Story and video by Elizabeth Hughes
Eric Kneifel has been leading worship at churches around the country for the past 15 years. But when it comes down to the heart of what he does, it’s about more than just the music.
“It goes way beyond worship in a musical setting on a Sunday morning service,” says Eric. “There’s so much Scripture that talks about worship being our lifestyle to the Lord.”
Having recently transitioned from the hectic schedule of being on staff as a worship leader at his former church, he and his wife Brenda are now at a local church in their hometown of Portland just plugging into the community around them. Their heart is simply to serve. Eric leads a men’s Bible study, Brenda leads a women’s Bible study, and together, they lead a couple’s small group at their church.
“It’s been such a joy being able to kind of step down a little bit from that role where it’s solely music-oriented and really plug into people’s lives a lot more.”
Though Eric has a renewed vision and goal to pour into people’s lives and lead others to do the same, it doesn’t mean that music and worship have been on the backburner for him. This year, Eric released his first EP (Acoustic EP) and is already working on his second album. When Acoustic EP got a couple thousand downloads and one of the album’s songs, “When I See You Again,” was played nearly 20,000 times on Spotify, Eric was more than astonished by the way God led Him to places he never even dreamed.
“It was kind of crazy to look at,” says Eric. “I was like, ‘Where are all these people coming from?’ I’m just this little nobody-guy who writes these songs and puts out an EP. It’s kind of cool to see how the Lord just took that and said some of these songs are going to speak to people.”
Every so often, Eric is still asked to lead worship at his church, and he still continues to lead worship at conferences and men’s retreats. And of course, he’s wholly invested in the songwriting and recording process for his new CD. Right now, he’s bouncing ideas back and forth with other musicians to nail down a song list for the new album. Incorporating others into the creative process is really important to Eric.
“I’m excited to get some other musicians around me and kind of get a collaborative effort of picking and choosing what should be on the record and let it be cohesive,” says Eric. “I don’t want it to be a mishmash of music. I want it to be a unified message of lifting up our Lord in praise.”
Eric has also experienced firsthand the value of others’ input in his spiritual growth process. In fact, it was through the influence of others that God eventually led Him to become a worship leader. In his teenage years, he admired one of his church leaders named Tim, who embodied what it meant to worship God in everyday life. Tim boldly witnessed to and mentored others, including Eric himself. And simply because Tim played guitar, Eric wanted to also. Over time, Tim nudged Eric to play on the worship team and to eventually sing and lead songs, but Eric remembers feeling like he could neither play guitar nor sing well.
“It was really because of that pushing that I became a worship leader. I didn’t want to do it out of my own heart by any means, and sure enough, the first many times when I was doing it were horrible,” admits Eric.
Years later, however, Eric is thankful for Tim and other church leaders who challenged and guided him during his adolescent years. As he puts it, they, “kept pushing me to open bigger doors.”
His parents also played a huge role in shaping who he is today. Though they have no musical background, they simply encouraged and supported him. His dad, especially, provided spiritual leadership to him growing up, making time to pray with and for Eric.
“My dad always says, ‘I’m thankful for these other musical people who are at our church who you can feed off of,'” said Eric. “It’s really important to have prayer warriors in your life and my parents were definitely that, and huge encouragers.”
Even as they have moved around the country, Eric and his wife Brenda have been intentional about finding others to speak into their lives. When Eric was in Los Angeles, he remembers having his best friend’s family nearby and how they were like his own family for a while. When living in Colorado for five years, they had many friends who were also as close as kin.
“Everywhere we’ve gone, we’ve found people and sought people out to be mentors in our lives,” says Eric. “It’s just a matter of making that effort and commitment to sit down with someone…giving someone you trust that permission to challenge you.”
As someone in his teens who had no intention of becoming a worship leader or recording artist, the Lord used significant people in Eric’s life to direct him on pathways that he never could have traveled on his own. They challenged him to step beyond his comfort zones and trust God’s plans for his life. All in all, Eric’s heart for worship, beyond the music and the busyness of being in ministry, is really relationship—to pour into others and find someone who will pour into you.
“If you ever want to do something or kind of go beyond what you think you’re capable of right now, I think it’s really important to find a mentor or somebody you can look up to, and somebody who can challenge you,” says Eric. “I think that’s one of the biggest ways any of us grows. If you look at Jesus and his disciples, they really grew from that model. He mentored those disciples and they went on from there and they mentored [others], so really it’s this vision of leading a disciple making disciples.”
**You can download Eric Kneifel’s Acoustic EP for free at http://www.acousticep.com.