwriter — for example the God of Victory song “O God of Our Salvation,” which you wrote with Matt Boswell. The song brings each person of the trinity into focus. Why do you think we have so few strongly trinitarian songs in the church world, among all the contemporary worship songs?
Michael Bleecker: I think it’s because people don’t understand the trinity, so what you don’t understand you don’t write about. I think, as my pastor says, for instance, some people think of the Holy Spirit as that crazy uncle at the family reunion. And so people don’t spend time studying or thinking about who each person of the trinity is. So it was hard work for Boswell and I — although it was really fun work — to make the distinction but remember also that God is One. So, it was a fun challenge and one we took up because there’s so few new trinitarian songs. So, I think it’s just a lack of knowledge of the persons of the trinity.
Bobby Gilles: Earlier this year The Village released its second children’s album, Blessed Is the Man. I interviewed Jeff Caps about that. Talk a little bit about the difference in writing and recording songs like “Walk Like Jesus Did” when you compare them to the “grown-up” songs of God of Victory.
Michael Bleecker: Well, a lot of those were written by our volunteers and Jeff, as you know. But these are guys that walk with our kids and love on our kids and disciple them and teach them. They’re in the trenches with the kids so they know what stirs their affections and gets them excited.
But they also know that some of our younger kids are not believers, and so they must teach them strong biblical truth mixed with a strong melody. That has been a bit of a challenge but also a huge joy. So, for me to entrust Caps with those albums — then to put that album in my car and to (I have three boys) have my two oldest boys singing “blessed is the man, who trusts in the Lord”, they are singing scripture! It couldn’t make a dad happier. There’s nothing that can make a dad happier than to have your 4 and 6 year old singing scripture word-for-word. That’s a huge win. So, we’re going to continue that. I think it is a challenge to write for that age group with those words. But it’s repetition, and once they get that into their heads we just pray that the Holy Spirit one day takes that memory and makes it reality.
Bobby Gilles: You all also released a single on iTunes earlier this year called “Come To Me,” featuring Lauren Chandler. Now Lauren has her own solo EP, The Narrow Place. Will we see more EP’s and singles from The Village Church or individual Village worship leaders in the future?
Michael Bleecker: Yeah, I think so. I kind of get beaten down by the extensive, hard road of doing a full-length 12 song album. It’s time consuming and very costly. I’ve found that just doing five or six of our songs takes a ton of the stress away from myself, my team and my family at home, and allows us to come out with more albums more frequently.
And honestly, this is just me on a personal level, I don’t really listen to full-length albums much anymore. And I know that’s a tragedy, but I think time has demanded that we listen to the things we really want to listen to. And although I’ll buy the whole album on iTunes, I only end up listening to five or six of them regularly. So I want to put our best stuff on one little album. Now we’ll still make full-length albums but I think the majority of our efforts, at least at our campus, is going to be put toward EPs.
In February I believe, Isaac Wimberley (our Dallas campus pastor) is coming out with his new album. It’s going to be a hip hop album called Warrior. It has two to three very corporate worship songs, one called “Warrior,” that we’re going to start leading in a couple months. It’s fantastic. He’s crazy gifted, I mean some of these songs are on the level of Tedashii, LeCrae. So I’m very excited about that. And then a few months after that—I think in the spring—our Denton worship pastor is coming out with his first album and that’s going to feel very “Denton,” very “Austin,” very artsy. It’s going to be sweet. We’re excited about it.
Bobby Gilles: The Village also about to release a live record. Are these songs you’ve been leading in the congregation awhile or are there any new songs?
Michael Bleecker: We’ve been leading these songs for probably two to three months now and so the church is ready for them, which I was excited about. So the congregation knew them and were ready to sing them. We recorded that last Wednesday and we’ll release Thursday, December 6th on iTunes. It will be five songs with a spoken word by Isaac Wimberly, which he wrote specifically for this project.
Bobby Gilles: Is this your first live record?
Michael Bleecker: It is, and I’ve wanted to do it for years. We finally found the window and took advantage of it. I can’t wait.
Bobby Gilles: And it will be out on iTunes?
Michael Bleecker: Yes; it’s called Look And See. Preview some of the songs and see our other albums here.
Bobby Gilles: You’re also in Louisville right now and involved with the first worship record for The Gospel Coalition, a collection of songs based from the Gospel of Luke. How did you become involved in that?
Michael Bleecker: I think it was a dinner that Ben Peays (Executive Director of The Gospel Coalition), Mike Cosper, Matt Boswell and I had with a few other worship pastors. Mike had already been working with Ben on this idea, and he pitched it to us: let’s write songs, let’s sing songs together on one album that will reflect what’s happening with The Gospel Coalition, and will tell the Story as portrayed in the Gospel of Luke. I got really excited about it. And then he called me and said he had a song they wanted me to song on. I’m honored to be here in Louisville—a complete honor to sing today on this project, which I believe will be released in time for the TGC 2013 National Conference.