The Road to Worship Leading
I started playing guitar at 14. My parents signed me up for lessons because they were concerned I was getting too quiet and turning into a loner. They were right. My junior high experience isn’t one I look back on with any fondness. I grew to my full 6’4” without gaining any weight. I was, however, growing a nice crop of acne all over my face. My dad told me would be character building. My eighth grade campaign ended with 6 weeks of mononucleosis, which did not come from kissing a girl.
I started guitar lessons, and was immediately immersed. My non-school waking hours were spent practicing on a $40 Orlando acoustic guitar. After a few months, my teacher passed me along to another teacher, who passed me along to another. I took lessons all through high school, and was progressing right along, until I realized that the cool guitar players also sang. With that in mind, I bought the songbooks for every Beatles, Dylan and James Taylor song I could find. I was still pretty reluctant to sing and play in front of people, but my parents made me do it, even though I groaned and resisted.
My junior year, a girl at school asked me to come to a Young Life meeting, which was being led by my biology teacher, Mr. Ashlock. I don’t know how he knew I could play and sing, but he asked me to bring my guitar. When I arrived, he told me to go up front, next to the other guitar player and play along. Everything was going well, I was just playing guitar and singing. There wasn’t any big pressure until Mr. Ashlock asked me to sing “A Horse With No Name”, by America. I knew the song well, so I figured, “why not?” and went ahead and did it. I don’t know why he asked me to do it. I’ve asked him about it since; he says he doesn’t remember. But, after a couple of months, in the Ashlock’s family room, as Seals and Crofts “Summer Breeze” played on the stereo, i quietly decided Jesus was who I wanted to follow. And I followed Him, with my guitar, the last two years of high school.
After high school, I moved into a dorm at San Diego State. Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album and the ubiquitous “Free Bird” were playing on every dorm room stereo. There was a whole lot of partying going on all around me, and for some reason I just couldn’t join in. I got really lonely, and moved back home after one semester.
Meanwhile, my friend, Mike McCoy, had taken over leading the Young Life club at Concord High, and asked me if I’d like to help lead. (That was 1975. It’s 2014, and we’re still in this together.) I thought it sounded like a good idea, so I enrolled in junior college and led songs and Campaigners for Young Life. There was a very pretty brunette named Linda who was also helping out. She already had a boyfriend, but man, she seemed really nice and was becoming a really good friend. Of course, we fell in love, listening to the Doobie Brothers “Black Water”. We were engaged in 1976 to Bread’s “Baby, I’m a Want You”, married in 1977 to “Beautiful” by Gordon Lightfoot, raised a family, and now are grandparents together. Our grandkids like Mumford and Sons. So do we.
In the summer of ’75, our Campaigners group started reading Bonhoffer’s “Life Together”. After reading it, we were convinced the only way to live life like Jesus was to move in together, pool our money and share our lives. So started Life Together Community. We bought and shared houses, worshipped at home, ate generic foods, homeschooled our kids and looked for some place far away from the city, where we could live out our lives following Jesus. We were sure the institutional church had it all wrong and we were going to blaze our own trail to Christian living. We never ended up leaving town, because we never sensed God saying it was a good idea to leave. We’ve also since repented of our view of the church. Now we’re part of Church Without Shoes, a multi denominational family of local churches. The remnant of Life Together still live right here on the same street, four families who live in two houses. They’re set up like duplexes, sharing a laundry room.
In 1984, our friend, Marty Reitzin, invited us to Santa Barbara for a weekend conference at Westmont College, to see John Wimber. We had heard stories of the Vineyard and the Fuller Seminary course, MC501, but we were pretty skeptical. So we, the McCoys and a couple other friends drove south in our 1975 Mercury Marquis to see what was really going on.
I remember walking into the gym at Westmont. Worship had already started. The songs were so simple, but there was something different going on. I ran through a flurry of emotions as worship went on. The music, the thick presence of the Spirit, the healing; I was sold right then and there. I knew. I needed to become a worship musician. Many kairos moments (we used to call them divine appointments) over 14 years led to that night. So many have come since and will continue, but from that point on, the decision was made. I was a worship leader.