We’ve all seen it before. A rising talent creates a name for him or herself as part of a larger group and then, at the pinnacle of their success, makes a bid for solo stardom, eager to bask in the glow of a brighter spotlight.
Darlene Zschech is not that person.
Oh, the success part is right. The live worship albums she’s produced and appeared on for Hillsongs Australia have all been certified Gold, while the passionate worship chorus she penned, “Shout to the Lord,” is sung by an estimated 25-30 million churchgoers each week and has been covered by at least 20 other artists. But Darlene is very clear that while she is excited about the release of her solo studio project, Kiss of Heaven, she isn’t looking to make any big career move nor does she have any desire to chase pop stardom. She could no more stop leading worship than she could stop breathing.
Even though her calling permeates everything Darlene does, she also has a long history as a writer and recording artist. “That’s actually what I did before I got totally, beautifully consumed by my church,” she explains, alluding to her early successes in her native Australia, first on a weekly children’s program at the tender age of 10, then as a background vocalist for some of the best in the business. She followed that up as a sought after session singer, recording songs for Diet Coke, McDonald’s, Special K and KFC.
But Darlene left that behind 18 years ago to serve as vocal director, then worship pastor at Hillsong Church Australia, a post from which she continues to lead a worldwide modern worship revolution. Marriage and motherhood became bigger priorities, so other dreams were tucked away for another time. One of those dreams was recording a solo studio album of songs she felt were too personal to fit on a traditional live Hillsong recording.
“I sensed God asking me to wait, and so I set it aside,” Darlene says now, before quickly adding, “If that sounds grand in any way, it’s not. I just really wanted to pour my life into the Church. I feel like there’s been this holy calling to see worship in truth reestablished around the globe, and that job is not done yet. And I’m not leaving that mission. But it’s just the right time to do this as well.”
She knows it’s time because last year that stirring inside her returned and, sensing the timing was finally right, she approached the leadership team at church. She wasn’t just looking for their blessing, but their participation because this may be a solo project, but it’s also a group effort. “We made this decision together, she says, adding, “Our team has been together for a long time now so it has been extremely important to me that we approached this well.”
Now, it’s admirers of this talented worship leader who have to get ready to hear her as they never have before. For this INO Records release, Darlene drew on those early years that instilled in her a confidence and understanding of musicianship and harmonies that she brought with her into the Church. Now those finely honed talents are being applied to some spiritual pop as well, including “Everything About You,” a rare love song written for her husband of 19 years, and a cover of U2’s “Walk On,” performed with good friend Martin Smith of Delirious. Speaking of personal, she also included an old hymn, “Beautiful Savior,” in a nod to her aging grandparents’ oft-repeated request for some “nice” music.
While hymns and love songs are easy to understand, some may see it as quite a leap from worship songs to Bono. But Darlene says she has much respect for the band (“I love that through their music they have a voice to actually change people’s lives”), and sees the lead singer’s passion for the plight of humanity beautifully tied up in the tune.
Even the more familiar fare holds a few surprises. “Shout to the Lord,” and “Irresistible” also appear on the album, but the form of the song is far from congregational. “Because of what is involved vocally, it would not be fair to ask a congregation to sing it,” Darlene explains. Then there are songs like “Wonderful You” that were never meant to be sung by a crowd. “It’s about God, but it’s my song to Him,” she says. “When I’m writing for a congregation, I’m thinking of them, thinking ‘how can I help them express corporately what is in their heart?’ Whereas this is just what I want to say.”
While the album will certainly come to mean many things to many people, for Darlene its message and meaning are simple: “it’s just the love of my family, my adoration of my God, and my love of music. It’s me. It’s the things that are valuable to me.”
This may be a very different project than past Darlene Zschech releases, but there is one thread that is common to everything this world-renowned worship leader puts her hand to. “When I do something, I want to make sure it’s always honoring the Church because it’s my passion. The goal is not to do my own thing. I’m responsible for being a steward of the gift that’s on my life.”
While Kiss of Heaven represents a dream deferred, Darlene isn’t sorry for the wait. If this album had been made when she first had a notion to record it, she admits it would have been a very different record. “Years ago I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do this for fear I would have been misunderstood, whereas now I know much clearer who I am and that I first and foremost am a worshipper, so it’s gonna come out in everything I do. It’s not ‘one day I am, one day I’m not.’ I just am.
“My experience of knowing the Father will come out in everything I do so I don’t feel like I have to prove it or explain it too much. I just have to walk it out. And with the grace of God, I’ll do my very best to do that well