Fifteen years ago, I was invited to teach as a faculty member at a music conference in Albuquerque, NM. While I was there working with the conference youth choir, I had the joy of becoming acquainted with Dr. Michael Hawn. I knew at the time that Michael was recognized as one of the foremost authorities on global music in the church. By the end of the week, I knew why!
One evening during the week-long event, the camp leadership put him in front of the conference congregation and turned the whole evening session over to him. For 75 minutes, Michael stood alone – though occasionally joined by instrumentalists, soloists, and other feature musicians – and by himself, engaged the congregation in music that ignited my imagination, captured my mind, and set my heart on fire. I had never experienced anything like this in my decades of singing as a church musician. It was transcendent and transformational, to say the least.
Michael taught us to sing songs from Peru, Nigeria, Bosnia, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Portugal, and Pakistan. He taught us to make rhythms indigenous to South Africa, Cuba, Korea, Australia, and Alaska.
Over the past three decades, there has been discussion ad nauseam about what it takes to effectively involve and engage a congregation in the worship of God. What I experienced that night changed my view forever. This service was led by a master teacher who loved God with all his heart, a worship leader who understood the nature and behavior of congregations, whose leadership was stellar in its effect but never the least bit manipulative or self-seeking.
So, why am I bringing up something that happened in 1998? I do so because, last weekend, I had the opportunity to work with Michael Hawn again, this time in San Diego. This event was the San Diego Choristers Guild Children’s and Youth Choir Festival. Michael directed the children. It was my pleasure and privilege to conduct the teenagers.
At the Festival Concert in the middle of Sunday afternoon, Michael and the children miraculously led a packed congregation at Point Loma Presbyterian Church in a ten-minute segment of global music. High above the congregation, standing in the choir loft, I watched and listened again in utter amazement as the congregation did: right step, close, left step, close and sang the rafters down on a previously unfamiliar song of exuberant praise which had originated far, far away. I didn’t watch for long, however, for I was caught up in the contagious spirit of praising God. Congas blazed, children sang their hearts out, teenagers caught on like lightning, and a 700-person congregation moved right and left, sang powerfully and smiled broadly. No one sat it out. We were all moved and moving.
“I will sing with the SPIRIT, and I will sing with the understanding also,” said the Apostle Paul.
Look to the future, my singing friends … if I have anything to say about it, you will soon see Michael Hawn helping lead YouthCUE events across the country. It’s coming soon! And when it does, none of us will ever be the same again!
Now that’s leadership in worship! Oh that more of our corporate worship leaders would aspire to be teachers rather than performers. If and when that happens, we will find our congregations to be much healthier and eternally more engaged.