Below is an excerpt from my new soon to be released book “The Framework of Worship.” This particular chapter explains how I got started in music, how I began my walk with the Lord, and how I became a worship leader.
God’s unique gifting, equipping, calling and life experiences.
My journey began in Michigan when I was seven years old. My mother was an accomplished organist, and for her birthday my dad surprised her with an electric organ. As part of the deal, the organ came with six free beginner lessons. My mom certainly didn’t need beginner lessons; my older brother wouldn’t have anything to do with it and my younger sister was just that, too young. So not knowing any better, I volunteered. After those six lessons were completed, I apparently had progressed enough that my teacher convinced my parents to continue lessons for me. It was at that point I realized this thing was out of my control. I was taking organ lessons whether I liked it or not. My practice sessions were monitored, enforced and timed, and much to my dismay, strategically timed trips to the restroom were deducted from the mandatory half hour. Years added up and organ lessons soon transitioned to piano lessons. By the time I had reached Middle School I had become infatuated with baseball, and having discovered my new career path I begged my parents to let me quit so I could devote all my time to preparing for the Big Leagues. My parents very cleverly convinced me to stick it out a little longer at which time I would be allowed to cease lessons. Predictably, my passion for baseball began to ebb, and I continued piano and theory lessons throughout high school. I went on to college as a Piano Performance Major and finished my four year degree, and several years later took another year and a half of graduate studies in Piano Performance. (I must say at this point that I owe my parents a great deal of indebtedness for their persistence when it came to lessons and practice and their investment over all those years. I’m not sure what I’d be doing if it weren’t for them.)
Although my studies were centered around classical music, I developed a fondness for various musical styles including stage band, rock, pop and rhythm and blues and began to play in various bands, venues and studios, performing and recording as often as I could. To help make ends meet, I also taught piano, theory and improvisation privately.
My introduction to worship leading began quite unexpectedly, when, at the age of 14 I was approached by a local church to be their accompanist and organist. I was soon playing for service every weekend and countless weddings (it was a bicentennial church next to a covered bridge, a perfect photo-op for any bride!), and in short order I was essentially adopted into this church family. I found this extended family to be a wonderful and unexpected addition to my life, and the pay was certainly a welcome bonus. I continued to serve in my capacity as organist and accompanist and even became the choir director the last two years of high school until it was time to leave for college. I would come back and serve for Christmas, Easter and summers until I left for California following graduation from college.
At this point you may have noticed something missing from this story: “When did you get saved during all of this?” I didn’t. The people at this church were wonderful, loving people, but as I look back, there was a glaring omission, they didn’t share the gospel. They were a works based church so the gospel was not at the center of their doctrine. (I went back a couple of years ago to show the church to my wife only to see it no longer exists. So sad.)
I then moved to California to make it “big” in the music industry. I had varying degrees of success, but I ended up being asked to lead the music at a small outreach church in Ventura, and at the time I needed the work. It was the beginning of summer and the church had hired a dozen college interns from Westmont College to work their summer camp for kids. These college students were amazing – they worked hard, they loved on the kids, they were filled with joy, they loved each other and they loved the Lord. They modeled the Lord for me and they shared the Lord with me. That was it! I wanted what they had, and I invited Jesus into my heart and into my life. A couple of years later, one of those student interns, a beautiful young woman named Sheri, became my wife. Pretty cool!
I had been serving and leading worship for 8 years, yet now for the first time I was able to lead worship actually knowing Jesus. What a novel idea! At this time my journey as a worship leader truly began in earnest, and this journey would take me to several different ministries and different parts of the country, with each step along the way presenting varying challenges that often required unique and creative solutions. Twenty-three years ago my journey took me to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Moving from the cool, breezy coast of Southern California to the hot, humid, tropical storm and hurricane prone East coast of South Florida was a shock to the senses! This along with bugs so big that could qualify as the state bird (In case you didn’t know, Palametto bugs, otherwise known as flying cockroaches can easily reach 3 inches in length) made for a period of serious adjustment. But adjust we did, and in no time we fell in love with the ministry and the people, and our initial commitment of 3 years was then extended to 5, then to 7, and then we quit counting. When we arrived we found a church of 500 in love with the Lord. Today, there are currently 10 campuses and over 25,000 that call this church home. As you can imagine, it’s been an amazing journey. Lots of ups, a few downs of course, and an experience that I could have never, ever imagined, even in my wildest dreams. That’s so like the Lord, “who is able to do immeasurable more than all we ask or imagine” . . . (Eph 3:20).
Your journey is no less unique, yet when it comes to your hopes, goals and challenges as a worship leader and servant, you will likely find common ground with many others, including myself.