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To the Minister of Music: Leading Out Of a Hurt Place

Min. Rylan Harris is Minister of Worship & Arts at Ray of Hope Christian Church in Atlanta, Georgia while he pursues a Master of Religious Leadership with a concentration in Music and Worship at Candler School of Theology. He is a graduate of Hampton University in Virginia and remains active with the Hampton Ministers Conference each June.



I recently attended a symposium and it was perhaps one of the greatest four days that I have spent in such a long time. I can say this largely in part because I was surrounded by not only some of the greatest musicians, singers and scholars in the country but more so, I was surrounded with a portion of some of the greatest friends that God has allowed me to connect with! One of my “big brothers” happened to see me in passing one evening and after he and I had sat and talked for hours, he looked me square in the eye and said, “Get that discouragement off of you!” I do not have to tell you that it took everything within me not to shed tears at that table! Friends, please do not mistake what my friend was saying to be inappropriate and insensitive because it isn’t. He never said that is was a problem to be “discouraged,” but what he did make crystal clear was that, it can’t stay on you—it does not have the right to!



Often times I sit back and reflect on my childhood; days that even though are not so far behind me—still invade my thoughts and dreams ever so often. Now, when I was a little boy, I can remember certain games and toys that I would see as my siblings and I walked through the different department stores with our parents. Of course, at that time the Negro National Anthem was not “Lift Every Voice & Sing,” but rather, “…don’t ask for nothin’, don’t touch nothin’, and it won’t be nothin’!” While we walked through the stores, even though we knew not to pine over things that we wanted, nothing could stop us from seeing and looking. I can remember seeing things that I wanted to have and I was willing to do just about anything to have that new shiny toy!

While my baby brother was probably more of a game player and collector than I was, I still recall getting that “one” thing that I wanted so badly and being overjoyed and overwhelmingly ecstatic when out of the clear blue sky, my parents had gotten it for me. Just like children all over the world, it became that thing that I played with all day and night and it was the thing that I dreamed about while I was away at school or at church—anxious to get back home to it again. It occurred to me as of recent that not everyone may be an athlete, or a poet or a writer and prolific speaker. Not everyone may be a great musician or a singer; a dancer or an actor or actress. However, no matter what age or stage you are in life, at some point you have been a child. Yes, at some point you did not have a care in this world. Yes, there was a point in your life where the everyday thoughts, cares, worries, doubts, fears, frustrations, trials, tribulations and business of an adult did not phase you because you were only just a child! It did not matter to you how food got on the table; all you knew was that it was prepared for you in love and boy, did it taste good! It did not matter to you how the lights worked, how the water ran or how the house or apartment stayed comfortably warm in the wintertime and refreshingly cool in the summer.

Get that discouragement off of you!

All you knew (albeit consciously or unconsciously) was that everything was right. Moreover, if you had a household like mine, even the things that “weren’t right” were somehow “right” because our parents let us be children while they remained the adults and the parents. Nevertheless, I point us back to the innocence of wanting and finally attaining that brand new shiny toy.


Minister of Music

For the past seventeen years, God has allowed me to serve in the office of Minister of Music, choir director, worship leader, music director—you name it. I must admit that when all of this began for me, I had no idea what any of it even meant. My father had only been pastoring for a little over two years at that time and one particular Sunday, he just asked me to “stand in.” I did not know that I would be “standing in” for seven years. It was during that time when I was fortunate to manage and lead five fully functioning choirs and small ensembles while merely just an elementary, middle and high school student. I had no driver’s license or learners’ permit during the first six of those years but still managed to prepare, plan, attend and lead all choir rehearsals, Sunday morning and afternoon worship services; revivals, concerts, conferences; weddings and funerals. Yes, I was blessed to have teachers and mentors (some who are gone now and quite a few who are still here) who taught and guided me through the first stages of ministerial development but I also was learning how to listen to God for myself. There were certain things that no one else could share with me; I would have to learn how to seek God’s face and hear directly from Him. I liken my experience similarly to that of Samuel’s.

Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The Word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. A third time the Lord called, ‘Samuel!’ And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, ‘Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for you servant is listening.’ So, Samuel went and lay down in his place.” – 1 Samuel 3:7-9

This familiar passage of Scripture stands out to me in such a magnificent way because, as I have stated, there are going to be things that God cannot and will not reveal through anyone else to pass along to you. Sometimes, it is you who He needs to speak to directly! I had to learn at an early age how to pray for myself. God was preparing me then for something much greater than myself.


Hurt and Bruised

By the time I had turned eighteen, I had been hurt and bruised by this thing called “ministry” so much that I did not want to have anything else to do with it. I got tired of the incessant name calling, the teasing and the innumerable criticisms largely in part from those who couldn’t sing or identify a single note on the piano if it had been pre-labeled for them. Nevertheless, as a child/pre-teen/teenager, you are not thinking on that level. In many cases, you just learn to take it and try your absolute best to sweep it under the rug. My version of sweeping it under the rug was me saying, “Hey, I’ve done that and I don’t want to do that anymore!” Well, that is not how the call works. I had to learn very quickly that when God has called you to something, you do not get to “return to sender!” No, ma’am! No, sir! The Word of God reminds us that before we were ever shaped in our mother’s womb, God knew us! Interestingly enough, “knew” is past tense, which leads me to believe that we had already lived out, and walked out and carried out our anointing, our ordination and our sanctification before the very presence of God long before He formed us and wrapped us in the flesh and dispatched us into this earth. He told Samuel (a little boy; a child) “I’m about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle!” (1 Samuel 3:11) What do you do friend, when God Himself FaceTime’s you with a secret? Are you still with me? I certainly hope so!

God has granted me the opportunity to serve in a capacity that I never asked for. Actually, quite the contrary. Like the Apostle Paul pleading to God to take away the thorn in his flesh, I asked God to take every single gift He had given to me and give it to someone else—I do not want it! However, the more I prayed for Him to take it away, the more He increased and enlarged my territory. One night, I just finally stopped praying for God to take it away. Therefore, I altered my prayer to say,

Lord, show me how to use it and how to use it correctly! Show me the way that You intended for it to be used and shared amongst your people!”

Hmm, that is when the doors swung open. Please allow me to say that it was not so much the doors that were the problem, it was what and who was behind those doors that caused and still causes my face to be pressed to the ground in prayer before God.


Something New

The world and the people of this world are always longing after something “new.” They want something fresh, something exciting, and those who are in the spotlight and in front of the cameras (music artists, musicians, rappers, etc.) are burdened daily with the responsibility of producing something “new” and something fresh. Unfortunately, the universal church-at-large has fallen prey to this ideological and irrational way of thinking. Moreover, (as I am speaking largely in part as the occupant of a specific office within the life of the church) the Ministers of Music fall victim to the ugliness and meanness of this ever-growing phenomenon every single day of the week. This theory leads me to say that to many Pastors, church officials and to many congregants, the Minister of Music and the Worship Leader has indeed become that brand new shiny toy!

You see, when a child sees that toy, he or she is not concerned about when, where or how that toy was manufactured and what it took for that toy to look and appeal to the eyes of the future buyer. That child does not care how much that toy may cost or what it may take for it to be purchased; the sacrifices that have to be made in order to obtain it. All the child cares about is having that toy. Now, as I have stated, once the child gets the aforementioned toy, it then becomes the child’s most prized possession and nothing else can take the place of that toy. Until one day, the inevitable happens, and for whatever reason, the child does not care for that toy anymore. The toy, although paint-chipped, scratched and bruised in some areas; it still functions just like it did when it was “brand new” for whatever reason—good, bad or indifferent is no longer appealing to the child and the child is then on to the next best thing.

I do not particularly care what the denomination of the church is or whom the leaders may be, I have seen this practice in full effect for almost two decades (some reading this three and four more decades than I have) and that is literally more than half of my life. I am not ashamed to say that I, too, have been to many a “shiny new toy” all used up and put on display and then one day…While we all have much more growing and learning to do, it is a sad state of affairs when the church finds itself taking orders and instructions from the world!


A Child

If you will notice that throughout my discourse, I have been extremely intentional about the keeper of my metaphor—a child. A child cannot be blamed or victimized for being a child. The Church of Corinth was made aware, “When I was a child, I talked like a child; I thought like a child, I [even] reasoned like a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things!” (1 Corinthians 13:11) When will the church and her leadership grow up? The people of God are not shiny new toys, purchased and then handed off to be played with, bullied, butchered, battered, worn and torn and then when they’ve been used up and no longer “appealing” to the eye, tossed off to the side and subsequently thrown away! As a Minister of Worship & Arts, just a few months shy of my twenty-eighth birthday, I do not like what I have seen and we can no longer go on this way. Yes, you may hear the voice and hear the fluency of the chord progressions but do you know what it took to get there? Do you recognize where the gift(s) were originally manufactured and packaged? Do you know what it took to even look appealing because, not everything we purchase is “brand new;” some of it is re-polished and sold again. Musicians, singers, worship leaders, Ministers of Music—do not get bought! Who you are and what you have is NOT FOR SALE! I refuse to sit in another conference or workshop talking and crying over the same things. Un-appreciation and under-appreciation is #real; own it, admit it and let us all go to God in prayer and BIND IT! I do not write to you my dear brothers and sisters from a place of bitterness and anger, but I do write to you with a level of consciousness and heaviness of heart simply tired of the same constant fight that is claiming the lives and the minds (literally and figuratively) of far too many people!

Pastors and leaders, I implore you to actively get to know your people; especially those who serve alongside you. A warm and welcoming, “Good Morning” and “How are you doing” goes a very long way. In many cases, understand that while the Minister of Music may be paid (however large or small), they are not magicians who can produce professional, award-winning singers. However, they do work tirelessly with countless volunteers who express a love, passion and unquestionable commitment to offering their gifts, talents and abilities to the Lord within the household of faith that they currently hold membership.


Elevate Your Thinking

Finally, elevate your thinking from the child-like excitement of getting that “shiny new toy” to the adult reality of purchasing your first car or home or even obtaining a nice piece of fine jewelry. No, it may not have been a mansion or a Rolls Royce; it may not been the highest weighted diamond but whatever the case may be, God blessed you with it and you’d do anything in the world to hold onto it and to protect it. While my comments may be in some way biased, I hope that you can take something from these reflections and join with me in prayer for the awesome task and responsibility that is the office of the Minister of Music. To the one who sits in this seat, yes you—I am talking to you: God sees you! He sees your work and He sees how you are using the many gifts that He has placed inside of you to carry out! He see the tears that you cry and He knows your heart. Always remember that you are a real person with a real heart and with feelings just like everyone else. However, let me be very clear beloved, you are not a toy and you are not under the employ of children! I cannot promise you an eternal absence of hurt, disappointment and occasional discouragement, but what I can promise is that God rewards faithfulness. I sat in my apartment just four years ago and the Lord gave me these words that I have been privileged to record since that time…I want to share them with you and perhaps you’ll consider adding them in your own personal prayer time and devotion:

Hide me behind the cross, hide me behind the cross; so that none of me is seen; only You get all of the glory. Cleanse me now, wash my heart and hide me behind the cross!”

No, there is nothing “new” about the cross; it is old, rugged, battered and torn but it is what happened on that cross that causes us to stand back up when we have been knocked down! It is what happened on that cross that causes us to cherish it forever and always! So friends, don’t just stay at the cross but get behind it and stay there! You may be currently leading and ministering from a hurt place but my encouragement to you my dear brother and sister—do not stay there!



Blogger Rylan A. Harris is Minister of Worship & Arts at Ray of Hope Christian Church in Atlanta, Georgia while he pursues a Master of Religious Leadership with a concentration in Music and Worship at Candler School of Theology. He is a graduate of Hampton University in Virginia.


…sitting around the table music sounds so sweet, ‘til one day I heard the call saying, ‘get up on your feet! –Ken Medema


From the soulful sounds from the house band, Seaux Chill to the radical stylings of keyboardist, Colette “CC” Coward. Or perhaps, it was the timely shared messages from Drs. Christina and Mika Edmondson of Grand Rapids, MI or the impromptu story telling by Urban Doxology’s, David Bailey brilliantly set to music by songwriter extraordinaire, Ken Medema. Or maybe even the intentional yet necessary message of love and hospitality from Professor John Swinton. From the songs to the fellowship, the words of faith, hope, love and joy to the amazing periods of worship down to the quiet moments of reflection, the 2019 Porter’s Gate Worship Project was definitely a record-breaking weekend that no one will ever forget!

There was singing! There was dancing! There was clapping! There was camaraderie! There was study! There was practice! There was the Gospel message! There was prayer! There was unparalleled musicianship! There was community! There were tears! There was—worship!  I do not think that I am qualified to voice the vision of conveners, Isaac & Megan Wardell, of Charlottesville, VA., but I can say

Porter's Gate, Rylan Harris, Praise and Worship, Center for Congregational Song

that I am humbled and tremendously honored to have been invited to participate in perhaps one of the most eye-opening and life-changing weekends of my life.

It is hard to believe that just a few weeks ago, I stepped foot onto an airplane headed in a direction that I have never traveled to before to join my brothers and sisters whom I have never seen or met all for the sole purpose of sitting around the table in total celebration of the gifts, talents, voices and stories that each of us possess. I do not think that time and space will permit me to adequately put into words the incredible time that we all spent together but it is my sincere hope that in reading these reflections, you are enlightened, intrigued and most importantly blessed by our unforgettable experience.

Far too long, the table of fellowship has been segregated. Typically, whenever one writes or reads the word “segregated,” they immediately think of the relationship (or lack thereof) between ethnic groups and genders. However, I would like us to stretch our thoughts to thinking about the ways in which we have disassociated and disconnected ourselves from so many others because our songs sound different or because our expressions of and in worship may not match another. Or because our life experiences cannot be compared, side by side—parallel or horizontal. The vision and the mission carried out by the Porter’s Gate Worship Project changes this philosophy completely by selecting and inviting fifty persons from all over the United States and abroad to come to the meeting table to engage in intense conversation, practical and spiritual formation and reflection.

Brian Hehn, Joslyn Henderson, Rylan Harris, Porters Gate, Center for Congregational Song

After the preliminary work is done, the hands on practicum of each of the participants yields itself to an utterly remarkable three and a half hour collaborative song share that leaves witnesses and listeners in total awe of the unique power of music. Albeit by bus, train, plane, van or car, each of the participants of the project began to arrive on a chilly and rainy Thursday afternoon for what would be one of the greatest culminations of music and word that anyone could ever begin to imagine.

I would like us to stretch our thoughts to thinking about the ways in which we have disassociated and disconnected ourselves from so many others because our songs sound different or because our expressions of and in worship may not match another. – Rylan A. Harris

Dr. Tony McNeil, noted scholar, professor, and director of worship arts; musician, singer, songwriter and composer in a breakout session during the weekend stressed the importance of two vital components that are needed but often sacrificed within our various worship experiences: Proclamation and Response. As pastors, church leaders, musicians, songwriters, composers and most importantly as Christians, we are called to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all whom will hear it (proclamation) and in turn listen to not only the voices of the people but also watch their actions (response) to the message that they have just heard and received. If I were to coin the overall purpose of the Porter’s Gate Worship Project, I would say that its two biggest initiatives are for Proclamation and Response. It was not until the conclusion of Dr. McNeil’s plenary where those of us who listened were able to have a better understanding of our mission when we are praying and listening to God as He guides us in our writing and composing but more importantly, in our own private worship and meditation time with God.

Unlike other conferences, conventions, and workshops, Porter’s Gate chose a very simple but intentional approach to starting our time together. Instead of an informal mixer or meet and greet, so to speak, the weekend started with Praise & Worship. We gathered in a uniquely remodeled and renovated home that was formally a church situated perfectly on a hill and offered songs of adoration, exhortation, faith and preparation to Our God; that’s right—Our God! While we sang, prayed and worshipped together, denominational and cultural barriers were cast down. While we sat together and listened to the Message of Christ from the preachers and teachers among us and the untold stories of those who sat to our left and to our right, the fear of expressing ourselves in unfamiliar territory and the discouraging thoughts of inadequacy and ineffectiveness were dismissed and eliminated from our minds! In that moment, it no longer mattered who we were or where we were from and what brought us individually and collectively to the table. No, at that moment, we were seated in front of an audience of one and that, to me was the greatest display of intentionality that could have ever been displayed.

Professor John Swinton, of Aberdeen, Scotland focused our attention on the words spoken by God as recorded by the Prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 43:18-19, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” I cannot think of a more befitting focus scripture to begin the weekend with than, “…forget the former things…!” I think that it was extremely important for us as ministers, musicians, singers, scholars, writers and parish leaders to understand and to learn firsthand that there is no room for closedmindedness at the table at which we sit both literally and figuratively. Yes, the past is real but we cannot dwell in it. Yes, we have experienced many different levels of hurt, Wendell Kimbrough, Centered in Song, Center for Congregational, Porters Gate, Songwriting Retreatpain and disappointment along the journey, but the important thing is to acknowledge it and move pass it without allowing the residue of it to determine how we interact with others. Swinton admonished us in his teaching that “…there is no such thing as a dislocated soul.” We will never be effective in our ministries if we are not first honest with ourselves that God loved us first and that love is meant to be shared and displayed in every way at all times to any and every one who comes in our pathway.

We are living in a day and time where hate and fear of change surrounds us and meets us at our doorsteps every day of the week. No one wants to participate in having the tough conversations that would probably make us angry or even mad before they make us happy. For many, it is totally okay to remain “separate but equal.” However, this experience in Nashville reshaped that theory altogether by making worship the centerpiece for our discussions and our interactions with one another. We were reminded at every turning point during that weekend that worship is not a sound, it is not a fancy lyric, and it is not a gender, a race, a creed, or a denomination. Worship, is a lifestyle! How I see, relate to and fellowship with my brothers and my sisters whom I do not even know is an act of worship because I do not see strangers but rather extensions of myself.Rylan Harris, Porters Gate, Center for Congregational Song, Nashville, Retreat, Songwriters

I had the opportunity to get to know many people while I was there and the connections formed are invaluable! I remarked at the end of our time together exactly what the atmosphere and the spirit of the entire weekend felt like to me—not a competitive bone in the room! I wholeheartedly believe that God was glorified the way He was because there was no one there seeking glory for themselves! Each of the guests had something to bring to the table; I needed my brother and my sister just as much as they needed me. This spirit hovered over the Art House. This spirit met us in our breakout sessions. This spirit awaited us every time we met for worship and the Word. This spirit carried us back to our homes and various assignments safely and better than we left them. This spirit was indicative of God’s grace—His amazing grace! I am tremendously grateful for the bountiful table set by the generous hosts of the 2019 Porter’s Gate Worship Project!



As we worked toward the launch of The Center over a year ago, we developed a set of guiding stances for the work of The Center for Congregational Song. I’d like to highlight a few of those guiding stances that I think speak to what we hope to accomplish in 2019.




We celebrate the width and depth of variety in the church’s song throughout history, recognizing that each genre, like each culture or each person, brings unique gifts and challenges to the church.

My hope is that in 2019 The Center for Congregational Song will be a cheerleader for the church’s song and all those who work to lead God’s people in song. There is so much to celebrate, but during this time of overwhelming pain and hate it is easy to forget God’s love for us. Our events, while tackling difficult subjects and not shying away from controversy, will be places of celebration of God’s good gift of song and singing together. Likewise, our blogs, podcasts, and other content will be in the spirit of celebrating the goodness that comes from viewpoint diversity and deep listening.



Collaboration and teamwork honors each other’s different gifts and therefore makes everyone stronger by building up partnerships, strengthening relationships, and amplifying each other’s ministries.

My dream for 2019 is that the relationships and partnerships we’ve been building over the last 15 months will bear unexpected and wonderfully creative fruit. As a part of our ecumenical work to build bridges, we have been working hard to learn who is also working to encourage, promote, and enliven congregational song in every denomination, piety, and genre. This year we’re ready to begin building those bridges and already have a couple programs planned that will bring diverse groups of people together to meet, collaborate, and create.



At its best, singing together enables unity when perhaps spoken conversation is difficult or impossible.

Our original blog team [introductions here], made up of Rosa Ramirez, Adam Perez, Ginny Chilton, and myself conceptualized the content for the blog as a place where folk would be sure to find joy, optimism, humility, grace, and contextualization. The posts, like the blog team members, would represent a variety of viewpoints and skill-sets so that throughout the year you might encounter posts that speak directly to your own ministry challenges as well as open your eyes to the challenges and thoughts of others. With that in mind, we’ve expanded our blog team for 2019 to include three more voices. Each person brings a unique perspective that will continue to challenge and inspire us. We’re excited to welcome each of these new members to our team!


The Center for Congregational Song, Centered in Song, Blog, Church Music, Song

Felicia Patton is a lifelong Chicago native. Felicia received an undergraduate degree from North Park University followed by two graduate degrees from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. She was very active while at North Park, having served on worship teams, gospel choir, jazz choir, jazz band, and guitar ensemble. In her previous position, she was the director of traditional worship, where she directed three choirs. Felicia has continued to sing within the Chicago and surrounding areas as a solo artist and with her band, Chicago Soul Revue.


Center for Congregational Song, Centered in Song, Blog, Hampton, Atlanta, Church Music

Min. Rylan Harris is a graduate of Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. While still active with the Hampton Minister’s Conference, he has recently moved to Atlanta, Georgia to pursue a Master of Religious Leadership with a concentration in Music and Worship at Candler School of Theology. He now serves as Minister of Worship & Arts at Ray of Hope Christian Church with Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Cynthia L. Hale. Along with his passion for music ministry, he is a keyboardist, singer, and composer.


Center for Congregational Song, David Bjorlin, Centered in Song, Blog, Singing, Church

David Bjorlin is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) and currently serves as the worship pastor at Resurrection Covenant Church in Chicago. In addition to his role as worship leader, David is a lecturer in worship at North Park University and a published hymnwriter. He holds a PhD in History and Hermeneutics (liturgical studies) from Boston University School of Theology. His academic interests include the history and practice of hymnody/congregational song, the connection between worship and ethics, and the incorporation of children in worship.




We hope you’ll join us in celebrating and collaborating. Here’s to a great 2019!