The bass is thumping. The electric guitar rocks. The room is filled with the overall auditory beauty that comes when various instruments come together. But the spotlight falls on one person alone: the keyboardist leading the congregation in song.
Christy Dickison, the worship leader at the West Market location of North Ridge Community Church, raises a hand in the air, pointing toward the main focus of the worship set, her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
“If I was a fantastic keyboardist, a fantastic singer, fantastic guitar player, the whole worship would be all about me, and that’s not the endgame here,” Dickison says.
However, if you had asked Dickison if she would be up on stage leading worship in a place where she was respected as a female, the answer would have clearly been no.
The Penis Present
Before graduating from Milligan in 2003 with a degree in Music Education and as an ordained minister, Dickison began her life in ministry at the mere age of 13, when there was no one else musically talented in the congregation, so Dickison was asked to lead worship. It was not until a few years later that Dickison experiences what she calls the “Penis Present.”
“I experienced firsthand separation in the church between men and women about what they were allowed to do and what they were compensated for,” Dickison said.
During a Christmas service, the male ministers at the church Dickison was working for were recognized in front of the congregation and given a Christmas bonus. It was not until a few days later that Dickison, a female ministry staff member, was given her own Christmas bonus.
“I truly believe that, had I been standing on that stage with a penis, I’d have been considered a part of the community,” Dickison said.
It was at this point that Dickison and her family felt like they were walking away from the church for good due to hurt and God leading the family in a different direction. Dickison claims she felt like she was “done with the church” as both an organization and an institution. Little did she know what was in store for her.
Stumbling into North Ridge
When two churches are side-by-side on the same side of the road, it is often difficult to remember which church you’ve been to and which you haven’t, so perhaps one Sunday you stumble into the wrong church, right? Well, that happened to be the case for the Dickison family.
“Honestly, the only thought running through my head was, ‘What do we have to lose?’” Dickison said.
Dickison expressed reminiscent feelings of anger toward the church as a whole, toward God and toward people who called themselves Christians.
“We got to the church relatively early that morning,” Dickison said. “The lead pastor made a beeline straight for us, introduced himself and asked what our plans were for lunch. I quickly lied and said we had something in the crockpot. I was not about to commit to lunch with this dude.
At the time, North Ridge had a stance on women in ministry that Dickison did not agree with. However, the church was meant for the people, which is what drew the Dickison family into this church plant.
“You don’t have to put on your church clothes, your church face, your church voice,” Dickison said, fondly. “You just show up with all your mess and you mess is welcome. There is no pressure to fix the mess; [the people of North Ridge] will just sit with you in the mess.”
In other words, the people of North Ridge allowed the Dickisons to just be.
Starting a Musical Revolution
Jon Oakley, the lead worship leader for the four North Ridge campuses, believes that neither he nor the other worship coordinators deserve the title of ‘Minister.’ Dickison finds this to be compelling, regardless of the fact that she is the first female staff member hired at any North Ridge campus.
“I’m pastoring the people who are on stage with us,” Dickison said.
In September 2016, Dickison approached Oakley with the hope of being able to help coordinate worship sessions at the West Market campus of North Ridge. What she didn’t know was that she would be offered a voluntary position with North Ridge West Market as the worship leader.
At first, the role proved to be a daunting task for Dickison’s family. Leaving the house around 7 on a Sunday morning, before many other eyes were opened for the day, and not returning until 1:30 in the afternoon, Dickison felt as though she was putting a strain on her husband, Larry, as well as her children.
“If I didn’t have Larry, I could not be a successful mom. We are partners in all things,” Dickison said.
One of the most important things in Dickison’s life are her two girls, whom she tries to be a major influence on. Dickison emphasizes just how important it is for her daughters to know that she is more than just a mom and a wife because “that’s not what God just created [women] to be.”
Dickison also uses her role as worship leader to minister to her fellow band members. She mentioned a musician with anxiety whom she comforts and prays over each Sunday as they go on stage for the worship service, constantly reminding the musicians that this is their time to be brave.
“When you don’t have the words to express how everyone feels, music comes in and evokes an emotion that nothing else can,” Dickison said.
Most important to Dickison is the love and support of her family – both church and intimate – when it comes to her role at North Ridge West Market. Dickison’s husband told her that she is more at home on that stage worshipping than he has ever seen her before. This hit home for Dickison, as it was not permission to do something but permission for her to be who she truly is.
“In this season, I am to be on stage, leading worship at North Ridge West Market,” Dickison said.
Dickison has no plans on stepping down from her position any time soon and has big plans when it comes to the forward progression of the North Ridge community.