Why I Am A Worship Leader
Featuring John Chisum Posted on August 18, 2008
“Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup;
You have made my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
Surely I have a delightful inheritance.”
About five o’clock on a balmy summer morning, August 7,
1976, I drove down Willow Road in Memphis, Tennessee, on my way
to join a group of teens I didn’t know at Cherry Road Baptist Church.
We were going on a youth choir trip to South Bend, Indiana, to sing
for a weeklong revival meeting.
At the time, I had no idea what a revival meeting was all about.
My life was focused on partying, drugs, alcohol, and promiscuity. As I
drove my Volkswagen Beetle to the church that morning, I frantically
puffed on a cigarette. My friend David had warned me that the leaders
would send me home if they caught me smoking. I had no idea how I
was going to make it a whole week without a cigarette, but the change
in David’s life had been so dramatic I was willing to see what this Jesus
thing was all about. I boarded the church bus smelling like an ashtray.
I didn’t really know any of the other kids, besides David. One
of the first people I met was a chaperone, a woman in her fifties named
Lynne. She seemed interested in me from the minute I stepped on the
bus, and she asked me about myself during the ten-hour trip. I don’t
remember anything I said, but I do remember that I liked her, even
though she scared me a little.
The next day, our choir rehearsed our songs in a tiny church in
South Bend. That night we performed for a small congregation, made
up mostly of people from our own group, and I sang a gospel song I
I loved music and loved singing. Church was the only place I
had found to share my talent besides school, so I sang with David at
Cherry Road Baptist and I was the paid tenor in the choir at Grace-
land Christian Church next door to Elvis’ mansion. The thirty-five
dollars a week they paid me was my drinking and drugging money.
After the service ended that first night, the chaperone, Lynne,
pulled me down into a pew with her and told me about Jesus’ love for
me. She went through a tiny booklet (which I later came to know as
“The Four Spiritual Laws”) and asked if I wanted to pray to accept
Jesus in my heart.
I didn’t know Jesus and I certainly didn’t know He could love
me. But Lynne told me that He already did love me.
I couldn’t imagine how that was possible. Besides my drinking,
smoking, and drugging, I often contemplated suicide. The bands
I listened to glorified it as an option when life got depressing—which
was a common state of mind for me. I regularly dropped downers,
drank anything I could get my hands on, and went out driving. So even
if I didn’t intentionally kill myself, I didn’t figure I had much longer
What happened in that moment is difficult to describe. I had
not grown up in church, so I didn’t realize that I was being convicted
by the Holy Spirit of my need for Christ.
When Lynne finished reading the booklet with me, she asked
if I wanted to pray. My heart began to pound. It was as if I heard a
voice say, Yes or no, John? What’ll it be?
I knew I had to respond. To surrender. This was no small thing
I finally said yes. I didn’t do it to appease Lynne—I knew this
was a real transformation. Something inside me changed, even though
I didn’t know exactly what that change would look like.
When I think back on my conversion, it makes me think of
the sonnet from Donne (1633) called “Batter My Heart, Three-Personed
God,” in which he writes these lines:
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain
But am betrothed unto your enemy.
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again;
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor chaste, except you ravish me.
The darkness in my life was dark indeed. Nothing but a ravishing
from Christ could break that knot so that I might belong to Him.
Yet that is exactly what He did. I had never felt true love before.
The word ravish means to be completely overcome. The moment
I surrendered to Him, complete love came over me. I felt like a
carrier of this love, as if I had been infected with something incredibly
good. It was a supernatural moment and not an empty decision that
depended on my willpower to follow through. I wanted to spend the
rest of my life giving to others what Christ had given me.
I spent the remainder of the youth trip on a Jesus high as our
group of teens held a vacation Bible school camp for neighborhood
Back at home, Lynne continued to disciple me. I let my addictions go, as well as all of my non-churched friends.
The ’70s was a time of great social and political upheaval in our
country. But the worldly changes were nothing compared to the difference
in my personal life from that youth trip forward.
The Here and Now
The purpose of all worship leading is worship living. As worship
leaders, we have the opportunity to lead others into deeper engagement
with God through the creative arts: music, fine arts, dance,
creative writing, media, drama, sound, and lights. These mediums of
expression do not exist only as art. They are vehicles of truth; in our
case, the specific truth of helping God’s people deepen their relationship
with Him. Many people come to church seeking the way to the
Father’s heart and we must use everything at our disposal to guide
Except in the largest of churches, with a paid worship leader
and several paid staff members, it would not be possible to implement
every strategy or suggestion. What is possible at any level,
from the smallest congregation meeting in a home with a volunteer
worship leader to the largest of the mega-churches with an enormous
creative arts staff, is to live the spirit and principles of engaged worship
and transformational leadership.
My hope is that you will be inspired to deeper connection
with God. My prayer is that your desire to experience
more of Jesus will overshadow your desire to be a leader of others.
The best leaders are the ones who are not simply changed by their
relationship with God, they are transformed by it.
Find and listen to more of John's message of hope through his song "Firm Foundation."
Excerpts from: "The 5 Keys to Engaging Worship Transforming Worship from the Inside Out," by John Chisum. © 2008 ENGAGE! Press Printed and bound in the United States of America. All rights reserved. Click on the left image for more book information.
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