by Koby Johns

   First Pres. was the last stop in a church hunting tour that lasted the better part of 2006. At FPC, Stacy and I found a generationally-diverse community that had seemed to steer clear of the “Cult of Personality’ that is characteristic of so many evangelical churches. People here were genuine, engaged, and thoughtful. Word got out that I had a guitar and a heart for worship and before too long I found myself filling in from time to time with “Elleven,” one of the second service worship bands. This in turn gave way to regular playing and eventually... leading worship in 2nd service.

    Leading worship at First Pres. has been life giving to me in many ways. Perhaps the most of which is the bond I’ve formed with the various members of the worship band. There is an inherent risk when you decide to stand up in front of people and expose yourself musically. It could all go terribly wrong, and on occasion, has. Even though you’re in the company of a friendly congregation, humiliation is always a possibility. You may forget the lyrics, play the wrong chord, break a string, play in the wrong time signature, etc.  This potential for mishap lends itself to a deep level of camaraderie amongst band mates as each person must commit themselves to the task and accept the associated risk of embarrassment. I treasure the friendships developed while leading worship at First Pres. and have found them to be an anchor both spiritually and relationally over the last decade.

    The flip side of the riskiness of worship leading is the exhilaration of having a front row seat to the Holy Spirit’s movement among God’s people. It is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. In some ways it reminds me of sailing; how you can feel the strength of the wind when a vessel comes under the power of a full sail and the transfer of energy is felt directly in your hands. In that moment you are fully aware that you are under the influence of something tremendously greater. You grip the main line intently in one hand, the helm in the other, trying earnestly to stay in the groove cut by the wind’s phantom force. When the Spirit of God blows on the Church, you feel it. You hear it. You see it. The voice of the congregation becomes magnified, people’s body language changes, you hear spontaneous prayers and songs bubble up throughout the pews. It’s the complete opposite of how you can feel and perceive tension or awkwardness in room. When God moves within a worship service, you feel anticipation, acceptance, and gratitude. Over the last 12 years I’ve witnessed our congregation react to these divine movements many times and I am increasingly thankful for those opportunities.

   As many of you know my “day job” is that of a fire captain with the Fresno Fire Department. It’s a career that is both fulfilling and challenging. One such challenge is the amount of time spent away from my family and my church. Our work schedule is called a 48/96 shift, which means I go to work 48 hours at a time. This translates into the simple fact that at a minimum, a third of my life is spent away from home. Last year the time spent away at a fire house or fire camp grew to nearly six months. That is a lot of time to be away from the people you love most and combined with the demands of leading worship, it’s just become more than I feel that I can adequately handle. As our family has grown into an adolescent life stage, I feel an increased need to be present and engaged both as a husband and father.  I’ve been mulling this decision over for about a year and a half and come to this point in the confidence that I am being faithful to the Lord’s leading. I am however sad, as leading worship is something I love, but I am excited for the course I believe the Spirit of God is setting for our family and our church. Stacy and I have no plans to leave First Pres. To the contrary; we are in the midst of discerning where God would have us serve next. Thank you for the trust and vulnerability you’ve extended to me as one of your worship leaders, it has been a true honor.