I may have mentioned before that my father pastored a tiny church when I was young. If you had the joy of attending a pentecostal church of less than 100 as a child, you know what my life was like! We had 3 services a week, and only had “Children’s Church” once or twice a month. That meant that you sat in the hard wooden pew for at least an hour and a half, learned your first words from a hymnal, and occasionally fell asleep under the pew when a late-Sunday-night revival broke out.
Pastoring a tiny church also meant that the pastor was expected to preach, the pastor’s wife had to play the piano, and the pastor’s kids had to sit in the front row and occasionally sing “special songs.” I sang my first “special” when I was 3, and I LOVED it! My family had a natural knack for music. Some of my first memories are of my sisters and I sitting in front of my dad’s record player finding harmonies in our favorite Petra songs. I also had a healthy addiction to Psalty the Singing Songbook tapes. (Shout out to 80’s Christian kids!)
So, I suppose you could say that leading songs for church would have been something I took to naturally. But after my dad left the ministry my church attendance was sporadic. I didn’t know if I really had a great voice or if my dad always let me sing because I was his daughter. So singing publicly took the back seat for me until I joined the choir in 8th grade. At the encouragement of my choir teacher, I learned a solo for district choir competition, and she even gave me an award. I got to sing my solo in front of the entire 8th grade choir… and I caught the performance bug.
After 5 years of jazz choir, madrigal choir, solos, ensembles and random performances, I headed off to college to continue my musical pursuits. The first week of classes I signed up to audition for every music group they had, and I hiked my way up to the 4th floor music offices to sing my best in front of collegiate music professors. There, at the top floor, I felt conviction for the first time in a long time. Somehow I knew in my heart that I needed to climb back down those stairs and set aside my performance addiction for awhile.
And I did.
For 4 years I never sang in public, but I learned more about music than I could imagine. Music had always been a language for me. Somehow a song could express emotions, thoughts and ideas I couldn’t on my own. But I’d forgotten how to speak this language to its Creator. When I started singing to God, for Him alone, something in my heart completely shifted. I found this magnificent place of expression that I’d never known. Singing for God was so different than singing for people! With him I could set side all the pressure to measure up and perform and just enjoy it. And it opened the door to this place where I felt completely HOME.
How I started leading worship is another story, but the truth is it just came about naturally. Singing on a platform now is just inviting others into the place I’ve found. In fact, I can’t sing a “special song” without getting sick to my stomach. Performance for people is completely uncomfortable for me now, but I couldn’t be more happy!
Every time I sing now I’m reminded of how great God is. I remember how He never stopped chasing me. He never left me. He never gave up on me. And He wasn’t content to just let me run down a path of temporary self-fulfillment that would eventually land me in a cycle of approval-addiction. He drew me AWAY… To a quiet place. Away from the watchful eyes of others so he could show me how He saw me and how He loved me- regardless of performance.
If worship is uncomfortable for you or you- like me- find yourself in a place where music has become all about performance, let my story encourage you. There is One who loves and treasures you and simply wants your undivided attention. And if you need to fast your strengths for awhile, I can promise you- it’s worth it. He is worth it.