Explaining his heartfelt sense of calling, Andy Donaldson said that he first ventured into music just so he could help lead worship.
Now the West Michigan native is worship leader at The Ridge, a developing church plant on Fruit Ridge Ave. NW in suburban Grand Rapids.
And he continues to develop his skills on a variety of fronts.
“I know from a musical standpoint I’ve grown a lot in the past year of being here (at The Ridge),” said Donaldson during a phone interview.
“Part of that has to do with being able to ‘read’ people in worship – to see what they’re responding to,” he said of the worship leader role he began in the fall of 2012.
TASKS OF A WORSHIP LEADER
Donaldson is responsible for selecting music, gathering worship team volunteers, and rehearsing and leading the church’s Sunday morning worship.
“Like with most smaller churches, you work with the people you have,” he said of the worship team which usually has three members, including Donaldson on guitar.
The church averages between 25-30 in worship, an opportunity for a more intimate relationship between leader and congregation.
The Ridge church began about two years ago. Their previous music leader had a style quite different from Donaldson’s. So he started from square one, building a workable song repertoire.
Several of the song favorites currently: “How He Loves” (popularized by David Crowder), “Cornerstone” and the Matt Maher tune “Lord, I Need You.”
“I usually try to introduce a new song every month or two, or (share) one that seems to fit well a certain Sunday,” he noted.
Donaldson say he averages 10 hours per week in his usual duties. There is more when there are special programs, such as the “Ridgefest” music festival last summer which featured four bands on the performing stage. (He hopes to make it an annual event).
The Ridge pastor Andy Parker notes that Donaldson’s helpful attitude runs deep.
“He has all the things you look for in a worship leader,” said Parker.
“A deep love for Jesus, a deep compassion for people and a deep commitment to continually refine the musical gifts that God has given him.”
Donaldson’s compensation is not a typical paycheck. He lives in the congregation’s nearby “Discipleship House” where his rent is subsidized by the church.
Donaldson graduated from Forest Hills Central High School and headed up to Ferris State to study advertising. He underwent a spiritual transformation during his freshman year via a student ministry at the Big Rapids campus.
“I actually got into music to help lead worship – I started learning guitar that first year,” he recalled.
He played both guitar and bass and contributed vocals for worship at a Big Rapids church.
“When I started leading worship here (at The Ridge) I decided to take singing more seriously in getting my vocals up to par,” Donaldson said of his current regimen of both vocal and piano lessons.
It’s not that the worship leader has a lot of spare time. He works full time at Eerdman’s Publishing (in the e-book department) and is also a student at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary seeking a Masters in counseling.
The worship leader’s diligence has also attracted the church pastor’s attention.
“His desire to learn and grow spiritually is contagious,” Parker said.
THE ROAD AHEADUnlike many church plants in their first few years, The Ridge already has a church building for worship, avoiding the constant “set up and take down” of many young churches which are renting school or other facilities.
“Our (attendance) numbers have fluctuated enough that it’s hard to project growth,” Donaldson said.
“But the people who come and stay just love it.”
The worship leader has a great relationship with the pastor, and the pair has done planning and some church marketing together.
“I have largely a free hand in selecting music and to do what I feel is best,” Donaldson noted.
“And he (Parker) is pretty flexible, too.”
Donaldson is careful to choose music that espouses good theology, to reinforce what is being proclaimed in the pulpit.
“(The pastor) realizes that when people leave the church building on Sunday mornings, what’s playing in their heads is not always the words of the sermon, but the music.”
Who: Andy Donaldson, 25, single
What: Worship Leader
Where: The Ridge Covenant Church, 4453 Fruit Ridge Ave. NW, Grand Rapids, www.twitter.com/ridgecovenant, www.facebook.com/RidgeCovenant
How: selecting music, planning, rehearsing and leading worship on Sunday mornings
Philosophy on the role of music arts in worship: “Music plays a huge role in not only making a joyful noise to the Lord and thanking Him in that way, but also sort of “preaching” theology through song. You must be careful that the words you’re singing are true and affirm your theology.”