Isaac Wardell is the director for worship arts at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia. He has worked with a number of worship artists, helping produce worship materials for local congregations. He is the director for Bifrost Arts and currently working on developing new worship resources related to faith and vocation. Isaac and his wife, Megan, have three daughters and a son.
What do you do every day?
I write, plan, and lead music for services at a large Presbyterian church. I also produce and develop worship resources, like lessons and records, to help other congregations.
As an image-bearer of God, how does your work reflect some aspect of God’s work?
My work involves a lot of creating and arranging—not only to create an aesthetic effect, but also to build up God’s people. I want my music to combine the eternal truths of Scripture with the ordinary experiences of Christians in a way that’s meaningful and beautiful. Since God’s work of redemption includes the whole person, and since his Word speaks to the whole range of human experience and emotion, I hope to create liturgies and songs that are holistic, shepherding God’s people through both the joys and trials of life.
What are some common temptations for people who work in your field?
Worship leaders and church musicians can sometimes feel responsible for delivering a particular emotional experience every week. When we get in this mindset, we start measuring our work only by the 75-minute increments of our worship services (or however long our services are), and we can miss the bigger picture of how we’re forming our people over a lifetime.
We’re also tempted to see ourselves as performers more than pastors. When our work becomes performance, we start to focus on the number of people filling the pews or the amount of compliments we receive. Instead, if we see our work as pastoral, then we start asking questions like, Are these people growing in the fruit of the Spirit? and How can our worship better help that growth?
Jesus commands us to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” How does your work function as an opportunity to love and serve others?
Music provides an opportunity to extend hospitality and build bridges with our neighbors. We aim to love and serve our neighbors by creating music that is beautiful, truth-filled, and inspiring—not just imitations of the popular music of our time with more Christian-friendly lyrics.
Worship music should not be the work of the professionals up on the stage performing for an audience. Worship is something we do together in response to the gospel—we love and serve each other by building up our faith. In worship, everyone has a gift to share. Most fundamentally, it is the Lord Jesus himself who shares himself with his people through his people.
Editors’ notes: TGCvocations is a weekly column that asks practitioners how they integrate their faith and their work. Interviews are condensed and edited.
As director of Bifrost Arts, one of Isaac’s current projects is the “Faith and Vocation Songwriting” contest. Songwriters can participate by submitting a song on the topic of faith and vocation by September 1, 2016. The contest is free of cost and open to all. The winner and runner-up will receive monetary awards, and the winning song will be featured on the 2017 Bifrost Arts Worship record. Click here for more information.