Unexpected Places

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By Anthony Evans

Once when I was on break from traveling with Kirk Franklin, I got to go to my home church’s Vacation Bible School (they have a big service for adults too). I was trying to keep a low profile because internally things were a wreck and I was in a bad place that day. Somebody caught me off guard, handed me a microphone, and said, “Hey, Anthony. Come up and lead worship for us real quick, okay?” Every step I took toward the pulpit grew heavier. I lifted the mic and tried to sing. Nothing. I was so overwhelmed with emotion, I could not even get out one word. I lost it that day. I felt sure no one would ever ask me to lead worship again. Kirk happened to be at the service, too, and he walked up to the platform and wrapped his arms around me right there in front of the whole church. Instead of being a huge fail, the Spirit of God began to fall. In that moment, other broken people realized they were not alone. After a long embrace, I lifted the mic to my mouth, and even though my tone was ragged and rough, I began to sing “Here I Am to Worship.”

That’s what good worship is. Realizing that we are not alone in our struggles, that God loves and cares for us. That we are all hurting inside, and the best we can do is come before God, worshiping in spite of how we feel, receiving His grace with nothing but gratitude and open arms. I finally got it together enough to lead the crowd in worship, and that was the first glimpse, the first time I knew. Maybe all this turmoil inside me might have a purpose. Maybe God could take my messed- up emotions and turn them into something good. More opportunities came along soon after. I had to re- situate my mind to lead worship, to change my perspective from a performer to a shepherd, from being led by the song to being led by the Spirit. So yes, I will sometimes share— but I am mindful that I’m not there to tell my story. This is not about me. It’s not my show. It’s God’s show, and the response comes not because I hit some really high note while the music grows more intense, but because I am helping to build a bridge and usher people into the presence of God.

” That’s what good worship is: realizing that we are not alone in our struggles, that God loves and cares for us.”

Worship should be a little uncharted, a bit of an adventure. I’d rather blaze a trail and see where that leads us than stick to the strict and safer path. God didn’t lead Moses the straightest route through the desert. It was an adventure with many detours, manna raining down and pillars of fire in the sky, seas parting to make a way. True worship should take us somewhere we’ve never been. You have to trust, to step out of the boat and onto the waves, to get out of the box and move on to an entirely new place. I am not scripted. Not like, “Okay, I’m going to do this set list and tell these stories and we’ll do A, then B, then C, and then take it down the road to the next event and the next.” I have never been let down in worship by following God’s lead and taking the unplanned and unexpected way. But that’s who God made me to be: unscripted. My weakness, my stubborn streak, my curiosity— it works for the best in worship.

We rehearse. We pursue excellence. I am mindful of the boundaries of time that I have been asked to keep. But we do not bring a show. If I feel the audience needs a certain message or to hear a certain song, I will change things on the fly. I used to think worship had to go one way. If you have the “one way” mentality and you are in a different venue every few days? It’s going to be stale. You will rarely have real connection. Every room of people is different. Different backgrounds, different denominations, different beliefs. With different needs and different struggles, at different places in their lives. You have to be sympathetic to that. So that’s another place being sensitive can help. It’s not all intangible. Sometimes it’s practical common sense. If I get on stage and there’s a church full of grey hair out there, I might need to sing some hymns. They might respond to “How Great Thou Art” better than “Alive.” And if it’s a sea of skinny jeans and tattoos?

I make sure the set is going to meet them exactly where they are. The key to leading worship is empathy. If you are not genuinely compassionate and truly empathetic, you cannot reach your full potential as a worship leader. I don’t sing “my songs” all the time. It’s not my job to push my product or showcase myself as an artist. You have to get past the performance aspect or the concern over how you look on stage. Some nights the monitors might be jacked and the band is off tempo. The audience can tell when you’re frustrated. But if a thousand people go home spiritually hungry because I’m having a bad day? If I tune out and go through the motions because I’m mad? That’s not leading worship. I have to overcome my needs to meet the needs of the people. In that moment, worship must be selfless. But it’s the balance of those things that is so hard to attain.

There are times I still get choked up and struggle to continue. But you don’t hide it from the people. You let it happen and you let them inside.

Anthony Evans has voiced the gospel for more than a decade as one of Christian Music’s premiere male vocalists, songwriters, and worship leaders. With eight solo projects, multiple music videos, and inspirational literary collaborations with beloved pastor and international speaker Dr. Tony Evans and sister Priscilla Shirer, Anthony has vibrated the doors of the church and ventured beyond.

Taken from Unexpected Places by Anthony Evans Copyright © 2018. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. www.thomasnelson.com.