Josh Baldwin not only grew up in church in North Carolina, it was also where he was placed onto the path that would come to define his life and form his faith. His roots began in the church, and it is a fitting tribute for his first live EP Live at Church to return to that foundation.
Around age 12, Josh started playing drums with his pastor/worship leader dad, and when he joined the youth group, he was quickly recruited onto the team. He picked up acoustic guitar and started leading worship.
“That was right around when Delirious? was coming out. I was heavily influenced by Steven Curtis Chapman and that kind of stuff. The worship scene came about when I was at college and in ministry school in Charlotte. I’m definitely heavily influenced by artists like Tom Petty and that kinda style too. I’m very Southern and it comes out in a lot of my music.”
A few visible and influential worship artists and leaders have publicly proclaimed doubt in their Christian faith recently, and even in the existence of God. I wondered if and how Josh has handled a crisis of faith in his own life.
“I don’t really think there has been one. I’ve thought a lot about that in recent years when people are announcing deconstructing their faith.
“My parents actually got divorced when I was 16, 17 years old and my dad’s a pastor. That was a massive ordeal in my little town here in North Carolina. That rocked me and I think I could have gone either way. A lot of people would have – seeing such a big thing in the church and such a scandal and how Christians treated my dad and my mom – I think I could totally have had good reason to peace out on the Lord or at least question.
“I’m so thankful that I didn’t. It happened right when I was finding out what I wanted to do with my life in worship. So in some ways it pushed me towards that more. That was one of the toughest things – and maybe the toughest thing that’s happened in my life. And because it pushed me towards the Lord, I’ve had this unwavering faith and no doubting who the Lord has been in my life.
“Even with this year and the quarantine and all that’s going on right now, it’s been so good to be able to look back and see how faithful the Lord has been. I’ve seen him pull me out of situations and, and I’ve seen him restore my family. They’re both remarried, but we have a happy family home. My dad is in back in ministry and just seeing what the Lord has done… It makes me so sad to see people questioning their years of work in ministry. Maybe even questioning ‘Is there a God?’ I’ve questioned things. Obviously we all have, but I feel like I’ve always had that sure place in my heart that knows who He is to me.”
When Josh joined MorningStar Ministries as a worship pastor, he had the opportunity to meet and build a friendship with Brian and Jenn Johnson of Bethel Music. In 2014, Josh visited Bethel in Redding, California. It was on that trip that Brian and Jenn asked him to join Bethel Music, but continue living and serving as a worship pastor at his home church in North Carolina. The plan was working, but after a year of the cross-country collaboration between Charlotte and Redding, California, Josh’s wife Sheila knew things needed to change.
“I already knew and loved them…it definitely felt like my DNA, my kind of people. I could stay in North Carolina and we could stay close to family and be a part of our church. We did that for a year, and the whole year I think my wife knew we were supposed to move. I feel like the wives hear from the Lord first or they probably hear from the Lord the same time as the husbands, but they respond quicker!”
The transition to Redding, Josh says, unfolded in just the right timing. He tells me they are still close with their church in Charlotte, but it was the desire to become more ingrained with the ministry of Bethel Church and “surrounded by the people I’m doing life with” which led Josh and Sheila (along with two young kids at the time) to commit to the move to California.
“We knew we loved Bethel Music and we were so grateful to be a part of it while in North Carolina. But we wanted to be a part of the church. I felt like if I’m going to like write songs and put out songs and travel and represent Bethel Church, I want to be there.”
Live at Church is Josh’s first live EP, which joins an impressive discography of his work. What sets this apart is the sense of sincerity and comfort it evokes. He says it feels like “coming home.”
“This my first live solo album. I think it’s my favorite thing I’ve done with my name on it. It feels the most like me, of anything. It’s the most natural version of me. I grew up leading worship and I’ve been fortunate enough to write songs in recent years, more radio kind of stuff. I love that and I think it’s been amazing. But what I loved about this album was that it felt like people could see the most natural expression of who I feel like I am – a worship leader.”
I was curious about Josh’s desire to release a solo album after so many years of being a part of a world-renowned worship music collective producing chart-topping live albums. He tells me Bethel leaders actually encourage their artists to pursue solo work.
“Probably as a whole our favorite thing we do is put out the big live compilation albums. But also it’s difficult because you have so many artists who are all so different. We’re all from all over the country. Well, actually a lot of us are just from North Carolina, so that helps! But, we’re so different it’s hard to make the whole collective sound of the album be consistent.
“So, it can be hard in each song to feel like you’re like expressing your most artistic self – which is fine – that’s not what these albums are necessarily meant to do. I’m so grateful to be a part of Bethel Music. They’re like, ‘This is why we want to have artists who also do their own solo albums ‘cause we want you to have an avenue to just be you and get that out.’”
Josh is not letting the grass grow under his feet, musically speaking. He says that “This is the year to create music since we can’t travel and play music.” While he’s promoting Live at Church, he’s also in the process of recording a studio album set to debut in September. Look for the release of the title song “Evidence” in just a few weeks.
So how has quarantine affected Josh’s creativity and family life? It seems artists have either relished the forced free time, or they hit a creative wall and find themselves searching for inspiration.
“We’re homeschooling our kids now and that was a big shift and took a lot of time to wrap our heads around and get good at that. And today’s the last day of school, so that’s awesome! But I didn’t realize how much time that would take from me and how much I feel fried after I did that. But the great thing is I had already written a lot of these songs before all this happened.
“I’m thankful that the songwriting part of it was pretty much done before this. And now it’s just the making the music and doing it, which is the fun creative side of it for me. Not that I don’t love songwriting, but sometimes it gets stressful. There’s definitely somewhat of a wall, but I think it’s actually been less stressful. I can take my time because I’ve got nothing else going on. All my trips are canceled.
“The biggest bummer of all of it for me is to not be able to sing songs with people. The last couple of years were the two busiest years of my life. It was amazing and thankfully, because the Lord put His hand on the songs. I didn’t realize how run down and just wore out I was – just tired. It’s been a blessing to be forced to stay home and forced to pour into family. It’s hard for me to think about missing traveling and missing being with people, but I wouldn’t trade this time for anything.
“I probably need to be always writing, but I feel like I’m always gathering and kind of getting ready for those seasons where I’m going to try to write as much as possible and then I’ll have these little, you know, starts and stalls and stuff to work on. I realized that I can’t wait to be inspired. I can’t just wait and only write when I’m inspired. I have to actually try and get up every day or every other day, whatever the routine is. I have to stick to it. When it feels horrible, to still do it and even when I don’t get anything good, still do it. It’s in those moments that I feel inspiration come, when I’m actually applying myself and letting discipline and inspiration go hand in hand and work together.
“You have to make yourself available. One thing I heard from a songwriter for country music, I don’t know his name, but he said ‘There are 5,000 ways to write a song. Just pick one.’”
Josh commonly shares a song’s background information on his social media channels. The single “My King Forever” was recorded for the first time for Live at Church, and when I tell him it’s my favorite (seriously, it is), he reveals the inspirational story behind the tune.
“This past October I was touring with Zach Williams, when a buddy of mine, Ethan, came out for a weekend. It was one of the dates we were in Massachusetts – Northfield, where the old preacher revivalist Dwight L. Moody is buried. The concert that night was in the huge auditorium that was built basically for him to preach. It was a beautiful day in Massachusetts. I mean, rolling green hills… and we have this whole dorm to ourselves. So me and my buddy were in the dorm room overlooking the rolling hills and you could see where Moody’s grave was – just this epic moment. I wanted to write a simple worship song that’s a love letter to King Jesus. At the time it felt so simple. I almost wanted to apologize. I thought, ‘I don’t know if it feels inspiring enough, but I just want to write a love letter to King Jesus.’ We wrote most of it that day. I didn’t want people to have to think about some complicated chords [when they sing it]. I just wanted it to be simple but refreshing. Some songs don’t necessarily have a special backstory, but that was definitely a moment where I remember that day. My dad was telling me the importance of Moody and where I was. I think it just meant so much more to me to be there and write that song.”
Even as artists and listeners look forward to 2021 when the music industry plans to resume (safely) touring, enjoy the wellspring of creativity and corporate time of worship you can share online with others. Purchase Live at Church today and come September, check out Josh’s next studio album, Evidence.