Joshua Swanson: Welcome to the Walk; a devotionals podcast led by worship leaders. In this episode, Gatherhouse Worship Leader, pastor, songwriter, and soon to be daddy for the first time, congratulations, Ryan; Ryan Kennedy tells us how God brought him to the radical realization that he wanted nothing to do with anything unless it had everything to do with Jesus.
Here we go.
Ryan Kennedy: Well, hey, my name is Ryan Kennedy. I, uh, started uh little thing with all my friends in Houston, Texas, um, we call it Gatherhouse and our heartbeat is really just to create a place where day and night and night and day, um, the Lord is being glorified, um, and lifted high. And, um, we consider ourselves a, a house of prayer for all people.
And, uh, we just love what the Lord has asked us to do. And, you know, where we’ve gotten to now, uh, it’s been a long journey for me since I felt the call of the Lord all my life. Today I just felt led to share about identity and image and really what the Lord has taught me through my life since I met the Lord and just what He’s taught me over the past, man, 10, 12 years as he’s developed me into who I am and I know and I know, uh, that who I am today is what he’s asked me to. I wouldn’t be able to do it, um, faithfully and honorably if I hadn’t been taken on the journey that he took me on.
I grew up in Houston and um, I, uh, I’ve always loved music and, uh, when I was young, my sisters were in musical theater and I’d sit in the crowd and, and my eyes were just fixed on the orchestra director.
I just, there was something about when 50, 60, 70 instruments all played together and I couldn’t keep my eyes off of the, the wand and the and director’s hand and how that one man was conducting this incredible sound coming out of the pit. And I just remember sitting there at 7, 8, 9, 10 years old saying, I don’t know how, but I just want to be that guy. I just want to be in that and, um, so at a really young age, I started to really pursue heavily music composition and orchestration and studied books out of the Julliard Library on, um, how to arrange for orchestras. And I just loved that world. And by the time I was 15, I was a musical director in Houston, Texas, and at some of the biggest theaters in the city.
I just loved, uh, loved what I got to do, and when I was 15, one of my friends just kind of as a joke he said, “Ryan, you should write a musical.” And, and I said, “okay, uh, I will.” And so it took me a year, but I wrote 22 song score and whole libretto and didn’t know what was gonna happen with it, but I just started writing and ended up with a full show and we put it on there in Houston and little did I know they, the theater that we did the workshop at, invited some folks out in New York to see it and um, all three producers that came out of New York wanted to produce it and bring it off Broadway. And I was 17 and my life was just kind of snowballing into this thing that I just didn’t even know what was happening.
But I was like, “Hey, I’m on my way to the top. So, here we go.” And, uh, right in the middle of it all, what looked like I was having the time of my life from the outside, I was actually struggling with some of the deepest, uh, anxiety attacks that I had ever experienced in my whole life. And so, it looked like I had everything going for me from the outside, but um, on the inside, I was never closer to wanting to end it all.
It was right at that moment, because the Lord is good and he’s kind, um, he met me right in the middle of that moment and, uh, really plucked me out and saved me from, I believe a, a journey that would have landed me, um, not in a good place. I met the Lord in a moment of true worship. The presence of God surrounded me so tangibly.
It’s as real as you spoke to me right now, or someone in this room next to me spoke to me and I heard him say, “Ryan, I love you and I don’t care what you’ve done. I don’t care where you’ve been, but I love you.” And just that fact alone changed my life completely. And it was true. Like the hymn says, the things of this world grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.
And the next day, I literally woke up and I wanted nothing to do with anything if it didn’t have everything to do with Jesus. And so I asked him, I said, I don’t even know how to pray, but I want to, I wanna serve you. I love you and I wanna serve you. And you’ve given me the ability to write songs and to be a musician and a singer and I just wanna serve you and, uh, in his kindness, and uh, cuz he has a will for our lives. He put me across the table from lots of incredible people who, you know, came behind me and really helped steward my artistry and my ministry.
But this is kind of where, where it comes in. I don’t think I ever really took the time to ask the Lord, what exactly are you asking of me? I just kind of kept running after this thing that has been presented to us as, uh, artistry, as releasing music. And, uh, you know, I don’t think I had ever took the time to actually find out who I was in Christ. And so, I just started to try to take on the identity and the giftings of everyone that I saw around me that was having success in the world.
And I’d look at the worship leaders on, um, Christian radio and on, you know, videos that I watched and I’d be like, well, that must be what I need to do in order to fulfill this call on my life. And I remember so vividly, I, I took a meeting with a company, uh, and I remember I walked in and, and I started playing songs for them and, um, started to tell them about who I was, and I remember that they then started to tell me who they thought I was; the kind of artist that they thought I was. And they started to try to tell me who I should be and what I should look like and how I should dress and what type of songs I should sing. And they said, this is, this is how we see you becoming successful if you wear this kind of clothes and you sing this kind of songs.
And, and I remember walking out of that meeting and I had never been more defeated in my whole life because I just thought, I, I can’t be that, that’s not who I am and from that moment on, I decided that I was not gonna try to be anything other than what the Lord had asked of me, Ryan Kennedy to be. And, uh, and, and the Lord has taught me that when we start to try to put an image on ourselves, that’s not the image God has given us. It’s a corrupted image cuz we’re taking pieces of other people’s image and we’re trying to put them on ourselves and it just doesn’t fit right because we were never meant to wear that. We were meant to be uniquely and beautifully who God has asked us to be. Uh, and ultimately we’re all called to be conformed daily into the image of Christ.
And so it’s like what Paul says, it’s no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And, and I actually, I have that tattooed on my arm, because that so impacted me at such a deep way that I said I’m not gonna wear any other identity. I’m not gonna try to be any other image than the image that I have been asked to be. And it’s ultimately the image of Christ in me, but it’s also what God has asked of me.
Joshua Swanson: When we come back, Ryan encourages all of us to stop trying to wear the image we see in someone else and instead to step into what God has created specifically for us.
Well, this is the top of the year and it’s time for those annoying New Year’s resolutions. If you didn’t already know, over at worshipleader.com, we have pages and pages of amazing content that should help you formulate those goals around what God has for you instead of the opinions of our culture. Check out worshipleader.com for some encouragement this year, and be sure to subscribe to our email list to stay informed on upcoming events and new content.
One more reminder, please check out the Worship Leader Institute. There is so much fantastic content up there, and this year we’re launching an amazing 1-on-1 coaching program headed by Willow Creek alumni Joe Horness that is sure to be a transformative experience. So, check out worshipleaderinstitute.com for more information.
Okay, back to Ryan.
Ryan Kennedy: I encourage worship leaders and, and, and even those who aren’t even in the arts, God has given us each a specific and unique calling, and he’s gifted us individually with specific gifts and he’s put us in specific circles, and he’s opened specific doors that only he could open. Only he could build those communities around us.
And we have been asked to walk fully in the call that God has given us. And so, I encourage you, wherever you are, if you’re trying to wear the image of someone else, stop. Can I be honest with you? Stop. It will burn you out and it’s not what God has for you. He has asked you to be uniquely you and you know what this world tries to tell us that success is defined by how many number one singles we get or how many followers we have on Instagram, or all sorts of metrics that Jesus doesn’t care about. Jesus wants our hearts. Jesus wants you to say, I’m yours. He wants your ‘Yes’ and ultimately, you know, you might not end up with a blue check mark next to your name, and you might not end up on the stage at an award show, but you’ll be happier than you’ve ever been because when we’re inside the heartbeat of God’s will for our lives, there is an abundance of joy and an abundance of peace that we will, we forfeit when we try to pursue anything other than the will that he has asked for us to do.
And so, can I just be honest with you and transparent with you? This is the story of my life. I’ve walked this journey for 10 years. I walked into doors that I shouldn’t have walked through, and I ended up in, in rooms that I shouldn’t have ended up in because I was trying to be something other than what God has asked of me. In Houston, we’re doing something and I, I’m functioning in a way, sometimes I don’t even lead anymore. I’m just facilitating a gathering of believers and, and that feels a little funny to me cuz I’m like, wait a minute, where’s my guitar? Where’s my microphone? I, I’m a singer. I’m a vocalist, but I’ll tell you this, I’ve never felt like I’ve been more inside the will of God for my life. I’ve never had more joy and more peace.
I’ve never felt more fully grounded in what God has asked me to do than I am right now and it doesn’t make sense to my flesh cuz it’s different from what I thought I was and it’s different from maybe how I would’ve even planned it to be. I tell Charity all the time, Charity’s my incredible wife, I say, “I don’t know why I’m doing this, it isn’t how I would’ve planned it, but I know God’s plans for me are greater, and he who started something good in me is faithful to complete it.”
And so, I know that he started something in me and he’s completing it now. He will continue to be completing it until the day that I look upon his face. But if I could say anything to encourage you, lean back in the rest that God has already ordered every. God has already gifted you and only you to do something that you and only you can do for his kingdom. And so, in your prayer times, just ask the Lord, “Lord, what do you want from me?” Not what do I want. It’s never been about what we want. It’s, we need to, we need to be working and moving in the will of God for our lives.
And so, I can tell you from personal experience, you will never find more joy and more purpose and more peace than when you are smack dab in the heartbeat of God’s will for your life. And so, if I can be of any encouragement to you, it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us. So, let him fill you to abundance. Let his will for your life, direct you and guide you and I promise you, you will find a joy that is immeasurable and a piece that goes beyond understanding. So be blessed in Jesus name.
Joshua Swanson: God has started something and he’s faithful to complete it. We will play out this episode with a song that Ryan and Gatherhouse does called I Love You, Lord, to My King.
As always, special thanks to Matt McCartie for producing and editing today’s episode. We love you, Matt. Jacob Fairclough produced our theme song. The Walk is brought to you by Worship Leader Magazine, which is an Authentic Media brand. I’m Joshua Swanson. Here’s I Love You, Lord, to My King.