Planetshakers: The Heart Inside This Australian Band
Written by Kelli Gillespie
Husband and wife team, Russell and Sam Evans, founded Planetshakers band with a passion to unite generations worldwide through worship. Both pastors at Planetshakers City Church in Melbourne Australia, the vision started with a 300-person conference in 1997 and has grown into tens-of-thousands of people and 25 albums; including songs like The Anthem, which is a popular worship song heard throughout Sunday morning church services worldwide. Risen sat down with pastor and worship leader Sam Evans to learn about healing heartbreak, getting into ministry, and overcoming rejection.
Interviewed Exclusively for Risen Magazine at the Planetshakers Conference at The Rock Church in San Diego, California
Risen Magazine: Only being able to piece together bits of your personal story, can you share what your childhood was like and how you came to know God?
Sam Evans: I was 16 years old, and two weeks before Christmas my dad packed his bags and left. It was quite a devastating, shocking experience for us all. I remember my mom came into my room, and it was really early in the morning, the sun hadn’t even come up yet. She was crying and woke me and said, “Sam, Dad’s left. Dad’s gone.” That was a really devastating moment in my life. I didn’t know Jesus personally at the time. We were a religious family I suppose, because I grew up Catholic and we would go to church every week, but God to me was distant. After my dad left, I entered into my final year of high school. So that particular year became the most tumultuous year of my life. I was trying to get my high school diploma and get into college, but all the while hurting. So I tried all sorts of things to dull the pain and every weekend I would be at a different party with friends, drinking and doing all of those sorts of things you turn to when you just want to numb the pain. Of course it wasn’t working. You can feel happy for a little while, but wake up in the morning with that same heartache. During this particular year, my Auntie began to talk to me about a personal relationship with Jesus. It was a week before my final exams and she came to my bedroom and said, “Sam, do you want to ask Jesus into your life?” and so I just said, “Yep.” I’d tried it all and it was just not working. I remember sitting on the edge of my bed next to my Auntie praying this little prayer, “Jesus come into my life. Take away my pain. Take away my sin.” As soon as I started praying, I was bawling my eyes out. I hadn’t cried. I had really tried as hard as I could that year to shut down any emotion. I couldn’t cope with the emotion. So it was like a flood of tears and I just felt physically like this burden lifted off my shoulders. He [Jesus] came in. And as soon as that happens, it’s like you see the world in black and white, and you thought you were seeing it in color, but you weren’t. From that moment it was like my eyes were opened and I knew he was real, he wasn’t far away anymore… he was loving me. I haven’t looked back. God has taken every pain and every heartache; he’s amazing.
Risen Magazine: You’ve just made this decision, and I think many get to that point and have an encounter with God, but then you don’t know exactly what to do next. What did the following steps look like in your life?
Sam Evans: Of course I didn’t know any better so I still kept going to Catholic church as a faithful religious person, but I went there and thought what I experienced in my bedroom, wasn’t there [at Catholic church.] I started to search for the same feeling I suppose and that’s when my Auntie talked to me about going to a different church. And of course for a Catholic, if you go to another church, you’re going to hell. [Laughter.] I went to this little Pentecostal church, maybe a half-hour from where I lived, and then had the funniest experience, because Catholic church is so quiet. You walk in and everyone is whispering, it’s just real quiet. So I go into this church and nearly fell over to see that they are clapping in church, there is a live band, and it was like a culture shock. But inside, I came alive. This is when I started going to this church every week and this is what started to grow my hunger for God because every time I came into that building with all of these people that have had a similar experience as me, we’d worship, and listen to the word [Bible], and that’s when it just started to grow. Then someone at the church talked to me about devotions. I was like, “What’s devotions?” I remember they gave me a little encouragement [book], “Every Day With Jesus.” So then I started doing the devotional book, and then I did “Every Day With Jesus” and a journal. It just started to grow and I started to write to the Lord. And my journal is really a letter to the Lord; I just talk to him. The next step was to get involved in the church. I thought, “I love kids“, so I’ll give helping out with the kids a go, and I remember the pastor also saying they needed someone to help with words. You know what I mean, help with the overhead projector. I thought, “I think I can do that.” So I would take it in turns. One Sunday I would do children’s church and I’d work with the 3-year-olds and another Sunday I would be doing the overhead projector. I was hopeless at it I’ve got to tell you. Trying to line up those words [on the transparent paper,] I was always off. [Laughter.] But I think that involvement as well helped me grow in my relationship because then I’d be hanging out with people all the time, or be part of a leadership team, and they would disciple me, so that’s all part of the growth in my relationship as well.
The enemy always targets your gift. He doesn’t bother with stuff you’re not good at, or stuff you’re not called to do. He’ll always target your gift.
Risen Magazine: Because you came to know the Lord later in your teen years, you probably didn’t think, or aspire to be a pastor. So how did you handle the idea of going into full-time ministry with your husband?
Sam Evans: When Jesus came in [my heart] I fell head-over-heels in love with him. You know when you fall in love with someone and you’re willing to do anything… you don’t actually care what it is… that’s how it’s always been [for me with God.] I’d say, “What do you want me to do now?” I actually never had any aspirations to be on a platform, to sing, to lead worship. I never thought, “That’s going to be me one day leading worship. I want to do that one day.” It was really simple little steps of, “What [God] do you want me to do now?” I remember around September/October of every year I would spend some time with the Lord and I say, “What about next year?” I remember this one time feeling the promptings of the Lord to give up children’s ministry, which I’d really grown to love. [In fact] because of that I even went to college to study to become a teacher and I was working as a teacher and thinking this is going to be my life. But the Lord prompted me saying, “I want you to get involved in youth ministry.” And this is when I first met my husband. He [Russell] came up to me at church one time and I didn’t even know he was the pastor’s son. His dad at the time was the superintendent of the Assemblies of God in Australia. And Russell said to me, “Hey why don’t you check out youth? We need some more people to be involved.” And I remember going to my first ever youth night, when we were really pioneering this youth group, and thinking, “This is disgusting. I would never work with teenagers. They stink, they’re rude, they’ve got attitude.” Because I’m used to working with kids and they are so lovely and they love you and then there’s these teenagers that are just so “grrrr.” I was like, “There is no way I’m going to do that.” Anyway I go home and talk to the Lord about it and he’s like, “Yes way.” I surrendered to that and got involved in the youth ministry, quit teaching and went to Bible college for a year. Russell and I started dating, and then well, because I married the guy and he’s in youth ministry, I think I have to be in youth ministry. [Laughter.] It’s funny because the way I started to sing came about because a particular girl on one of our singing teams got transferred to work in another state for three months, and they just needed a replacement for her.
Risen Magazine: So you were the three-month replacement?
Sam Evans: [Laughter] I was the three-month replacement and that’s how I started singing!
Risen Magazine: And so how long has your “three months” been?
Sam Evans: Twenty-three years or something like that [Laughter.] And the way I started worship leading was also funny. Russell comes to me and says, “Right, you’re leading worship this week.” And I’m like, “I am? I don’t know how to lead worship. No one has ever taught me to lead worship.” And here I was leading worship on this particular night. I was sick all week. I was so nervous thinking about what I was going to do. And I did it. And from that time on I just kept doing it.
Risen Magazine: It seems like when you are challenged with an uncomfortable situation you are still willing to embrace it and move forward. That’s a great quality. What would you say to someone that might be afraid to try or have the courage to take that first step?
Sam Evans: A really important thing is to get your eyes off of yourself. And this is how I think the enemy works. For many, many years I would honestly believe in my heart that I could not sing. And every time I would get up there, I’d hear that voice [of Satan,] And that’s how he works. The enemy always targets your gift. He doesn’t bother with stuff you’re not good at, or stuff you’re not called to do. He’ll always target your gift. So I would constantly have this battle with these thoughts, “You can’t do this… you’re hopeless at that…” And I remember one day traveling in the car with Russell from youth group, and I had just led worship; we had a great night and I’m muttering, “I was so hopeless tonight. It was just so frustrating…” And Russell goes, “When are you going to get it?” And I was like, “Yeah, when am I going to get it? Obviously I can’t get out of this job that I’m doing.” And I had to make a decision that I was going to shift my focus off of my inabilities, or what I thought I was good at, or not good at, and get my focus on what God was asking me to do. Now once I got that, then I think I grew really quickly in a short time. Once we get our focus on Jesus who has called us to do something, obviously he’ll give the ability, the words, the voice, or the songs and then that will help lift us out of all of the junk and rubbish that tries to hold us back. And look, we see it today in great athletes or very talented people; they are so focused on that one thing, and whatever you focus on, you get. I think even in the kingdom of God our focus has to be Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. He’s the one standing at the finish line going, “Come, C’mon… go, go go!” So if we’re focused on that we can run fast and hard to the finish line and not trip ourselves up with the wrong kind of focus. And then, just allowing God to work in our hearts to get rid of the issues the enemy uses to weigh us down or hold us back. One of the big issues with me was rejection. I was self-rejecting myself. I was always never good enough. Why? Because my dad rejected me. Then by allowing God to heal me of feeling rejected, I could go forward because I was my biggest rejector.
I was self-rejecting myself. I was always never good enough. Why? Because my dad rejected me.
Risen Magazine: When it comes to spiritual gifts, how would you help someone better understand this and identify what they have been gifted with?
Sam Evans: I think it’s very important not to get stuck on the list of the gifts – pastor, prophet, teacher, etc., because I think we try to categorize ourselves in one of those areas. And if we can’t see ourselves quite fitting in a certain area, then we shut all these other doors that maybe God is leading us through…trying to get people to go beyond the box. It’s important to see what we’re good at, what we love doing, and then to do that with all of our heart and let God just touch it and anoint it. God. It’s amazing what a new song can do for someone.
Developing Lyrics and Worshipping Around the World
Co-Worship Leader and Songwriter Joth Hunt and Creative Director and Drummer Mike Webber weigh in alongside Pastor Sam Evans about Planetshakers’ inspiration:
Risen Magazine: Planetshakers has toured all over the world. In your opinion, how does worship differ from country to country?
Mike Webber: Absolutely people worship differently, or respond differently in a Planetshakers worship service in different places. Depending on their culture, or even from church to church in the same country, you’ll get people that will respond differently. There is always a moment where you cross over from people coming for an experience of watching the Planetshakers band, or coming to hear their song, where they step into having an encounter with Jesus. That’s really the moment we look for in every worship service whether we’re in America, Asia, Europe… and countries that don’t speak English. We’ve had crowds of people that don’t even speak English, but because we’re singing the truth of God’s word and we’re lifting up the name of Jesus, that transcends any language barrier.
Risen Magazine: A lot of your songs are high energy and scripture based, since you write your own songs what does the development of your lyrics look like?
Joth Hunt: Planetshakers band is basically the church worship team that travels around so a lot of the songs come out of what is happening in our church back home [in Australia]. It’s basically what is on Pastor Russell’s heart and what he is preaching to the church. It’s just so powerful when you have a worship song that flows with the message. We don’t necessarily write for churches around the world, but our music does bless churches around the world. We always want to have a fresh new current sound that is pushing boundaries in a good way and opening people up to more possibilities in God. It’s amazing what a new song can do for someone.
Sam Evans: Some of the songs do come out of personal experiences like the song, “Your Name,” from this current [Limitless] album. Written by another band member BJ [Pridham] who had a revelation that God had set him free from fear. It was so lovely to be part of this particular moment. I was in a prayer meeting and I really felt the Holy Spirit say to me, “BJ is struggling with fear.” And I thought, “No God, he’s alright. He doesn’t seem like he’d be struggling with fear.” But I just had to step out and say, “Hey BJ, um, excuse me… the Lord is talking to me and fear has got a hold of you.” He was like, bang, hitting a nail on the head. I said, “I feel the Lord is just arresting that fear right now. It just has to go.” And we prayed together and out of that he wrote the song. That’s why I suppose some of these songs have been impacting because they are actually God’s word for a certain person at that time and as we’re singing these songs. It’s like God uses them to speak to people’s issues and help set them free using the anointing of God that is flowing through these songs.
Exclusive interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Spring 2013