Zach Yeldell, head worship pastor at Church on the Rock (COTR)-Texarkana, places great value in leading not only adults, but children and youth into what he feels is the foundation of Christian faith: worship. “It has radically changed my life,” Zach said. “It’s the one thing we get to do that blesses the heart of God. Our culture says that everything we do is about us, but worship is the opposite of that. True worship is an opportunity to bring a grateful and thankful heart to God with absolutely no strings attached.”
Even though he had little to no musical background, Zach was only in seventh grade when the church where he grew up allowed him to join their worship team. They created a safe place for him to learn; playing with older and more skilled musicians created an environment where his talent quickly blossomed.
With this same mindset, Zach had the desire to create something for the students of Powerhouse. The original COTR Powerhouse youth building was built in 1996, where services began with adult-led worship. However, in 2008, when Zach started leading worship, he assembled the first all youth-led worship team. “Our main objective,” he stated, “is teaching our students to be worshipers first and foremost. We want to create a place for students to come and learn how to worship and grow in their instrument. We’ve had a lot of students over the years start from scratch who had little to no musical background, but we have seen huge transformations as they grow and learn.” Besides his COTR duties, Zach also teaches lessons on different instruments to students during his personal time. However, his primary goal is to connect the younger students with the older, more seasoned student musicians, allowing them to challenge one another. He believes this allows every student to grow. “It is a win-win,” he shared.
“My first thought,” he went on, “is that children and students worship the same God that adults do. I want to empower them to understand this from the youngest age possible. It would be easier to put a team of adults together to lead worship for youth, but it is irreplaceable when students lead their peers in worship. I think it makes it more relevant as well. The students on our Powerhouse team know which songs would be more engaging with their peers than I do.” Zach believes this revolves around the verse in Proverbs 22:6, which reads, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
In 2018, Bethany Hughes took over leadership of the Powerhouse worship team, where students from seventh to twelfth grade are now involved. They have student musicians playing acoustic, electric, and bass guitars, drums, and piano. There are also 12 vocalists. Students join the team through trying out. “For vocalists,” said Bethany, “I listen for a few different things. Can they sing on pitch, and are they able to find harmony? Can they hear and feel when they’re supposed to start singing? Can they stay on rhythm, not fall behind, or get too far ahead of where they’re supposed to?” The process for musicians is a little different. “Can they stay on rhythm? Can they hit down on the chord they’re supposed to when they’re supposed to? Do they hear the dynamic changes of a song, and can they play it?”
While all of this is important, of course, what holds the most importance to Bethany is the spiritual side of the selection process. “I make sure that students understand being a part of the team is not just a group of kids who play music together, but we are a group who pursues the Lord not just on stage but in our time alone.” She continued, “I believe our private worship fuels our public worship. I encourage each of the students on the team to make their time with the Lord and reading His word a priority in their daily lives. Our time with the Lord prepares our hearts to worship and helps to set our focus on Who we’re worshiping.”
Jack Humphrey, a 17-year-old Pleasant Grove High School senior who plays guitar and piano for the team, started having problems with his handwriting in the second grade. His mom suggested it might help develop his fine motor skills if he started playing the piano, so he began taking lessons. It was then his true love for music began, so when he entered middle school band and found out they were offering a beginner guitar class, signing up was an easy decision. “Mr. Colquitt was my teacher and became one of my favorite teachers ever. He taught me so much. I have loved guitar ever since,” Jack said. With his newfound love of guitar, he was eager to join the Powerhouse worship team. “It has been one of the most important influences in my life. My spiritual walk has gotten so much deeper because I recognize how big the responsibility of leadership is. If people were going to see me worshipping on stage, I knew I needed to have a deep and meaningful understanding of the One I was worshipping. The more I know Him, the more I want to worship Him.” Jack believes that, in some capacity, he will lead others in worship for the rest of his life. “Leading in Powerhouse showed me it was more than just a talent or a hobby. For me, it’s a responsibility.”
Andy Tye, a 16-year-old Pleasant Grove High School sophomore, started as a drummer when he was 13 years old. Greg Adams, a Powerhouse youth leader, introduced him to the drums, and Andy immediately fell in love. You cannot help but see that love when you watch him on stage. Andy’s parents are both very musically talented, so with their encouragement and instruction, support from Greg, and Andy’s innate talent, he has become an incredible drummer in just three short years. He loves being part of what he calls his “second family.” “I love all of them. We make stuff work even if we don’t have a clue what we’re doing.”
Lindsay Smith, a 17-year-old high school senior, has been a vocalist for the worship team for a year and a half. “I feel like the most meaningful part of being a vocalist for the worship team is being able to do the thing God is calling me to do with my friends by my side.”
In order to reach people beyond the four walls of Powerhouse, the team was encouraged by COTR’s youth pastor, Cole Yeldell, and his brother, Zach, to create an album. A large group of students has been playing together since seventh grade and will graduate from high school this year. Before going their separate ways to college and beyond, they challenged themselves to complete this project. “We don’t take for granted the students we have and the gifts and anointing God has given them,” said Bethany.
They began work on the album in January 2022. Two weeks after their first discussion, Jack and Bethany finished writing their first song, “Worthy.” According to Bethany, “We really wanted the first song we finished writing to just be about Jesus and who He is. So many songs today focus on us rather than God; we wanted our first song to be about worshiping Him for who He is and not what He can do for us.” When Bethany was struggling and couldn’t find the words she was looking for, she would reach out to Jack for help. “I would bounce a lot of ideas off him as he does with me when he’s writing. Wildest Praise wouldn’t have been able to be completed without him and his writing.”
One song, “Nothing Better,” holds a very special place in Bethany’s heart as it comes out of a place of heartache for the youth she leads. “There was a season,” she shared, “when it seemed like every conversation I would have with a student was about their struggles with anxiety, depression, and fear. I would do and say all I could as a youth leader to them. I would give them scripture and speak and pray over their struggles, but I knew I wasn’t the one who could heal them from what they were going through. Only Jesus could.” As she prayed for these students, her heart continued to break for them. From this, she wrote “Nothing Better.” It is a love letter from the perspective of Jesus and is based on Psalm 27:8. The message she wanted to get across to the students was that there is nothing better than Jesus and spending time with Him. “Jesus longs for every one of us to spend time with Him and just talk to Him… There is nothing better than Jesus, and nothing will ever satisfy your heart like Jesus can.”
The team recorded everything live in COTR’s main sanctuary, and Zach edited the songs. Zach also helped get the songs copyrighted and submitted the album to the music streaming services Apple Music and Spotify. The album, Wildest Praise, was released in September 2022, and the collaborative process took nine months.
It is normal to walk into Powerhouse on a Wednesday night and find more than 100 young people expressing the delight C.S. Lewis was referring to, led by teenagers, in true worship. As Bethany emphasized, “It’s not about the lights, or the crowd, or the stage. We’ve come together to simply worship Jesus,” and there really is nothing better.