Marco Barrientos

Mexican worship leader Marco Barrientos abandoned his dream of becoming a veterinarian when he dedicated his life to Christ at the age of 17. That’s when he sensed God calling him into music ministry—and he hasn’t stopped singing since. “Singing became the main way for me to connect with the presence of God,” he says.

Now after releasing 26 CDs and receiving a Latin Grammy Award nomination last year for Viento + Fuego (Wind + Fire), he plans to release his first English project, Joy in Your Presence, this month. “My two passions in life are leading people in worship and sharing the principles of the gospel in an applicable, practical way,” says Barrientos, who also is pastor of Centro Internacional Aliento in Dallas.

Still, the 43-year-old father of two is best known for his dynamic praise and worship music, which is infused with rhythmic Latin percussion. He believes worship should be spontaneous and led by the Spirit.

“Nowadays there are many churches where worship time has become three praise songs, one midtempo song and three worship songs,” he says. “Everything is so firmly structured. … It’s like we’ve planned and premeditated everything to the point where there is no room left for a spiritual expression of worship.

“To sing a new song is to sing a prayer to the Father. … It’s something that comes from the heart at that moment we are worshiping.”

LaMar Boschman

In the late 1970s when LaMar Boschman first began leading worship, most of the choruses sung in charismatic churches were what he calls “horizontal”; they talked about God, not to God. From that time until the present, he has been committed to teaching people the purpose for worship through his worship albums, books and the International Worship Institute (IWI) he founded 20 years ago next month. “It’s not the art, it’s the heart,” Boschman says. “What [God] reads during our worship is the inner attitude. Worship is spiritual; it’s organic; it’s relational.”

Based in Texas, IWI holds worship seminars all over the world, with one weeklong master course held annually. Former instructors make up a who’s who of worship leaders, including Israel Houghton, Paul Baloche, Matt Redman, Darrel Evans and Chris Tomlin. More than 50 alumni are expected to participate in IWI’s anniversary conference in Dallas July 3-7.

Boschman remembers when worship didn’t get widespread radio airplay and have top-selling CDs. And though there is good in that trend, he cautions against viewing worship as a style of music. “It’s not tangible; it’s an attitude of the heart,” he says. “We need to get back to our innocence. Remember: Worship is spiritual. … You gotta mean it. You haven’t prepared yourself for worship if you just practice art.”

Danilo Montero

Considered one of Latin America’s Christian music pioneers, Danilo Montero has recorded more than 17 albums since he began leading worship at the age of 20, and he plans to release two more this year. Now 43, the Costa Rican singer leads pop-rock worship at concerts worldwide and is known for intense praise and worship songs such as “El Es El Rey” (He Is the King), “La Casa De Dios” (God’s House) and “Eres Todopoderoso” (You Are Almighty).

Montero lives in central Florida, where he leads Sígueme (Follow Me), a music production company he started in 1983. Also a ministry, Sígueme organizes international worship retreats to inspire and motivate leaders in the Hispanic church.

Montero grew up with a physically abusive father, and he believes he’s called to use his music to bring restoration to broken hearts. “I want people to get closer to God, I want them to know that He’s near and I want them to love and follow Him,” he says. “I desire the healing of hearts that have been hurt by the past.”

Montero says he thanks God for healing his own heart and helping him to forgive his father. He says he values the peace and stability deliverance from a broken heart can bring and desires that freedom for all Christians. Says Montero: “The music, dancing and lights don’t mean anything if they don’t lead us to a change of heart.”

Rita Springer

Between spending time with her new baby and singing at international conferences, Rita Springer says she doesn’t have time for flashy, artificial worship. “It’s about relationship,” she says, “and if I’m going to tell the Lord I love Him, I’m going to do it with all I have.”

The passionate alto is celebrated for her genuine, personal expression heard in songs such as “You Said” and “Oh How You Love Me” from her All I Have album. Besides playing the piano and writing songs, the 38-year-old Texas-based vocalist can be found leading worship at Fragrant Oil conferences, a women’s ministry she started in 2000. But Springer believes worship is about much more than music; it’s about obedience. In May 2004, she felt God calling her to adopt.

After months of struggling with the idea of being a single mom, Springer realized, “When you say yes to God, a supernatural thing is released.” So on December 1, 2004, Springer welcomed her African baby boy, Justice, into her life. “He teaches me about worship,” she says of her 18-month-old son. “You can call yourself a worship leader, but who do you worship? God said, ‘If you worship Me, you’ll obey Me.’”

Her latest project, I Have to Believe, is all about declaring faith in God’s promises. “The Bible says that you must believe,” she says. “It’s not optional, and that belief includes moving and taking steps that you don’t understand.”

Joel Houston

Although the church his parents pastor is famous for its music ministry, Joel Houston didn’t intend for its youth group to make records. “The reason we first recorded a United album in 1999 was simply that there was an overflow of songs being written by the youth,” he says.

Each week some 3,000 young people participate in United, the youth ministry of Hillsong Church based in Sydney, Australia. And while Houston, 26, provides creative oversight, he says all the youth help produce the live worship projects that are recorded annually during Hillsong’s Encounterfest youth conference.

“Our desire is to ... see the younger guys in our team equipped and released into their gifting,” says Houston, son of Hillsong pastors Brian and Bobbie Houston. “We want the younger generation to be taking what we’re doing and make it seem tiny in comparison to what they are achieving for God in the years to come.”

Even though the group leads worship in places such as Japan, England and Colombia, United’s priority is Sydney. “All we do is centered on building our local church and reaching the youth in our community,” Houston says. “This has always been our focus. And the incredible thing is, in the midst of this God has opened the door for us to have incredible influence by His grace across the earth.”

Byron Cage

Byron Cage knows a thing or two about blazing trails. In 1987, when he began working at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, he says even its pastor, Bishop Eddie Long, had never heard of a praise team. Cage was given the opportunity to lead worship, but churchgoers accustomed to singing traditional hymns were uncomfortable with the idea. “People said we were trying to be a white church … but you know, worship has no color,” Cage says. “Worship is the lifestyle of someone who wants to be closer to God.”

Today Cage is known for his role in popularizing praise and worship among mainline African-American churches. His song “Shabach” helped advance the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship movement. Today Cage has recorded four albums and juggles leading worship at both New Birth and Ebenezer A.M.E Church in Maryland. But he doesn’t complain. “This is my calling,” he says, “to create songs of worship that people all over the country can sing in a genuine desire to enter into His presence.”