Leading Multiethnic Worship in 3-D

One of the unforgettable moments about Urbana 12 for me was being led in worship by Faith from Swaziland.  Sure, it was fun.  Yes, the song she led, Siyabonga, is great.  And yeah, Faith killed it.  Like a boss.  But what I relished in was how being on stage with Faith and even including Siyabonga in the Urbana 12 repertoire was not without substance.

In many multiethnic worship sets I’ve been in (and admittedly, that I’ve led), I’ve seen songs in different languages or from different traditions thrown into a set for the sake of diversity, and dare I say, maybe even done with a little bit of tokenism.  Of this, too, I am guilty.

But when we sang with Faith what I relished in was that Faith’s presence on stage was not a token act at all.  Rather, it was actually the representation of a genuine relationship that she and Sandra had built when Sandra visited Swaziland.  And Siyabonga was not just a random song that Sandra heard on the radio and thought would be cool to do at Urbana for the care package night.  It was a song that Sandra had experienced in Swaziland and learned from a friend and some of the orphans there.  And as an Urbana participant, I received that as a beautiful gift from that community in Swaziland.  



All year as we prepared for Urbana 12 I was struck by one thing: When Sandra taught on multiethnic worship, when she chose songs, and when she led multiethnic worship sets she wasn’t leading just out of theory; she led out of relationships with the communities she represented in the worship sets.  Deep relationships.  It’s something that I admire tremendously and would like to see grow in my own leadership.

For years as I ventured on the multiethnic worship journey, I picked up a lot of information along the way.  When I led worship as a student for our InterVarsity chapter, my InterVarsity staff was on the Urbana 03 worship team and taught me all he was learning.  I heard first hand about their struggles, their discoveries, and their breakthroughs on the multiethnic worship journey.  Then I read some more things in books and articles on African American and Latino worship and picked up more knowledge.  While all of those were helpful tools, I’m sad to say that my journey paused there for a very long time, and for a very long time I led out of theories–out of concepts I had read from books–but not out of authentic and shared experiences with the communities I represented in worship sets.  Sure, I talked to some of my friends from those communities and asked them a few questions sometimes, but if I’m honest, I didn’t really dig in, get my hands dirty, and immerse myself in incarnate experiences.  It was mostly head knowledge, theory, and maybe some surface-level interactions.

But seeing the place that Sandra’s leadership came out of made me hunger for more!  It was like I had been leading from a 2-dimensional experience, but there was a dimension she was leading out of that was beyond me.  Her genuine life experiences and relationships took it to 3-D.

So often through out the year I heard from Sandra’s mouth things like, “When I was in the gospel choir at Northwestern…” or “When I spent those 10 years discipling Asian American worship leaders…” or “When I hang out with my sister-in-law who is Indian and she says x, y z….”  I was awe, and I wanted my leadership to come out of experiences like that.  I wanted to lead from that third dimension.

What I also admired about Sandra’s leadership was that she wouldn’t only lead out of what she already knew and limit herself to that.  If there was something she had to do (a song to lead, a group to represent) that was outside of her current experience, she actually went out to seek that community and learn from them.  She immersed herself in the experience so that she could really grasp in an authentic way what it was about and how to lead others into that experience.  This neither could I say for myself.  I may have read a new book on it, but I didn’t actually go seek a community and share experiences with them.

I have much, much more to say on the topic of seeking a community to learn from, but I will save that for another post.

For now, I would just like to invite us to seek that third dimension.  I want to encourage us to not stop and stall out on the multiethnic journey, but to recognize and pursue something deeper, to pursue authentic experiences with the communities that the songs come from, and to seek and to learn the driving values in that community, and to not just sing the songs.  I’m not saying that reading and gaining knowledge about the history of different worship cultures is bad or not beneficial.  I am definitely not saying that.  What I am saying is that that is an excellent starting place, but I have seen that there is another dimension to the Kingdom of God to experience when we actually get into communities and share life together.  Because really, multiethnic worship is not just about the songs, but it is about being a community of diverse people that come before the Lord together and have loved each other well by sharing life together.

So, who are you sharing life with?


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On Stage: Check Your Egos at the Door

What’s it like to be on a stage in front of 16,000 people?

Ah, yes.  The Urbana stage.  How do you prepare to set foot on a stage like that?  Yes, we practiced a lot and made sure we knew our music.  We also studied Luke together so that we were personally shaped by the scriptures that the Urbana delegates would go through.  But aside from that, one thing that we really had to do to prepare ourselves: get our egos in check.

There’s No Room For Egos On This Team

Sometimes people would say, “Oooh, so and so should have been on this team!  That would have been fun!” and Sandra’s response would be, “No.  At this point in their life, their ego wouldn’t be able to handle it.  And there’s no room for egos on this team.”

One thing that I don’t think is often talked about is that when you step onto a platform with that kind of influence you’d better let God shape your character to be able to handle it all.

You see, the stage–and not just the Urbana stage, but any stage or platform–is a double edged sword.  On one hand, the stage is a place of influence; a means by which we are able to bless people.  From it we get the chance to speak and to minister, to lead people into deeper relationship with God, to offer hope and healing and reconciliation with God.  On the other hand, it can be kind of a dangerous place for a worship leader.  Because truthfully, the stage can really mess with your head and with your soul.

When you’re on stage in front of a crowd, large or small, you all of a sudden become known.  And let’s be honest: any of us that has the nature of a performer, an artist, or an influencer also has a hungry ego.  We like being known.  We like being affirmed.  We like feeling useful.  We like feeling important and recognized.  We like feeling like we have something to offer.  We like displaying our gifts, and we especially like being admired for them.  It’s okay, I can admit it, and so can you.  We are broken and sinful and in need of God’s grace and redemption.  But as such, let’s not be naive to understand that for us the stage can be dangerous territory, giving us and our hungry egos a complex if we are not careful.

How easy it is to bask in all the people that now know us, all of the praise we get for a job well done, all of the thanks we get for touching someone’s life, and all the admiration we receive for our gifts.  And how easy it is to feed our hungry little egos that say, “Look at me!  I’m so important!  I’m so awesome!  I’m talented, really I am!”  Honestly, I don’t think it’s completely wrong to want to be known, loved, or affirmed.  We all need a little encouragement, and we all need to receive love.  But as worship leaders, our job is to lead people in worshipping and glorifying the Lord, and when we crave that attention for ourselves, then it is no longer about glorifying God, rather we’ve made it about glorifying ourselves.  Instead of genuinely working for God to be worshipped and glorified we are secretly working for affirmation and praise–for us to be glorified, for us to seem important, and for us to seem worthy of something.  For a worship leader, that’s not okay.

Like we said, there is no room for egos here.

Check Your Ego, Shape Your Character

So, how do you prepare to be in front of 16,000 people?  You have to constantly let God check our ego at the door.  You have to invite him to shape your character so that you can handle being on stage and getting that much attention yet remain a person with integrity, transparency, authenticity, selflessness, and humility.  Over and over and over again.  Believe me, it’s hard to do with even 30 people, and much harder at 16,000.

To let God shape your character is to constantly ask him for brokenness and humility and to let him do the hard, painful work of chipping away at our egos.  It is to ask him to purify us of selfish ambition and vain conceit.  To take the risk to be transparent with ourselves, with others, and with God.  And to repent.  Often.

And really, it doesn’t start when you find out you’ll be on a stage of 16,000.  It needs to start when you are on a stage of 16.  Because our egos can be that hungry.  Otherwise, one day your monstrous ego that you’ve fed for so many years will get the better of you.  And if you ever do get to be on a stage of 16,000, your ego and your complex will only be magnified by 16,000.

I don’t want to be the kind of person who can get on stage and say the right things, lead people in an amazing worship time, minister to people in the power of the Holy Spirit, yet secretly be really into myself and how awesome it all makes me feel.  Secretly be a self-focused glory-hog with a big head who wants glory more for myself than for God to be glorified.  I don’t want to be the kind of person who can help others draw near to Jesus while missing out on the authentic intimacy with Jesus because I’ve paid more attention to what others say about me rather than what Jesus says about me.  And I especially don’t want to be the kind of leader who forgets that I am a broken and sinful child of God who is desperately in need of grace, just like everyone else.

If I can lead a great worship time but my character sucks and my relationship with God is more about me than it is about him, then I will have some deep regrets when I face the Lord.  I don’t want to miss out on God because I’m too into myself.  So yes Lord, shape my character and kill my hungry ego all the days of my life.  I want no room for egos here.  Not now, not ever.


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Behind the Scenes of the Urbana 12 Worship Experience

After participating in my fourth Urbana, I have to say that Urbana 12 was my absolute favorite.  There are many reasons why, but besides the program itself being AMAZING, the year leading up to Urbana 12 was absolutely phenomenal.

Imagephoto via Matt Stauffer

One of my biggest regrets after being on the Urbana 09 Worship Team was that I didn’t adequately capture the experiences that we had on the team.  The year leading up to Urbana 09 was rich with discussions on multiethnic worship, character-building, and God digging out the junk in our hearts as we prepared to be in front of 16,000 people and not let our egos get the best of us.

As I headed into the year-long preparation with the Urbana 12 Worship Team I aimed to remedy that.  In 2009 I regretted not having our discussions and what we were learning available as a resource for my students and for all of the students who were hungry for more after Urbana, so I tried to capture some of the behind-the-scenes moments on video.  Whether intriguing discussions on worship or the goofiness that was our team, I want to give you all a peek into our year leading up to Urbana 12 and share some of the nuggets that God taught us.  And as part of that, I’m also committing to blogging regularly over the next month or so about the experience.  (…also in hopes that I will blog a little more since my last blog was January 2012!  haha)

We learned so much that I didn’t know how to organize it all, but I narrowed it down to a rotation of three categories:

  1. Reflections of an event that happened each day at Urbana 12
  2. The story behind particular songs we played at Urbana 12 (let me know if there are particular songs you’re curious about)
  3. Other miscellaneous things regarding team dynamics, being on a stage in front of 16,000, questions students had, etc.  (If you’ve got things you want to hear about, let me know this too.)

I hope you enjoy the journey with us!


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Learn to Dance

“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

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Not Made for Mountains

“We are not made for the mountains, for sunrises, or for the other beautiful attractions in life — those are simply intended to be moments of inspiration. We are made for the valley and the ordinary things of life, and that is where we have to …prove our stamina and strength.”

Oswald Chambers

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Little Blessings Make a Full Heart

Last week I sat in a group answering the request to list 5 things we were thankful for.  It took us each some thinking, not because we weren’t thankful for 5 things, but because none of us wanted any of our 5 things to sound too small or superficial or materialistic.  But whatever, I went for it.  I said, “I know this sounds really superficial, but I’m actually incredibly thankful right now for all my clothes…and I’m REALLY thankful for chocolate ice cream.”

The other 3 girls kind of laughed–out of courtesy or awkwardness, I don’t know–and one of my friends hit me and said, “Oh-my-GOSH, Audrey” in a way that sounded like she really meant, “Yeah, that really IS insignificant, superficial, and materialistic.”

I wondered, though, why it was “wrong” for me to say I was thankful for such small things?  I personally find it rather difficult to be thankful for small things, and I actually don’t think most of us tend to be thankful enough for them.  So, I felt the need to defend myself (especially because I got hit for it!) and explain that I actually have a deep gratitude for many of the “insignificant” things in life.  That week I had been standing at my closet everyday marveling at how fortunate I was and how I didn’t really deserve a closet full of clothes, which led me to think about all the other aspects in my life that God has provided for that I really don’t deserve.  I also kept thinking, “How could I ever have felt like I needed more?” (Not just of clothes…of anything, really.)  And I marveled at the provision.

That week I also ate a bowl of ice cream and thanked God for letting it be invented, telling him that he really didn’t have to create chocolate ice cream but that I was SO GLAD he did.

So, yes, I said I was thankful for my closet of clothes and for chocolate ice cream, and my gratitude for them runs deep.

A while ago I worked through The Good and Beautiful God and one of the chapters had you create an ongoing list of blessings in your life.  I wrote so many seemingly small things on that list, and at first I was embarrassed because of what I said before–that it seemed superficial or even materialistic.  But the more I wrote down, the more it actually cultivated depth in my thanksgiving, in my sense of God’s love and care in my life, and in the joy and pleasure there is in this life God has given me.

In a world of consumerism and advertisements that tell you that you need more of x, y, and z, I love looking at my list of blessings…especially the “small” ones.  It makes me feel like the world went from being on a grey scale to being filled with vibrant colors.  The world seems more colorful, the air feels fresher, and I feel fuller.

I’d highly encourage you to start a list of blessings!

If you’re interested, here’s mine.  I was going to also add why I was thankful for some of these things, but almost all of them were because I kept thinking, “OMG, what would my life be like without this?  God didn’t have to make this, but I’m so glad he did!”

  • chocolate ice cream with fruit
  • a sibling who knows the Lord
  • teal and orange
  • white nectarines
  • music that speaks in unexplainable ways
  • oranges
  • prime rib
  • Contigo water bottles
  • time spent with kids who see the world as wonderful
  • Papermate pens (I LOVE these…)
  • crisp NorCal air
  • sunshine
  • God’s presence with me
  • contact lenses
  • financial freedom
  • the promise that God will guide me
  • a voice to sing with, to worship with, to express myself
  • my multi-colored scarf
  • the sense of smell, taste, touch, sight, hearing
  • friends to connect with musically
  • provision for tasks he asks/calls us to do
  • unexpected ways he takes care of me
  • Chinese food
  • an amazing husband and an incredible relationship
  • giving us a community who loves and serves though they may barely know us
  • God’s sovereignty
  • freedom in my job to become who I was made to be
  • a child’s laugh

I’d love to hear some of your list of blessings…especially the ones that seem little and often get overlooked or taken for granted!


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Life shall come from his voice…

“To have a resurrection you have to have a death.  You have to come in and die and have the Lord speak and change everything from that point on.  There has to be that encounter where your agendas die, everything about you that makes up your life, you lay it down and he speaks.  And the identity comes from his voice.  Man shall not live by bread alone, but from every word that proceeds.  Life shall come from his voice, and the most intimate connection is the fact that he talks, and he talks with us.”

– (I forget where I found this…)

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