(Photo courtesy of Joey Buran)
Enjoy The Journey
An Interview With Worship Generation’s Joey Buran
By Sarah Komisky
DJ boards and shuffle dance moves. Makes sense as a typical pastime for a seventeen-year-old or the twenty-something fan of EDM. But what happens when you’re in your 50s? For Joey Buran, it doesn’t matter. It’s more important to live the dream.
Not surprising for the California Kid who won the Pipe Masters. Landed himself in the hall of fame. Became a pastor. Started ministry in the Calvary Chapel Movement. Coached Billabong’s junior team, the US, British, and Chilean’s Olympic Surf Team. Made a movie. Became a winner of the world champion title, built the U.S. Olympic Surfing program, trained in the US Olympic Committee, and was recognized as the most successful coach in USA Surfing Organization history.
Yet “Coaching,” he noted, “is just another form of teaching.”
This seemed to be one of the threads of his life including his love for people and passion for creativity.
The very name of his church, Worship Generation, holds roots in the late 90s, when Buran was touring churches at youth events. Only weeks after coming up with the name, the late Pastor Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa invited Buran to begin a weekly Bible study in the main sanctuary in the early 00s. These youth events coupled with cutting edge music from a rotation of up and coming artists like Phil Wickham and Jeremy Camp, began a youth movement birthed in Southern California.
I should know. I was one of those kids coming in droves with my friends to rock out in the same pews hippies once swayed in back and forth in the Jesus Movement of the 60s. Now, as an adult, I find myself rerouted to the person who influenced my youth with the same thing that initially caught my attention as a teen–music. Today, I smile as I am reunited with the same energetic Pastor Joey. However, he is now shuffling in Adidas gear to electronica. He’s lost in improvisation. Lost in the moment. Complete with big black headphones. I instantly like the post on social media along with several others from “DJ PJ” (dubbed by his youth group kids) through his ministry “DJ Worship.” Somehow, I know I have to get in touch. Graciously, the answer to be interviewed was an enthusiastic “For sure!”
Chatting with him on the phone, I introduce myself as one of the WG kids, sharing my story. He brightens up and asks a few intentional questions. Life comes full circle. It’s almost like reuniting with your high school teacher. You ask. You listen. You glean from somebody who was an original influencer. And in this case, you’re blessed enough to collaborate.
He shares about his new ministry with candid honesty and a laid-back surfer flare. He’s quick to admit his weaknesses and flaws. One being that he likes to dance but can’t sing. Another is that he is a southpaw, which makes things even more challenging. Discovering his new passion for dance, music, and DJing, he is also candid with humor.
After watching his son at the DJ board in 2016, Buran had two new ideas spark: I can learn how to mix and I can get Nate Gallagher (married to his daughter Hannah) to teach the Bible.
“At first I was like, am I crazy?” He reflects. “Here’s the thing. If you wake up one day and you’re thinking something so not you, not in your wheelhouse, you should really consider that for a while before the Lord. Because that’s not usually your flesh. Because It requires faith and dependence and trust in the Lord. But I’ve never seen the Lord abandon those who go for it.”
During his USA surfing season, Buran kept working quietly and diligently on dance stuff, paying attention to the current music scene. After resigning from the team in 2018, wondering what’s next in life, the Lord put on his heart the same vision, get a DJ board. An exciting, yet scary launching point.
“Can you imagine me trying to tell that to my wife and my kids?” he jokes. “But Luke was like, ‘Yeah Dad, for sure, just go for it. I’ll teach you how to do sick drops.’”
With a new passion underway, Buran got to work devoting wholeheartedly the last couple years to taking steps in that direction off the grid. His objective – be himself.
“I just kind of do my own thing. That’s how I surf. That’s how I do ministry. l’ll glean and learn from others, but not a lot. I’m not a commentary guy. I like to get things in my prayer closet, knowing the Word. But like, I don’t want to overthink it. I don’t want my creativity to be stifled by the rigidity that I think should be me or how someone else does it. I have a super artistic mind and I just kind of march to my own drum beat, you know? And, that’s how I’ve always been.”
When asked how he wants to inspire and reach others by using his new ministry to encourage others, he observed the current landscape on social media. Commenting on how he has seen others doing new things in creativity, he also addressed the fear many are dealing with.
“In this quarantine time, I feel like a lot of people have been afraid to develop certain creativities, and visions, and dreams, and thoughts they’ve had about how they might live their life. And I think it’s a great time to go for it. I think it’s a time to really think about and seek the Lord for gifts and ideas we’ve had.”
He uses his own social media to explain the topic.
“I have noticed with people that follow me that my willingness to step out there and just go for it inspires them. There’s a lot of surfers around the world that follow me, and all of sudden here’s their post, doing music, and you would never know they did music.”
For Buran, the heart behind everything has always been to encourage and inspire. This is evident. Look at his YouTube and social media pages and you have to smile at their ability to put you in a good mood. A necessity in times like these. Interestingly, those who discover Buran’s page for the first time might be surprised to know he is a pastor. When asked how he would hope it can break the stigma of what people think a pastor should or should not be, his answer was simple. He never looks to age or the title of a pastor being a limit.
“I just look at the here and now. I’m alive. I’m alive in Christ. This is what I believe He is calling me to do. This is how I can reach people. This is what is going on in our generation in 2020 and I’m gonna let it rip.”
“Enjoy the journey” has become an anthem where he lives for an audience of One – Jesus Christ.
“People talk us down and people beat us down where it’s super attack, attack, attack, and you can’t let that get to you.”
Not to say the road has been easy. In actuality, the past year was difficult. Working under the radar, Buran also felt at a crossroads to find the resources he needed.
“I’ve always danced like, whatever, random dance with rhythm, but I’m like, ‘what 58-year-old is going to go to a dance studio and do hip-hop classes?’ I tried to find something, and I couldn’t find anything. So, I was like, ‘yeah, it’s not gonna work. So I’m just going to watch every YouTube clip possible and work on different things.’ So, for example, the last year in dance, in my free time instead of surfing, I was watching shuffle stuff over and over and learning new shuffle moves––and it’s hard! Dancing takes a lot out of you. It’s a total cardio burn. But it’s technical. There’s structural elements of dance.”
He continues, “ I can look at studios in LA and glean from hip hop. Red Bull dancing in Europe has all kinds of stuff. I just work on it, work on it, work on it…that’s lame…that doesn’t look like that. But then all of a sudden you get it. It’s like surfing. It’s like, ‘hey I got this! Like, whoa, yeah that doesn’t look clunky, that actually looks proper.’ So really, all the dancing now is stuff I worked on a year ago. Now the steps I’m working on, that aren’t out yet, I’m trying to get it down and it’s fun.”
Doubting the DJing vision altogether, he put it aside when opportunities fell through. Yet, when God showed him it was time to pick it back up, He felt strongly that God would open a door this year. Preparing himself, Buran fought through and stepped up his game choosing to work hard, learn, and grow, even taking DJ classes online that he believes prepared him for this moment.
“I don’t want to mimic Air1 from five years ago. I’m looking for really, really good Christian music, that’s techno-electro, dub, the whole spectrum that people haven’t heard. I’ll search for three or four hours down all these alleys and rabbit trails on iTunes, and I’ll find the nugget song that someone produced in 2016 at a church in Pennsylvania, and it’s killer and I got it. It’s finding the right music for what I want to do. And then, learning some of the technical mix stuff like EQ fades.”
Creating new sets of music for new shows of an audience of One, Buran has been excited to host Worship Generation Church online as a hopeful way to share music that points to God with others.
“That’s true to the Worship Generation roots of music of a new generation and getting it out there to the next generation to be built up in their faith.”
When talking about the importance of experiencing joy in the Lord, he talks about Miriam dancing when God wipes out Pharaoh’s army.
“I just think dance is a huge part of the human experience. And a lot of cultures, with their Christian faith, dance is a massive part of their expression. For whatever reason man, we got this dour thing going on in America where we don’t want to dance in Jesus’ name. I was raised on the first Footloose movie and it was like, yeah, whatever!”
He adds with an illustration of his great grandmother who was raised in a certain denomination that didn’t tolerate dancing and how it affected her Christian experience.
“If you go back to the twenties, the Charleston, that’s the shuffle. So, my grandmother believed in God, she just wanted to dance! But the church she went to made that of the devil and they put a yoke on her she couldn’t keep. So she walked away from the Lord and ended up in a liberal denomination the rest of her life. It’s like, man I’m as straight up Jesus as you can be, but I’m going to throw it down from here until the day of the Lord. I want people to be able to express themselves with joy in the Lord and I want people to understand the liberty of Christ and what it means to praise Him in all expressions of life as opposed to some rigidity that man puts on man in a religious sense that has nothing to do with Jesus and why He died on the cross and rose from the grave.”
When asked what he would like others to know about God’s Kingdom, he confesses, “All along, it’s Joey Buran and the Kingdom, like in my mind–I’m bringing The Kingdom. I want people to know that we’re talking about Jesus, and that’s The Kingdom, and I want to bring the Kingdom of God through the music. We are the Kingdom. We are pilgrims and we’re the preview of the coming attractions. I just want to lift up Jesus and see people drawn to Him. The Kingdom of God is near, and I want to present that when I’m teaching the Bible and when I’m playing music and when I’m expressing human experience in dance.”
He ends jokingly, disclaiming “What I do, I’m doing with a 59-year-old body, so just keep that in mind [laughs]. I can shuffle and pop from here to memory care. If there is a way I can drop down in break dancing, I would love to do it. I’m looking for it. I just think I need to do yoga first.” [laughs].
Leaving a word of encouragement for readers in quarantine, he shares about taking one day at a time with God as our focus.
“I think we need to be excited about what He’s going to do in and through our lives now and in the future. I’m just using this time to build up who I am in Christ. To me, it’s a joyful time, it’s an opportunity for growth, and yeah, it’s hard to take the thoughts captive of anxiety and you gotta filter it. But for me, I just gotta read the Word and then pull out the DJ board.”
He adds, “People are thinking about the Kingdom and we have great ministry opportunities. Our joy and abundant life is not subject to external comforts. The true joy and abundant life comes out through the trials and tribulations in our personal life or in our environment, and we’re all in this together right now. So, let the abundant life and joy be our compass and life. We definitely have to enjoy the journey, so drop a beat.”