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Discipling Worship Leaders

Ukuleles and journaling notebooks are key to equipping youth and new Christians.
Though excited to receive two free ukuleles last summer at a Christian education conference, pastor Richard D. van Huss is more pleased with the discipleship notebooks distributed there.

Van Huss, of New Life Church in Winchester, Kentucky, explains the notebooks contain a daily Scripture reading and space for journaling thoughts about the Word. The pastor gave each New Life board member two copies, suggesting they journal in one and use the second to mentor another person.

“I asked them to take a new believer or someone who’s never been discipled,” says van Huss, 62. For his mentee, he picked a man who had only been a Christian for a couple of years. Biweekly meetings since August have led to the disciple developing a vibrant relationship with Scripture for the first time.

The discipling notebooks came from the person who handed out the ukuleles: Paul D. Johnstone, 66, discipleship pastor at Calvary Christian Center (C3AG) in Jeffersontown, Kentucky. While his music program has only taken off in the past two years, he has long emphasized spending time daily in Bible reading and prayer.

“I dream discipleship,” says Johnstone, a former Chicago resident who makes occasional return trips to visit a church he started in his neighborhood with help from his pastor. “We have this no-guilt strategy of discipleship and spiritual formation.”

While Johnstone estimates he has handed out 550 discipleship notebooks since relocating to Louisville, much of the attention surrounding his ministry involves his music initiative. Because of it, dozens of youngsters played “The Little Drummer Boy” at C3AG’s 2021 Christmas program and are expected to again this year. The keys to their music lessons are using a set of bucket drums to learn rhythm, the ukulele, and eventually electronic keyboards to become more proficient on the piano.

Johnstone says that by learning three basic chords on the ukulele and keyboard, children can play more than a third of all songs ever written and become worship leaders in their churches. Among the songs used to teach beginners are “Jesus Loves Me,” “Amazing Grace,” and “How Great Thou Art.”

As Johnstone’s ideas and news of his work spread, various churches and businesses picked up on it and provided instruments or finances to purchase them. When Johnstone went to a guitar store in October to order 100 ukuleles, the salesman offered to sell the $55 instruments for half price. On his way home, a schoolteacher who heard about Johnstone called and said if he would return to the shop, the teacher would give him two more ukuleles and two guitars as well.

“Non-Christians are giving us money for ukuleles,” says Johnstone, whose bivocational jobs have included teaching school and driving motorcoach buses. Last year, he distributed 150 ukuleles, and he recently purchased 80 buckets and 80 drum sets. “We’re still building a foundation so people buy in to the idea that we need to be discipling followers at every age level.”

Johnstone’s work with the multiethnic attendees at his suburban Louisville church led to an invitation to the Kentucky Ministry Network 2022 Christian education training conference at Lexington First Assembly of God. He told the audience he wanted to raise up young worship leaders nationwide.

Since then, he has received feedback from pastors who have introduced ukuleles to elementary students during Sunday morning teaching times. Some parents have learned basic chords at church and taught them to their children at home.

Johnstone, whose wife, Robin, is head of a private school for kids with special needs, says they have a vision to experience 100 children playing worship songs on their ukuleles as they stand along the shoreline of the Ohio River, with Louisville’s buildings and bridges in the background.

While the ukulele program has a long way to go at New Life Church, van Huss says one elementary-age girl has been taking private lessons and is helping other young members learn to play the instrument.

“It has incredible potential,” the pastor says of Johnstone’s effort. “We are continuing to see our children open their hearts to the Lord. Our goal is to see them fully Pentecostal and fully worshipful. They don’t have to wait until they’re older.”

Kentucky Ministry Network children’s pastor Patsy Dennis — who has been ministering for 55 years and is currently at Lexington First Assembly of God — started a ukulele club on Feb. 12. Four additional churches have received ukuleles, one of which is videoing class lessons and making them available online for use by other congregations.

At a scheduled ministry network function March 25 that is expected to draw over 50 ministry leaders, Johnstone will teach an hourlong beginner ukulele lesson and attendees will receive a free $60 instrument to take to their church.

Kenneth C. Walker

Kenneth C. Walker is a freelance writer, co-author, and book editor from Huntington, West Virginia. He has more than 4,500 article bylines and has written, edited, or contributed to more than 90 books.