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The Unmasked Worship Leader

The Unmasked Worship Leader

Candace Payne
  • "Chewbacca Mom," Candace Payne, unpacks the journey to finding her voice.
Candace Payne The Unmasked Worshippers Laughter

I always knew I could and would be known for my voice, but I never imagined it would be from my laughter.

Call it intuition, a dream, or holy discernment, but somewhere in my highest hopes and hidden corners of my heart, I knew I would be known for my voice. And, honestly, growing up as a church kid, I felt a little bit of all three gave me such brazen confidence. In an era of pop culture films showing the overlooked and undervalued, skittish girls transform into diva popstars amongst their peers, even if only for one night of their high school prom, I knew this must’ve meant that I needed to become a singer. So, I began to sing. 

A Noticeable Difference Between the Then and Now

I showed up for every Sunday afternoon choir rehearsal in the hidden room behind the Baptist sanctuary stage, where they stored volumes of sheet music and delicately hung choir robes dawned with satin stoles. And, once upon a time, believe it or not, we did musicals in the church. You’d be right to assume I was first to sign up for the extra time and dedication to memorize a solo, pick out a dramatic monologue of a teen addicted to either alcohol or sex (because I needed to show that I was a “serious” actress) and put my name on the list to audition for some random parishioners, aptly named Brother Larry and Sister Sue. 

Effort Is Crucial In Making Your Dreams a Reality, Or Is It?

Endless hours I would spend rummaging my thick and stubby fingers across the titles of accompaniment tracks in cassette tape form, searching for the proper alto solo to take into the not-so-soundproof booth at the local Christian bookstore. Singing the likes of Amy Grant, Sandi Patti, and a little rap music by DC Talk to stay relevant and show the youth of my voice, I would belt as loudly as I could the song within that musty, damp room with a glass window door as though no one and everyone could be watching. Upon finishing my private concert and worship session, I would take all the cassette tapes to the counter, pull out whatever sofa and sidewalk change I had been collecting, and exchange them for what would be tools for my destiny.

Seize Your Moment, Even If Your Mom Has To Hold Your Hand All The Way Through It

The first time I was ever allowed to share my voice with an audience was on a Sunday morning in a small Baptist church in Greenwood, Arkansas. Behind the large wooden table, inscribed with the words, “This Do In Remembrance Of Me,” laden with hand-stitched doilies covering stacked silver plates that held the communion elements of the most delicate and cute tiny crackers and tart purple grape juice, you’d ever taste, stood the pulpit. It was a deeper, richer stain color of wood with a microphone that came out of the middle point that looked no different than the hopeful people on The Price is Right in “Contestant Row.”

Being too short of reaching the fuzzy microphone, my mom set a small wooden box behind it to step up on, and incline not so gracefully into the mic’s lean. Mom would stay and grab the brightly colored and fuzzy microphone off its’ stand next to me as we would wait for the accompaniment track to be started by Brother Jim in the sound booth at the back of the church. I was hoping he was paying attention to the cue of our setup to leave as little awkward timing as possible between all the fumbles to get set up. But, I knew Brother Jim needed help paying attention to what was happening on stage if he was close to completing his daily newspaper crossword puzzle.

So, I coughed…loudly, even though I didn’t need to. The track started with a southern gospel song titled Who Can Do Anything? by The Cathedrals, and once I sang the first note, the rest followed effortlessly in a duet with my sweet Momma. A hearty round of applause and a few rowdy “AMEN!”s were offered in appreciation for our time and courage to lead a moment to reflect on God through singing, lyrics, and song. Because I felt a feeling of purpose in no other area of my life like this one, I would spend the next several years developing and growing in my skill as a worship leader. 

Private Porch Praises and Honored Stages

At age 14, while living in a single-wide trailer home, I received my first guitar as a Christmas gift from a pawn shop. It was a very loved and worn out, rounded-back six-string Ovation. And it was all mine. I would come home from high school, complete my homework, snack, and spend hours on the porch outside learning chords, capo positions, and songwriting to my heart’s content. I knew when the audience turned from neighbors coming home from their long days at work into fireflies that would dance in the sky around me as the sun set, it was time to go inside, shower, sleep, and dream about getting to do it all over again the next day. 

Soon, private porch worship sessions gave way to leading my peers on Wednesday night services and the occasional summer campfire moments that would define encounters with the Spirit of God. Eventually, I would get invited to lead at events and weekly in my home church as a paid worship leader. And, each week, each moment ushering what had been done in private, felt as though I was following that call to share my voice, knowing there would be a promise to be “known” from its assertion.

However, the more time that passed, the more I began to doubt I would ever experience being “known” for my voice.

Joy Found Within Contentment

I came to terms with letting go of my hope and dream. As I continued to follow Jesus and submit to Him, my heart became more humble, and I developed a desire to serve in humble places. Even small moments of happiness brought me great joy and purpose. I realized that my childhood calling and faith were not immature or naïve but rather meaningful and purposeful in their own way. What’s truly beautiful is that I’ve found contentment in my purpose, being used by God, and having a voice to give Him praise, no matter who is listening. That is why what happened to me and the entire world watching on May 19th, 2016, is so surprising.

Candace Payne's Infectious Laughter| Woman Smiling Behind Text Quoate

Love, Life and Laughter

I clipped my phone to my dash mount and ensured I was in view for a quick LIVE video I would post for my “mom” friends. It was my birthday week, and I had purchased a toy mask of a beloved Wookie (from the film STAR WARS) that would make huffs, puffs, snarls, and growls as its mouth opened and closed. At that moment, I lost myself in utter joy. I laughed it up and spent every second yielded to time. I lingered and played and simply allowed myself the freedom to enjoy. And what was a small moment (4 minutes total) lost in a frenzy of laughs and guffaws became a viral video that would change the trajectory of my life and unlock the promise, dream, and hope I had laid aside years prior.

The world would soon discover my voice, but not how I had imagined it.

They would know me through my laughter.

They would find me fully present in just “being” who I was without practice, perfection, or performance…a far cry from what I first imagined necessary to walk out a call from the Lord.

Discovering the Voice I Needed Without Knowing It

Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t trade a single moment of being a worship leader or learning the ways of those who sow tears in lyrics and powerfully private musings that can only be expressed through songs. I have now harvested a crop of joy. Unmasked, fully awakened to the call God began in my life at such a young and vulnerable age, I use my voice in many ways. You’re experiencing it through reading what I wrote while eating carnitas tostadas off the summer breakfast menu at a local brunch hotspot and sipping a cup of iced coffee. Others encounter it through the stages and events I find myself at when I preach and teach the Word of God with authenticity, hilarity, and boldness. Some experience it in the alto harmony I offer on a Sunday worship team at my local church.

The Unmasked Worship Leader | Image of Candace Payne

My kids and husband know the voice of a woman that laughs and questions everything…that holds schedules together and struggles to remember what needs to be added to the grocery list. A small group of women who support me by praying for me daily over text and video chats hear the voice of concern, hurt, worry, and doubt when everything seems too much to handle on my own. Oh, believe me. God’s promises are true. I have been and continue to be “known” through my voice, never in the way I imagined or even devoted myself to. God has exceeded my expectations and shown me that I can make a difference with my voice, especially through the unassuming and menial moments.

I Have Some Joy That You Can Borrow

I write all this for a couple of reasons.

  1. As a fellow worship leader, I want to introduce myself to you. (Hi, there! Nice to meet beyond a viral video. I’m Candace. And you are? Ok, but for real. Message me. Introduce yourself. I would love to hear your story.)
  2. I want you to know that you are seen even when you feel anonymous with an overwhelming purpose. (There is more to calling than fame and accolades. There is ministry. There is healing. There is accountability and humility of heart.) “So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time, He will lift you up in honor.” 1 Peter 5:6 NLT
  3. I want to encourage you. (Don’t be quick to abandon a promise from the Lord. His timing, His ways, and His provision for the promise are PERFECT. They lack nothing. He’s got it. And, He has you, too.) “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV

What’s Leading You?

Candace Payne | Image of a Worship Leader Behind Text Quote

As a worship leader, it is essential to strike a balance between boldness and humility. Being bold means taking risks and stepping out of your comfort zone to lead your congregation into a deeper worship experience. It means leading and using your voice. However, it is equally important to remain humble under the mighty hand of God and remember that worship is not about us but instead about giving glory to God. So let us be bold in our approach to leading worship as we trust the Promise Keeper, but always with a heart of humility and a desire to glorify our Creator. I’m in your corner, cheering you on! 

You’ve got this! I have complete confidence in your abilities. Keep pushing forward, and don’t give up because all the promises of God are faithful and true.

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