Hello! My name is Ryan Mackey. I am a new contributor to TalkingWorship.com. I am very excited and honored to share life with the TW community. For my first post I want to share how I began leading congregational singing:
My first time leading a worship service was my junior year in college. Even though I’d been part of my church’s music team since I was in high school I had not led. At this college there was a Wednesday morning chapel service and a small Sunday evening worship service in a multi-purpose room/black box theatre; shortly after the semester started I began playing rhythm guitar and singing harmony in the small worship team. One week the campus pastor, Manny, told me he and his wife, Jan, who normally led the worship team, would be out of town for the Sunday evening worship service. Pastor Manny asked if I would lead the service. Nervously, I accepted and began to plan.
Normally the Sunday evening services would be an hour long, with about forty-five minutes of congregational singing followed by a 10-15 homily by Pastor Manny. I decided to have an evening of just congregational singing as I felt myself inadequate to preach too. I set about planning my song list in earnest, all to the while steeling myself to stand in front of my peers in a leadership role.
The evening came and I felt myself as ready as I could be. My girlfriend (now wife) and her sister, who regularly attended both weekly services, helped me set up the sound system and chairs and organize the overhead transparencies. When 7 PM came we were the only three there. Now, these Sunday evening services weren’t big – 15-20 people – and I knew that a few of the regular attendees went with Pastors Manny and Jan, however I felt pretty low that only three of us were there. Not wanting to let my preparation come to naught, or disappoint the two who did show up, I breathed deep, gave the opening prayer, and began the singing.
I felt disheartened. I was studying as a music and religious studies major and planning to be a worship arts pastor – and there I was, prepped for the masses, with two people. Questions began swirling in my mind: How could this happen? Was I pursuing the wrong thing? Did I mishear the call of God? One song turned into two and then three – still no additional people.
After the third song a small handful of students filed into the room. They apologized for being late, saying they forgot it was going on until it has started. With our numbers now standing at seven, and my confidence bolstered, we continued our time of singing. The remainder of the evening was wonderful time of praise and worship through song. That was over sixteen years ago, yet the lessons learned have stayed with me. Here are a few things I would tell the teenage worship leader me:
First, do not take “small” corporate worship opportunities for granted. Zechariah 4:10 cautions against “[despising] the day of small things.” (KJV) Despite the training I received at my home parish and youth group of using “full bands” for corporate worship (a couple guitars, bass, drums, keyboard, vocalists), I also felt comfortable in this minimalist setting. Over the years, even after leading full bands in larger settings, I found the stripped down, acoustic setting suits me better. Also, remember Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matt. 18:20, ESV)
Secondly, in the midst of this instance of questioning, I had to remember: I’d responded to a call of God. Romans 11:29 says, “…the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (ESV) It was instilled in me that gifts and talents were not just for me; I had a responsibility to use any gifts and talents for the glory of God and to minister to his people. God would use those small beginnings to educate and train me to work with a variety of people in a variety of settings.
Finally, persevere and develop your talents and gifts. Eugene Peterson defines perseverance in the title of one of his books as “a long obedience in the same direction.” St. Paul wrote to the Church at Galatia, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” (Gal. 6:9, KJV) St. Paul also wrote to the Church at Rome that “…endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame….” (Romans 5:4-5, ESV)
Many times I’ve said, “I wish I knew then what I know now,” yet if it weren’t for those experiences I would not be where I am now. Nevertheless, I am thankful for the lessons learned and the times and places in which I’ve been blessed to worship, grow, and develop, not just as a musician, but as a worshipper of the Triune God.
Bishop Ryan Mackey is a guest columnist for TalkingWorship.com. Mackey is Professor of Music History and Technology at Central Christian College of Kansas and an Auxiliary Bishop in Province USA of the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches. His passions include teaching on and incorporating the historic traditions of the Church in contemporary practices.