A Passion for His Presence
These 12 trend-setting music ministers have one aim-to bring listeners to a deeper place of worship.
BY: Jomili Noble
The Christian musicians profiled below are part of a growing number of popular artists who are using their talents to serve others by both entertaining through their art, and spreading the word of God.
About seven years ago, worship leader Vicki Yohe had an epiphany. “It hit me: [God is] actually in the room [during worship],” she says. “When I begin to magnify the King of kings, things I say to Him can cause Him to rise to His feet.”
She says that revelation has changed her outlook on worship—and life. “I often say this at my concerts: ‘The miracle that you need in your life is on the other side of your worship. If you knew what was on the other side, you’d go ahead and press. You’d forget about how tired you are or what you’ve been through.’”
Yohe, 40, grew up singing in her father’s church, in a gospel-influenced style that still marks her music. Though her song “Mercy Seat” was wildly popular during the Brownsville Revival, she didn’t begin to see six-figure record sales until her music was marketed to gospel radio stations.
Today she ministers mostly in African-American churches, which she believes is part of God’s plan to break down the walls between black and white Christians.
Last year, Yohe began a new chapter in her life and ministry when she and her husband, Troy Hodges, opened an orphanage in Jinji, Uganda. The couple also welcomed their first child, Walker Winston Hodges, a biracial baby boy they adopted through Ohio pastor Darlene Bishop’s Home for Life.
Yohe says her ministry vision is simple: “I’m there [in churches] to lead people into the presence of God,” she says. “When you realize He’s in the building, it changes your life.”
If you believe science and worship are incompatible, David Crowder might make you think twice. He began leading worship with the David Crowder Band (DCB) in 1996, when the group of former Baylor University students helped found University Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, in an effort to reach college students who were disenchanted with the church.
Since signing a record deal with Sixstepsrecords in 2002, DCB has become one of the nation’s leading worship bands, touring with Michael W. Smith, MercyMe and Third Day, and participating in various Passion projects including the live recording, Passion: Everything Glorious, which released in April.
The band is known for its open lyrics and unique alternative-rock sound, but DCB’s appeal among both churched and unchurched 20-somethings may be linked to its use of science and technology. In its Illuminate album, DCB translates science about the physics of light into revelation about God and creation. With that release, the group also packaged software that enabled fans to mix their own tracks at home.
DCB drew inspiration for its newest project, A Collision, from a book on atomic energy, and the entire recording was documented on the Internet through the use of webcams. When the CD was complete, DCB invited all the fans who had watched the process online to a celebration barbecue at Crowder’s home.
Crowder believes this type of modern interaction can change the face of worship. “My hope for worship … is this: A kid can record a record in his room and share it with his friends—I want that to be able to happen in the church,” Crowder says. “Something put together on a computer and suddenly it’s sitting on someone else’s desktop miles and miles away. It could be huge for unity in the church.”
A full-time minister since 1989, Israel Houghton is known for his dynamic, cross-cultural praise songs. When he’s not touring with New Breed, the worship band he co-founded, the 35-year-old father of three can be found leading worship at Lakewood Church in Houston.
But whether at home or on the road, Houghton is sharing a new outlook on worship, which he gained after a season of “unlearning” what “normal” church was.
“Having grown up in the church and seeing some fairly legalistic ways of doing church, I had a somewhat shallow view of worship,” he says. “I thought worship was where you just sing some songs telling God how great He was and ask Him for help with some problem, and that was it.
“I started understanding what it meant to be a friend of God, and it changed my whole view of worship. We have the privilege of talking with God and hearing Him speak to us. It’s not a monologue.”
Today Houghton says he’s writing more declarative songs, such as “Friend of God” and “No Limits,” which he says is helping to build listeners’ faith. “People are saying, ‘The more I say [the song lyrics], the more I believe it, the more I’m walking it out,’” he says. “I have a tremendous responsibility as a worship leader to write the words people wish to say.”
Although he was not raised in a churchgoing family, gospel artist Kurt Carr started attending services on his own at the age of 13 and eventually got involved in music ministry. He found a mentor in gospel artist Richard Smallwood and later worked with gospel music pioneers James Cleveland and Andraé Crouch.
Today, after spending 12 years as creative music director at West Angeles Church of God in Christ, Carr and his ensemble, the Kurt Carr Singers, are prominent in their own right, having popularized such songs as the Grammy-winning “For Every Mountain” and the international hit “In the Sanctuary.”
In 2005 Carr broke from his typical style of contemporary gospel to create One Church. With help from a South African choir, an Armenian accordionist and Scottish bagpipers Carr introduced an exotic blend of musical styles ranging from classical to R&B to tango.
“It was very important to me to draw on the talents of people with different races, ages, nationalities and doctrinal backgrounds—all to solidify the theme and the truth that we are one church in Christ,” Carr says. “Worship isn’t black or white; worship is universal.”
Jason Upton isn’t a household name, but that’s OK with him. “Worship is intimate, vulnerable and non-manipulative,” says the Milwaukee-based worship leader. “I don’t try to conjure up anything, even a response from people.”
Upton, 32, has been singing in churches since he was 15. He started leading worship in a small room in his house with family and friends. Then in 2000, he was recognized nationally when he sang at The Call prayer event in Washington, D.C. Today, he has released seven worship recordings that are all marked by his energetic piano playing and extended improvisational lyrics. And he is working on a new project that is scheduled to release this fall.
Although he doesn’t have any radio “hits,” he says his songs are significant for other reasons. “I like honest, raw and real music, music that tells the truth,” he says.
Upton emphasizes this message on the CD Dying Star. “Stars rise and fall, but sons don’t,” he says. “God has raised up a generation of sons and daughters, not a generation of superstars. But as long as we continue trying to be ‘someone’ or ‘something’ we will never be anything of worth to God.”
After serving as worship leader at West Angeles Church of God in Christ for 17 years, Judith Christie-McAllister moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to begin teaching others about praise and worship.
“I believe that the ultimate form of worship is walking in the purpose for which God has created the individual,” she says of the transition. “Discover what God has preordained for you to be and walk fully in it. There you will find worship.”
Christie-McAllister developed a passion for praise and worship in the 1980s as a student at Oral Roberts University. Since then she has been featured on five West Angeles recordings, including the popular Saints in Praise series, and has released three albums of her own.
She says the completion of her latest project, In His Presence, a live recording finished in just two months, has reminded her of God’s faithfulness to accomplish His plans. “The quickness with which this project came to be is a testament to what the Lord is doing in these final days,” she says. “I want to encourage my fellow siblings in the Lord that what they have been believing God for will manifest with an intense velocity as they remain in His presence.”