It began as a half-hearted joke between me and our worship leader. I would laughingly suggest that she use me on the worship team, knowing full well that my voice is not one that needs to be amplified. Though Brandon often tells me I can hold a melody just fine, a “joyful noise” is the description I’d give for the sound that erupts when I sing to the Lord. I was trained as a child in various choirs, but somewhere between high school and now, my confidence in my singing has diminished. I wouldn’t say I’m terrible, but I’ve certainly never considered myself worship-team ready. And because I’m pretty competitive in nature, I’ve adopted the notion that if I can’t be the best at something, I probably shouldn’t do it at all. The problem with that mindset, though, is that it eliminates me from many situations where God just wants me to give what I do have, my mediocre self.
We see this in the scriptures. Jesus liked using mediocre things and giving God more glory when they turned out to be amazing. In the gospels we find him after He’s been teaching all day on the mountainside to thousands and thousands of people. His disciples try to tell him to close up shop and send everyone on so they can grab some food, but for some reason he puts the responsibility to solve the problem back in their hands. He says, “You give them something to eat.” And they’re thinking, wow, it would cost a LOT of money (probably about $4000, some scholars estimate) to even feed everyone here a little bite of bread. We don’t have that much!
Then Jesus says something to them that echoes to each of us on a regular basis, “What do you have?” They hand over 5 measly loaves of bread, and 2 smelly fish, and it becomes a glory story that we read about thousands of years later. Not because they were able to muster up enough to provide for the need, but because they gave what they had and God did the rest.
Jesus is saying the same to me and you right now, “What do you have, reader, that you can use in My Kingdom to bring Me glory?”
I certainly didn’t think to offer up my singing voice. Our worship leader, Kim…she has a strong, pure voice. She’s built a team comprised of extremely capable singers and musicians. Most of them could be recording artists on their own, and make a fine living doing so. I regularly get goosebumps on my skin when one of them is singing on Sunday morning, and when they get really flowing together, fa’get about it. I’m pretty sure God likes to hang out at our church on Sunday mornings around 10:30 (wink, wink) even more than I do. It’s heavenly.
Our church, a multicultural anomaly, worships with songs from an array of Christian genre subcultures. We could begin with a gospel song by Donnie McClurkin, move right through an arrangement out of Bethel, and end with a song that contains a serious electric guitar solo from Elevation Church. Kim is very intentional about making sure the set list connects with people from all ages, church backgrounds, and cultures. She also works hard to make sure that the vocalists on stage reflect the multicultural diversity we have in the congregation. Men, women, old, young, a spectrum of skin colors…there are so many factors to consider, and I’m glad she gets paid to do it instead of me!
While I love to joke, I’ve never actually considered being on the worship team because I’m just. not. that. good. I’ve always heard that if you can’t belt it out, then let those who can do it and find somewhere else where you are better gifted to serve.
I know this…I can carry a tune in a bucket, and I do know the way to the Father’s face through praise and worship, but that’s about it. But I would joke, and the joke would go like this, “Kim, I know you probably want me to sing this weekend, but I’m busy, so… sorry.” Or, “Kim, you just let me know when you need a week off and I’ll take over leading worship. I got you girl!” She’d respond with, “I got you on speed dial, Pastor Nicole! I’ll be sure to let you know if that ever comes up.”
One night we were having a leadership meeting, and I sauntered over during a break to chat. She said something she had never said before. Disclaimer: unless you’ve led or attended a multicultural church, you may not understand what I describe next…don’t judge, but basically, you need to have your stage reflect what you want your congregation to look like. For that reason, we strive to keep varied skin tones, ages, and genders up on stage leading the congregation. She said, “So, Pastor Nicole, I could use you on the stage with us this weekend. We have a lot of people out and all the people, and to be honest, we need a melanin-challenged person on stage to balance us out this Sunday.” I thought she was upping her on-going joke game, so I responded, “Ha, ha, yeah, sure, Kim! I thought you’d never ask!” “No, Pastor, I’m serious. Could you help us out? I just need you to worship the Lord on the stage like you worship on the floor every Sunday morning.”
I still didn’t really believe her, so I told her I’d do it. It wasn’t until I received the Planning Center invitation on my email the next day that I realized that she seriously was going to try to pull this off. The Redemption Charlotte worship team and my mediocre self. I thought about lip synching, but then I was picturing being on a video like this in the near future. After subsequent conversations with Kim and Brandon, I finally took it to the Lord:
Me: Why would You want me to do this, Lord? I’m not the best at singing.
God: You don’t have to be the best to give your best. [Drops mic, walks away.]
This was my loaves and fishes moment.
Sunday morning came along, and I was nervous. I’m completely comfortable speaking to this same audience every week on stage, but for some reason this felt very different. I arrived early and we began warm-ups. Kim came around as we went through the last song, and stops in front of me. Her brow furled at first, as she inclined her ear to me, and then a smile broke out on her face. I stop, stunned. “No, no, keep going,” she said. We finished the song and she punched me on the arm. “Pastor Nicole, I thought you told me you couldn’t sing! You were right on with that melody, girl! I mean, you’re no Tasha Cobbs, but you can hold that melody. We need that filler voice. Danny (the sound guy)! Turn Pastor Nicole’s mic up!”
Miraculously, I made it through the set, and managed not to take the whole thing down with too many wrong notes or major mishaps. In fact, Kim approached me and let me know that she would be using me on a regular schedule. To date, I don’t know of anyone who has left the church yet because the pastor’s wife can’t sing. Throughout the last few months that I’ve been on the worship team, I’ve had countless people tell me that they like to have me up on stage in that realm. They never comment on my singing ability, but every time, they mention how the Father beckoned them to go deeper when they watched me worship.
Worship Was Mine, What’s Yours?
He is a God that calls that which is not as though it were. He is a God who, for the sake of His pleasure, pushes his children past their man-made limits, their mediocrity, and allows them opportunities to soar in ways they never dreamed. He is a God who fills in the gaps where we are lacking, and who’s power is made perfect in our weaknesses.
I’ve spent a lot of time talking to the Lord, asking Him why He would want me to to do this. It seems so outside my wheel house that I didn’t understand where He was going with the whole thing. In my heart I felt Him say, “Nicole, give me all of you. Don’t hold ANYTHING back. Not your strengths, not your weaknesses, not your gifts, and not even the areas of your life where you don’t think you’re very gifted. Give it ALL to me. Lay it all on the altar, and let me use it how I choose. I will amaze you if you will.”
Friend, what are your loaves and fishes, the areas of your life where you’re holding back because you know you’re not the cream of the crop? What are you holding back because you’re just run-of-the-mill-okay at it? What else can you offer to the Lord? Does He want you to start serving somewhere you didn’t think you’d ever serve? Is there some hidden area of your life that you’re keeping in the closet because you don’t think it ranks high enough to be noticed?
What would happen if we all gave our loaves and fishes over to Jesus? How could the world benefit from it? How many more lost souls could be reached? How many hungry could be fed? How many children could be adopted into loving families? How many addicted could find healing and acceptance? How much more could our churches thrive if they weren’t searching for volunteers because you stepped up and gave yourself in absolute normal, nothing to write home about ways?