I doubt there are many who know the history of the Praise Band at LFMC--we started the Praise Band in May 2000--at the time I was working full-time in the world of Internet technology, Carolyn and I were raising our kids (she had already begun working in student ministry here). Some of us in the church had made a previous attempt to create a contemporary worship environment almost a decade earlier, but it ended up being a point of contention among some in leadership positions in the church, and several dozen of those involved in that effort left the church and formed a new congregation. Although I was a part of that first worship band, Carolyn and I stayed, and I said goodbye to many of my friends and fellow musicians. I hoped that someday the vision of contemporary worship would be revived.
Fast-forward into the tenure of our third senior pastor following our little church split: Pastor David Foster, a former bishop of the Free Methodist Church, became convicted that if we were going to reach the next generation, we had to provide a worship service in a more contemporary musical setting, and he asked Pastor of Worship, Scott MacPherson and me to assemble a worship team. We started getting a team together, and one of the first (if not THE first) meetings of that team took place in my living room, where we presented a list of some contemporary worship songs that we thought we could play, and we listened together to the recordings, and pored over some crude chord charts I had made. We committed to a weekly rehearsal, and laid out our strategy for introducing our church to contemporary worship: we would prepare one contemporary worship service per month through the summer, and we would invite the congregation--anyone who was interested or just curious--to come and experience it. We held those summer services in the Family Life Center (the gym), one Saturday evening per month in May, June and July, and if all went well, we planned to roll out the contemporary service on Sunday mornings beginning in late August of that year.
At first, the traditional service attendance outpaced our contemporary service attendance, but within a few months, it was established and the rest, as they say, is history. Of that worship team, only two remain at LFMC--myself and Lynn Stansberry, who was still in high school when she joined the team. Dozens of singers and players have come and gone over the years since then, many of whom are still leading worship in other places. By now the Praise Band has led Sunday worship on about a thousand Sundays, plus extra services at Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, baptism services, fall kick-offs and a variety of other venues, including the Great Plains Annual Conference at least once that I can remember. We've gone from a repertoire of about ten or twenty songs to almost three hundred in that time, and we just learned a new one again last week. We've always had guitars, bass, drums and piano, but we've also had violins, cello, flute, saxophone, mandolin, banjo, dulcimer, synthesizer, glockenspiel, hand chimes, and a wide variety of percussion instruments (and even toy instruments on certain occasions), plus the occasional computer-driven backing track. It's been a blessing and a blast.
The Praise Band continues to work hard at helping our congregation come into the presence of God with singing. At each rehearsal and before each worship service we pray that the Lord will help us use the gifts and instruments he has given us to help our church find its voice in praising and worshiping God, and that each service would provide an opportunity for the people to connect with Him authentically and meaningfully. Our constant prayer has been that God would be glorified, not us.
All of this reflection comes to the surface for me as I prepare to step away from leading worship to a new ministry role in the church--one that has been in the making for several years, as the Lord has shaped my heart and directed my passion in a new way. Around the first of the year, I began a transition from being Director of Media and Contemporary Worship to being Pastor of Mission and Mobilization. In my new role I will still work with media and technology teams in the church, and I will probably still play in the Praise Band once in a while, but my major ministry focus is shifting toward helping our church lean into serving people, being the hands and feet of Jesus, as it were, both globally and locally. In recent years I have been leading teams of short-term missionaries to Haiti, and I will continue to work with those teams and trips. I will also work more closely with our denominational missionaries--the ones our church supports with prayer and financial help--and help those missionaries in their communications with our congregation. In the local arena, I will serve as a liaison between the LFMC and the various local ministries with which we have partnered in recent years--LINK, Heartland Health Clinic, the Lawrence Community Shelter, Family Promise, and others. As part of my role, I'll also be assessing the effectiveness of our relationships with these organizations and exploring the kinds of partnerships through which our church can most effectively serve people in the Lawrence/Douglas Country area. Perhaps most importantly, I will be finding opportunities for our people to serve others, and helping more people make an investment of service to others here and around the world.
I have enjoyed my ministry as a worship leader--it is no exaggeration to say that Sunday mornings have been the highlight of my week for many years now. Over the last couple of years I have sensed that the Lord was preparing me for something new, and now it is clear. I'll be the first to admit that I have a lot to learn as I navigate a new phase of ministry--if you have read this far, I assume you care enough that I can ask you for your prayers as this new ministry unfolds, and as the Praise Band continues under new leadership. The process of finding the right person to take up the worship "baton," so to speak, has begun--please pray for the Lord to send us the right person.
Thank you for the amazing opportunity that I have had to lead our church in worship and to work with such amazing musicians. And thank you for the opportunity to pursue a new season of ministry. I look forward to what the Lord has in store for us!
Doug Heacock, Pastor of Mission & Mobilization