Music and Ministry : Josh Holley

story by Katie Vandenhouten     photos by Shelia Scott

Josh Holley is no stranger to the arts.  He is a worship leader at The Chapel in Rincon, where he plays guitar, sings and preaches. When it comes to creative expression, he does it all. He’s a cartoonist, songwriter, and performer, but he’s most passionate about what he does every Sunday at The Chapel; leading worship in the form of song.

     Music has always been his passion. Holley started playing the guitar in the 90’s with the intention of writing his own songs, and by the early 2000’s, he had already produced his first self-titled cd. His music was popular on Myspace and college radio, but he put his solo career on hold to pursue his other creative interests.

     He was attending Young Harris College when opportunity called, and he decided to learn from experience rather than textbooks.  “I was getting a degree in liberal arts with a focus in speech and communication,” he says. “The point was that all of my friends that had graduated with those degrees weren’t doing anything, but I was already getting work and making a living doing those things. College will always be there– these opportunities are right here.”

     He began working at the Cultural Affairs Department in Savannah, and from there, he did everything from set design to community theater, improv workshops and drama camp. “I work with a lot of different mediums,” he says. “Whatever it happens to be, if it’s creative, I’m all about it.”

     When a professional theatre group came in from Branson, Missouri, and acquired what is now The Historic Savannah Theatre, people in the community told them about Holley, and he began working as the theatre’s house manager.

     Not long after he started, they needed a bass guitarist, so they asked if he could play the bass.  “I don’t know what possessed the band to say, ‘you can be the bassist,’” Holley says with a laugh.

     He had never played the bass guitar in his life, but for some reason, he agreed to try it. “At that point, I had learned God had opened a lot of really weird doors for me just because I would say yes,” Holley recalls. So he took the chance, picked up the bass, and the rest is history.

     Once he started, he performed with the Historic Savannah Theatre for the next seven years. His role in the show kept growing until he was acting and singing regularly, eventually assuming the role of Buddy Holly in the theatre’s beloved Return to the 50’s show.

     His most memorable moment was when he performed with the theatre at Picnic in The Park. “Playing for an entire Forsythe Park full of people–that was thousands of people,” recalls Holley. “It was just a cool experience.”

     Not many people get to perform for a living, so Holley was grateful for the opportunity. But even though he loved performing with the theatre, he felt like God was calling him to do more. “I left the theatre because of the opportunities that kept coming up in ministry.”

     When bandmate, Chris Fullerton, invited him to The Chapel in Rincon, Holley felt at home right away. “It was the first time I went to church where I was welcomed, and I wasn’t judged and I didn’t have to dress a certain way,” he says. “It felt like a real community that was genuine.”

     When they asked him if he would be interested in playing bass guitar for The Chapel, he knew he had to accept. This time, he wanted to use the musical opportunity to glorify God.

     The Chapel in Effingham is not like most churches. You won’t find the traditional pews and hymnals there. You’re greeted with some pastries and a cup of coffee at the cafe, and you make your way to a chair in front of the stage, where the lights are dimmed, the band leads the worship, and the diverse congregation listens to a passionate and oftentimes humorous sermon.

     It is utterly free of pretense, which is one of the main reasons Holley joined. The first time he saw one of the band members in a Red Hot Chili Peppers shirt playing a ZZ Top riff, he knew he was home. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We take God and His word seriously, but none of us are perfect, and we like rock and roll. God gave us joy and rock and roll, so let’s have joy and rock and roll,” he says with a laugh.

     It wasn’t long after Holley joined the worship team (the church band) at The Chapel that he felt called to do even more with ministry. He began working with children’s ministry and then family ministry, and he now works full-time for the church as communications director and worship leader.

     Holley is fortunate to be able to do what he loves for a living. But even though he has had much success in music, he’s also had his setbacks. Like many people, he has struggled with depression and anxiety.

     “That’s not a comfortable thing for anyone to talk about, but I think the fact that we’re so uncomfortable talking about it means that people who need help don’t seek it out because they’re ashamed,” he says. “There’s a stigma attached to it.”

     “Sometimes being true and honest is not pretty and it’s not inspiring to others,” he adds. “But if I talk about it openly, it can help someone else through that.” Inspiring children is important to Holley. He loves working with youth groups, and he strives to be a positive role model.

     Some of the best advice he could give youth today is to follow through in the pursuit of their passion and to never be afraid of not being good enough. In fact, whenever Holley is required to wear a nametag, he doesn’t just write “Josh;” he writes “Joshua 1:9,” which says not to be afraid, for the Lord is with you wherever you go.

     “How many things would I have missed if I kept going through life afraid?” Holley asks. He maintains that most of the opportunities in his life happened because he wasn’t afraid and was willing to jump at every opportunity that God gave him.

     “For the longest time I didn’t do anything because I was afraid or because I didn’t think I was qualified or equipped,” says Holley. “But if I wasn’t willing, I wouldn’t have seen how He would equip me.”

     He is an avid cartoonist, and he is interested in making his own comics and providing online content for kids and families. Holley also enjoys making trading cards for kids at www.wordweirdos.com, and he wants to eventually start teaching virtual guitar lessons online.

     And even though he put his performing career on hold to work with the ministry, he has never stopped writing songs. He is working on finishing a new cd containing both Christian and secular songs.

     For now, his main goal is to expand the ministry and continue to grow the worship team at The Chapel.  “I’ll eventually finish this cd that I’ve been slowly working towards, and then I’ll have to do self promotion, but right now I’ve traded in ‘me’ for ‘we’ or for ‘HE.’”

     Whether he’s onstage or playing alone, he is grateful for music and the ability to perform. “Every time I get to play a note, it’s not just a celebration of that note. It’s the celebration that sound exists and that we get moved by vibrations– that God made that kind of a universe that there’s a potential for that,” he says.

     Whether it be music or ministry, Josh Holley makes the most of every opportunity. And though he doesn’t know where God may lead him next, for now you can find him playing at The Chapel each Sunday at 9:00 and 10:30am. Wherever he performs,one thing is certain: he makes a joyful noise.

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