Acclaimed Irish songwriter/worship leader Kathryn Scott became well known for penning worship anthems like “Hungry” and “At the Foot of the Cross,” sung by believers across the world. Her latest project, Sing on the Battlefield, speaks of God’s faithfulness in the midst of trials. Here, Kathryn talks about staying connected to Him through the changing seasons of her life.
CCM: Between motherhood, church involvement, music and more, who is Kathryn Scott?
KATHRYN: When I was just 3 years old I gave my life to Jesus; a brilliant decision for such a little girl, and one that has shaped who I am and the direction I’ve chosen in life ever since! I belong to Jesus — that truth is the grounding I need as I help lead the church here with my husband, Alan, and raise our two daughters (Sophie is 13 and Emily is 10). It’s also the truth that gives me the freedom to write music and lead worship, whether across the world or at home. Everything finds its proper place in Him. Especially as life has gotten busier, the responsibility to keep returning to the place where I can fully connect with Jesus has risen more and more to the top of my priorities. And so, a lot of my ordinary life looks like turning my attention back to Jesus on purpose — even if it’s just taking half an hour to go for a walk along the coastline where we live and pray out loud. (I don’t care if I look a little crazy!) And of course, there’s all the usual stuff of making dinners, dropping kids off to school, cleaning the house, working on worship sets, prepping teaching material…whatever finds itself on my “what’s next” list. I absolutely believe that our worship looks like the offering of all we are in the particular season of life we’re in, which in turn makes sense of the songs we sing.
CCM: What is your battlefield? Where did that inspiration come from?
KATHRYN: Alan and I planted the Causeway Coast Vineyard Church in Northern Ireland back in ’99, and what a courageous community of people they are to lead! We regularly pray for healing on the streets of our town and are seeing a staggering amount of people coming to faith. (As I write, there have been over 2,000 since February ’14). We are a church committed to risk. But with risk comes disappointment, for all is not as it will be yet. And with disappointment comes an increasing responsibility to keep pressing in so that we don’t back off from the Father or the things He has asked us to do. There are times when that can leave us weary.
“Sing on the Battlefield” was born as I tried to describe the image I saw of this in my mind’s eye. I was standing on a battlefield, sword drawn and bloody, but felt almost too exhausted to lift it any longer. And then I caught a glimpse of Jesus, right there in the midst of the fray with us, and He took my breath away. I had to sing in response. This is the King who has won us so completely, who chooses to position Himself with us in the middle of whatever we might be facing, and graces our hearts to believe again. As soon as I said the phrase, “He makes me sing on the battlefield,” I knew it was the beginning of a song I hoped might help put strength back into other battle-weary hearts and let them sense the presence of Jesus where they took their stand.
CCM: Your education and experiences are remarkable. Where have you seen God most clearly throughout it all? Who is God to you today?
KATHRYN: I’ve seen God most clearly in the secret places, the stuff no one else gets to see or even know about at the time. When “Hungry” took off at the end of the ’90s, I had so many invitations to travel the world and lead worship, but we had just planted the church and were starting a family of our own. We had a decision to make. Even though the invitations were incredibly exciting, we knew that God was calling us to Northern Ireland, and more than that, He was calling us to each other as a family. The world will get a million worship leaders or artists, but your family gets “one” of you! So I said “no” to almost everything I was invited to. I’d never had any ambition to be a world-renowned worship leader, but when the opportunity presented itself, I started to quite like the idea! I remember that feeling pretty sacrificial at the time as I laid it down, but I knew it was what the Lord was asking of me.
What has blown me away over the years is how the Lord keeps opening doors that could have forever been shut because of that decision (especially in “career” terms). It has really taught me that we have the full attention of the Father, so there’s no need to clamor for anyone else’s. That means we get to live free — free to serve wholeheartedly wherever we’re planted; to love well without fear of being overlooked; and give away what we’ve been given, knowing that there’s always more where that came from. To say that “God is everything to me” is not an overstatement. He is my Father and Friend, my Sustainer and Source. I love Him when He is opening dreams to me and when He is closing doors, because I’m completely convinced of His goodness, and that means I can trust Him.
CCM: From Brian Doerksen to Paul Baloche, you’ve worked with some incredible people. Is there one person or experience you can point to as being particularly influential on your life or in this season?
KATHRYN: Brian was the one who saw something in me before I had a clue what I was doing in worship writing or leading, and he chose to mentor me and several others for the next two years. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to say a proper thank-you for that. And it was a beautiful model of how I could do the same for others the Lord has brought across my path over the years. He taught us to give it all away — to work ourselves out of a job — so that’s what I’ve tried to do ever since.e
Something Brenton Brown spoke on at a conference years ago made a profound impact on me, too, and I’ve been mulling it over again recently. He talked about the abundance of God; there’s never an end to the creativity of God, and He is always ready to pour out more. That set me free as a writer not to worry that the last song I’d written was the last I’d ever write (a real problem in my head for a number of years). I’m so grateful for that insight! And Paul Baloche is like a brother to me. I love writing with him and recording and leading worship with him. Sometimes the Lord brings you into contact with people that are just a great fit — Paul is that sort of gift to us!
CCM: What was the inspiration for “Hungry”? Could you have imagined its lingering impact?
KATHRYN: Before we moved back to Northern Ireland, we lived in Alan’s hometown of Glasgow, Scotland, for two years. During that time we were assistant pastors in a Vineyard church that was going through a really horrible time. For those two years it felt like all hell was breaking loose around us. Not only that, but I hadn’t been able to write a single note of music for three years, having written songs prolifically since the age of nine. It felt like we were in the desert.
There were incredible things happening at the same time, too, though, as is often the case. It was then that I met Brian Doerksen for the first time and began learning about leading worship and writing congregational songs, something I’d never been able to do before. Out of the blue, I woke up one night with lyrics going through my head, and even though they weren’t any good, I knew that the songwriting was coming back. A couple of weeks later I wrote the song “Child of God,” which was the essence of everything the Lord had taught me during that season of dryness: who I am wasn’t “what I could do,” who I am was “His.”
Very soon after that I wrote the first verse and chorus of “Hungry.” It was a heart’s cry of desperation in the situation we were in, and also a surrender of “even if nothing changes,” I’m falling on my knees offering all of me… You’re all my heart is living for. That summer the Lord spoke clearly to us about moving home, and I got to write the second verse in Northern Ireland, having been released to church plant.
We had no idea that the Lord would do anything with that song or even that it would be recorded! But I love that the Lord does that sort of thing; that even years later, He still uses the cry of a brokenhearted 23-yearold as the prayer of many, and releases His presence and provision into the very places it’s needed most.