the shape of leadership

Resourcing the Community

A Q&A with JonCarlos Velez

Kristi Northup on February 26, 2020

JonCarlos Velez is the worship pastor at Emmanuel Christian Center (Assemblies of God) in Minneapolis.

INFLUENCE: How did you become interested in worship ministry?
VELEZ: It all started with my praying grandma, a little Puerto Rican woman, Mercedes Alvarado. She always modeled the importance of prayer and gratitude and thanksgiving to Jesus. Being Hispanic, it was lively! The charisma of music was ingrained at a young age.

When I was 12, my family began attending Oak Creek Assembly in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The most appealing to me was when they had a moment that would flow, and they would just sing out a song of praise — unscripted, no agenda. Those were the moments that drew me in to a worship relationship.

I got involved at youth group playing bass. I started learning the structure of worship. I grew a passion for it. I learned that there’s power in preparation. Preparation can open up a place for the flow, to do it with excellence so that when the Holy Spirit wants to take it in a direction, it puts people at ease and reduces the disruption.

How has your upbringing influenced your philosophy of worship leading?
Worship should be the most welcoming moment on Sunday morning. If you are hospitable to people, they will be open to the moving of the Holy Spirit. If people come to your house, you work hard to plan out a dinner. Why? You want to build a relationship.

“Worship should be the most welcoming moment on Sunday morning.”
— JonCarlos Velez

We want them to feel like, They took the time to set this up for me. I tell my worship leaders, “Your job is to be the most hospitable person in the room.”

We work hard to prepare ourselves. We set the table so they can come, be filled, and then the Lord can talk. I’m open to the Holy Spirit, and I want people to be open to the move of God in their lives as well.

How did SOAR (School of Artistic Refinement) come about?
When I was growing up, my parents couldn’t afford lessons. My music teacher told my parents, “I want to invest in JonCarlos.”

She gave her time after school to me, putting tools of practice in my hand. I have the principles today because I was at the right place at the right time. How many kids have a gift, but there’s no one in their lives to invest in their gifts?

My wife and I had the idea to open a school that was affordable. We have a team of 10 to 12 instructors who teach guitar, voice, piano, drums and recording. We’ve been able to secure funding through grants and through the investment of our church.

How do you envision the future of SOAR?
In history, the Church was the epicenter of the arts. Why can’t the church be the main source of music education for the community? We want to be a light and a resource. We’re about 2½ years old as a school, and we’ve seen hundreds of students in our program. Many of them have ended up coming into the church.

It’s opened the doors in the public schools, mentoring, coaching, being the hands and feet of Jesus. My dream is to see a SOAR center in every major city, raising up influencers through the curriculum, language, values and training God has helped us develop. Schools badly need the resources for the arts. The Church can raise up the next generation of artists and worship leaders.

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This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 edition of Influence magazine.

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