An interview with Luke Rollins, our DJ Ministry Coordinator, as he shares his story and passion for music, reveals some exciting new developments, and looks ahead to where the next years will take him…
What attracted you to being a DJ?
Initially I just loved music – exploring and discovering new songs and sharing them. You get excited about a new track and want to share it with people and see their response to it. People dance and there’s a joy and a reward in bringing people a good time. That was really what attracted me to DJ-ing at first.
What do you see as the importance of the shared music experience and the part you have in that as a DJ?
There is something about sharing music in a community which is very powerful and as a DJ you have a lot of responsibility for governing a person’s experience in that moment. When I became a Christian – I began to understand how God flows through music, how music can change atmospheres in rooms. There’s an authority and a power that music has which I don’t fully understand, but as a DJ you’re called to wield it – and you can wield it for good or for bad – make someone’s day or ruin it. It’s an important responsibility musically. But it’s also a beautiful way of connecting with people Music is such a great connector, allowing for relationships to form very naturally with other people. It’s a very natural way to share Gods love. I believe that there is something incredibly powerful and fundamental to our existence about a corporate music experience, so it is a crucial tool in evangelism.
Who is a DJ you admire and why?
A DJ I admire is a guy called Robert Hood. He’s from Detroit and one of the veterans of the scene. He is also a pastor and Christian, and he has taken a style of music which you wouldn’t usually associate with worship and he has made it work in a way I really appreciate. He is unabashed about his spiritual roots and about sharing the gospel. Recently he played a gig in Berlin, in a church, and combined his set with a sermon. He uses his music and influence in a way that is not heavy-handed, but he is also not ashamed of what he believes and what he stands for. He uses his music to convey that message but to also open the doors for him to share that message.
To me he is an innovator in this and someone I look up to.
How do you experience worship in third spaces?
I think worship in third spaces is really essential and under utilised by Christians. I’m reminded of a time in Ibiza, dancing in a club and finding it so easy to worship in that context. It was totally acceptable to raise my hands and close my eyes, no one was watching me, as I was speaking out or praying and singing, and yet to be able to worship in that third space was incredibly liberating and I’m certain that it was powerful too. It felt totally normal to be doing it and I think it’s something that we need to become more intentional about and less afraid of.
In third spaces you have to be creative and innovative about how you worship, which also allows for new things to come forward. You are breaking outside of the prescribed boundaries often put on places of worship, and it’s very exciting because you give the Holy Spirit space to operate in a new way.
One of the reasons we offer chaplaincy in third spaces is because most of the people that we meet wouldn’t go to church. Yet music is a universal vehicle for communicating and I’m excited about the new ways worship emerges when it’s in those third spaces, new ways of expressing God and being in His presence.
What are some of the challenges you have experienced as an artist and in the culture of the music industry?
I think the challenge is to be distinctive; to operate from a place of integrity, a place of wanting to be influential, whilst also not compromising what you believe. Clubs, bars, festivals are places where as Christians we are likely to be outnumbered and so it’s essential that we have effective community around us and are keeping prayerful and alert. Sometimes when you are known to be a Christian, doors don’t open so readily and this can lead to a temptation to compromise. It is a competitive, often hostile environment, often drugs are readily available. For many artists their music and their craft is their identity and this is very shaky territory to be on. Ministering effectively in these spaces requires you to be very certain of who you are in Christ and certain of your purpose and why you are there. As Christian DJ’s, we are secure as children of God and music is an extension of who we are – and we can then bring a freedom, peace, generosity and stand out because we are not in it for our glory and agendas. I’m not saying it’s easy, but going in to these places as children of God, you stand out – you can’t help it because you’re so radically different to everyone else in a positive way.
When the DJ unity group goes into club spaces, we want to become cultural game changers – shifting the culture from one that is selfish and superficial to one where we love and are kind to each other, and build each other up. It doesn’t happen overnight but it’s amazing the impact that we can have.
In the light of the challenges that you’ve described, in what ways is chaplaincy an answer?
Chaplaincy is a route for people to ask questions and to have someone alongside them who gets it. Many DJ’s feel that their local church doesn’t really understand their calling to the music industry – that because of all the challenges they may face they should just get out of that scene. As a result it can be hard to find Christian community. And so, as a chaplain we offer prayer, encouragement and support, pointing people to God.
In terms of reaching our to those who don’t identify as Christians, chaplaincy looks a little different but is no less relevant. It’s about supporting them through different needs, listening and giving them somewhere safe to share, explore and vent about the challenges of being in the industry. It’s giving them a neutrality that they won’t get from their agents or fans who always have a vested interest – be it money or contracts – to keeping the circus rolling.
I see chaplaincy having a key role in that artist-management relationship because it provides a neutral confidential space which is really lacking in the industry – we’re there with no agenda, other than to care and help. The industry is so money dominated and commodity driven – often prioritising profit over health – and we are helping artists have a voice in opposing those draconian measures and ushering a kinder, more caring culture.
You have organised regular gatherings for the DJ Unity group. I’d imagine that you all have different stories and come from different backgrounds. What is the impact of spending time together creatively?
As we spend time together, we are encouraged and equipped to operate in third spaces in a way that glorifies God, that is missional and that shares his love. To look for the ways to be impactful in those spaces and in the music industry at large. When we get together as a community, we share our stories, we support each other, press in and pray for each other and minister to each other. We share ideas and get creative together, exploring different ways to use music to share the love of God. Then we go out strengthened to be the positive influence we want to be in the third spaces where we DJ and in the music that we create.
We are also shining a light on the prevalent mental ill health in the industry – helping to expose and bring attention to that, challenging the culture by talking honestly about our issues and struggles, and seeking effective support.
We recently held a creative retreat to allow the DJ Unity group to spend extended time together in rest, reflection and listening to God. Over the days we were together, relationships were deepened and the sense of community was strengthened. We also created some great music together! People loved it and went away so encouraged. We hope to hold another before the year is out.
DJ Ministry is two years old this month? What are some of the things you are celebrating from the journey of the last two years?
The continued hunger for this. It’s not been a flash in the pan thing. People consistently want to connect with the Unity group and there is a continued hunger for change in the industry, for chaplaincy and the role it can play in supporting artists and bringing that change. The level of commitment that the group have for this ministry has been so encouraging to me. God is doing something very specific here among us and the fire is burning more brightly all the time.
I have also been blown away by the love and practical ways we are able to support one another. The love that is shown. Last summer we were invited to host a stage at a festival in Leicester, and one of the guys who was down to play didn’t have the money to cover his expenses. The community gathered around him and chipped in to cover his expenses. He was a relatively new Christian and young in his faith, and he was blown away by the kindness of the community.
Has anything been surprising about being in this role?
I believe that in our culture, third spaces are the key for sharing the gospel and for people encountering God, and yet, a short time into this role, I realised how little time I was spending in third spaces. It has come as a real challenge, and I have enjoyed pushing myself to be present more intentionally in the third spaces in my life. We need to be out there, sharing our lives with people and not being afraid. It’s not difficult – we just have to go.
I find people are more willing to talk and share their lives in third spaces than they would at work – and it’s a much more normal and relational way of sharing the love of Jesus – it just happens! There are so many wonderful opportunities just waiting there…
Do you have a particular story that you’d like to share?
On our last trip to Ibiza the DJ Unity group did a prayer walk around all the major clubs. We prayed and prophesied over each club while they were closed during the day, listening to God’s heart for each club. Outside one club, we were praying specifically for purity and God’s presence there. At the end of the week a group of us ended up going to that club and during the night we got welcomed into the VIP area, even though we hadn’t paid for it. And there, right above us, was a huge graphic saying, ‘Pure Ibiza!’ It was a wonderful confirmation of God’s presence in that place.
What is the impact you want to see in the music industry over the next 10 years?
To see chaplaincy normalised in the music industry; becoming an accepted form of support and help for artists in the industry. That it becomes normal to have chaplains on staff at record labels, at festivals, in green rooms. That there are conversations happening among agents and promotors about making sure that the people on their books are cared for – just like it is in the armed forces or in hospitals. It would be amazing if we could see that in the industry in the next 10 years – acceptance and recognition of the importance of this role.
My prayer is that we will have seen an improvement in peoples mental health and that people are being supported in helpful ways.
I’d also love to see more Christian artists releasing music with positive messages; to see Christian artists having more of a voice in this industry – in terms of music and culture – unashamed, unafraid and well supported.
I’d also like to see a wider cultural acceptance of the mental ill health in the industry too. There is a culture of not being honest about our issues and struggles, and so there are not the resources in place to tackle it at present. There are so many tragic stories of drug addiction and suicide – we are helping to bring attention to that. There’s an urgency to get this dialogue going and put in place the practical help that is needed.
How can we be praying for you and for this ministry over the next year?
Well, we have just launched a new website offering chaplaincy services to the music industry. It’s called Soundcheck and we’d love to see more doors open to bring chaplaincy to music events and venues, and more connections with people who need our support and the love of God.
Please keep praying for the DJ Unity group to remain unified, supporting each other, and increasingly missional. Also for continued financial support to do this work. I’m so grateful for everyone who has supported this venture so far and there is so much more we can do.
Music is a global third space and God has already spread our group across the country. I am excited to see how doors will continue to open across the UK, Europe and internationally.