Ministry Story

I woke up in awe of what I’d just experienced — a dream unlike any I had had in my life.

In it, I was standing before what appeared to be a great heavenly choir and orchestra. The choir, dressed in robes, was singing “Worthy is the Lamb who’s seated on the throne! Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!” The song was simple and the singers full of confidence and joy. The depth of feeling in the playing and singing was powerful and otherworldly. I listened as they continued, “Holy! Holy! Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!” It was an entire song, not just a snippet or a glimpse.

I emerged into consciousness as if leaving one world and rejoining another. Gripped by the power of the experience, and amazed that I had just heard a song — a complete song — in a dream, I got out of bed, grabbed my iPhone and went downstairs so not to wake my wife. I sang it softly into the voice memo app.

I do not write songs. My only attempts, as a teenager, were embarrassing even to me. I was booted out of the high school rock band I started. My dad wrote and sang songs for a living but my talents lay elsewhere, in writing and humor, so I pursued those wholeheartedly. I enjoyed playing piano, guitar and banjo for my own pleasure and teaching my children, but the idea of songwriting was completely alien to me.

But something strange was happening. A month before this powerful dream, the Lord had impressed upon me strongly in a time of prayer: “I want you to take up the mantle of your dad’s ministry.” This was an impossibility, in my mind. What do you mean, take up the mantle of his ministry? He’s a singer/songwriter. I’m an author and journalist. I have no musical ambitions, no songwriting skill, no desire to be on stage. What do I have to do with my dad’s ministry?

But I recognized the Holy Spirit’s insistence, and after two weeks of wrestling with the decision, at age 39 and with an established writing career, I drove north to visit my dad and tell him I believed I was supposed to lay everything down and submit myself to his ministry. Finances, future, everything. I would hold nothing back.

Dad listened diplomatically and was open to the idea, which I shared haltingly but as plainly as I could. Neither of us knew what it meant but we felt something was there — something small but real. We agreed to take it one step at a time and let God reveal the path. I went home with that pure feeling of having humbled yourself and given everything away.

Two weeks later, the powerful dream came and at first I didn’t know what to do with it. The song was so complete, so fully conceived, that I was convinced I had heard it on the radio. I spent a couple of weeks trying to track it down on iTunes, YouTube and elsewhere, but I couldn’t find it. My wife heard me playing it on the piano and was intrigued.

Finally, I emailed Dad, cringing, and asked if he would listen to a song that had come to me in a dream. For decades I had watched people give my dad tapes and CDs, saying, “God gave me this song.” Most of the songs were terrible. The last thing I wanted was to be one of those people. But I had to know if the “dream song” was original and if it had any life beyond me. I made a quick recording on my iPhone, emailed it up and waited.

Dad’s response was immediate. “Joel, this is a great song!” He never said that unless he meant it. He started singing it right away in churches in the U.S. and China, Indonesia and Malaysia. He suggested the line “Heaven and Earth say ‘Amen'” from Revelation 5 to end the chorus and give some lyrical variation.

In the meantime, the pastor of our church of 4,000 had seen our family play bluegrass music at a community service event. Out of the blue I got an email from our worship pastor: “Are you guys interested in leading worship on a Sunday night?”

My internal answer: No way. We had never done such a thing. I don’t like being in front of people, and the idea of a family band was, at the time, a little bit embarrassing to me. But I knew the open door was from the Lord. So I found myself scared and leading worship, with my family, at our church just a few weeks later.

Without our doing a thing, invitations came from every direction — Lutheran churches, Nazarene churches, Methodist churches, Assemblies of God churches. My own doctor, during my routine physical, learned that we played music and insisted we lead worship at his church, which we have, twice.

And we began learning. Every Sunday brings a different lesson about how to prepare and lead a congregation in worship. One Sunday I forgot the words to a song we knew well, and because it was an outdoor service we had no screens on which to see the lyrics. Lesson: never assume you’ll remember all the lyrics; keep a music stand in front of you. (Ana Maria and the girls rescued me once they realized Dad was endlessly plucking the banjo.) That lesson came with dozens more. God has trained us step by step. My dad and our home church worship pastor have been instrumental in helping us go from worshipers to worship leaders, giving us advice and helpful criticism that is from the Lord.

One day I asked God what our future was. We only had one original song — were we supposed to go around playing it and a bunch of popular worship songs we didn’t write? What good was a worship band if we didn’t offer people something new? His response was to give a flood of songs in dreams and times of personal worship in early 2013.

We took those songs and made two CDs, adding a few bluegrass hymn favorites for fun. We now have the joy of leading worship nearly every Sunday in churches in Southern California. The blessings to our family have been unbelievable even as we balance school and soccer games with our music schedule. We never saw this turn in the road coming, not in a million years, but we are running with it because, as one of our heroes said, “we feel His pleasure.”

We can really say, it started with a dream.

Preview Kilpatrick Family Band music on iTunes or commit on the first date here.