I remember learning how to play guitar by jamming with my friends every Sunday after church. We had just been introduced to “contemporary” worship music from attending a youth group retreat the summer before, and now that we were new Christians we wanted to learn how to play and lead worship music.
I loved those early days of poring through songbooks, with nothing but a guitar and our voices, and singing our hearts out to the Lord. It seemed so simple and so pure. I felt alive and hungry for Jesus, and I longed to worship and know him so intimately through those jam sessions. I also bought every recording of every worship artist I discovered. I remember going to the Christian bookstore and seeing signs that read, “If you like (insert secular artist here), you’ll love (insert imitation Christian artist here).” Later on, it became all about catching the newest praise and worship music at the mega-church. I lived in Atlanta so it was pretty common for worship artists to breeze through town and debut a new worship song. Even in the seasons of life where I wasn’t a fan of contemporary worship music, I was always aware of its presence every Sunday.
As time went on, I began to notice two main things that made me feel a bit confused…
First of all, I noticed that all the songs were really hard to sing for ladies. Every song was in an impossible key, originally created for guys to lead, which meant that I had to sing in a falsetto voice to sing the melody. I always sounded weaker next to guys who could sing very confidently in those keys. It was much better for me to just harmonize if I wanted to be heard at all. Even if I changed the key, the jumps would be so high that it was next to impossible to fit the entire vocal range that the guys could do. So my choices were to either sing the melody and sound like a little choir girl, or to sing harmony. Did this mean that ladies were fated to being mere background vocalists in worship ministry?
Second, I realized that all the worship music I owned was created by two or three artists/bands. And of those artists/bands, most were men. White men, to be exact. I didn’t see very many women, and I certainly didn’t see any Asian women leaders. I didn’t see anyone representing me and my experience in church leadership, and it made me wonder if the way that I saw things as a woman mattered. Did this mean that people like me weren’t talented enough or good enough to sing and create worship music?
I don’t know why it took me so long to notice these things, but I came to the stark realization that since the beginning of my Christian life, I had been conditioned to think that worship leaders were primarily men. White men, to be more specific. I was heavily influenced by one type of music sung by one type of voice. This influence extended into churches as well, and because of this I experienced a lot of opposition and lack of support when I led worship in various settings. Wouldn’t it be great if the expression of worship reflected the vastness of the Kingdom, instead of limiting our imaginations?
I felt confident that God placed on my heart a calling to be a worship leader. But I hate that I came up against such feelings of inadequacy because I didn’t have a man’s voice, had very few role models, and was trying to do something that few others had done before.
I can only hope that things continue changing for women, and that’s why I’m so excited to be a part of ProjectWOW. I can’t wait to share with you some great lessons I’ve learned along the way, and some amazing women worship leaders I’ve come across. I have hope when I see people like Tanya Riches making waves and changing things for women in worship from a global level. I have hope that Ashley Beckford’s overall vision for this network will spark a million conversations and lead to real change from a roots level. I’ve admired Nikki Lerner’s work in multicultural music ministry from afar and am so honored to be a part of this group with her. And I’m excited to hear from all of you! I hope that we can encourage each other and lift each other up during this exciting time of change.