I am eager to introduce you to a brother in Christ who has become a good friend to me and to our church. His name is Chris Groat, our new worship director. On behalf of our elders, Jason updated our church family last Sunday in our service and by email about the process we’ve been through over the last few years and what we have learned.
With those points of process out of the way, meet Chris. I’ve asked him a few questions here to help you get acquainted with him, his family, and his story.
Chris, thanks for answering a few questions for us. This will help us welcome you and love your family as you transition here. We’ll get to your ministry background shortly. But first, tell us about yourself, about your wife Hannah, and your family.
Greetings from Mississippi! We are excited to be joining you all very soon. I am 31 years old (on August 16), and I have been happily married to my beautiful wife Hannah for nine years. We are high school sweethearts who met in youth group. We both attended William Carey University where I studied Church Music and Hannah studied Nursing. We have a daughter named Sadie who will turn 2 in November, and Hannah is pregnant with our second (due in January). Hannah is a registered nurse but is planning to stay home full-time with our children. God has been so good to us.
A natural follow-up, tell us how you came to faith in Christ and who the Lord used to bring you to himself.
I came to faith as a freshman in high school. We didn’t attend church growing up, and it wasn’t until my parents divorced that I really started to attend church regularly. When I was in the 8th grade, I started attending youth group and got pretty involved. I was saved at a high school retreat where I heard a clear and convicting gospel presentation. I remember growing up believing in God and thinking that’s all it took to go to heaven. That day hearing the gospel it all made sense: I was a sinner in desperate need of a savior. I needed the blood and righteousness of Christ. I needed to submit to Jesus as Lord. I don’t even remember who that preacher was, but thankfully I was heavily discipled by my youth pastor and I’m eternally grateful for his shepherding and encouragement.
Tell us your background as a musician and as a pastor.
I have been making music since I was in 7th grade. Around my sophomore year of high school, I decided to join the worship team in my youth group after my dad bribed me with a new guitar. I started out as just the guitar player, but when our main vocalist left for college, my youth pastor challenged me to lead worship and direct the team. I tried to decline, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer (he literally assembled a microphone stand in front of me and stuck a mic in my face). I am grateful for his persistence because by age 16 I was our youth group worship leader, a role that fostered a desire to serve our Lord in vocational ministry. That led me to enroll at William Carey to study Church Music. Since graduating college in 2014, I have had the privilege to serve a few different churches as their worship pastor along the way.
Now, bringing us to our new relationship with you, what led you to apply for this role at our church?
Around 2019, a godly minister began mentoring me and that relationship led to a noticeable shift in my theology, philosophy of worship, church, etc. My mentor handed me a book called Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, by Donald Whitney, and challenged me to read the Bible in a year. Through the regular and thoughtful reading of Scripture, I began to see God’s sovereignty and glory on full display. I soon thereafter discovered Reformed theology through books/sermons from the likes of John Piper and R.C. Sproul, as well as diving deep into church history and the Reformation. The more I was growing theologically and philosophically, it became clear that I needed to be at a church that shared these same values. In August of 2022, my wife sent me a link to a job posting at Heritage Bible Church. I can’t explain how much joy it brought me when I read the job description.
It seemed that the Lord was answering our prayers. I mean that in several ways. First, this was the kind of church we would want to join for its handling of the Scriptures and for its care in living and leading by the Scriptures. You can only tell so much from a website and a job posting, but your care in describing the church and the role was compelling to us. Second, the philosophy of worship and of the role of music in supporting the congregation’s voice was a match to my growing convictions. I’ve led in different ways in different places—three dear churches whom I have loved—but I have a settled direction theologically and Heritage was the match I did not expect to find.
Since we met you about one year ago now, we’ve had all kinds of interactions. What began with a Zoom call led to more conversations and eventually a few visits. Tell us about what you learned about Heritage in that process and why you’re excited to come!
I’ve had the privilege of visiting Heritage twice. I came for an initial visit in January where I got to workshop with a part of the music team. Then, in May, I came for a more focused interview weekend. Pretty early on we realized this was a place we could call home. During our first rehearsal, the music team was not only well-prepared, skillful, and receptive to feedback, but it was obvious they loved their church and each other very well. Then we got to visit a service on Sunday morning, and I was blown away by the volume of the singing! Heritage is a singing church! Praise God for that. I had listened to multiple sermons throughout my interview process, but there is nothing quite like being in the room. I’m excited to be in the room every Sunday with you.
Another thing that encouraged me and my wife was the Family Meeting on the Sunday night of our first trip. We were warmly greeted by many of you, not even knowing our purpose for being in town. You took an interest in us and we grew in affection for you. We have been praying for a church family. We felt like a part of the family without even being members. That’s special!
Our second trip in May was more tactical. I had another rehearsal with part of the music team, but this time it was leading up to a Hymn Sing. I got to spend more time with Deanna Moore and Brian Burch and was encouraged by their partnership. Over the course of the weekend, I had several interviews with the rest of the staff and elders. One thing is for sure, the staff and elders love this church and work tirelessly to pray, lead, and care for you. It was deeply encouraging to see that behind the scenes. I came away from the weekend knowing that Heritage was a church I’d be happy to attend even if I wasn’t in full-time vocational ministry.
The cherry on top was how quickly Trent became a friend and a dear brother to me. I was not only excited to work with him, but also to be pastored by him.
For these reasons and more, Heritage was growing to be the long-term fit we’ve been praying about.
What are some of the most important principles involved in designing a worship service?
First of all, I’m excited to work with Trent in designing our services. One thing I have loved learning about Heritage is the extreme care and intentionality that goes into the service design. The songs, prayers, Scriptures, readings, and sermons are all formed by the Word of God for the edification of the congregation.
Liturgy is a word we sometimes use for the shape or design of a worship service. Liturgy simply means “a public way of doing things.” In other words, liturgy is what a church does in corporate worship. Heritage has a very intentional, yet sneaky liturgy, as you call it. Meaning, you won’t always hear “and now our call to worship” or “now we will confess our sins together.” Yet, week after week the aim is to create Christ-centered worship services with calls to worship, confessions of sin, assurances of pardon, prayers of illumination, and thoughtful responses to the Word of God preached. Every week you will get the full gospel story through songs, Scripture readings, prayers, sermons, and the ordinances.
Since the gatherings at Heritage are not only formed by the Word of God but filled by that very Word, we will read the Word, pray the Word, preach the Word, sing the Word, and see the Word (through Lord’s Supper and baptism). God cares about how we worship and provides instruction to us through his Word on how we are to worship him. (This is called “the regulative principle”, and essentially means that we will worship God as he has commanded us by his Word, for our good and his glory.)
Moving from theology to music, in searching for you, we were searching for a singing shepherd who could help our musicians lead our church in singing her faith. What is your understanding of the role of music in the church’s gathering?
Music is vital in the church’s gathering in so far as we are not only believers in the glorious gospel but singers of that good news. This news is so good, we must sing! Music helps us make melody in our hearts to God (Eph. 5:19). We were created to worship God and bring him glory. And there’s nothing better than worshipping God together in the context of the local church. In the Bible, there are over 50 direct commands to sing and singing is mentioned over 400 times. God takes singing pretty seriously!
The Apostle Paul commands us: “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16). Our songs should be theologically accurate as well as singable. Because we want our voices to be the primary instrument in our Sunday gathering, this will determine which songs we choose, how they’re arranged, and even which keys we sing them in. Singing is a wonderful tool that helps the church to celebrate Christ’s finished work on the cross, allows us to adequately express a heart grieved by sin, gives us hope for this life and the next, and enables us to joyfully adore our Triune God together. I praise God that we get to gather each Lord’s Day and sing together.
Anytime we add a new musician to our team there’s some musical change that comes with that as there are new sounds and textures in our music, even if they are subtle. In that respect, our music is always changing and we’re a church that is glad to be stretched. To our ear, you fit us. You love our songs, you have a voice and a way of playing that is easy to follow. One brother at that trial-run Hymn Sing said, “I came prepared to adjust, but no adjustment was needed!” Be encouraged! Nevertheless, the addition of a new lead vocalist and musical leader will mean a degree of musical change. Which is why we were looking not only for a capable musician who would love our church well but a man who can lead well. How will you approach transitioning into your role musically?
Well, let me start by pointing out that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the way it is now. You guys aren’t bringing me in to start things from scratch. As you have said, this is not a transition for musical transformation.
The musicians and vocal leaders are doing a fantastic job leading the church in worship. Deanna is an exceptionally talented musician and has led the team incredibly well. I am humbled to join this team with these loving and talented individuals.
I will bring a slightly different flavor since I lead with an acoustic guitar. You have been led by an acoustic before for seasons but not regularly and not lately. So that will seem new. But the priority of congregational singing will remain the same. Having an acoustic guitar will give us more options with how we produce musical arrangements. All this to say, Heritage will over time cultivate our own unique sound. That will take time and it will come as we work together as musicians and grow in love for one another and in shared musical vision for how we can enhance and support the congregation’s voice with simplicity and beauty.
In all this, I pray the music is never a distraction from the gospel truths we will be singing together. The music is an aid that points us to Jesus and helps us to sing our faith. As Bob Kauflin says in Worship Matters, “Our varied skills should function like the frame around a classic painting. If the frame is too bold or extravagant, we’ll hardly notice the picture it displays. On the other hand, if the frame is cheap, shabby, or marred, we’ll wonder why such a masterpiece is surrounded by junk. The right frame complements the picture in all the right ways, directing our eyes to the brilliance of the artist, not to the frame.” Trent, you yourself have explained service design as the setting for the glorious diamond that is Jesus Christ.
So while we aim for undistracted excellence in our music and our liturgy is certainly intentional, our eyes should always be gazing upon the glory of Christ more so than the actual music, musicians, and arrangements.
That’s about all for now! You can get back to packing and trying to sell your home so you can get here to us. But one final question: how can we serve you in this transition? We want to be good hosts and a loving church family for your dear family. Help us do that well.
As you have already mentioned, please pray for us as we work through selling our home, pack up, and begin the moving process. It’s daunting and hard work. Especially with a toddler and Hannah being pregnant. We are counting down the days until we are with you all! Having shared this news with the leadership at my church, we have now shared with that blessed congregation. As things have worked out, we expect to pull in by the end of the month. I won’t be leading with the team from the front for a handful of weeks. Your leaders want us to settle in to our home and to the church. I’m also eager to worship with you for a time before leading among you.
I am confident you all will welcome us warmly with open arms into this church family. So, when we get there, don’t be a stranger! I can’t wait to meet you all and worship together very soon.
I hope you get the sense for how warmly Chris will fit with us, not only musically and theologically but relationally. That’s no small part of what we prayed for and found in this brother. I can speak for myself and our elders, we are jealous for you and for your good. We pray the addition of Chris to our team will enhance our life together in Christ. Chris will be a director, not an elder, though his role is intended to mature into that of an elder/pastor in the years ahead, similar to Kevin Delp’s role (Kevin, overseeing children’s ministry, is an elder/pastor now), or Matt Jackson, our student and family ministry director. All in due course.
We hope you’ve grown to like Chris, the man. Now, what is it like for Chris to lead us in singing?
Here are a few videos I took on my phone during Chris’ visits with us. One is from a Hymn Sing we hosted with Chris with a crossection of the church to see how Chris handles our room and our voice. Present were elders, deacons, Shepherding Group leaders, staff, and their families.