[Editor’s Note: We connected with Zak Lalic of House of Worship Ministries to hear his thoughts on how worship connects with culture and context, outreach and revival, music, and the rest of life. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.]
Sam Robins: Catch us up to speed really briefly: who are you? Where are you? And how’d you come to be where you are?
Zak Lalic: Hi there, I’m excited to join you guys today! My name is Zak Lalic and I serve as the National Director of House of Worship Ministries (HOWM for short). I live in Montreal, Quebec. I helped start House of Worship as a first-year university student in 2015, and have served full-time with the ministry since partnering with Power to Change – Students in 2018.
SR: What exactly is HOWM?
ZL: HOWM stands for “House of Worship Ministries,” and is the musical worship and arts division of Power to Change – Students. The mission of HOWM is simple: to invite people through musical worship and the arts to encounter, dwell in, and be changed by the Spirit of God together. We reach people with the gospel through collaborative musical outreach events such as public worship sessions.
SR: Tell us more about your city and province specifically. How has this environment shaped HOWM?
ZL: Quebec is an interesting place because it has many church buildings, but not many people who attend church. People in Quebec know about Jesus, but they have yet to know Jesus. Quebec has become an increasingly secular place ever since the Quiet Revolution in the 1970s, when people began leaving the church as a response to its abuse of power. This has left a particular spiritual void within the province and its people.
Montrealers crave to experience meaning through the arts and culture. Whether it’s through music, dance, or visual arts, people are seeking transcendence through these mediums.
By God’s grace, House of Worship Montreal is responding to this craving by communicating the gospel through music and the arts.
I would also say, because of this void, God has been working in and through Christians in Montreal to pray for a spiritual awakening in the city. Because of this, the church in Montreal, though small in number, by God’s grace is thriving spiritually with a deep hunger to know Jesus more and make him known in our city.
SR: On your HOW-Montreal Facebook page, you connect the experience of long hours of worship with spiritual awakening. How are worship and revival connected?
ZL: Great question! Long hours of worship does not equal revival. We believe that before the music even begins, the presence of God is already with us—the Holy Spirit dwells inside of us, and Jesus has made a way for us to boldly approach the throne of God through His death and resurrection.
Therefore, revival isn’t the act of worshipping for long hours, but rather the coming together of God’s people to pray for and worship over our respective cities. Revival is found in recognizing the work of God in our lives and our city, and the Holy Spirit leading us to pray for an awakening (that is, for people to come to know Jesus).
SR: Tell us one of these stories of how you’ve recognized God at work through HOWM.
ZL: When House of Worship started back in 2015, one of the first things that we did to communicate the gospel with music was to have a public worship night on top of Mount Royal. Seven of us students who started House of Worship Montreal invited our friends to come worship with us literally over the city on the Mount Royal lookout. We brought our instruments, including acoustic guitars, a keyboard, a generator, and a full-on drum set.
When we arrived at the top of the mountain, we checked the weather forecast and it said it was going to rain. We were disappointed at first, but then the Holy Spirit led us to pray that whether five, ten, or zero people show up, that we would still worship Jesus with the same passion because he is worthy of our worship.
God did something extraordinary: 45 minutes into the worship night, we opened our eyes and saw around 90 people gathered in the rain, both Christians and spectators, singing, listening, and declaring songs about Jesus over Montreal.
God used this to launch us into our ministry of reaching people with the gospel using music and the arts, gathering students and young adults to pray and worship for revival over Montreal, and connecting lost people to local churches around the city. Praise God, to him be all the glory!
SR: Very cool! Where else is there a HOW? I assume they are doing similar things . . .
ZL: There are House of Worship ministries in Ottawa, Kingston, London, Toronto, and Guelph! What I’m encouraged by is that these Houses of Worship are all diverse in the way they approach ministry, but are also united under the same mission of inviting people through musical worship and the arts to encounter, dwell in, and be changed by the Spirit of God together.
If you love singing songs to Jesus and have the desire to reach your city and campus, let’s chat! I’d love to help you start a House of Worship in your city too!
SR: From your photos, it looks like you have a ton of cultural diversity on your team in Montreal. Is this on purpose or did it just happen? How does that come out in times of musical worship?
ZL: Yes this just happened. This is one of the aspects we celebrate in the way that God has brought people together to worship Jesus—it’s a mini picture of what heaven will be like.
By God’s grace, our cultures influence the way that we facilitate musical worship, from the way we select songs to the way we lead congregations. For example, Montreal is mainly a Francophone city, so we often sing in French, but it is also one of the most multicultural cities across Canada. Therefore, there are particular worship nights, especially on campuses such as McGill and Concordia, where we play songs in different languages and worship in the way that we would sing in our respective home cultures.
SR: What is worship to you? Why do we worship? Why music?
ZL: Worship is more than a song; it is a lifestyle. Therefore, we worship Jesus not just with songs, but with our lives because he is worthy of our worship.
With that being said, we express our worship to God with music because as House of Worship Ministries we love music – what a way to express our love to God!
Secondly, worshipping musically is biblical as well. In Psalm 150, the psalmist says to
“praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals.”
I’m thankful that we get to use our instruments and our voices to praise the Lord!
SR: What would you say to those who aren’t musicians, either because they aren’t skilled or aren’t interested in music?
ZL: Yes! We love you guys! There are many, many ways to express your worship to God; let your very lives be an offering of worship to God. It says in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “so whether you eat or drink or whatever you do , do it all for the glory of God.” We’re so encouraged to have people in House of Worship serve in various ways that are outside the medium of music. Whether it’s painting a beautiful picture on a canvas, movements of dance, practicing hospitality with cooking, or using skills in business to serve administratively, it’s a sweet offering of worship to God.
SR: I know you mentor younger worship leaders in your city. What advice do you have for aspiring musicians and/or people who want to see worship happen?
ZL: The best thing to chase after is not the platform of leading people into worship, but those intimate times of worship between you and God. My advice and encouragement: grab your guitar, your piano, or any other instrument, and lift up your voice to Jesus with you and him alone. You being with God is way more important than what you can do for God; what you can do for God is an overflow of being with God. Being with him is absolutely the best thing!
SR: What has it been like for HOWM in this current crisis, especially in Montreal as one of Canada’s epicentres of the pandemic?
ZL: Over the past couple of months, we have pivoted our ministry online. Both House of Worship Montreal and House of Worship Ministries as a whole have done worship livestream sessions through Facebook Live—from musical worship and encouragement, to streaming past worship sets from conferences, to sharing the stories behind the songs we’ve written.
House of Worship Montreal in particular is currently doing a project called “Songs at Home,” producing original songs and covers that are sung as musical prayers during this season.
SR: How can we pray for you and your ministry? What are you trusting God for that only he can do?
ZL: Thank you for asking! Please pray that as a ministry, that our worship would continue to be an overflow from our intimate walk with God; that we would continue to worship in spirit and in truth, responding to who God is based on his word; and that we would continue to serve and love people the way Jesus does. Thank you!