Can you share with us about DENS: how you started out, and what your vision is?
Back in 2010, we started writing some of our own worship music and doing some worship gigs. That was under a different name, and we did that for about five years. All of us in the band have jobs and families, and I (Shaun) work at our church, and then we had this project, as well. But, we really weren't doing anything and weren't going anywhere in particular with it.
So, was it more just for your local church?
Yeah, we did some church camps and conferences, and things like that. It was good, but we were just getting frustrated creatively. We felt like we were in this cookie-cutter mold, with the same guitar lick over here and the same melody there, and the same sounding four-chord major song. We found that we were writing ourselves into a corner. We decided to get away from that and start writing music that we enjoyed, and out of that was birthed a lot of the songs from the Small Trees and Giant Seas album. In the beginning of 2016, we realized what we were doing didn’t fit the name that we had, which was The Worship Collective. We knew we weren’t going to be able to get into any other types of venues and draw people with that name.
We didn’t really have the vision to go back into the club scene, which is where we had been in college. I think God was just calling us out of “church” music, as weird as that sounds. He was calling us back into the “darkness,” if you will. We started writing music, changed our name, came out with an album, and revamped everything. It has sort of been a whirlwind, and it has barely been a year and a half since we did that rebranding and record.
Is there a reason why you chose the name DENS?
Well, yes and no. We wanted a name that meant something, and could also mean nothing at the same time. Just reading through God’s Word, you see the word dens everywhere. Jesus, in Luke, talks about how the birds of the air have nests, and foxes have dens, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head. You also see it with Daniel in the lion's den, and you could even call the Upper Room, the place where they had the Last Supper, a sort of den - a place where Jesus had an intimate moment with his disciples. We saw that image throughout God's Word, and thought it sounded cool.
What’s something God has been teaching you as a band?
It was a leap of faith changing our name and making the new record, and we wondered if God was going to be able to use this in the way we felt it could be used. It feels like He keeps saying “yes,” and is giving us opportunities over and over again. When we play in non-Christian venues, people come up to us and we’re able to pray with them. I feel like God continues to affirm us in those questions and doubts we’ve had - that He IS using this ministry.
We’ve learned that we just need to be real and transparent with people. I (Shaun) had to get to a point where I didn’t care about making it with music. I had to realize that that no longer mattered. When I was younger, all I wanted was to be in a band that made a lot of money and toured forever - and that needed to change. For me, I think, God started opening the doors for this ministry when we stopped caring about that kind of stuff. We’re just going to do what we do, in whatever place we’re put to do it, whether that be in the streets of Lithuania, in venues here in Richmond, Virginia, or in a church.
I think what God is saying is that He is enough. As long as we’re doing this for the glory of God, and He is enough, then He’s going to do with it what He wants to.
It’s awesome that you’re using music as a tool to communicate the Gospel. Can you share some stories about how God has used your music and your shows as DENS, or The Worship Collective, over the past years.
Playing as the Worship Collective in Lithuania was kind of what spurred this whole change. We went to Lithuania to support a missionary who was planting churches, and he used our performances to draw people in, to start church plants in three different cities. I would say on that tour, we learned that music can communicate.
And now, in DENS, when we go into different clubs and venues, we see people not only experience God through our lyrics and the things we say from stage, but also through our music. A part of why we do music is because we’re created in God’s image, and God is creative. Part of performing, for us, is worshiping God through being creative. When other people see that, and recognize that, and are able to talk about that with us, it’s so awesome. People ask us what some of the songs are about like Life Breather, Sea Splitter, and Peace Maker, and we explain that they are all attributes of God. That spirals on to more questions, and we’re able to talk about who God is.
When we pressed the album, we printed a book with the lyrics and meaning of each song. We wrote the album to be a representation of the Gospel, and of who God is. So people are taking the album and book home, and are able to read more about the things we talk about from stage. Instead of just saying, “I saw this band that talked about Jesus,” they’re able to hear more about Him and have something to refer back to.
It’s like they have a tangible memory of that moment that they can hold onto. I think that’s really great. I heard you’ll be on tour over the summer. Tell me more about where you’ll be going and what you’ll be doing.
We’re doing two small tour runs this summer. We’re playing a couple festivals, and in between those, we’re booking some venues and possibly a few church shows. It’s exciting to have opportunities to share with larger audiences, and to be able to learn from other bands that have more experience in using music as a ministry.
Where would you like to see DENS in the future and how would you like to see God using you?
Our vision is to continue to be creative, and to continue sharing the Gospel through song and action, through being on the stage and off the stage, and to do that the best we can, for as long as we can.
We want our music to be interesting, and for the lyrical content to point to Jesus. That can be a challenge, because communicating a concise message within your music often begins to sound like the same song over and over. We want to be able to break that mold.
You also have to think about keeping the content relevant, and the sound something people would want to listen to. It can definitely be challenging. Do you have any advice or encouragement that you’d like to give the Come&Live! Community?
Stay humble. Be a servant before you’re an entertainer, a musician, or whatever else is in your life. Each one of us in the band has searched our own hearts and our own motives for why we do what we do, and we want to make sure our priorities and our convictions are reflected in the product and the process. Following God shouldn't be something that’s legalistic, but it’s about knowing and loving Him more. You need people around you that share your vision, just like the four of us do; we’re all on the same page. I’m not saying that you can’t play music with people that aren't Christians, but it sure is helpful, and it sure is a amazing thing when your team shares the same vision.
One of the exact reasons we gravitated toward Come&Live! and being a part of this community, is that we don’t fit in the church mold. It’s so good to have support, like-mindedness, and grounding. It’s not that we don’t have that in our church, or within our accountability group, but to have people that understand that what you do is art and ministry at the same time, to have that kind of support is paramount.
Lastly, don’t forsake spiritual disciplines or personal holiness, as you strive to be more like Jesus. Don’t forsake the local church. This is a big thing for us is, even when not everyone gets the value of our art. I constantly run into people that don’t see things the way I do. It’s easy when you get push back to become cynical, and to turn off and disconnect, but the Church is the bride of Christ. God sees it as important, and so should we. Even when we’re tempted to be cynical, not pulling away from being involved in a local church is very important.
What are some ways the Come&Live! Community can be praying for you guys?
You can pray that we would continue to be obedient to whatever God is leading us to do. He has already opened so many doors! Pray that the Lord would give us opportunities to meet people and talk to them, and build relationships, especially with those that aren’t believers.
That we wouldn’t get in the way of God’s plans, and we wouldn’t be afraid or filled with doubt. Sometimes in the moment, when things are happening, you have to ask yourself, “Am I going to be obedient or am I going to walk away?” When the Lord brings us an opportunity that we might be uncomfortable with, pray that we wouldn't get in the way of what He wants to do.