When considering contemporary worship groups in the Salvation Army, there is no question that transMission may be one of the first groups that comes to mind. With a library of songs that have been used across the world, transMission have been leaders for contemporary worship teams while remaining distinctly Salvation Army. Some of their most popular songs include Soldier’s Hymn, Shout Hosanna, Christ for the World, Send the Fire and I’m in His Hands.
In September, SA Worship Magazine caught up with current leader Josh Powell as well as self-proclaimed grandfather and longtime manager of the group, Bernie Dake.
SAWM: transMission has set a standard for worship teams all over the Salvation Army world. How did it all get started? What was the idea that helped get things moving?
DAKE: Years ago, the Army in the South was doing a Territorial Youth Institute and Phil Laeger was asked to lead worship. Marty Mikles, one of transMission’s founding fathers, was at college so he wasn’t able to be part of the event. The worship was so powerful that Major Eddie Hobgood, the TYS at the time, wanted to capture the energy that was created at the institute by doing a recording. I came on board because of my experience in recording and we used a rhythm section from Florida called the Street Group Medics who were Salvationists. This allowed Marty to become involved in the project. Out of that recording came a lot of other opportunities because not only did people want the recording, but they wanted that band. However, it was just an ad hoc group that was put together. Phil and Marty started conspiring here in Georgia, which eventually led to putting a group together to record the album I Know a Fount (2003). A pattern developed early on that we wanted to produce backing tracks for those without a band and lead sheets for those who had a band. Phil was always writing a killer ballad and Marty was always writing really energetic music. Because of their collaboration, a generation has been affected. I was excited to hear Josh say that he is doing what he does now because he saw Quarter Past Three (Laeger and Mikles original band) or transMission. Thankfully, Dr. Richard Holz, who was TMS at the time, empowered Phil and encouraged the formation of the band to record that album. That is how it became known as transMission.
SAWM: How did the name transMission come about?
DAKE: The name transMission had an ethos behind it; the idea of transforming our worship into mission. Then, a brand was created from that. We had no idea about branding but we always used a lower case “t” to make a cross and the capital “M.” The Salvation Army has always been mission-minded. We don’t believe in faith by works but certainly we believe that faith without works is dead. We wanted people to transform their worship into something special.
SAWM: How has that name, which has become a brand, affected your ministry?
POWELL: When I joined the team in 2009, everything had been about that moniker and the idea that we were transforming our worship into mission. It meant our worship had legs and we were taking it out. We were using our music to take the gospel out to people. For me, I see that The Salvation Army has this great heritage of evangelism and bringing the gospel to the streets. This was our way of using contemporary music alongside the Army’s mission; using that as a mouthpiece to win souls.
SAWM: How did you gain traction in what was considered a fairly traditional worship climate?
POWELL: In its history, I think transMission was able to take great songs, whether they were Army songs or not, and modernize them to reach a wider audience. Part of the “worship wars” was that the younger generation felt like the words of some of the older songs didn’t speak to them in their era. We were able to take songs that were spiritually deep and had a great message and transform them into something relatable.
DAKE: It’s like the King James Version as opposed to The Message translation.
POWELL: Right. By modifying songs to today’s language and musical style or standard, we are able to show that these lyrics, truths, and message are applicable across generations.
SAWM: Part of the foot in the door was using what was already there in a way that could connect with a new generation. They may not have heard or may not have been able to connect to this material before.
POWELL: Even in some cases, if they had heard it before, they may have written it off as an old song that they had sung as a kid in church. Now, it has a new life, they can internalize it in a new way, and that truth washes over them again.
SAWM: When you look back at transMission’s catalogue, there are songs that stand out such as I’m in His Hands or Send the Fire. Some of these songs were part of our heritage as an Army and were written by Commissioners years ago.
DAKE: Not to steal anyone else’s brand but our motto very early on was FUBU. For us, by us. That sung theology is important to us as Salvationists. Giving people energy to bolster what they do and how they express their faith is certainly one of the anchors we use. We want to encourage people to take that into the world.
POWELL: There is certainly a lot of worship music out there now. It seems like there are more styles and genres of worship music that you don’t really know how to use it all. That doesn’t mean that the Army can’t have its own brand of mission-focused worship. That is what we are hoping to do.We want to provide a voice for today’s Salvationist and show that the mission is well and strong. We are taking it out to the streets and it is specific to the Army.
SAWM: How has transMission’s ministry changed over the years? It started at a Youth Institute and has made its way over to the O2 arena in London for the International Congress.
DAKE: We have been at a lot of events in big arenas with Christian music heavyweights. One of the fun events was with the Duck Dynasty guys for a Faith, Family and Facial Hair event. I would say that the best part about transMission in essence, is that it was built for the Southern Territory. It became a model for worship leading and a resource that created energy. It was always beyond the performance and there was an educational aspect to it as well. When I came to this territory in 1991, every time a praise band was needed, it was always an ad hoc group. Now, in seven of the nine divisions, there are really good praise bands in existence.
POWELL: And they meet regularly.
DAKE: Exactly. They get together and they use resources, not just from transMission, but from places like SongSelect. The strength that we bring is our sung theology. There are arrangements in our catalogue that people want to use because they can bridge the gap between old and new. If anything, I would say that the ministry of transMission has changed to a degree where we now find ourselves accompanying people as a rhythm section. We are encouraging those who are just getting into leading, or those who have been given an opportunity to lead but haven’t had a band or resources where they are.
POWELL: We have also had the opportunity to take on more training and teaching roles. For example, at the end of October, we are heading to Arkansas and Oklahoma Division to mentor at one of their events. Each year, they bring their corps worship teams to camp and each team is assigned a leader who is experienced and will work with them on repertoire, literature and perhaps even help them get some new songs into their repertoire. As a coach, we can help them figure out what they are doing really well and what they can work on improving.
SAWM: Going from the O2 arena in front of tens of thousands of people to sitting with a team of corps musicians. That is the sort of leader that people need to hear from. Josh, now that you have taken over the reins of a juggernaut in Salvation Army worship, what do you feel your job is now in leading transMission?
POWELL: Bernie alluded to it earlier. My history with music, guitar playing, and even to an extent my relationship with Christ, started at a Youth Councils where I saw Marty and Phil playing in a group called Quarter Past Three. I had never seen contemporary worship like this before and it ignited something within me To be able to be a part of that now is humbling. I am responsible
for a lot of the organizing but we have a good team. I bounce a lot of ideas off of Bernie and our drummer Chris Hofer because we all have a vested interest in this ministry. Our hope is that the legacy of transMission can be carried on and the work we do while on stage in leading God’s people in worship will be fruitful for the Kingdom. We want to provide an atmosphere where people can have a real encounter with the living God and have a relationship strengthened by the worship that is happening. If we can be helpful in that regard, then I feel that the legacy is strong.
SAWM: What is the driving force now? What is pushing transMission forward and what can we be excited about in the future?
DAKE: Last year, we had a Christmas CD come out at an awkward time of the year, so we are going to really push to have that in front of people this year. We also have resources that go along with it. Josh is already looking ahead to the next album. Every time we do a recording, we are thinking about how we can do a better job than we did the last time. I don’t think in this day in age, especially with downloads and singles, that you will ever be able to produce something that everybody likes or an album where every song is liked. In my lifetime, I can’t think of even one album where I liked every single song. But I can always put on my transMission CD and like a majority of the songs. There are always some that you might think you wish you could take back or wish you had done better. I think this Christmas album is great. I’m most excited about what Josh is doing with the group, as well as Chris. A lot of people wouldn’t know the personnel in the band, but I think that’s kind of cool. transMission has always had a rotation of people coming into the group. We even have a rocket scientist in the group right now. Quite literally, he is a rocket scientist. There have been so many people who have been able to come alongside on projects, sharing the talent that God has given them.
SAWM: What date are you thinking for the new album?
POWELL: That’s quick.
DAKE: That is quick. Potentially, it will be 2020 if we are honest with our production schedule.
SAWM: Last question for both of you. What has been your most memorable transMission gig and why?
POWELL: We were just talking about this in the car the other day. For me, it is hard to beat the O2 arena at Boundless. From the size of the crowd, to the fact it was sold out, to the people being on fire for God. Hearing Send the Fire from people who were truly all in was just amazing.
DAKE: The most memorable gig for me is more of a proud Dad moment or a blessed by God moment. We were playing the song Soldier’s Hymn at Atlanta Temple for Commissioning. At the time, I could not have imagined how people could know this song. I was at the front of house doing sound and immediately behind me was a family including Commissioners Steve and Judy Hedgrin. A line of lyrics from that song says, “Let our uniform be Holiness and mercy, justice clothed with grace and truth.” As the whole audience was pouring into this song that I couldn’t imagine they all knew, I turned around and the Commissioners were in tears. His story includes a battle with a rare form of cancer in which he is one of 300 survivors. At that particular time, he was on sick leave and it was so powerful to see them responding not to transMission, but to the Holy Spirit. The guys were just the vessels that were pouring it out. I must admit that at moments like this, I thank God that we didn’t get in the way. I thank God that He can use anything, in spite of ourselves and our ability to feel unworthy. I trust these men implicitly and I know in their hearts they truly follow God and they desire to be His hands and feet.