Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Why I Love the Worship Leaders Track

I can still remember my early years of worship leadership. I was totally clueless, nervous, had absolutely no idea how to put together a thoughtful set and just about zero confidence in leading a team.  I played intermittently for my home church, which, unlike most churches I've been a part of, had a serious dearth of any musical gifting aside from vocals.  This church was rhythmically-challenged and overwhelmingly thankful for almost any caliber of musical leadership. I had a few opportunities in college to sing and play guitar but remained relatively unskilled. I tended to grab leadership opportunities in any area other than worship leadership. 

Then, one morning I found myself at a church in the inner-city of Richmond. I was clearly a racial minority, I didn't know most of the music and I didn't know anybody there. And as I was singing (read, listening and enjoying) the new music I heard this voice calling out to the audience, "You look like somebody who wants to worship!"  She called this out a number of times until the man next to me finally poked me in the arm and informed me that I was the target of these exhortations.  I looked incredulously at her, shrunk into myself and smiled and then she beckoned me onstage. I shook my head no. She beckoned again. And for reasons that to this day I can still not decipher, I went. I was handed a microphone, invited to sing and, at the end of the service, promptly told that practice would be this coming Thursday at 7:30. Be there.

This was the start of my education. Abrupt, right? Again, against my own understanding, I showed up at this practice and became a member of that church. I spent two years learning at the feet of men and women from very different church, ethnic and worship leading backgrounds. I learned that when someone in the back yells "Saaaang, girl" that he is encouraging you to keep going, not telling you to stop and learn how to sing better. (I learned that one the awkward way, I'm not ashamed to admit.)  Two years that taught me to love gospel music, to ignore any sort of unbending order to each song, to sing from my gut and not my throat, to be sensitive to the fact that some days God might want us to sing one specific song for 20 minutes until we all "get it", to experience the joys of a spontaneous congregational electric slide in the middle of worship and to grow in my understanding of the themes of freedom, deliverance and dependence.  Two years that opened my eyes to a whole other view of God and how he can be worshiped that didn't replace what I knew but broadened and beautified it.

I came on staff after these two years of learning and leading.  I stepped into an evolving worship culture that was longing to grow in the same areas that I was longing for.  A place where lots of mistakes were being made but even in those mistakes, small steps were being taken to move forward.  One of those steps was the development of the Worship Leaders Track, a place where we could train student worship leaders from all over Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina each year.  So now, seven years into co-leading the Worship Leaders Track at our annual chapter camp and more than 10 years since that fateful morning I stepped into that church, I am humbled to look back on those early and, often embarrassing, beginnings.  To see how narrow my view of worship and God were and to rejoice in the things He has taught me, graciously, along with the help of new friends and churches and colleagues in my life over those years. 

I leave for camp in just 3 days. I have spent many days of the past year reflecting on camp from last year, tweaking, praying, dreaming with my co-leader, remembering what leading at camp felt like before this track even existed, feeling thankful that our regional director let us take the risk to train students in multiethnic worship.  As I make my final changes to talks and practice the songs that we'll be leading more than 800 students in this year, I think about how much potential this experience has for the students and staff who are coming.  That God might reveal himself in new and potentially broadening and deepening ways.  That my own education would continue, that I would see new facets of this good and beautiful God that I serve and worship.  That I would be humbled again by the incredible gifts that He has given these students in the arts and music and excited as I watch the Spirit grow them in confidence and humility, in skill and dependence.

That's why I love the worship track. In one short week, I see people change. I see their hearts grow in desire for authentic, faith-filled and spirit-driven worship.  I am reminded again that working with college students is a tremendous, life-giving privilege.  And I am humbled anew at the power of God and the beauty of His image reflected in people of every ethnicity and culture. 

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