Q: What did you want to be when you grew up?
"I wanted to be a Beatle. I wanted to be Paul McCartny. I think when a lot of kids were playing army and playing sports, I grew up with a tennis racket tied around my neck with a shoe lace and singing into a pool stick. And we just put on a stack of Beatle 45's and that was the times you know."
Q: Music was always...that's who you were from a very young age?
"Yeah, yeah. I don't know why. I had a lot of older brothers and they had that sort of classic rock of the early 60's, late 70's...so our house was always loud. We had a next door neighbor that had a band and they were always practicing in the basement all the time. Before you know I was in high school and practicing down in our basement every night of the week. Just shaking the neighborhood. And you know that was the thing to do back then."
Q: So what was Paul Baloche like as a teenager?
"Ah...just used to work a lot. Had a paper route, a big paper route. Used to shine shoes. I was a block from Main Street in our little town outside of Philadelphia there so worked at a clothing store, had a paper route and then always had a band, trying to find gigs. So we'd play, like the high school would have a dance, the Jaycee Hall, the Knights of Columbus you name it. Just trying to keep those things go. Just support my habit of buying new gear... So I guess... I was really into music and school... I wasn't a bad student but I was pretty focused on that whole music thing."
Q: So you told me at it was 18 that you found your way back to the faith you have today?
"Well music, you know, there is a down side. Can be. A whole lifestyle side to it that can look good on the outside, but I found myself really disillusioned. So I was in a really good band playing down ont he Jersey Shore. You know, trying to follow in the steps of Bruce Springstein. You know...our states...the musical guy who made it. You I was pretty disillusioned. I had been raised in a faith and just found myself saying this isn't what it is all about. It wasn't long after that I met what I would call some true believers. They kind of shared their testimony and shared the whole idea of having a relationship with God. That was just a foreign concept to me. And I was like, wow that would be so cool. And for me it was like going from black and white to color. My eyes were open. And Rita, the same thing had happened to my wife, separately and the next time we saw each other we said "you too-me too, same thing, God is real, I mean Jesus is real. " I love that when you don't have the words to really describe your experience. But yet you cannot deny this thing that has happened. So that started the journey of walking with God in a more serious way and not long after that discovering Christian music. And realizing there was the potential to take the music of our generation and marry it with lyrics and themes that could encourage people in their spiritual walk."
Q: So you found yourself moving toward that kind of music while you were still in Jersey?
"Yeah, yeah...just a..again it was a whole new world. But I had been playing music for years but now there was an opportunity to use that in the church instead of finding myself in churches that allowed that kind of expression. So I would play for the kids and play for the youth and play bass in the worship band on Sunday. Just any opportunity I could it was just fun to be a part of that."
Q: And then you decided to make a career out of this?
"Yeah, and then I decided I wanted to do this for real. And I went to California and went to a music school out there and met Kelly Willard who was a Christian artist in California. And Rita was back in Jersey and we were writing back and forth and calling back and forth and we sort of had this connection of growing in the Lord together. As well as, Rita is a song writer and began to send me songs and I'd pass them on to Kelly Willard this woman I was playing guitar for and she passed them on to record companies out there. So they actually started recording some of Rita's music first, so thus began the journey. I eventually went back to Jersey, got married and we were only there maybe a year and we just felt I either need to give up music or we just need to go for it. And there was a door open in East Texas to work Kelly Willard who had just moved here a Christian artist. There were other Christian artists in the area. And come alongside WYAM and work with WYAM. Melody Green, back in the day- "Last Days Ministries." So man we came down. Loaded up all our belongings in our Ford Escort and drove down here to East Texas and never looked back."
Q: Would you say this was your first big "step out on faith" when you came down here to East Texas?
"With a family I think I would say...I think some of those single years, going to California, then I moved to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to work with Lenny LeBlanc. We did a lot of prison ministry. High schools and prisons primarily. To me that was a faith venture too. Because it wasn't like a job, it wasn't a job per say. When my parents would ask me "what are you doing again??" You know it was always hard to describe. You know. But yeah, coming down here as a family with a small child that was a real step of faith you know, but we just knew in our hearts this is what we wanted to do. We didn't know what it was going to look like. But we said, boy if we could be involved in music that could inspire people with their walk with the Lord that would be a dream."
Q: So it would be safe to say you did not grow up think I'll be playing Christian music...being a worship pastor?
"Never. I would have never known what to call it. I never even knew that kind of job existed when I started to be honest. It was sort of, okay, I know how to do music...I'm doing music. And this church is okay to do this kind of music and before you know it you find yourself in situations where I'm saying hey I'm getting to play the same kind of music I grew up with but its encouraging people in their walk with the Lord."
Q: You came to East Texas. Land in the ministry with Kelly and Melody. How did that evolve to where you are today...in this worship industry that you are out in the forefront of?
"Yeah...ah. Just again the sort of here I am Lord, use me wherever. I think at the church they needed a guitarist, so I started playing the guitar. Next thing they said, hey why don't you try leading a few songs and that was a little bit new for me but I said whoa...here we go. 18 years later I am still at that same church where I've grown up and made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot of things and its like a spiritual laboratory you know. But in the early days there was just a lot of grace on me not to have it all together. But as a result of that when Last Days Ministries or WYAM would...started hosting these worship schools. Kind of a one month worship school. And they invited me to teach guitar or maybe put a band together when an artist would come in, a special artist. So I was kind of the music guy...all the things I did through high school...sort of...I knew how to do that. Then little by little... there was a worship school in Singapore and I got asked to go there for two weeks. Then there was one in South Africa, a WYAM school there and before you know it you get this reputation of being the guy that can come in and teach some musical foundations but yet connected with the heart of worship. And like I said, it was no plan you just say...okay-sure I can help out or I can do that. And time goes by and you turn around after ten or fifteen years and go I guess this is what I do, you know. So that has really become the focus of our ministry over the years is to be more intentional about encouraging, equipping and training worship leaders, worship teams... We have a DVD teaching series etc...and conferences and things we do that try to strengthen worship teams. Encourage them. Maybe inspire them a little bit. Basically passing on some things we have learned. Hey, here are some things that have worked, try this, this might help. Just unpacking the whole worship leading thing."
Q: So if that what you felt led to do, how does it feel that a lot of folks look at you as star, performer, song writer, artist...?
"You know that is the great thing about being in a local church. And living in Lindale and all that. You know, its like, I'm my kids dad. That is really my identity. I'm a husband, I'm a father, I work at the church and out of that comes songs. And yes out of that comes intenerate ministries. And we are still blown away and surprised that a lot of our songs have caught on in the church worldwide and that is encouraging. But I don't think...I just know when we look in the mirror we know we weren't that smart. This wasn't a plan that we figured out. We really sense God's hand all along the way. Just His grace opening up doors and opportunities. And us just saying, Lord, wow, we not...these shoes seem like big shoes to fill but by Your grace we'll try to step through this door and serve and be faithful in that situation. So... Also there are some many ridiculously talented people out there that I get to work with that I' more humbled... the more I do this the more humbled I am and the more surprised that I get to do this on any level."
Q: So how does it feel to know that a lot of kids know the words to "Open the Eyes of My Heart" as well as they do "Amazing Grace?"
"That's amazing. Its encouraging... You know its almost like you raise your kids, the songs almost feel like a child you raise up and the go off to college and they kind of have a life of their own you know. Its sort of like, I look at that song like one of my grown children. Like wow look at that you've grown up and made something out of yourself. Good for you, you know."
Q: Do you think that was your breakout song?
"You know it is definitely one of those that really got around the world faster than any other. You know when you first write a song you think they all feel like, man this feels strong. And you just never know which ones are going to catch on in peoples hearts. My daughter did a missions trip in Russia this past year. she was in a church six hours north of Moscow in the middle of no where. And went to a Sunday morning service and they are singing this song in Russian. And halfway through it she realized...she started to recognize the melody. Wow, that's my dad's song. You know, last year we were in Sweden and Germany and Korea, just to hear them sing that song in their own language over and over, its just....
Q: When you wrote that song were you think I had this huge hit here?
Not at all, not at all. Your always just trying to find an honest expression. I knew that the song felt like an honest expression. You know, there wasn't even a full song for a while. There was just that one phrase that we would sing over and over at church for a while. And just a prayer that we would sing out. God open the eyes of our hearts, we want to see you."
Q: How difficult is it to balance what you do? During the week your in Sweden and by the weekend your back in Lindale leading worship.
"Yeah. I'm starting to feel it more than I used to. I used to sort of have no limits...sure, whatever... to the ends of the earth. I do feel a little bit more the jet lag and so always that is my constant prayer to ask the Lord how do we balance, you know, life, family ministry, traveling, being at home. Part of the reason I love to be a local pastor because it does sort of anchor me, it reminds me I need to be here. I need to be serving locally. And not just be a kite flying all over the place. Although I kind of average... it doesn't feel like it... but I'm going about 150 days a year. When you add it all up its like wow that's kind of scary. But yet you know... I say no to a lot of events. We try to be prayerful and careful about the things we say yes to. So mostly we try to say yes to training events where we fell like we are multiplying ministry instead of just doing concerts. But where there is the opportunity to meet with other leaders, whether it is in the U.S. or other countries and kind of share or impart whatever we have that might encourage you know..."
Q: What is worship?
"What is worship? 30 words or less? In a sound bite, that is so not fair, right. The best scripture that best summarizes it... I think we need to go to scripture, not what I think of worship, but in Romans chapter 12 it says "I beseech you brethren by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice. To me that just implies...worship is really a relationship. It is making our lives a living sacrifice. It is a daily walk. Its how we live our lives. And to me singing songs is just one expression of that. I liken it to a marriage. In a marriage you are committed 24-7 with this other person. And that is really what God is after is this mutual commitment. I mean we know He is committed to us, so its learning to surrender our hearts daily and walk with him daily. And like when we are in a marriage, wether we feel like it or not its like we show up because we know He has made a commitment so therefore we respond. And worship is a response. And like in a marriage you don't spend all day long holding your wife's hand or kissing her all day long. There are other aspects of being married although that is a very important expression and part of that relationship. So I think singing worship songs, writing songs, lifting up our hearts in music is an expression...but its not... sometimes we say that is worship and we just put it in a box. But worship is pretty much the big picture of walking with God."
Q: Do you think it has become just a buzz word in the church today...praise and worship? Is the church getting it right when it comes to true praise and worship?
"Hmm... You know we are trying. I think for the most part people are trying to find ways to connect with God. And we know that music is a powerful vehicle to help us express what is inside of here. And so wether it is in celebration or intimate worship ballad I think a lot of the new music is very personal and it does give us a vocabulary or a language to be able to express some things to God that we might not have otherwise. But I do think there is a danger where we make worship sort of this "it." This "thing" that we analyze and it just becomes separated from the context of a relationship. A loving relationship. A love relationship between our God and the people he created. And when we start taking it out of that context and turn it into this "thing" that we turn upside down and examine and have conferences about that's where it can become dangerous you know. I think we have to continually bring it back into context with our relationship with God. So is the church getting it right? Like I said I think most of us are trying our best to get it right. We're trying to say, what's not working, what seems to be working, what seems to help our people connect with God. Let's do more of that and let's let go of some of the things that used to help people connect with God but now not so much be we still do it out of tradition. I think it is important for us to continually analyze and update the way we are doing things to make sure we are helping the folks that we serve connect with God the best that we can."
Q: The Christian Music industry is growing larger all the time. Has this increased popularity changed the message?
"Yes there has...this industry that has been created. And again I would say most of the folks have the right heart. They want to use their gifts...I mean if they can sell music at all, like a lot of the marketing guys and stores, lets...we might as well sell music that has a potential to impact lives for the better. So I think there is a lot of good that has come with that and yes there is always an underbelly. There is always a side that is always not so great in any industry. I try not to focus on that or be to preoccupied with trying to figure out who is in it for the right reasons and whose not. That's kind of like, lets not waste our time trying to figure that out. Let's examine our own hearts and say am I doing this for the right reasons? Do I really believe in what I am saying and what I'm singing? Are we operating in our business and our ministry dealings are we operating as Jesus would? Is that important to us to keep asking that question? I think as long as we are asking our self that question and examining our heart...we just let God... there is always going to be some extreme weird examples in any field, right?
Q: So tell me what it is like...you've been doing this for a long time... to walk out on a stage and have thousands of people there to see you? Does it every get old?
"I don't think it ever gets old at all. Again, to be honest, usually I'm nervous. I still suffer a lot of insecurity. So first I'm amazed that people show up. The other thing I keep in mind, they are not there just to see me perform. I'm glad I'm a worship leader because your not there to entertain where all eyes are on you. That basically my job is to encourage the congregation to hey, let's all of us sing, let's get our eyes on somebody else and I'm glad I get to do that. I think it do est take a lot of pressure off of me. So it doesn't really matter if I come off as really good or not as long as I try to create an atmosphere where people feel like they let their guard down and their connecting with God. And that is really the greatest satisfaction, truly... it sounds like spiritual talk, but truly there is nothing more gratifying than when you see people with their eyes closed and maybe some hands raised or maybe some tears and you just know they are connecting with God. And God is doing something in their lives and that is going to make a difference in their marriages, in their families and communities. I just want to disappear at that moment, when I'm on stage, I just want to tip toe and get out of the way and let God... I feel like we did our job at that point...we just kind of lead them, encourage them to come to the water. We can't make them drink, but just encourage them, drink, drink and then we just disappear.
Q: What was the moment you and Rita have had to depend on the Lord the most?
"Hmm... Wow... I would just say probably just balancing family and ministry. Depending on Him... you know your going down the tracks and you don't want the wheels to fall off. You know sometimes its just fast, life is just fast. And its been busy and a lot of travel over the years. And just in my heart over the years that has been the thing that I'm always crying out that we keep our family on track and we keep our own hearts on track and we keep our marriage on track despite this intense schedule. So I would say even to this day I would say still the thing that keeps me dependent on the Lord. I say Lord...just like the song says, take the wheel. That is such a great prayer, wow Lord, take the wheel because this train is going down the tracks so fast I don't want the wheels to fall off."
Q: What is your prayer for tomorrow?
"My prayer... That I would have the grace to stay faithful. Stay faithful to the Lord, to my family, to the call until God says change of plans. That he would just give us the grace and strength to fulfill this season of my life and to also have an ear open to...if God says okay I don't want you to do this anymore I want it to look like this now. That I would be willing to say okay. And not to be caught up in the momentum of ministry and say this is it, not matter what, this is what I'm doing forever. And its like maybe, but if God said, you know I want it to look like this now...I want to try and live my life with my hands open. And let God put in there what he wants and take out what he wants. And I know that is not our tendency. Our tendency is to like hold on tight. I'm just trying to keep me hands like this (open) for tomorrow and say Lord give me a willing heart, give me a willing heart that says yes Lord your will be done.