By: Allison Bates
I grew up in a church with a strong youth choir that went on annual mission trips each summer. Our mission was spreading the love of Christ across the nation through our service and our music. It was in that choir that my passion for worship developed.
The most touching moment was when we were singing “How Real is Your Faith” at a homeless shelter in San Antonio, Texas. I had a solo about the widow. “Now the widow emptied out her purse of all she had, and though it meant she had no bread to eat her heart was glad. Because she trusted in God and knew that all she needed he would provide. Yeah, the pennies were small but still the gift was so great, because it cost so much to give the very food off her plate, and in the hands of the Lord we know that every gift can be multiplied.” To be honest, when I sang this verse to a crowd of homeless people I didn’t think about the words I was singing. I was nervous so my focus was on singing the right notes and sounding good. After the choir was done performing, the Chaplin of the shelter preached. He pointed at me and began to talk about how the verse I sang was something very real and valuable to the people in the shelter. They had no homes, they slept on benches at the park, they did not know when they would get their next meal, or even a shower. He spoke of the sacrifice that widow gave. How she was in a similar position that these homeless people were in but even then she gave all her money. What came next shocked me. We did a simple offering. Those of us in the choir left our purses and wallets in the bus, so we couldn’t give anything. But, the homeless people in that shelter did something amazing. They emptied their pockets and gave away their dollars, pennies, quarters, and anything they had. Their faith in God was strong and it was moving to see that they sacrificed eating for a week because they knew that God would take care of them. That was the day I witnessed God using music to move someone other than myself.
(Serving dinner to the homeless at Church Under the Bridge in San Antonio, Texas after leading worship. Choir members in blue shirts.)
My first experience leading worship by myself was not great. It wasn’t the spiritual life-changing experience that I was expecting. It was at the First Baptist Church of Nicoma Park – the church I grew up in. I was leading worship for the youth on Wednesday night. It was something that I had been looking forward to since I joined the youth group in the seventh grade. I was a sophomore in high school at the time. When the music began and it was time to sing I did the scariest thing any musician can ever do. I started singing the wrong song despite the correct music that was played. I was horrified and nearly ran off the stage. With the help of my youth pastor, who was playing the guitar, we started over and the remainder of worship went well. After that, I was not asked to lead worship again for a while.
The next year, my family moved churches. We began attending Wickline United Methodist Church in 2013. My dad encouraged me to try out for the church youth praise band. I really did not want to, but my dad was persistent. Basically, I was volun-told to try out. I was nervous. After singing for the head of the group they had me sign a contract. I was officially in. I remember they had me lead a song by myself the second week after I joined. I was so nervous. I was singing “Oceans (Where feet may fail)” and I missed my entrance, but the band played the intro again and let me know when to start. I got through the first verse okay. When it came time for the chorus, I was filled with the Holy Spirit. I took a small step forward, gripped the mic, and raised one hand in the air. I felt exposed, but I felt free. I closed my eyes and let the words flow out. “Spirit lead me where trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters wherever you would call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wonder, and my faith would be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.” I sang this over and over. I couldn’t really explain it but I felt sad, happy, free, chained, redeemed, and frightened all at once. Tears rolled down my cheek. I sang louder. I kept singing it over and over. I was moved by the Spirit. In that moment, I was singing to God. I wasn’t performing. I wasn’t trying to be perfect. I was just myself. “I am yours, and you are mine.”
Many people don’t think that contemporary music is powerful in worship, but I believe that it is not the music that matters, but the person who is singing and their intent. I love hymns just as much as I love modern Christian music. Worship is defined as reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred. When I lead worship, I am leading others in praise to our wonderful and mighty God. I have led worship countless times in the past two years, both with a group and by myself. I am blessed that God gave me a voice to lead others closer to Him.
For the longest time in my life, my voice was just for show but I never used it for anything special or remotely important. I enjoyed singing in choir at school and being in musicals and plays, but I never enjoyed showing off with competitions and performances. God revealed an unexpected way to share my gift with others and for that I am blessed. I have been able to continue this work into my freshman year of college at Oklahoma State University. My first semester I helped lead worship at the Wesley Foundation on Sunday mornings with the Music Leadership Team. I also have been a part of the Women’s Ministry called Exposed. I have really enjoyed getting to know the girls here at OSU. In this group, we don’t compete to see who can lead the most songs or to see who has a better voice. We use each and every one of our strengths to lead worship for the women in this ministry. I love that the worship aspect is not entirely on my shoulders. I have other women to help me. My opinion matters and they help me when I don’t know what notes to sing. Despite my poor piano skills they have let me play the keyboard in the background a few times to build my confidence and experience. I don’t always sound great but they don’t care about that. Yes, we need to sound good as a group but a few mistakes here and there don’t matter, because that is not the point of the group. We don’t have to sound perfect. We just have to be ourselves and let the light of Christ shine through us.
~ Thank you to all the wonderful people at the Wesley Foundation and those that I mentioned in this article. You have helped to shape me into who I am today and for that I am grateful. ~
(leading WORSHIP at Annual Conference morning worship service 2015)
(Exposed Worship leadership team meeting 2015)