Huntington University is a Christian liberal arts college in Indiana

An Audience of One:

Worship leader passionately pursues God
John Warden on advantages of theater degree program at Huntington University, a Christian college.

“As worship leaders, we create an atmosphere in which to commune with God. We facilitate the congregation’s journey into the presence of God."

An actor couldn’t ask for a meatier role than that of Marine Col. Nathan R. Jessep in A Few Good Men. In the film version, Jack Nicholson created a memorable moment and popular catch phrase with the line “You can’t handle the truth!”

So it’s understandable that the part of Jessup is a favorite of John Warden’s among the many John played in Huntington stage productions while en route to a bachelor’s degree in theater performance in 2001.

But after graduation, John decided to play an even bigger role — and promulgating the truth quite well — as director of media and creative arts and associate of worship at Hope Evangelical Free Church in Mason, Ohio.

A native of Napoleon, Ohio, John came to Huntington as an art major and ran track for the Foresters during his freshman and sophomore years. After his freshman year, however, he switched academic tracks and became a theater major. As a junior and senior, John was the coordinator for Joyful Noise, the student-led worship team. He also took part in several mission trips under the auspices of the university.

After graduation, John landed a two-year acting gig with Sight and Sound Theatres in Lancaster, Pa., where he participated in a wide of variety of productions.

John’s solid background in theater — both as a student and professional — made him a great choice for Hope Church when it was searching for a worship leader, a growing field that utilizes skills in music, theater and multimedia. The rapidly expanding church, located just north of Cincinnati, hosts close to 2,000 people for worship celebrations every Sunday.
Setting the stage for the glorification of God is now John’s favorite role. “As worship leaders, we create an atmosphere in which to commune with God,” John said. “We facilitate the congregation’s journey into the presence of God.

“Worship is a two-way communication between believers and God,” John continues. “In real worship, we carry on an exchange of love with the God who is present, the God who speaks to us in the now, and who has done and is doing marvelous things. Heartfelt praise, reverence, adoration, thanksgiving, confession, repentance, and commitment are all aspects of worship. Providing an atmosphere for believers in Christ to commune like this with God is vital in today’s worship services.”

To create that atmosphere, John uses a variety of approaches. “We often present dramas to add another dimension,” he said. “It could entail monologues by Bible characters or mini-plays with three of four people. But it could also be music or dance, such as painting a picture to a song. Regardless the form, it’s presented in support of the message of the sermon.”

Although John found his niche without the benefit of Huntington’s new major in worship leadership, he’s excited about the prospects for Huntington students now and in the future.

“Having a program that emphasizes this priority of worship will be a great asset to the spiritual development of students at Huntington,” John said. “We need to have people trained to understand how the spirit moves. A huge area for growth for me was through Chapel. Now students can grow toward worship leadership careers in the classroom, too.”

Worship leadership is a calling that carries great responsibility. “Understanding and knowledge are always good tools to have,” John said. “As leaders, we’ll not only be held accountable for what we teach and preach, but we’ll also answer to God for how we have or have not prioritized worship among the people of God. Are we doing whatever it takes to make worship as God-honoring, fresh, culturally accessible, and excellent as it can be?”

And what are the traits desirable in worship leaders? “Genuineness, passion, pursuit and obedience — and a desire to dwell in God's presence and listen to His voice,” John said.

The reward, however, is much greater than the effort. “The reward is to know that God is being glorified in your worship. Audience of One is my motto. I may be leading, but my audience is God. Anytime you pursue God with passion you will be rewarded.”

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