It’s 8:05 in the top floor of the Tate Center. Hundreds of students are filing through the door to find seats for the service. The front of house has dimmed the lights and is playing Beyoncé on the main speakers over the loud chatter filling the room, while others are looking for seats that haven’t been claimed by bookbags and flannels.
In the back hallway behind the ballroom, there is a circle of people huddled together like a sports team. They pray over the service and then put their hands in the circle for a breakaway cheer. They count to three and on unison yell, “Jam for the Lamb!” This group breaks from the huddle and heads toward the stage. Once the clock near the soundboard reads 8:07 worship officially starts. This is Wednesday night at Tate.
For many of the students and staff at the Wesley Foundation, this has been the flow of worship services as long as they can remember. Most services have 6 songs before the message and up to 5 after. The first time Wesley’s student body was led in contemporary-style worship, though, they had only one song.
“It was called ‘His Banner Over Me is Love,’ by Kevin Prosch,” Clay Kirkland recounts.
Kirkland, who has been on Wesley’s staff since 2000, points to 1994 as a hallmark year for Wesley worship.
“Pre-1994, worship here at Wesley was conducted on a piano through a hymnal. In 1994, a group of people, including a director, went to Brazil and went to 6 churches in 6 different nights, and every night they were in a church that led worship with a full band that did contemporary worship, and no one on that team was really exposed to that kind of worship.”
The people who went on that trip had never encountered God in that setting before, but when they came back, they were determined to bring what they had called “Brazil worship” back with them.
“By God’s grace, the people who were on that team were musicians. They came back here and for two weeks practiced on on one song that was played during an offering.”
The next week, a hundred more people came to Wesley.
“Since that Wednesday night in 1994, there’s been a grace, I think, upon Wesley for worship, not to bring a big group of people together, but for people to experience God in a new way.”
22 years later, the worship team has two directors, three interns and over 30 students who volunteer to lead for two services a week. At 7:30 in the morning on Tuesdays, Wesley staff worships and prays together for the week. On Wednesday night, students involved in Wesley’s discipleship and leadership meet for prayer and worship an hour before the service. On all the other days of the week, students and interns worship together in Wesley’s prayer rooms. Worship is in the DNA of the ministry.
Dustin Sosebee, who currently directs worship with his wife, Kristen, started leading worship at Wesley in 2007.
“Early on, the leaders here didn’t take themselves too seriously and they had a humble attitude,” Dustin recounts on when he first joined the team.
“There was a lot of freedom to be yourself. There was no fear of letting your personality come out when you were leading worship.”
The culture the Sosebee’s have established reflects a lot of these ideals. Excellence is held in high regard but the team culture also prizes positivity and self-expression. Apart from playing key parts of songs, instrumentalists have room to explore. Leaders, often times in post-sermon worship sets, are given opportunities to lead spontaneously.
Because student leaders are worshipping along with the students at Wednesday night services, their experience is just as important to the Sosebee’s. Once a month, they host the entire team (usually 30 plus people) at their house. For students on the team, this could be considered family time.
Connor Chambless, a junior at UGA, has played bass for Wesley for 2 years, and sees the team as a family of its own.
“First time I got to be on the worship team was the summer before my summer year. From the get-go it was a great experience. It’s such an anointing that rests on the worship team, that it’s such a family. Everyone loves and cares deeply about each other.”
The torch of leading worship at Wesley is passed year to year between students and interns at Wesley. The style has continued to change as different instruments and sounds have been incorporated over the years but the heart behind it has stayed the same; to allow students at UGA to experience God in new ways.
“It’s a fun unique difference between leading at church and worshipping with college students,” Kristen Sosebee pointed out.
“ We’re really getting to lead people at a crossroads in their life, at a place of establishing their relationship with God on their own. There’s a level of excitement to it, delving into deeper worship with the students.”