[Worship Musician]: What came first, Worship Leading or Songwriting?
Meredith Andrews: Actually, I feel like they came simultaneously. I wrote my first song when I was 12. Now, granted, my first song had six verses and no chorus…so, I guess I thought I was like a modern day hymn-writer. I grew up in a small Assembly of God church in North Carolina. Also, when I was 12, my youth pastor asked me to be a part of the youth band, so my friend and I would sing background vocals and I played the tambourine. I wound up hitting my hand so hard that I would get like a blood blister, but I was so proud of it! A couple of years later, I was taking piano lessons. My youth pastor was also like our bandleader and (my role) kind of morphed when he asked me to play keys. I was so scared, but he showed me what to do…when I was like 15 or 16, he said, “I want you to lead the whole service…pick the songs and keys. I want you to figure out the transitions.” I remember working really hard for that one set and I really never looked back.
[WM]: When did you feel the call to be a worship leader?
Meredith: I feel like it was a process for me. Looking back now, I see how the Lord was preparing me for what He called me to, but I didn’t fully understand it as a kid and I knew there were other things that I loved. Like, I grew up in a family where my parents were foster parents and I have three adopted brothers. From the time I was a little girl, I always said I wanted to be a missionary. I always thought I would live overseas and work in an orphanage. That’s what I envisioned for my life. I remember going to a Rebecca St. James concert when I was 17. She gave a call forward, a surrender-type invitation. I went forward and I was like, “Lord, I don’t know what you want to do with my life, but I’ve told you like a thousand times and I’m telling you again tonight…whatever You want is what I want. I would love to do something like Rebecca is doing.”
Watching her lead people the way that she did and use her gifts the way that she did…it just ignited something in my heart. (I just gave it to God that night.) That was a very defining moment for me because God spoke to my heart that night and He just said, “Meredith, be faithful where I’ve placed you and be faithful to what I’ve called you to right now. Just trust Me in that…serve Me there. Be obedient to Me there and watch Me open the doors and watch Me take you to the places where I want you. It might not look like what you think or envisioned, but I’ve got a plan and the process is part of the plan. So, just be faithful to Me here and grow where you’re planted.”
After I graduated high school, I went to Liberty University. My first two years, I was on a traveling team where we would basically sing for a bunch of D-Now’s or missions conferences and we would go overseas once a year. We were kind of the missions heart of Liberty. Then my junior and senior year, I was put on the campus worship team. We led worship for all campus services and chapels…(leading worship) like six times a week. There was one particular night in November of my junior year, I was singing a song called, “Sing to the King.” I had sung that song like a hundred times, but that night the presence of God was like so strong and the Lord, in that moment, just whispered to my heart, “This is what I have for you.” And, it was evidenced by the fact that I just felt most alive in that moment. When I’m leading people in worship…that’s the thing that makes me come alive. And, it’s the thing that when I’m doing, I feel closest to the Lord.
[WM]: I was excited to see you being a part of the Christian Musician Summit. Tell me, what do you like to teach about when you have a room full of worship team members?
Meredith: I love to teach about the heart of a worshiper. As worship leaders, this isn’t something we stumble into because our musical aspirations never got fulfilled. This isn’t something we take on because we are a good guitar player or keyboard player or we have a decent voice. It’s more than just being musicians. When we get back to the heart of why we are worshiping the Lord, we’re able to ask ourselves, “Why do we sing? Why am I calling these people into the presence of God and saying, ‘Hey, let’s worship God together’?” I think that for us as worship leaders, the thing I want to say is our private worship always has to come before our public worship. Singing to the Lord and offering to Him our worship behind closed doors has to come first because that is what’s going to fuel what happens on stage. If I am not spending time with the Lord, if He is not the treasure of my heart, then what am I really doing when I step foot on stage and say, “Hey people, let’s go into the presence of God.” If I have not been there then I can’t take people there. It’s so important for us as worship leaders that we are first worshipers; that we often get to that place where we say, “Jesus, You are the one desire of my heart.”
[WM]: You mentioned that as a teenager, you were leading from the keys. Do you ever do that anymore?
Meredith: I don’t do that as often. Number one, because I married a keyboard player and he is way better than I am! And, number two, because I honestly feel more freedom when I can step out. It was good for me to start with that as a foundation, but it got to the point that I kind of hid behind it. It was good for me to step out. I felt like I could really engage people.
When I started leading worship at Harvest Bible Chapel about ten years ago, I remember Pastor James McDonald saying to me, “Hey Meredith, why do you close your eyes when you lead worship…all the time?” And I was like, “Well, I’m singing to the Lord…I don’t want to be distracted…it’s just me and Jesus.” And he was like, “Well, actually it’s not! (Laugh) If you’d open your eyes, you’d see that there’s a whole room full of people that are looking to you.” That was really revolutionary because it gave me permission to open my eyes and understand that being aware of my surroundings and being in tune to where the people are is just as much worship as singing to the Lord. Because, this is a responsibility that I’m not going to take lightly, and so I don’t want it to be a spectator event but a participation event. That was so good for me and I think that for us as worship leaders, what I’ve come to realize is that we are visible. We have to keep in mind that in being visible, what am I doing with my visibility? Am I calling people to myself or am I pointing people to the Lord? Am I saying, “Hey listen to me sing these songs and look at my great leadership quality?” or am I saying, “Guys, we get to go into God’s presence today, we get to approach the Throne of Grace with a boldness and a confidence because of what Jesus did for us!” When we go into God’s presence there is an exchange that happens. We’re not just singing for God or to God, He is singing over us! He is receiving our worship and as we are engaging with God, He reaches down and meets us right where we are and He meets our deepest needs…not because He fixes all our problems, but we realize how big He is and how capable and faithful He is when we start singing these words of truth over ourselves and back to the Lord.
[WM]: I have been listening through your new project, “Deeper” multiple times, and I especially love the title track and “I Look to the King.” Can you tell me a little about writing for that project and any songs that hold special meaning to you?
I’ll say this; this record was probably the most personal record that I’ve ever written.
Meredith: Well, they all hold special meaning to me honestly! They’re all feel like my babies in some way. I’ll say this; this record was probably the most personal record that I’ve ever written. It’s not because for the other ones I was disengaged or I wasn’t writing from an honest place, but there are levels of honesty and you can’t get down to the deepest place until you have to. Like you walk through something and realize you’ve got to dig a little deeper. It’s like it exposes an area of your heart that you didn’t even know was there. That was what this was for me. My family was just walking through the hardest season we’ve walked through. We were going through a lot of transition because we were moving from Chicago to Nashville, I was pregnant with my third child (our first daughter), and most days I was feeling completely overwhelmed and stressed out. I started having panic attacks. I’ve always been very flexible; go-with-the-flow. But, I just started having trouble breathing, and I still do…some days when I’m feeling stress, I just can’t get a deep breath. This is just what we were walking through. We felt like we were being attacked on all sides, like we were in an all-out war with the enemy of our souls. All of these songs came from that place. Every one of them. Every song is just like me trying to find a new way to sing the truth over myself. And to remind myself of the hope that I have in the Lord because many days I just felt so hopeless. So, these songs were my anthems long before anybody ever heard them. I would play the demo in my car and just weep. Like with “Soar” – “God, I believe You’re working while I wait, and I feel like I’m in a waiting season…in a valley that I’ve never experienced before and I know that You’re using it to grow me and take me to a deeper place, but it’s really hard, so help me to wait, to trust you, and to believe what You said… ‘They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They will mount up on wings like eagles.’” So, that’s what I was clinging to. And, these songs are like a lifeline that the Lord just threw out to me. My hope is that these songs will be a lifeline for other people. That they will offer hope to people and remind the listeners of the hope and promise they have in Jesus that He is with us even in the hardest place.
[WM]: I see that your husband, Jacob Sooter, is a co-writer on “Deeper.” Do y’all do a lot of co-writing together?
Meredith: We don’t do a ton of co-writing together. He is a songwriter by himself and he writes a lot for the Vertical Church Band and he produces all of the VCB stuff. But, we did write “Deeper,” “Take Me Back,” and “I Look to the King” together. We do enjoy writing together. It’s cool to have that shared experience and to have a song together that means so much. We wrote Deeper when we were in a hard place and we were like, “We believe this. We may not always feel it, but we believe it.”
[WM]: The readers of Worship Musician desire to serve the Lord out of their gifting. Would you voice a prayer over the readers?
Meredith: Absolutely! God, thank You so much for Your faithfulness to us and the fact that You have wired us in such a way that we’re just able to come before You as we are and bring our personalities and our gifting’s and even our short-comings and hang-ups. But, Lord we bring it all to You and somehow You make it beautiful and You use us all for the Kingdom of God. So, I just thank You so much for every reader in the way that they are serving in their different capacities and different churches. Lord, I pray that You would encourage their hearts even as they’re reading this prayer. God, I pray that You would remind them what You have called them to. May they not take it lightly and may they understand the weight of what You have set before them and have put in their hand to do. Give them a renewed vision and passion to worship You, to love You, and to seek You out. That they would seek You through Your word behind closed doors and to sing out a new song. Because it’s from that place that we will be able to lead Your people well. Help us to love the people more than we love the music. So, that means sometimes we have to let our preferences die in order to serve Your people well. Honor every reader right now…if they feel they are in the lowest valley or alone in ministry…if there’s a mom who feels like she doesn’t know how to juggle ministry and being a good mother. I totally get that. I ask that you bring clarity, peace, wisdom, and hope into every situation. Speak new life into every situation, every heart, every reader God. I pray our eyes would be completely on You as You lead and teach us how to call Your people into this place of worship and Your presence. We want to lead Your people well. Help us to do that, God. May we find You in the secret place so that everything we do on stage comes from there. God, just bless these readers and may they know you in a deeper way than they ever have. In Jesus name, Amen