PLNU alum Jeff Finger (89) is the leader for Café Band, a musical ensemble that leads worship for one of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church’s four campuses in Menlo Park, Calif. Over the past five years, Jeff’s efforts to build the band have culminated in its growth from eight to now more than 20 members. They recently released their first album, titled Reborn, which features new approaches to well-known worship songs. We sat down with Jeff to learn a little more about the album, as well as his unorthodox journey into a musician’s life.
How did you get started in music?
I started learning about music when I was very young. My dad was a lyric tenor and my mom was a church pianist so I was constantly around music. But I had no plans of getting into music as a career. I was a tennis player and math major at PLNU and planned on going into engineering. I actually had a couple of engineering jobs after school, but began to feel God prompt me toward a speaking and teaching vocation. After resisting that call for a little while, I moved to Kentucky to pursue a Master of Divinity degree at Asbury Theological Seminary. By that point, I had already started studying guitar as a side interest. After seminary I moved to Northern California in hopes of planting a church, and while working on that I got involved in a church in San Francisco where I began to lead a small worship band. After a few years the church offered me the opportunity to help start a satellite campus, but after five years as its teaching and worship pastor, I decided it was time to pursue an independent church plant. After attempting that church plant for almost a year and serving another church as a part-time worship leader for an additional year, I was approached by Menlo Park Presbyterian—and a couple of other churches—about being a full-time worship pastor.
How did the opportunity come about to record an album?
For a number of years, I had several inquiries about the possibility of recording a CD. At about the same time, the band had grown dramatically, gotten quite diverse in its instrumentation, and developed such a strong relationship with our community that I took these developments as a good indication that an album was the right thing to pursue. We had the resources, talent, and ability to do one, I had a desire to try my hand at something new, and so many people in the band were excited about it that we decided to seize the opportunity.
Can you tell readers a little more about the album?
We released the album, Reborn, in Dec. 2012, but actually started working on it in Jan. 2011, so it was a full two-year process. I originally pitched the idea of doing a cover album of the band’s favorite worship songs since I’m not much of a songwriter. They liked the idea, but we agreed that we didn’t want this to be the average cover album. So instead, we picked the songs we wanted and started pushing them in new musical directions. We utilized different instruments—stand-up bass, harmonica, brass, violin (in addition to your standard drums, bass, keyboards and guitars)—and different musical styles—folk, country, reggae, gospel, rock, blues—to take these familiar worship songs and give them new life and new expression. When people listen to this album from beginning to end, they will hear a truly eclectic record in terms of musical styles.
In addition to featuring great music, the album is also for a great cause. All the proceeds from the album are going to support the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition (BAATC). After making the album, we thought that instead of bringing the money back to the church, why don’t we find a nonprofit to support. And since trafficking has become such a big problem and we already have this coalition that was birthed out of our church community, we thought it was the perfect match.
What are your plans for the future?
For the foreseeable future our goal is to promote this album as much as possible. We are touring around the area to festivals, conventions, and other events to try to get the word out. I think we would all love to record again, but maybe not something so grand in scope—maybe an album that’s a little more focused and involving fewer musicians.
As for me personally, I am actually in the process of making a transition in my career. My hope has always been to start a church from the ground up, and I will be moving in that direction in the coming year. I will still be playing with the band, but I’m excited to expand my work beyond just music to a broader pastoral role.
This is all a long way off from math and engineering. How does it feel to look back and see how far you have come?
It’s amazing to see how God uses the little things—things that don’t seem very important at the time—to shape you into who He wants you to be. I was inspired by my favorite musical influence, James Taylor, to pick the guitar up over 20 years ago, and God has used that as a big part of my work in and outside the church. God had a broader picture for my life long before I could see it.
When I look back at my time at PLNU, even though I wasn’t a formal music major, I learned so much from my experiences there. I was involved with a lot of things as a student that I didn’t fully appreciate at the time, but they have come back to help me later in life. In fact, I think a lot of my versatility and skills were born during my time at PLNU. I sang for four years in concert choir under the direction of Dr. Keith Pagan and was also involved in athletics, student government, community service projects, and various leadership roles; all of those experiences helped me become a better communicator and musician, and helped me develop a strong work ethic. I have gone from promoting events as the student body director of activities to now promoting an album for the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition! God used so many things over the years to form me both personally and professionally, and I feel truly blessed now to have a vocation that is so closely tied with my passions in life.