Q&A with Chris & Summer Shealy: Worshipping in the Presence of God

By Alice Clarke

Chris and Summer Shealy have a contagious love of worship in the presence of God.

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In 2018, the Shealys became Directors of Catch The Fire Music. I chatted with them about their inspiration and heart for worship, and the process of creating the new album Presence, released in January 2019.

Alice: Tell me about your heart for worship as you lead worship. What are you trying to do, what do you really care about at that moment?

Summer: Ooh that’s loaded! I think for me, worship is something that I’ve seen as very personal. So it is a personal experience between me and the Father, that I do all the time at home, in my car, no matter where I’m at. It’s not just music. So whenever I lead worship, I feel like it’s an opportunity for me to take people on the journey that I’m on, and that I’ve already been on, and show them how easy it is to be close and intimate with the Father. That we were just created to do it, and it’s not something that you have to rehearse or practice, or that you have to be able to play an instrument for. That it’s just He made us because He wanted intimacy. That’s why the Father created humans. He just wanted relationship and worship is a form of that.

… Every time we lead, whether it’s for twenty people or two thousand people, I’m always praying before I go on, “Lord, give me your heart and song for the people in this room in this moment.” Because I fully believe that there’s always a song being sung over a region and from a region, and I want to connect with that song from the Father and sing it out over those people because He knows those hearts more than any of us ever can.

Chris: I think the primary thing that’s going on in me when I’m leading worship is finding the song that lives in there anyway, that the earth is groaning to hear, you know, as sons and daughters. I’ve been on my own personal journey of finding that song in me for the last several years and so I know what it feels like to release it and to find it, and I want people in the room to have that experience… I want to lead people to that place where they start to release their song with or without words on a screen. Because that’s where I think you really have the Father’s ear, He comes close because He so wants that song. He's almost jealous for that song.

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Alice: What has really influenced you guys, or who has influenced you to be the worshippers that you are?

Summer: I think, probably the first person that really influenced us in that direction for worship was Jason Upton… Where we lived at the time, in South Carolina, he did a lot of events in the Southeast and so we began to travel if he was close enough by. He would play one chord on the piano or the keyboard and it was like instantaneous raining glory in the room… he would begin to play and it’s like “I can’t imagine it being any better than this moment, and I know it will be, when we're all around the throne singing holy holy holy”, but he struck something in us... Like rehearsing and learning songs is important, but being able to take people in a split second from an everyday conversation to face to face moment with the Father, that’s what I want to do. I want to go on the journey to be able to do that because that’s really what we should be able to do at any moment in the day.

I know Jeremy Riddle is a huge one for us, but for sure the initial influence was Jason Upton.

Chris: So Upton and then Riddle, it’s similar. What stood out the most was their level of anointing. And with Jason, it was how it came with this simplicity right. So it’s not because he’s blowing your mind musically or he’s singing crazy stuff, it’s just his simplicity and the anointing comes, and it’s just like, “This guy has spent time with God.”

...I was like, “I want that. I want to be able to do that.” So that was the beginning of the journey of realizing that that comes at a cost and a price, of development and time, just development in the secret place... The greater part of our twenties were spent without people knowing that we even led worship. We worked in corporate America and we led worship at home for ourselves. I would come home from work, from 9-5 and I would find [Summer] at the piano and she had obviously just been there for hours, weeping and stuff. That was a very painful process, right, to get, and not that we’ve arrived… You know, you see people on the stage. and you’re like “I wanna be doing that.” And you say yes to God, and then it’s ten years before you’re on the stage. [Laughs] It rarely ever happens how you think it would.

Summer: Literally on that journey, the Holy Spirit told us, you will only ever lead people as far as you lead yourself… It sort of sometimes feels like a cliche statement, but it really has to become what you live and breathe. How far and how deep and how close to the Father’s face do you want to lead people? Well, how far and how deep and how close are you to the Father’s face Monday through Saturday when nobody even knows you lead worship? And it can’t be with any ambition or intention to go anywhere, except it’s just this is who I am and this is my place. There is no higher place than face to face with Him. A global platform pales in comparison to knowing Him... When that sinks deep in your being and in your soul then it’s like the striving for a platform is not existent.

Chris: It just goes back to every son and every daughter has a voice. And it’s like we’re all seated at this beautiful feast of a table that’s round, and we all have a chair and the only head of that table is Jesus.

Alice: So good! I love your hearts for worship. So then tell me your heart for Catch The Fire Music specifically.

Summer: So about two years ago, 2017, Chris and I had the first opportunity to experience the other Catch The Fire Churches outside of where we were. Which at the time, we were at Catch The Fire Dallas and we were the worship pastors there and had been since 2014. So we had been a part of Catch The Fire there but we were really unaware of the global family. We knew what it was, but we had no relationship with it and hadn’t experienced it. So in 2017 we had the opportunity to begin to travel some, and our first one was Toronto and then we were able to come to Raleigh and then London, and it absolutely changed our life. As we began to go through and be a part of these worship nights and conferences at these other Catch The Fire Churches it was like, “Why does nobody know that this exists? There is something that needs to be experienced. There’s a way that these people are encountering Jesus through worship and through family that the world needs to know.” We began to burn: “What can we do? How can we get this out?”

We carried it in our hearts for a year, all of 2017, and just really with no intention of getting anywhere with it but who can we talk to, to say, “Hey, this is amazing. We want to get out, we want to be a part of it and we want to have all these other amazing worship leaders a part of it. This is awesome.”

And the Lord just opened to door up for us to have this Catch The Fire Music job which we didn’t even know existed, but when it was presented to us, it was like, “Yeah! That’s what I was made to do!”

So then 2018, January, was when we took that job and our sole purpose is “How can we tell the story of Catch The Fire to the world through worship and music?” Because it deserves to be told. The heritage that our movement carries has authority. Authority comes with heritage and it’s a round table so it’s not that we take someone else’s seat or someone’s taking our seat, we just need to sit in our seat and tell our story.

Alice: Tell me about this latest album Presence. Why was that the right thing to do now? Why those songs?

Chris: I think primarily, even more than the songs, the main focus was on the heels of the [Catch The Fire] world movement becoming the more central focus, and all the different churches coming together into one global entity. It’s very important to do something that represented that as best we could with the resources that we had, to highlight people from around the world… We wanted to set a precedent early on that it’s a global movement and we celebrate that diversity and the differences in styles but with all one collective sound.

Summer: We just had clear direction from the Lord early on in 2018, and it wasn’t for a set amount of time, He just said, “For right now, I want your focus to be representing the movement on the whole with eclectic and collaborative projects, and not focus on individual churches putting out albums.” Not that that won’t happen, but it was clear direction from the Lord to us for now. That’s supposed to be our focus, to focus on the collaborative family representing the sound of the movement.

Chris: I think it was a really cool strategy from the Lord actually that we’re grateful for… It’s very important even in choosing all this, you have to stay fluid and to hold nothing sacred. Even our own songs. We're fortunate to have songs on the album, but they’re not above that process of input and collaboration. That’s sort of another precedent we want to set with this music label that there’s a strong collaboration sense. It’s done within family and with the values of family.

SUMMER: The movement just did rebranding. The essence is Presence, Encounter and Transformation and we're like, “Yes, let’s do a three album trilogy with the essence of who we are.” When people talk about Catch The Fire, you really can’t talk about it without talking about one of those words. So that is our plan. The first one was in Toronto with Presence, and then the second one is planned to be recorded here in Raleigh this year and it will be encounter. And then the third one, the plan is to record it in London, and that one will either be transform or transformation.

Join Chris and Summer Shealy and the Catch The Fire Music team in worship as you listen to Presence (Live from Toronto). It’s available now to download or stream. Click here to learn more.