Up Close with Chris McClarney

by Kelly Head

If you’re going through hard times, Chris McClarney might be just the music to put on “repeat” on your iPhone. He is a rising singer and songwriter who captures the heartfelt thoughts a typical believer might feel, and expresses them through soulful songs of hope. Chris penned the sincere worship song called “Your Love Never Fails.” This song is what first brought the spotlight onto Chris when the single caught the attention of the Bethel Church worship group in Redding, California, called Jesus Culture.


They recorded it on their 2008 “Your Love Never Fails (Live)” album. The rest is history, as the song has now become the theme song of sorts for the current youth worship movement. The Newsboys later recorded the song, and it again topped the charts earlier this year. Chris also recorded the song on his album “Defender,” which is filled with soulful and message-driven songs. Chris was quite seasoned even before his “fame” hit, having already been a worship leader for 15 years. Today, he leads worship at churches, youth events and conferences across the country and globally. Recently, Chris led worship at Youth For The Nations, a large teen summer camp/conference, in Dallas, TX where The Voice caught up with the down-to-earth, humble musician. He shared how he got his start, his first encounters with charismatic Christianity and his message to those with a God-dream in their hearts. This soulful musician was born in Nashville to youth pastor parents. While Chris is now a unique and rising voice, he got his start almost by accident. “I was about 13 years old, and we were doing a little church home group at the time. They asked if anybody knew how to lead worship. I did not know how to lead worship,” he laughs, “but I said to myself, ‘How hard can it be? I like to sing, I play piano and I just bought a guitar.’ So I was like ‘Yeah, I can lead worship.’ I guess it went all right because they kept asking me to lead.” The home group turned into a youth group that quickly grew to more than 400 members. It was there that Chris had the room to hone his abilities. Then five years later, a life-changing event ultimately changed the course of his ministry. A buddy of Chris’s, who was a youth leader at the church, died in his sleep, devastating the entire youth group. “I remember thinking, ‘Why didn’t we pray for him?’ Because, I guess I just never heard the sermon that said we weren’t supposed to pray for sick people and expect them to get better,” he said. “It’s funny growing up in a conservative church. If someone’s grandma were sick, we would always pray for the grandma, but I’m not sure where the line was (in expectation).” Although he had taken prayer requests like this, Chris had no personal experience with sickness, death or healing. His only frame of reference for such miracles was what he had seen from television evangelists. “But after [the death of my friend], I got really interested in the Holy Spirit and was searching for answers. “I asked a friend if he knew anybody that spoke in tongues and where people fell over when they prayed. He said, ‘Man, you need to meet my brother, he is totally one of those crazy guys.’”

So, Chris went to church with the brother. “I wanted the Holy Spirit so badly,” he said. “So I prayed what they prayed about the Holy Spirit coming and filling us with power and authority. Others were speaking in tongues and falling over, but I just didn’t feel anything. I didn’t think, ‘Oh that’s all not real.’ I just thought,‘I guess that’s just not for me.’”

So Chris went back to leading at his conservative youth group. But about six months later, “weird stuff” kept happening. “It’s stuff that wouldn’t be weird now, but it was really weird to me then. Songs were going on longer than they used to, and people would cry during worship. Once, people started repenting of their sins during worship. These things probably should [have been] a normal part of our church life, but was a new experience to me then.”

Chris started seeking answers. “So I asked my friend, ‘Hey, do you think that your prayer worked? Did the Holy Spirit actually fill me up, even though 
I didn’t fall over, and now He’s moving in power and the things that I feel?” The friend affirmed, “That is totally real.”
Chris was so excited and amazed by his new experience with the Holy Spirit, that he couldn’t wait to share it with other members of his youth group. So he invited a group of his friends from church to a Saturday evening charismatic church service. They all started speaking in tongues, shaking and getting filled with the Holy Spirit. “From that, a ‘thing’ started in our church, and it began to make the leadership really uncomfortable.” Eventually, Chris was asked to change his ways or leave the conservative church.

From there, Chris began to “church hop,” until he realized he needed to commit to a fellowship of like-minded believers. He promised himself that he would stay at the next church until the Lord told him to move on. That next move turned out to be to an intercity ministry he found by a providential invitation from Jeff Deyo from the group Sonic Flood. The invitation came right at a time when Chris was questioning a recording deal that he ultimately decided against. The night of worship actually led to Chris ministering there over the next three years. That time in his life really solidified a deep heart desire to help with mercy ministries (those helping the needs of people physically), which is something that deeply defines the heart of Chris as a worship leader.


“I thought, this is kingdom stuff, actually giving people clothes and loving on children that don’t have dads, helping orphans and widows. This is what I want to do. So I sold everything I owned (which was basically nothing) and moved down there.” It was during his years in the Nashville innercity ministry that he met his wife Jasmine with whom he now has three children. After the intercity ministry, Chris ended up becoming the worship leader at Jasmine’s home church, Grace Center, in Nashville, Tennessee. He and Jasmine ministered there for the next 10 years. It was at Grace that he became connected with the ministry of Bill Johnson, and Bill’s son Brian. It was through this relationship that Jesus Culture heard “Your Love Never Fails” and decided to put it on their album. The rest, as they say, is history. Despite the recognition, Chris still sees himself as primarily a worshipper. “If you want me to come do a ‘show,’ it’s not going to be very good. I’m more about what we can do together as a group, us and the people that come to worship together. 
I think it’s really beautiful and much better than whatever we can do on our own.”

It’s been a long journey, but Chris is very happy with where he is now. “I sometimes sit back and think, ‘Wow, my job is to help people connect to God.’ As a worship leader, I think that’s helping remove the boundaries that separate people from the Lord. Music is a great way to do that. 
It kind of cuts through the junk of the week and the pressures that are weighing on all of us,” he said.

On reaching your dreams, Chris says, “Follow the Lord and if He’s made a promise to you, or if there is a calling on your life, or even if it’s something you want to do, I think the Lord is into what we want to do. Do it, follow your dreams and be awesome! Take risks and then 
at the same time, find people that can speak wisdom into your life and kind of temper that. Find the balance; take it slow when you need to. But also keep going after it; don’t worry about your age 
or anything like that. There are so many stories that don’t fit the mold. Just keep trusting God!”

Chris McClarney ministered at Youth for the Nations last year, a conference for youth and youth leaders held on the Christ For The Nations campus. To find out more about YFN, visit their website by clicking here.

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