Brandon Lake Zooms into our conversation from backstage at a venue in Sunrise, Florida — just outside of Miami. He’s a busy man these days, making up for lost touring time over the course of COVID-19. At this particular show, he’s playing with Elevation Worship. But this year he’s also played with Maverick City Music, the mega-watt worship project he helped found. He’s also played with Phil Wickham, Bethel Music, Pat Barrett, pretty much everyone.
“I jump back on in two days with Phil and we have six more dates and then a Maverick City Music Christmas project I’m helping produce,” he says, listing off his upcoming schedule. “And I’m featuring on another recording here in a few days that I can’t talk about yet. Then I’m done.”
We’re talking in October, and he says his plan is to “sleep through December” so, hopefully, by the time you read this, Lake is resting up for a busy 2022. But this is not a man accustomed to long breaks. Who would let him? He’s one of the most sought-after artists in church music right now.
“By the grace of God, I’ve been a part of so many different platforms and writing with so many different people,” he says. “So many people asked me and I kind of, in this season, felt a grace to do a lot of it, and my family did too.”
Artists aren’t necessarily known for their collaborative skills. Think of the stereotype of the stubborn auteur who ostracizes others because of a fierce commitment to the craft. Lake is the opposite of that — a born team player who loves to see what his talents will do when mixed with other people like him. That might make for some busy seasons (“I’m definitely learning a lot about how much I’ve committed to,” he laughs) but only because guys like him are a rarity: a person not only willing, but eager, to share the stage.
It started in 2015, when Lake raised over $20,000 on GoFundMe to independently produce an album. That album was called Closer, and attracted the attention of Bethel Music. He signed to their label, partnering with Tasha Cobbs Leonard and Housefires. He helped write Leonard’s “This Is a Move,” which landed him a Grammy nomination for Best Gospel Performance and put him in the room with Matt Redman, Elevation Worship and other artists who wanted to work with him.
He’s instantly memorable, looking a little like an American painter’s take on Jesus, with a winning smile and head full of auburn curls. (When Lake was a teenager, famed pastor Steven Furtick visited his church and told him: “You’re a handsome guy with great hair. You’re going to do awesome things for the Lord one day”). But what sticks out more than anything is his willing attitude. He’s game for anything. He likes working with people. “I mean, we’re the hope of the world,” he says. “And I think, why wouldn’t God want more collaboration to happen across the Church if it gets the Word out there all the more?” If you’ve followed his career, you know how serious he is about this idea.
“I’ve got a lot of Enneagram Seven in me,” he says. On the Enneagram, Sevens are known as “Enthusiasts,” which is exactly what it sounds like.
“I get FOMO big time,” he says. “But I think that I’ve worked really, really hard over the past few years to steward relationships really well. To any person I meet, I just give them all of me and love on them and encourage them. I think honestly, that goes a long way.”
It certainly hasn’t hurt. Most recently, Lake worked with Elevation Worship and Furtick (the guy who predicted he’d do great things almost 15 years ago) to write “Graves Into Gardens,” a mammoth hit that hit the top spot on the Hot Christian Songs chart and snagged a Billboard Music Awards nomination for Lake.
“Here’s the beautiful thing about writing with other people,” Lake says. “They’ll pull things out of you you didn’t even know you had in you.”
He describes the process of writing “Graves Into Gardens.” The seed of the idea was a line from one of Furtick’s sermons. Lake liked the phrase, and he joined Furtick and Elevation Worship’s Tiffany Hudson and Chris Brown to see if they could turn it into a song. It was the first time Lake had ever worked with them. “I drove up nervous as heck,” he says. “I can’t even explain to you how nervous I was, shaking and sweating.”
“We start playing — I honestly can’t remember what came first — but we start getting into the meat of the song. It’s a story of somebody who’s searched all over, but finally, I have found there’s nothing better than You.”
Lake walks through the whole songwriting process, detailing who came up with what part as best he can remember.
“We were like, “We can’t just say faith, it’s got to sound like faith,’” he recalls. “We’re all just rocking out in that room, and then we just start singing. We just started throwing out these lyrics and it just came out and that was a song.”
Songwriting for church music doesn’t necessarily follow the rules of normal songwriting, with a lot of emphasis placed on getting into a spiritual flow. But even so, Lake’s experience is unique. He doesn’t just write with his friends. He makes friends because of who he writes with, and that attitude has led to more impact. In fact, it’s currently shaking up the entire scene.
The Table Gets Wider
In the midst of all that, Lake started working with Maverick City Music, which was created to invite a more racially diverse group of voices into the worship music scene. If you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with Mav City, which is why it’s all the more shocking to remember just how new that project is. The group’s first two albums dropped in 2019. Now, it’s hard to imagine the contemporary church music world without them. It’s a fact that Lake is still wrapping his head around.
“My mind is blown in the way people have received us, received the music,” Lake marvels. “My pastor at home, Pastor Greg, he talks a lot about how God can use anybody, but there’s something to being at the right place at the right time. I think God orchestrated the right team with the right heart in the right season when we were desperately going to need these songs.”
“And I think He’s blessing the heart of it, that collaborative spirit,” he continues. “I’ve heard it said the Kingdom is present when the table gets wider.”
Maybe that’s what’s drawing Lake to these teamwork projects. It’s not just that he’s a people person or plays well in a recording studio. It’s that he’s seen how much richer the end result can be when it’s not just one voice, but many. When you start to give the microphone to others instead of hogging it all to yourself, you realize that there is no scarcity in the Kingdom of God.
“I think there’s always the chance that you could lose something [when you invite more people to the table],” Lake says. “That’s the fear and, I think, that’s the lie.”
“I’m really proud of how wide that table has gotten,” he continues. “And I’ve even been challenged to go… There’s times where I’ve felt protective and then our leaders have been like, ‘No, man, we could be missing out on some gold here.’”
The commitment to a wider table hasn’t just helped Lake find new gold. It’s helped him learn more about God — things he wouldn’t have learned otherwise. He says that’s been one of the biggest perks to bringing more people into this space.
“The positive side of having more people at the table is there’s more perspectives of who God is,” he says. “Not a different truth but just, ‘a different side of His face,’ to quote even one of our lyrics. You know?”
A Commitment to Home
Lake balances this fierce belief in a big, diverse table with a dedication to his home church. He’s still the worship pastor at Seacoast Church in South Carolina, and that’s still a priority of his. It doesn’t have the same capacity as some of the venues he’s playing with the likes of Maverick City Music, but he says, “I believe when you take care of God’s church, He’s going to take care of you.”
He says that his church has been understanding of his growing responsibilities and demand on the national (and, increasingly, international) stage, but he’s tried to make sure that his church knows that they are still his family, whatever other venues he may play. It’s important to him too.
“I want to stay planted. Planted things grow,” he says. “That’s really important for me and my family. I want to go to church with my kids. I want them to see me in the church, and run around the halls, and it feel like a second home to them.”
Like every other public space, the local church has been and is continuing to go through it in the midst of a global pandemic that has left many futures uncertain. Lake is mindful of how COVID-19 has affected these spaces.
“It was a dark two years. It’s like we had to face everything we didn’t want to face,” he says. “I pray that, now, we wouldn’t take for granted the opportunity to get together and to exercise our faith together, to encourage one another.”
The ability to put on more worship concerts with his friends and collaborators has clearly been enormous for Lake. He’s expresses a lot of gratitude for the opportunity to play again, and he urges people to do the same, whether that be a Maverick City Music concert or, as safely as possible, their own churches.
“There’s so much encouragement in the room and, man, we need that right now because I think we’ve been deprived of it,” he says. “I think this is what the church is here for. It’s to encourage, and to edify. To build up, and to love one another. To share in everything that we have. My thought is: How do we just continue to be who God called us to be no matter what we’re up against?”
Lake admits he doesn’t have all the answers to that question, but he does know how the Church can best go about figuring that out: together.