Darlene Zschech could be described as one of the greatest worship leaders of our time.
The former Worship Pastor for Hillsong Church who was part of Hillsong for over 25 years, Darlene is known worldwide for her song, Shout to the Lord and many other worship anthems. She has written more than 100 songs, and has performed on and helped produce one platinum, and 16 gold-selling Hillsong albums.
But Darlene is not only a worship leader and songwriter, she’s also a Senior Pastor. Darlene and husband Mark Zschech became the Senior Pastors at Hope Unlimited Church on the Central Coast of NSW in 2011, affectionately known as HopeUC.
I love leading worship, but I also love just serving people.
So as a Senior Pastor, does that mean Darlene still leads worship? “Yes I do. I still travel and lead (worship). It’s interesting we’ve got the most amazing team, and many campuses now. The team is growing, worship is strong, it doesn’t need me to be physically doing it which is amazing.”
“I love leading worship, but I also love just serving people. So I really don’t mind what I do. I really don’t. I love to write songs, and I know that’s a gift etc, but I love ministry. I love the whole thing of ministry. So whatever form that comes in, I’m really enjoying it.
One of the big words that unpacks the word worship actually means, ‘to serve.’
“I always remember when I got saved, there was this insatiable hunger to serve people. As I’ve got older I have understood a bit more about what worship really means. One of the big words that unpacks the word worship actually means, ‘to serve.’ It doesn’t mean to sing songs; it’s to serve.
“Singing is one part, and it’s an important part because it gathers who you are, every fibre of your being. Music is probably one of the only things that does that. It helps focus the whole of you heavenward, but it’s so much greater than that.”
In the spirit of serving, HopeUC is hosting its first Worship Conference in early August. Wanting to come alongside larger expressions and offer something a little bit different, this conference won’t be your traditional large-scale conference. For example, it won’t have a VIP room like many traditional conferences would.
When you’re fighting for your life you’re not thinking, ‘Will I record an album?’
“I just went, ‘Isn’t that all of us?’ Everyone’s in it together. There’s still a little place where people can get away if they’ve got to prepare to preach, but en masse I just feel like we all need to be in it together.” Delegates can also apply for a “one-hour intern” program and serve alongside their nominated person at the conference. “Whether it’s a music director or pastor, or myself, or one of the production guys. You just apply to do an hour. It’s just something a bit fresh.”
Darlene continues to write fresh worship music, and her latest album Here I Am Send Me/Hineni contains songs written during her battle with breast cancer.
“When you’re fighting for your life you’re not thinking, ‘Will I record an album?’ It’s just not even on your radar. But the worship of God was very important to me in those times. I guess I’ve learnt a lot, not just about myself, but about God and what I really believe. And I think hard times do that.”
It’s amazing what gets forged in the fire.
In some of the darkest times during her cancer battle Zschech says, “I remember there were a couple of times when I was really sick that I couldn’t even put on worship music because it undoes me, and I felt like I couldn’t scramble myself back. But there were other times when I needed it.”
Zschech goes on to tell a story about one of her closest girlfriends who came over and put on the song called You Make Me Brave which was a new song at the time. “She played it over and over getting ready for my last chemo and I just didn’t think I could do it. And she’s like ‘well you’re going to do it! I’m coming in with you and we’re going to listen to this song until you can get up and get in there!’” Darlene fondly recalls.
Darlene had already been in the Senior Pastor role at HopeUC for a couple of years when she received the breast cancer diagnosis in late 2013. Yet her eyes light up as she talks about that time: “It’s amazing what gets forged in the fire. This praying church emerged. We fought, together. If you spend some time in the trenches with someone, you become really close. That’s HopeUC. Something really powerful happened in that year.”
Psalm 91 is really critical to me.
Darlene has been completely cancer-free since 2015, and her spiritual disciplines have grown stronger than ever. “I’ve got a personal thing that I just don’t even put my feet on the floor until I’ve opened up my devotional and read it. I just don’t feel like I can afford to. I feel like it’s my food.”
Psalm 91 has been one of her favourite scriptures through the cancer journey. “The last verse in there it says ‘with long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.’ And so I declare that over my body every day. Take it like medicine. I take my medicine that I’m on for another nine years, I take Psalm 91 and I nourish my body and look after it well. Psalm 91 is really critical to me.”
Her struggle has given her a deeper appreciation that God really is a loving God. “I would say to Christians let the love of God really grab hold of you. It’s really hard to overflow in love when you’re really grappling with the basics.”
It’s hard to be judgemental when you’re receiving so much love that you just want to love people.
She encourages anyone struggling with this to “ask God to reveal himself to you and his love toward you again. Ask him 100 times a day if that’s what it takes. Because he will. And it will change you. It will change not only the way you think, but it will change your priorities and how you see others. It’s hard to be judgemental when you’re receiving so much love that you just want to love people. It really changes how you live.
“Because in the end, the Bible said that this world would know us by our love. Not by our works, not by our fancy buildings, or light shows. There’s nothing wrong with all those things, we love them. But actually the world will know us by our love. Our love for each other, and our love for others. And all the unloveable’s, and all the ones who are marginalised and don’t fit. If you follow the pattern of Jesus you always find him with the people who didn’t fit.
Jesus lived a life of love, and not a fluffy love.
“That’s the journey I’m on. The more I look at the life modelled by Christ, that was his life. He lived a life of love, and not a fluffy love. A very robust, I’m ‘coming after you whether you like it or not’ kind of love. And I think the more we get as a church that whole ‘come as you are’ – you belong, and come as you are to God, I think that’s where we’re going to see the world changed. It’s going to be through us REALLY having a revelation of the love of God.”