Like most of the world, Kari Jobe and Cody Carnes had most of their 2020 plans put on hiatus by the global pandemic. The famed worship duo have been putting their lockdown time to good use, working on a few renditions of their hugely popular “The Blessing” and planning a live worship album for later in the year — plans they share here exclusively with RELEVANT.
Jobe and Carnes also open up about their experience at the White House last December, when they met with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office along with several fellow worship leaders for a time of prayer and worship.
You had a real hit with ‘The Blessing.’ Can we talk about it?
KARI: We had planned to lead worship at Elevation Church that weekend and we all had the idea to come together a little earlier and just write. We actually wrote a different song for eight hours that day. We were about to demo that song and Pastor [Steven] Furtick picked up a guitar and started with the idea of “The Blessing.” It was like one of those moments where we were like “We should lean in on that! That this feels really, really special!”
So, another five hours of writing. But it was so beautiful. It felt like we were all just sitting around reminding each other of the promises of God that we all believe and that we to throw into a song. We got another idea when we saw people like posting on socials these 10 or 15-second clips and everyone sharing those and reposting those and tagging. I had never seen friends do like that on social media. We walked around the hotel where we stayed at that Sunday night and we were like in a daze. This was a week or two before the pandemic so nothing was shut down, life was normal, we had no idea what was about to take place but if I look back to that whole experience it felt like the calm before the storm.
It felt like God was giving something for people to be able to hold on to in the midst of something that was about to take place. Never before have we like felt so strong to go ahead and put it out either. So by the time we put it out, it was 10 days after we wrote it that it came out on YouTube. So pretty crazy. Pretty crazy.
We’re at a time where there’s so much focus — rightfully so — on things that are happening out there in the world, in the streets, with protests and pandemic. Do you feel any pressure or responsibility to speak into that with the sort of work that you create?
KARI: This is the golden question right now. I feel like everybody in Christian leadership is having to really ask themselves this question. Asking the Holy Spirit: What’s my role here? I think this is a sensitive topic for a lot of people. I think right when everything started with the riots and just the racial stuff going on, there was this pressure from a lot of Christian leaders to say something, to post something. I think a lot of people felt like, “Oh, my gosh if I don’t I’ll really be looked at in a bad way or something.” But I think with that kind of stuff, it’s better to say something that carries weight than to just say something because there’s this pressure to say it right now.
I had a lot of respect for people that said, “I’ve taken a few days to post because I didn’t know what to say.” I have so much respect for that because that peer pressure can be really difficult. It’s not that people don’t want to say something. It’s just that, man, that’s weighty. These are massive issues and every single person has different experiences with that, different relationships that affects. So many things.
But, yes, everyone should say something. I think the reason we all follow each other is we love each other’s perspective on life. We love to see how you love Jesus and what that looks like. But, man, that’s a lot of pressure that when you feel you should do something at a certain time if you’re not ready yet.
CODY: Bottom line, as the Church, we have to stand up against injustice. The two commandments God gave us was to love God with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. So when we see those two things being challenged, we have a responsibility as the Church to communicate the heart of God, the heart of Jesus towards people and I think that’s what you’re seeing.
The hard thing is as right now there’s a certain mentality that you have to say that in a certain very specific way or you’re wrong. That’s the thing that’s hard because what Kari and I are doing is we’re asking Jesus, what would you say right now? What do you want us to say? What part are we supposed to play in this and what do you want us to communicate? I just keep having to go back to scripture, I keep having to go back to what is the heart of God for people? What is the heart of God for us loving our neighbors? I’m like looking at Jesus going, man how did you handle this?
I think that, yes, we have to say something. I think that we also have to feel the weight and responsibility of how we should say it and what we should say based on what we feel like the spirit of God is telling us to say. I think, ultimately, the message of Jesus that we’ve been writing about and preaching for however many years now is consistently the same throughout all of this. God loves people, we were meant to love people. God loves everyone, God created everyone. Every person, every human being that God created has value, so that’s consistent. The way that we communicate that changes, but the heart of God is consistent in this time it’s the same.
So you’re taking time to seek God on the right way to address this. What have you learned?
KARI: My dad’s a pastor. I grew up with my dad being in leadership. One of the days this week, he was going to a church that has been dealing with intense tension with this whole topic — maybe even dealing with a church split because no one knows how to fully reconcile — and it was really, really sensitive and just so broken. I felt so led to pray that people would be more desiring of following what the word of God says, even if their feelings didn’t line up yet. If we let our emotions lead us, it can be a bit detrimental at times. I started praying “Lord, I just pray that people would be able to forgive and move toward reconciliation, even if their emotions aren’t there.” And like Cody was saying, praying “Jesus, how would you respond?” I’ve been so just drawn to the fact that Jesus always did everything out of compassion. Before he healed somebody, the Bible says he was moved with compassion. Before he cast out a demon, it says he was moved with compassion. I think that’s just my heart for the Church right now: that we would listen before we talk, that we would be moved with compassion even before we pray or try to do something. Trying to hear where someone’s coming from. Trying to hear the truth about how they were raised. Different things like that. I think that will help so much to give perspective because that’s where people’s hurt comes from. It’s their experiences, it’s their past pain.
CODY: I’ve reached out to a lot of people in this time, asking questions and not really saying much. I have Black friends, brothers and sisters, people that I’ve grown up with, people that I’ve been good friends with for a long time, calling them and having hour-long conversations, hearing story after story of things they’ve experienced in their own life. I think as the Church, we have to just listen and be slow to speak, quick to listen and be willing to just embrace, be compassionate, be willing to be a safe place for people. If someone’s sitting across the table from us saying, “I’m hurting in this,” that’s all you need to know. If someone’s affected, then they’re affected. There’s something that we need to do to help them not be afraid, not be hurt and right the things that have been wronged in their life.
I do want to talk about the new album, Kari. I know you’re releasing one this year.
KARI: It’s the first time for me to talk about it. It’s going to be a live album, which is pretty crazy because I’ve had to ask God, “Really? Like, right now?” Everything is sort of different. We haven’t even been able to be in inside the four walls of the church building, but I felt like God told me to just keep moving forward, to record this year and so in a few weeks we’re pressing record. It’s going to be a more intimate setting than it probably would have been before, but I’m actually excited about that. The Church at large isn’t always in the same room at the same time. So my heart would be thinking of those that even aren’t in the room as well. There’ll be about… what? A hundred people? I feel like it’s just going to be a really beautiful thing to capture in a season of where the Church is right now. The big gatherings are not what’s happening right now. It’s powerful that I get to record in a season that just looks different and wrap my heart around that. I’m excited.
One more thing. A few months ago, you both were photographed with a lot of other people at the White House, and there was a lot of controversy over being filmed with the President. What would you say to people who were surprised or even hurt by that?
— Sean Feucht (@seanfeucht) December 10, 2019
CODY: First of all, I understand if you’re offended at the President. If you don’t like him, I totally get the reasons why you wouldn’t. I’m not mad at you for that. That’s what you think. Like I said earlier, if someone’s across the table and they have offenses, I can’t argue with you about that. That’s through your experience. My experience has been that there’s a lot of things about him that I don’t like, and there’s a lot of things that he’s doing for the country that are really good. That’s just what I see. But that meeting wasn’t about any of that actually. It wasn’t about politics. It wasn’t because we supported him or didn’t support him. It was really his administration inviting us into the White House to lead worship. Man, I don’t care whose administration it is. If that invitation comes across our table, that we get to go into that house and lift up the name of Jesus and invite the presence of God into that house? A lot of decisions are being made. At that point, I’m asking God: Am I supposed to play? Am I supposed to do this, Lord? Is this an invitation that you are leading us into? Kari and I genuinely felt that it was from the Lord. Like, I want you to go in there and I want you to lead worship. I want you to do that. At the end of the day, that’s just between us and God. That’s something that we have to answer to God for. We just have to obey.
At the end of my life, I want to know that I obeyed God in all the situations that He led me into. That was really the heart of that for us. It wasn’t to push some political agenda. It wasn’t to validate bad things that Trump’s said or done. No, of course not. That’s not our heart. It was just to honor God in the way that we were getting invited to and we were just doing our best to do that.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) December 9, 2019
KARI: We thought about David going into Saul’s courts when Saul was being tormented by demons. It literally talks about that in the Bible. That Saul would ask for David to come and play because it would drive the demonic away and it would bring peace to him. It would “silence the tormenting spirits,” it says. I also thought about Esther. Esther was invited into the king’s courts and she had actually helped save her people. Everybody that did that went with fear and trembling because of the unknowns, because of the office of the king, because of the office what that stood for. But God protected those people, God gave them prophetic words, God went before them and it actually shifted things that affected an entire generation. So I feel like a lot of us, we’re in leadership. God’s asked us to carry a mantle in this season, for such a time as this. We don’t know what David’s friends said to him. We don’t know what Esther’s friend said to her. But we know that they obeyed God.
I will forever remember the moment that President Trump walked into the cabinet room. We were sitting there and he said, “I would really like for you to pray for me, but I want you to do it in the Oval Office.” The presence of God was so thick in that place and I will never ever forget it. I just stood there crying the whole time. I got to stand right behind him, behind his chair, we were all crowded in and it was the thickest presence of God. God always shows up when we speak his name. I even feel trembly in my voice now just remembering how it just felt so special to get to pray over someone who’s making massive, massive decisions on the behalf of people. That’s all we got asked to do. I just love that we got to do it.
CODY: It’s funny. I think the biggest thing that I saw on social media at that time was, “Don’t you know that they’re using you for some agenda, to show support?” I was like, “Maybe they are! But that’s actually not my responsibility.” I didn’t go in with an agenda. We didn’t post anything.
We didn’t know that we were going to take a picture in the Oval Office or know they were going to post it. I didn’t know they were going to use a video interview that we did talking about how amazing it was to be in a White House leading worship. From our perspective, that was a good moment: Getting to lift up the name of Jesus in the White House through worship; through what we do. I didn’t know they were going to use that. So people are like, “Did you not know you’re part of an agenda?
KARI: We didn’t know.
CODY: There have been other things we’ve been invited to do in the same regard, in the same level. And we didn’t feel like the Lord was telling us to go, so we said no. We’ve turned things down, you know what I mean? So we’re just trying to navigate our lives really with this vision on: God, what are you saying? What are you leading us into? What’s your heart? What’s your invitation? Are you inviting us to this? And if so, we’re going to go and we’re going to be obedient. At the end of the day, I know God told me to do this and I was obedient to do what you told me to do.