New Heights

[posted by Bobby Harrison]

Leading on another Sunday morning

The Elevators, leading at the Rafters

Early in the summer of 2008, Eric and Cynthia Schultz approached me about their son Derek.  They said Derek constantly played his guitar in his bedroom at home and that they could really see him helping with a student-led worship band at some point.  I thanked them for the tip and the nudge, and began to do a little homework of my own.  I soon discovered that a few of his closest friends and fellow soon-to-be 9th graders played other instruments, and that if we could put them all together, we just might have a little worship band.  By the end of summer, we finally decided to assemble this ensemble and see just what we had.

On a hot August afternoon, four boys strolled into the rafters.  Austin Heffington with a guitar, Andrew Heffington on bass, Michael Hall on drums (reluctantly, I must add), and Derek Schultz on guitar and vocals.  The guys plugged in and played their way through a song together.  The words “played together” are used loosely here.  It was more like some sort of experimental jazz cut from the late 70s where everyone was just playing their own thing.  It was abstract art.  It left you with far more questions than answers.  But the two most important questions, “Was there any potential?” and  “Would this be worth it?” were answered quite immediately.  I knew there was something there.  If Derek would just sing out…if Michael would play those drums with real confidence, if Austin and Andrew would just get along (just kidding…sort of)…there would certainly be something there!

The guys practiced for quite some time, regularly showing up on Wednesdays after school.  Sometimes I really guided them and stopped them mid-song.  Sometimes I sat back and really let them work it out.  All the time I began to see each emerge in a different role.   Within a few months, the guys were leading on a consistent basis at elevate, our middle school ministry for 6-8th grade students.   Not just playing, mind you.  These guys were begging to really lead.

Towards the end of the year, they decided it was time to shake things up a bit.  Michael had had enough with the percussion and decided it was time to take up guitar.  Thus they threw another friend into the mix.  Caleb Herndon sat behind the kit, Michael began playing little guitar riffs, and immediately I knew that we’d found the perfect mix.  Austin and Andrew seemed comfortable on their instruments (and with each other!) and Derek Schultz began to sing in a way that even moved his high school peers.

I write all of this because a week ago at New Community, our little band, The Elevators, got the call up to the big leagues.  They were asked to open and close the evening in front of our whole church body.  They practiced the day before in The Lookout and you could already sense the nerves they were bound to feel the next night.  But they really sounded good.  I was getting excited for everyone to see what I’d been so privileged to be a part of.  It was one of those moments where you’re just grateful God let you be a part of something.

Wednesday night, 5pm.  The boys show up and run thru their songs.  The first one is perfect.  They nail it.  The second?  It just doesn’t have the same energy they normally have when they play it.  About 30 minutes before they’re up to play in front of the largest group they’ve ever played in front of, I throw them a curve ball.  What about playing a different song instead of the one you’ve been practicing?  Like deer in headlights they froze.  But one by one, they slowly decided on a song they’d played a million times for the middle school students.  They rallied together, ran through it a few times, and found a new skip in their step.

A few hours later and I’m at home lying down in bed.  I’m just smiling with a bit of pride thinking of how well my guys did.  They’d been a success and played their hearts out.  Not only that, but they’d “played together.”  It’d probably been exactly a year since the group of us was in the Rafters together.  I was no longer looking for ear plugs.  Instead, I was trying to think of a way to get these young guys to stick together all thru high school, to lead students for years to come, to travel to other churches one day, to record their own worship material…and on and on until I peacefully fell asleep.  The Elevators had certainly reached new heights, and I just pray they keep on climbing.

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