"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Developing Student Praise and Worship

Cynthia Cullen Interview (Part 3)

Cynthia Cullen

How else did you gain wisdom for leading worship and building a team? Did you observe churches that you felt had excellent worship ministries to learn from them?

CC - Traveling with the team while I was in college, I was able to get a really good pulse of what was out there at the time. Then I learned from the first churches where I was on staff.

My first church was a Bible Church in Florida. Musically they were headed in a direction that was extremely edgy for South Florida and they needed someone to come in and work with the band and help transition. It wasn't easy. In fact it was a pretty bad experience. I learned a lot of things the hard way. I had to learn how to balance people with program. We talked about this earlier. I went to two other churches before ending up at NorthStar.

The music we did at college was more traditional, a little more churchy. Everything I’ve done in churches has been extremely contemporary, post-modern, Gen-X. So I've definitely swung a little bit more to the non-conservative type of music and I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been a lot of fun.

SM - Would you advise people who have not had your wealth of experience to find some churches with great worship and learn from them?

CC - Right. A lot of people ask me how to get a job at a church. Some people say "I’ve been called to lead worship" but they have not had the chance to actually be a part of something first. I was unique in the sense that God didn’t place in my heart a desire to be up front leading thousands of people in worship. I’m a keyboard player who sings. My heart is to be with the team. If you feel the call to lead, plug in with a local body of believers. Too many times I see people going around leading worship and they’re not attached to a local body.

We read a great book called "Orbiting the Giant Hairball." The "hairball" is society. We don't want to be trapped in the hairball. We want to be around it. We want to be connected enough to know what’s going on, but free enough to do what we’re called to do. I think that often worship leaders are out there on the road doing their thing, but they’re not really in touch with what’s going on in the local church. I would encourage anyone who's leading worship to get involved in the local ministry of the church. If you’re not actually out there, booked every weekend, make sure you’re in a church worshipping. Make sure you’re meeting people. Make sure you’re hearing what’s going on.

SM - How do you advise those worship leaders who want to change the worship style of their congregation?

CC - Know your culture. Know your audience. Know what they like. Know their needs and put yours aside. Decide where you're taking your people on this journey of worship. Ask yourself what you're investing in them so that they leave here today understanding more about worship than they did last week.

Many times I’m guilty of thinking, "I like that, so let's do it." But am I really tapping into where NorthStar is? To answer that question, I've got to know where our people are today. If we’re doing the same thing that we did last year, we’re behind because the people coming this year may be different than the people last year. Our society is constantly changing.

SM - We've talked about your calling. Now tell me about your passion. A lot of people say, "I want to help our church develop better worship." Yet, they're envisioning a couple of hours of investment each week. Creating authentic worship isn't their passion. For you, it's not just a job. I get the feeling that you’re thinking about this virtually all the time.

CC - Pretty much. Yeah. I can’t turn it off very well. Passion…I think the object of my passion has changed. God can change your passion. At times my passion has been split between personal things, desires. I write a lot of songs. I love to arrange. That is a passion of mine. I enjoy that.

But there's nothing I'm more passionate about than seeing people make the Great Exchange from ordinary living to extraordinary living in Jesus. To exchange the old for new. To have that transforming power of Christ in their lives. God’s given me the ability to have a piece of that through music. So my passion is the Great Commission, which was given to all of us. We long to see people trust Christ and grow to maturity in Him. Since music holds such sway in our society, I see music as an effective way to fulfill the Great Commission. If I were simply passionate about music, I believe the passion would fade. In fact, there have been times in my life when my passion for music faded, because I think I was worshipping the music more than I was worshipping the God of the music.

Sometimes I’ve been more passionate about the cool new song that I was going to do this weekend. That’s an easy rut to get into as a musician, because my world is surrounded by that. But the older I get, the more clearly I see the incredible worth of the great exchange over the cool new song we’re doing this weekend.

Last weekend, our pastor (Ike Reighard) said, "The music was just so good this week." I asked my team afterwards, "Why do you think he said that?" They all had befuddled looks because everything we did musically that weekend was familiar - nothing new, nothing special. I truly believe that what made it special was the prayer time that we had that morning before worship. It set the tone for the whole morning. It wasn't so much the choice of music as it was the spirit in which the music was sung, the Spirit that filled the room.

That's what I'm learning on my journey. It’s so much more about the prayer and time I spend praying for our services and praying for people to make that great exchange through what I do, than actually doing the songs themselves. That’s given me the passion that I now have, versus times in my life when I know it was just about the music. If you lack passion or if it's misplaced, ask God to give you a passion for the right things.

SM - Tell me more about the spiritual dimension. How does the team's personal time with God impact the corporate worship? Tell me about prayer.

CC - At times I've stood on stage and sung and realized as I looked at the people that there was nothing spiritual going on. We were just going through songs. In those instances, I didn't have a good week with the Lord.

Everything rises and falls on the leadership. At times, had it not been for the grace of God, we wouldn't have made it, because spiritually I was not following Jesus. In the last year and a half I've learned that God's called me to live for him today. What I make of today with the Lord and what I do in my relationship with God today is all that matters. I don’t need to worry about a week from now or three weeks from now or services a year from now. It doesn’t matter. He's given me this moment. I need to hear from Him today.

God's awakening me to prayer. We recently started a prayer time on Sunday mornings from 7:30 to 8:15. It's not an organized time. We dim the lights in the sanctuary. Everyone's invited to pray. Some pray for five minutes, others the entire time. We walk around, praying over each chair for whoever will sit in it.

That has absolutely revolutionized us. Besides the power of prayer, there's the attitude of obedience that's evidenced when we say, "OK God. We’re going to do this first. Then we’ll go about doing our ministry.

Also concerning spiritual emphases, we try to grow spiritually as a team. Artists are a different breed - highly creative and highly volatile. This volatility needs to be spirit-controlled. So we're always learning about biblical worship as a team.

We're always reading a book together. This gives us spiritual accountability. We know there's something we're working toward. We learn that it's not about what we're giving, but about what we're receiving. Are we becoming something in this process or are we just giving out all the time? I simply must invest in them through prayer, worship and accountability. Breaking the teams into smaller groups to share prayer requests has also helped.

We’re also trying to educate the congregation by including an entire section in our new members' material about worship. Most people think worship is the service you come to. That’s the noun, but we want people to understand the verb. We'll also offer a 3 or 4-week bible study on worship for the entire church.

The degree that we are spiritually seeking is the degree of success in our ministry. You hear people say that, but I can validate it in our ministry.

Personally, I reserve a lot of time during the week for me to just be with God. If it means that I do not get every email answered, then guess what? I don’t. If it means that I need to spend two hours today, sitting quietly and listening to God, I have to make the time to do that.

I have the freedom to be on a staff that has flexibility with our schedules. Ike always says that if we’re tired and worn out, it’s our own fault, because he’s given us the freedom to make our own schedules and to be responsible for our time. Time management is key. The weeks that I just throw myself into tasks and don’t make time for God, I think it’s reflected in the worship that weekend.

I also encourage whomever is leading worship that week to be in prayer about what God is calling him or her to be and do that weekend. Don’t just get up there and sing through some songs, because it will translate to everyone. You can’t manipulate the spirit of God. His work often rises and falls on the hearts of the people on that stage.

Some people have left our team, and it's broken my heart. I love them so much as brothers and sisters in Christ, but I believe that things in their lives were prohibiting worship. I encourage our team to come before God and deal with strongholds in their lives that could stifle worship. Since the Bible speaks of clean hands and pure hearts, we try to have a small time of confession during our Sunday morning prayer to lay their sins at the foot of the cross. We’re not perfect by any means. Please, I hope that doesn’t come across in this at all, but we have a responsibility to confess and to be obedient to the calling that God’s given us and to be willing and pliable for him.

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