Jervis Djokoto on musical worship and being vessels of renewal

Jervis Djokoto is a Ghanaian, Canada-based pastor and musician. He is in the final years of a doctor of ministry program at Fuller Theological Seminary, focused on Holy Spirit leadership and ministry practice. Djokoto founded a Ghana-based ministry called Worshippers Ministry International. He currently serves as the executive director of The Renew Movement, a global initiative focused on mentoring, training, and resourcing related to personal, church, and global renewal. Djokoto has published two books, Re:New (2021) and Re:Form (2022). He released his debut album, I’m Whole Again in 2020. He was interviewed by Love Is Moving’s Ilana Reimer.

What role do you think music plays in shaping theology in a church (perhaps for good or bad)?

Absolutely, music shapes our theology—as individuals and as congregations. The music we listen to shapes our expectations about God, ourselves and the world around us. Colossians 3:16 illustrates this well. I’ll go ahead and read it, “Let the message of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” So Paul was saying here that music, whether it’s hymns or psalms or songs of the Spirit, are legitimate mediums for teaching and admonishing one another. 

In other words, Church music can bring a congregation to a specific understanding of God. For example, in Sandra [Maria Van Opstal’s] book, The Next Worship, she advocates for music as a tool for mobilizing the Church toward compassion and justice engagement. She believes that if the Church focuses on how its music informs the congregation about issues like multiculturalism, engaging with the poor, etc., they will actually be able to mobilize people towards all of that. 

Some churches may not recognize this, but their operational theology, how they operate as the church, is in itself forming people. Even the styles of worship, though they may not be seen as that critical, have a way of informing the congregation about the church’s values. For example, if other languages are welcome in the lyrics of our songs, it shows the congregation that the church leadership is hospitable to other cultures. 

Even the architecture of our church auditoriums revealsomething about what the Church values. For example, most churches have the pulpit at the front, often elevated. That also suggests a high value on the proclamation of the word.

What role do you think music plays in relation to personal and corporate renewal and transformation?

Besides shaping our theology or mobilizing for Justice, Worship music is formative in other ways . During a sermon, I’m learning something intellectually, but when I am, for example, in a moment of worship, lifting my hands and singing to God, I’m experiencing a different aspect of Christian formation. That worship moment is transforming my affections.

We are formed not just by what we know or believe, but by the desires and affections that shape our lives—our heart.

Music has the ability to penetrate beyond our minds and tug at the heart. [Thus] music has a tremendous power to draw people into the presence of God. And sometimes that ends up impacting the person’s behaviours and beliefs because they’ve interacted with God Himself. 

I’ll give you an example from Luke 24, when Jesus walked with the two disciples on their way to Emmaus. As Jesus walked with them, they didn’t recognize him. The Bible says that beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them the things concerning Himself. Jesus started showing them the pictures of Himself in the Old Testament, proving that all the things that have happened to Him were predicted. And as they had that intellectual discourse with Jesus, their hearts burned within them. 

Something went beyond their intellectual knowledge and touched their hearts. Then when Jesus broke bread, suddenly their eyes were opened and they saw Jesus. It took more than just a Bible study, walking with Jesus and hearing the word intellectually; [it took] sitting down and experiencing Jesus in proximity and intimately around the table. That was when they saw Jesus for who He was. Knowledge is not just intellectual; it’s also experiential. And this is exactly what music is, it is experiential knowledge.

Could you talk a bit about The Renew Movement? Why you started it and what your hopes are for that ministry?

It all started for me several years ago when I had a unique encounter with God. I was sleeping when I heard these words ringing audibly in my ears: “There is a coming move of God that will be worship-triggered and knowledge sustained, and whose momentum cannot be stopped.” At the same time, I saw a vision of fire, the Spirit of God, working His way through the nations of the world, like a tremendous move of the Spirit. I was young and did not have the theological categories to explain what I had experienced. But now after fifteen years, I’ve come to a better understanding of what that experience meant.

The focus of my work over the past few years has been more on facilitating environments of renewal and equipping Christains regarding this concept of renewal. How do churches host God’s renewing presence appropriately? How do we make room for God in our personal lives and in our churches? How do we host this renewal movement? 

Part of what I’ve been doing with that is writing on what the Bible says about renewal and mission. So [my first book] Re:New was mostly just to call the Church to see the urgency of the need for spiritual renewal. God is calling the church to purity, to integrity, to be salt and light in this world, to be transformed into the image of Christ. The second book in the series [Re:form] is presenting the case that everybody has a ministry and calling, whether it’s in the marketplace, in the community, in the home. And to be effective at our ministry, we need the power of the Holy Spirit. 

When God blesses our gifts and talents, it can often be difficult to stay focused on Him instead of puffing up our egos. What’s something you’ve learned about staying humble and open-handed with the abilities God has given you?

The ministry we are called to is not our ministry. It’s something God is inviting us to partner with Him on. So it’s not something I manufacture or determine. I think the posture of humility in ministry means absolute dependence on Him for direction and what’s next. The work is His work, and He’s only inviting us to participate with Him. 

During my first year in full-time ministry, God drew my attention to specific things He wanted me to remember as I entered ministry. During one sleepless night, He warned me of things that could mar the beauty of the work He’s given me. 

We can have wrong motivations, like a desire to be seen and known, or the desire to be great. That in itself isn’t wrong. God can make us great. But that greatness has to come from Him. Sometimes we do ministry with the desire to be appreciated by others. But He reminded me that my ultimate reward comes from Him and everything I do should be unto Him. 

Wealth can be another [desire]. Indeed, I need to be a good steward of my gifts and be able to take care of my family in the process. But God knew I was entering into a ministry culture that was fraught with all kinds of manipulation for money and marketing schemes. And so God wanted me to be careful that I don’t do ministry for money. 

The Lord was trying to realign my heart toward love for Him. The Holy Spirit is the one who nurtures Christ-like character inside of us. We can’t bear the fruits of the Spirit on our own. We must have a posture of consistently kneeling before Him, opening our hands, asking Him to transform us, to give us the right motivations, the right hearts, like in Psalm 51, David’s prayer: “renew a right spirit within me.” That’s how we maintain humility, and profitability towards God. 

This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.