How we started this crazy thing called Renew


About 8 years back some friends and I went on a missions trip to Cambodia and experienced God in a way we never would have imagined. I mean, I had grown up in church, reading stories about Jesus saving and healing people but really had no context for that in my life at all because it honestly just was not a reality.

I remember our team leader preaching a gospel message but the call to action wasn’t “Raise your hands if you want to accept Jesus” but was more to the tune of, “Our God conquered death and your idols didn’t, because He conquered death, there is nothing in this world He can’t make new. So if you have anything in your body that needs physical healing, come to the front and let us pray for you.”

I remember being terrified the first time this happened, thinking about how I had never done this before and there were no chapters in our training guide on how to pray for healing, but we went for it! We just faithfully prayed and saw old men with greyed out eyes full of cataracts opening their eyes and seeing their grandchildren for the first time. We saw children accept Jesus and they immediately prayed for a lady with a broken leg, and she walked out of the hut fully healed. I only state all this to set the baseline of, my life was “one way,” and in an instant, my “reality” changed forever.

One night, I had a dream. I’m typically the kind of person that puts my head down on the pillow, could probably register as dead for 7 hours, then wake up ready to go the next day. Dreaming, my entire life has never been a regular part of my sleep regiment. But this night I had a dream that I woke up in my bed back in the states with a puzzle piece in my hand. It wasn’t just some regular puzzle piece, but it had the most intricate and dazzling colors and a very unique shape.

I sat up in my bed and just like that I was warped, like the intro to a Star Wars movie, to a sidewalk in a downtown area surrounded by tall buildings. I was walking down a sidewalk but couldn’t take my eyes off the puzzle piece. It was the most exciting thing I had ever laid my eyes on, and I was studying every detail of it, realizing something new every time I got closer to it or looked at it from another angle.

I stopped and looked up, and I found myself in an old cathedral with stained glass filled to the brim with people worshiping. As soon as I stepping into the building, I saw that everyone else had his or her own puzzle piece as well. There was both uniformity and uniqueness amongst each person’s piece. Like different paintings all made by the same artist.

My first reaction was “Mine is better” as I looked around for a pew to slide into. Once I found a spot, I realized that people kept walking to the front of the stage with their puzzle piece in hand and not returning. No one would leave it behind them on their seat, or on the floor next to them. Each person seemed to be holding it close to the chest as if it were one of the most treasured possessions they had.

I finally gave in and made my way to the front with my puzzle piece to find that each person, as an act of worship, laid down their piece on the floor so that others could match up if theirs connected with it or not. As the night went on and worship continued the picture in front of us became more and more complete until the final piece was laid in its place. The completed masterpiece was a full view of what God was doing in our city through the gifts He had placed in us, and everyone stood back and worshiped all the more in celebration of what He was up to.

In the dream, each person’s puzzle piece represents the beauty, the gifts, the skills, the part of God that was deposited in them when he knitted each one of us together in our mother’s wombs.

“For you created my inmost being;

    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

    your works are wonderful,

    I know that full well.”

– Psalm 139:13-14

It’s okay for us to celebrate that part of us, to learn more about it, to investigate every nook and cranny of it. But, we miss the point if we try to be the only piece because we belong together. People understood that what they were a part of was much larger than the role they played and that we need each other along the way to see the larger picture.

Fast-forward to a few months later, we are back home in Phoenix, AZ trying to figure out what’s next. A lot of us honestly didn’t know how to live life anymore because our experience with God radically shifted what we knew to be possible.

So since so many of us were musicians and singers we did the only thing that came naturally which was to worship. We were blessed with the keys to an old church downtown where we got all our friends together just to worship and pray together. There were about 15 of us the first night, and it was never designed to be a worship night. It was a secret place for us and our friends to worship together in hopes that we would continue pushing each other to pursue the presence of God and in turn, would continue to experience him in miraculous ways.

Over the years our friends told some other friends, they told some more friends and going on 8 years later 1000+ people show up every first Friday to worship with us. The people showing up come from all kinds of different churches with all sorts of different stances on theological issues. Gray hair all the way to babies with no hair, all getting together to worship The Lord with absolute abandonment because they, just like us, feel like it matters.

The name RNW (pronounced “Renew”) came from Romans 12:2 which says

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Because we knew from personal experience that a touch of God will instantly clear up old mindsets that kept you captive, replace the things you run to that won’t ever satisfy, and liberate you from strongholds in your life that have held you as it’s prisoner. He did that for us in some real tangible ways that led us all to full heartedly believe, as a community, that worship renews minds because once you have been in the presence of God, you will never be the same.

Over the years we have experienced people being delivered from all kinds of addictions, being healed of cancer and other terminal illnesses, those that were depressed found hope and joy again, and people accepting Jesus for the first time!

All the while, the Lord has created community and real relationship across church boundaries. Worship leaders and musicians share their expertise and resources with each other to help their churches get better as a whole. They volunteer for each other’s events to help out and really care about seeing the Church as a whole grow in a way that will reach our city with the Gospel of Jesus.

Since the beginning we have been a community of worshipers sharing life together, pursuing the Presence of God, and doing our best to inspire others to do the same. We believe that every person on this earth has been crafted, by God, with a specific purpose in mind. In the midst of worship and community, we dream of seeing people realize that purpose through an encounter with God.

We hope to continue as an encouragement to our friends and family as well as other churches in our city that we are truly better together. If we are really believing Jesus’ prayer “On earth as it is in Heaven” then it’s going to take everyone, not just one church or one organization, to partner in that dream.

Pope Francis once said, “We are not living in an era of change but a change of era.” We aren’t turning the page, we are moving to the next chapter. What an amazing time to be alive and a crucial moment in Christian history to be a part of! Jesus is coming back for a family, and in my opinion, He is forming His Church to look more and more like that every day!

-Justin Benson

Co-Founder RNW Worship