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Pursuing God: Thoughts on Music & Spirituality

Pursuing God: Thoughts on Music & Spirituality

By Austin Smith, Watershed Worship and Creativity Pastor

Hi! My name is Austin Smith and I’m the Worship and Creativity Pastor at Watershed. One of my roles is to oversee our Sunday morning experiences and the different elements that go into them. I’ve been leading worship and doing music in churches since I was in high school (so, like, two years ago) and I’ve been asked a plethora of questions regarding what I do. I thought exploring some of the questions I get most often would be a great way to converse about this topic.

Why music in a church?

We don’t really have much of a choice.

This entire conversation is about God. This big Other that man has been grappling to understand since the dawn of time. And at every generational, sociological turn, just when we think we’ve finally figured God out, we realize again that we are falling woefully short. So what does it mean for us to continue a pursuit that has frustrated many a spiritual and intellectual giant?

Music enters this picture with, arguably, better hands and tools for processing the conversation.

In the 1997 movie Contact, Jodie Foster plays an astronomer character who has found what she believes to be extra-terrestrial life. This finding leads her on an explorative space journey to the edge of some celestial other-world. She describes it as a celestial event and then, at a loss for words, exclaims, “They should’ve sent a poet!"

In many ways, this is the same reason we still sing in church. It’s not so that we can better explain God or our interactions with him, but so that we can marvel in the mystery that shrouds this entire conversation. Music gives us a way to experience God when words fall short. We use combinations of emotive melodies and instrumentation to evoke deeper parts of our response systems. We employ the use of mystical metaphors to give space where space is due while still attempting to wrap ourselves around God. This dance often leads us not into a place of knowing, but of unknowing.

What do you think about the music in our church?

Much of what I just described holds true for us at Watershed. We use music as a tool to more fully understand our experience with God. We realize that there are many avenues to experience God, so we do not presume that music somehow holds the key to unlocking any great mystery about what an encounter with God looks like. We do, however, think that there is something extremely powerful about a group of people coming together and singing together and listening to music together. For better or worse, there are things we do as a group that we simply cannot do as individuals, and one of those things is experiencing music in a corporate way. At Watershed we value this idea that everything is more complete when we experience it both as an individual and as a group.

Where do you think we’re headed?

We could probably have a big conversation about genre, style and particulars when it comes to the music at Watershed, but for the sake of time sincerity, those are secondary in my mind. When I think about where we are headed, I think about two avenues: honesty and quality.

So much of what we all experience in our everyday lives isn’t honest, often to the point that we’ve become largely skeptical of almost everything. I hope that as a church we can embody some sense of honesty with the music that we sing. We won’t get it right every time, but it has been my experience that when honest music is engaged, it changes the musician and the listener.

If the music isn’t good it doesn’t matter what it says or what it’s supposed to do, it won’t accomplish anything. That being said, good music is an unbelievably subjective statement. Everyone has a different opinion about what type of music is good and what type of music is bad. In this sense we try, as best we can, to move towards what moves people. We try to make informed decisions about what it is that stirs people’s souls and moves them into deeper parts of themselves and into deeper relationship with God.

What can I do to engage music in a meaningful, spiritual way?

The first thing that science will tell you about music is that for it to have any sort of positive effect, you must like it. I know it sounds simple, but go find the music that you really like. Not something that you think you’re supposed to like because your friend group, society, or family tells you to. If it’s Justin Bieber and Beyonce, then so be it. You have to find something or someone you really enjoy.

Secondly, if you want music to be something that changes you, you have to make time for it. You can’t just listen to it on occasion while you’re doing other things and expect some sort of transformational experience. Take a few minutes each day and just sit and listen. Close your eyes and take in the intricacies of the music and lyrics. Allow yourself to notice the experience as well as what the experience is doing to you and for you.

Lastly, I would encourage you to move towards music as a group practice, whether that be at church, or at a venue in town. Like I said before, there is something about a shared experience that is quite unlike anything we can experience as individuals. That shared experience has personally been one of the driving forces in my own life and in the lives of many others.

It is a joy to spend time with many of you on a Sunday morning for an hour or so and share this communal musical experience, and I hope that you will continue to join in as we allow music to pull us further up and further in.

Check out what we've been singing together recently at Watershed and take a peek at what's coming up next on our Playlist page!

Self-Sabotage and Faith

Self-Sabotage and Faith

By Cedric Lundy

Self-sabotage is the way an individual, through their individual beliefs, self-esteem, self-confidence, and permission from their past, keeps themselves within their self-chosen—and surprisingly comfortable—boundaries.

This past Sunday, as a part of our Interwoven series, I shared my own experience of realizing that I have a pattern of sabotaging myself in certain aspects of my life. I gave some examples from my youth of sabotaging even the possibility of dating, and from trying out for the basketball team. More currently I shared how identifying myself as a youth pastor had prevented me from even considering, much less pursuing, how else I could be used in ministry.

For those of you who were in attendance or have listened to the podcast hopefully it resonated with you and you are able to carve out some time this week to contemplate how and in what areas of your life you are your own worst enemy to achieving your goals and dreams. That being said there is one area I’d like to delve into deeper than I did on stage. Specifically two of the four questions I posed in relation to being a self-saboteur. Have your ‘yea buts’ become the primary obstacle to the life of transformation and renewal God is attempting to orchestrate in your life? How many of us are horrified that being made into a new creation in Christ, means a new set of expectations and new and higher levels of required performance?

I grew up in a Free Methodist church. The joke about Methodists is that they’re "all about the methods." More specifically, Free Methodists are all about living a disciplined lifestyle characterized by strict observance of moral codes and practice of Christian disciplines, most particularly Bible reading and prayer. That is one of my major starting points in understanding how to have a vibrant relationship with Jesus. Not to say that those two practices are somehow invalid, but those two practices have, over the years, become the “yea but” preventing me at times from fully engaging Christ for the purpose of continued life transformation and renewal. Those practices have, at times, caused me to assess my own personal spiritual health based solely on the frequency at which I practice them instead of assessing myself based upon the evidence of the fruit Paul mentions in Galatians 5.22-24 (love joy peace patience kindness goodness faithfulness gentleness and self-control).

All that to say, at times, I struggle to feel like I’ve met my perceived expectations of required performance, especially since becoming a full-time vocational pastor. If I perceive I’m not meeting those standards I become paranoid God is going to distance himself from me, and before I know it I start to move away from him internally before he can.

For some of you, your ‘yea but’ is your doubts. I imagine there is an event or circumstance that has become your current starting point for life with and in Christ, but that event has evoked all sorts of doubts regarding the goodness and trustworthiness of God, or worthiness of yourself. I know fellow journeyers who have been railroaded by divorce (their parents’ and their own), being the victim of abuse, failure of health, losing their virginity, becoming addicted to porn, betrayal—the list goes on and on—into doubting God’s existence or that he could ever truly love them.

Could it be that you’ve become comfortable keeping God at a safe distance ever since?

For some of you, particularly those who are relatively new to church, your ‘yea but’ has been the valid questions raised by the history of grievances of those who claim the God and Christ of the Christian scriptures. How the first century Jewish teacher of love and grace became the mascot of the crusades, annihilation of Native Americans, and the tormentor of sexual minorities is perplexing to the point of there being a myriad of internet memes that can illustrate these incongruences better than I ever could.

Or maybe your questions reside within the realm of trying to reconcile faith and reason. Regardless, your questions have become your ‘yea but’ preventing you from going any deeper into your journey with God. Could it be that you find an odd comfort in knowing that your questions likely don’t have satisfying answers that would serve as a catalyst for you to move further towards God?

Whether our upbringing, our doubts, or our questions I suspect that our ‘yea buts’ in this regard have a common thread. At some level we all need to feel like we have arrived. Arrived at a point of excellence. Arrived at a point of resolve. Arrived at a point of resolution. The prickly underbelly to feeling like we need to have arrived is that we know, or at least should know by now, that life is too unpredictable and filled with too many unknowns for that to be the thing we base our relationship with God and Christ upon in any facet.

We never know when something is going to come and disrupt our comfort in feeling like everything is in its right place. When that reality becomes the reason for keeping God at arm’s length, then it can become the thing that actually sabotages our engagement with him without us realizing we’re doing it.        

Mother's Day: Preparing the Table

Mother's Day: Preparing the Table

By Becky Santoro, Watershed Children's Director

I grew up surrounded by a group of women. My mom has strong friendships with many but I remember a handful of women that were her TRIBE. These ladies got together to laugh, pray for each others' kids, and supported each other in the ups and downs of life. Literally, these women were in my mom’s everyday life and they watched me grow up… awkward phases and all.

When I turned 18 these women all got together in one room to sip on tea, sit around a table, and read out loud a letter they wrote me. It was a letter of encouragement: things they saw in me growing up, ways they prayed for me, what they hope I would experience and learn as I moved forward into adulthood.

I’m a mom of a 4 year old and a 2 year old and I’m picturing who might be at the table when it’s their turn to sip on tea and hear women read them a letter.

I’m preparing the table now.

A tribe isn’t born overnight. It’s 1,000 small memories and conversations. It’s staying in touch when some of them move. It’s laughing at the mom moments and it’s the crying alongside them when hard parts of life happen; when infertility, miscarriages, and unexpected trials enter.

It’s being vulnerable enough to share the deepest fears and failures as a parent or wife and then realizing you’re not alone. It’s the judgement free zone when you need to vent but also those who will tell you the tough truth when you need that too.

It’s showing up in the lives of their children too and loving them like your own; going to the ball games, birthday parties, dance recitals. It’s lending an ear when their kids won’t listen to them but will listen to you. It’s problem solving together through the growing pains.

So pull up a chair around the women you care about. Make sure your calendar, in all its busyness, carves out time for you to be with them and their families. Let your kids bear witness to it too.

It’s too important to not spend time investing in preparing the table by building your tribe.  And the good news is there’s always room for more chairs.

Find your tribe and love them hard.

Happy Mother’s Day,


Because He is Risen

Because He is Risen

Thanks to all who joined us yesterday at Watershed to celebrate Easter Sunday! You can listen to the complete message here if you missed it. 

Because He is risen
Spring is possible
In all the cold hard places
Gripped by winter
And freedom jumps the queue
To take fear’s place
as our focus
Because he is risen

Because He is risen
My future is an epic novel
Where once it was a mere short story
My contract on life is renewed
in perpetuity
My options are open-ended
My travel plans are cosmic
Because he is risen

Because He is risen
Healing is on order and assured
And every disability will bow
Before the endless dance of his ability
And my grave too will open
When my life is restored
For this frail and fragile body
Will not be the final word
on my condition
Because He is risen

-Gerard Kelly


God's Power in the World

God's Power in the World

Dating, relationships and love (or lack thereof) can feel messy and difficult for many people. Yesterday Co-Pastor Matt O'Neil spoke about asking better questions as we wrestle with the "wheat and the weeds" in our lives. (Listen to the full message: Stogies & Silettos 2016 | There Are Always More Questions)

Good questions don't usually have simple answers - they often require a journey, a commitment and a surrender to something bigger than ourselves. Even though Jesus says there will someday be a harvest when the wheat will be kept and the weeds burned away completely, asking better questions often doesn't make circumstances any easier in the present. The good news is that we have a God who took on our human condition to become nothing and embraced our powerlessness to enter our pain. God's full resolve is to join us in our darkness. 

Matt closed this talk with the following mediation from Fr. Ron Rolheiser about the true nature of God's power in the world. May it bring you deep peace and comfort as you commit to stand amidst both the wheat and the weeds of your life and ask questions which push you forward into greater wholeness and intimacy with our Creator.


God's power is never the power of a muscle, a speed, a physical attractiveness, a brilliance or a grace which (as the contemporary expression has it) blows you away and makes you say: "Yes, there is a God!" The world's power tries to work that way.

God's power though is more muted, more helpless, more shamed and more marginalized. But it lies at a deeper level, at the ultimate base of things, and will, in the end, gently have the final say.

So what does God's power look like?

If you have ever dreamed a dream and found that every effort you made was hopeless and that your dream could never be realized, if you have cried tears and felt shame at your own inadequacy, then you have felt how God is in this world.

If you have ever been shamed in your enthusiasm or approach and not given a chance to explain yourself, if you have ever been cursed for your goodness or effort by people who misunderstood you and were powerless to make them see things in your way, then you have felt how God is in this world.

If you have ever tried to make yourself attractive to someone and were incapable of it, if you have ever loved someone and wanted desperately to somehow make him or her notice you and found yourself hopelessly unable to do so, then you have felt how God is in this world.

If you have ever felt yourself aging and losing both the health and tautness of a young body and the opportunities that come with that and been powerless to turn back the clock, if you have ever felt the world slipping away from you as you grow older and ever more marginalized, then you have felt how God is in this world.

And if you have ever felt like a minority of one before the group hysteria of a crowd gone mad, if you have ever felt, first-hand, the sick evil of being violated, abused or taken advantage of, then you have felt how God is in this world... and how Jesus felt on in his last breaths. 


Fr. Rolheiser's original mediation was sent in one of his twice-weekly E-newsletters, which you can sign up to receive by email here. This version of the meditation was altered slightly. We also recommend Fr. Rolheiser's book The Holy Longing.

Christmas Eve "Early"

Christmas Eve "Early"

December 20 at 9:00 & 10:45 AM
two opportunities for a special Watershed experience for the whole family
1817 Central Ave • Charlotte NC • 28205
Plaza Midwood

One of our community's most beloved traditions is our annual Christmas Eve service. We decided this year, since so many folks travel over the holidays, that we would move our Christmas Eve experience from the 24th to our Sunday morning gatherings on December 20th so that everyone could take part in the tradition.

At the core of all the celebrating, shopping, decorating, overeating, and various traditions of the Christmas season is a baby, an unwed mother, a carpenter, and a silent night that started it all. On Christmas Eve, Watershed offers a respite from all the holiday chaos where you can take a moment to rest, hit the "pause" button on the pandemonium, and possibly catch a glimpse of the Christmas holiday in its natural state. Join us on December 20th to experience Christmas Eve a little early at Watershed - a contemplative, casual, ambiance-drenched, reflective, family-friendly, 70ish minutes of Christmas-carols-meet-21st-century Christmas Eve service for ALL ages and ALL walks of life. Bring someone you love!

Watershed 10 Year Anniversary Story & Celebration!

Watershed 10 Year Anniversary Story & Celebration!

#Watershed10 was a success! Thank you to everyone who made our ten year celebration possible, from the staff and the volunteers to the past Watersheders who came and visited and the food trucks who joined us for the fun. We couldn't have done it without all of you and we are so grateful for all of the love that was shared through pictures, stories, and music. Send us your photos from the day and we'll post them on our website to commemorate! 

Listen to the podcast of the stories from our celebration here!

Whose Responsibility Is It?

Whose Responsibility Is It?

By Jen Windland

When does trust and faith lead us to abdicate our personal responsibilities?

You’ve probably heard phrases like “Let go and let God” and “Jesus take the wheel” and other sorts of sayings meant to reinforce what we might believe about trust and faith in God, but is there ever a point in which the things we say as reinforcement to our beliefs begin to coerce us into abdicating our personal responsibilities?

There's a scene in a movie called Forgetting Sarah Marshall and in it Peter, played by Jason Segel, is in Hawaii and wants to learn to surf. The resort he is at is one of those insanely expensive, all-inclusive types that has private instructors for almost any activity the island might provide, so Peter heads out to the beach to find an instructor to help him out.

He stumbles upon a hut and meets none other than Chuck, played by Paul Rudd, who agrees to teach him to surf. Chuck’s technique to teach Peter to surf is to tell him, “Don’t do anything. Don’t try to surf. Don’t do it. The less you do, the more you do.” He then tells Peter to pop up on the surf board. Peter does as he’s told and is scolded by Chuck, “That was too much. Do less.”

This continues until Chuck tells Peter to pop up and Peter just lays there on the surf board, not moving a muscle. Chuck comes back with, “Well, you gotta do more than that. Now you’re just laying there looking like you’re boogie boarding."

Honestly, sometimes I’m right there on the surf board of my faith wondering what I’m supposed to be doing. And in a much more complex way, it seems as though our directives can lead us to a little bit of this kind of an internal conversation.

Faith moves us in and out of places where we have complete and total reliance upon God to pull off a miracle when there is seemingly nothing we can do about it, and then there are other times when God seems silent and we are left to our own devices to make seemingly monumental decisions.

As I have probed down into my own heart, and have seen this conversation take place internally in others, I have noticed some consistent patterns that frequent the conversation surrounding this thought.


Something very real is exposed when we begin to ask questions of faith and personal responsibility. We begin to notice the gap between what it would take to be God and what it takes to be human. There is a question of vision that begins to arise.

We sometimes blindly trust in the mystery of God and the things we can’t understand that surround him because we are, for the most part, comfortable with the idea that if there is a God, then he should most certainly be capable of seeing some sort of a bigger picture than what we can see. He, hopefully, isn’t limited to the confines of space and time that we are. His vision is infinitely more clear.

This idea, however, exposes our inability to see. It puts us in the position of the kid holding the parent’s hand as they make their way through a crowd. The kid hoping that the parent is going in the right direction. The parent just asking the kid to trust them and to continue to take another step. 


Another piece to the conversation that typically arises is some sort of fear. It is usually wrapped up in a fear of failure, but I’m sure there are other forms it could take as well.

Often when it comes to personal responsibility, undertaking a task, or making a decision, it is a certain step towards possible, inevitable or statistically probable failure. No one succeeds at every point, at every turn and in every situation. So some, instead of taking a step towards failure, will turn in fear to make statements that put the responsibility on God.

On a side note, this person will most likely blame God when things in life go wrong. Again, abdicating personal responsibility.


This one was me.

I grew up in a home where trust was paramount. Some of the clearest conversations I had with my parents as I was growing up were about trust. There were two things that warranted a spanking when I was a kid, lying and disobeying. And when I went to kindergarten I remember my parents telling me I had two objectives in going to school. Learn to tell the truth, and learn to get along with other people.

The fascinating thing about my childhood wasn’t that they placed such a high priority on trust, but that my parents were actually trustworthy! I’m sure there were bumps in the road of trust along the way, certainly on my end, and possibly on their end, but when the parent-child relationship shifted when I went to college and moved out there was a sense in which there was a general mutual trust.

That trust was transferred to God. People often say that your primitive views of God stem from your views of your father, and for me, that was a pretty good deal. I trust my father, and so I trust God. Pretty simple.

Well, later down the road that trust in God began to get me pats on the back when I should have been getting kicks in the rear. I would use words like “patience” and “faith” as ways to get out of talking about how my life was stalling out. Deep down I did trust God, and unfortunately I knew that I could say the right words so that I wasn’t held responsible for my life or my future. It was in “god’s hands”.

This kind of laziness, at it’s most basic level is a type of immaturity. It’s the kind of laziness that can either continue well into adulthood or can come face to face with the consequences of reality. Fortunately for me, I landed on the latter. But that’s another blog for another day.


Ideally, faith and trust in God leads to peace. If you had a father or father figure whom you couldn’t or can’t trust, you might have immense anxiety when this conversation arises. You may never come to a place of peace with this, but I hope that there is in some way a sliver of hope that it is possible.

The kind of peace I’m talking about is a deep internal peace that allows you to operate fully present in the moment with the weight of responsibility firmly pushing you forward while tranquilly understanding that there are forces outside of your control that have to be let go.

This kind of peace breeds freedom, not fear. It pushes you harder than you’ve ever been pushed. Away from laziness and into maturity. It gives you some semblance of balance and wholeness that comes from a partnership with God, not in resistance to God.

It allows you to see clearly your own personal limitations and embrace them with a sense of deep understanding. A knowing that penetrates the barrier between what we wish things could be and what is reality. In this sense we begin to see more clearly who and what God is and who and what we are.