Thereâ€™s something different happening at Boger City Methodist Church.
Itâ€™s a contemporary worship service that presents a traditional Christian message in a distinctively modern package, with contemporary music and a more relaxed atmosphere.
Brian Jackson has only been the contemporary praise leader since February, but heâ€™s been preparing for the job his whole life.
â€œMy dadâ€™s a Pentecostal minister,â€ Jackson said. â€œGrowing up, I was always involved in the inner workings of the church.â€
Jackson fell in love with singing as a high school student at East Gaston High School, when a chorus teacher inspired him to develop his natural vocal talent. Singing became Jacksonâ€™s way of expressing himself.
Around the same time, Jackson began to think of a career in music, but his religious roots steered him away from chasing rock star dreams.
â€œI felt a call to use my voice for something more than entertainment,â€ said Jackson. â€œMusic is an awesome tool to touch people. I felt God calling me to work in that area.â€
Having sung in church and performed in church musicals, Jackson had seen firsthand the power music has to change peopleâ€™s perceptions.
When he was still in high school, Jackson met someone who changed his own perceptions. Her name was DeRee, and she would eventually become his wife.
Back then, she was the director of a youth choir and cast him as Joseph in the musical â€œThe Dreamer.â€ DeRee encouraged the then-shy Jackson to come out of his shell. Together, they made music a big part of their lives.
The duo traveled and sang together with another musician as a gospel trio called Believerâ€™s Heart.
The couple married in 1996 and had their first child in 2000, making going on the road to perform a bit more difficult.
â€œI got more involved in the church ministry locally,â€ Jackson said.
Jackson became the minister of music at Faith United Methodist Church in Gastonia. It was a different experience for Jackson, as the churchâ€™s mostly traditional worship service varied greatly from the contemporary Pentecostal services to which Jackson was accustomed.
At Faith, Jackson headed up the chancel choir, a traditional liturgical choir.
â€œThey taught me a lot,â€ said Jackson. â€œThey taught me at least as much as I taught them.â€
Even though he was the leader of the choir, Jackson says he often took a back seat, giving the choir members a chance to shine.
â€œI spent more time focusing on others,â€ Jackson said. â€œIt was Godâ€™s way of preparing me for what was to come.â€
While vacationing in Florida with his family, a friend of Jacksonâ€™s called to say he had seen a newspaper ad for a contemporary praise leader at Boger City Methodist Church. Jackson had sung as a guest at the churchâ€™s contemporary service and had a good feeling about the church.
â€œIt was something I felt inside that I needed to pursue,â€ said Jackson.
Still on vacation, Jackson emailed his information to pastor Ed Maddox. Once back in Lincoln County, he met the minister for an interview and was offered the position of contemporary praise leader. After praying about it, Jackson decided to accept the position.
The job left Jackson with enough free time to work on his fledgling music career. In addition to his work with churches, Jackson is also a recording artist.
His debut album was released soon after his guest performance at Boger City Methodist. Jackson compares working on the album to giving birth to a child.
â€œIt may not be as difficult, but itâ€™s definitely stressful on the whole family,â€ Jackson said.
Creating the album was a process for Jackson, as he had to pick the songs, arrange them, and, most importantly, record them.
Some tracks on the album are originals, including a song called â€œBrokenâ€ that DeRee wrote for him. He says his wife was extremely supportive during the process and even sang backup on the album.
According to Jackson, the album is a mixture of contemporary and traditional music, with a borderline folk sound. He says there are songs influenced by the music of the 1960s. There are ballads, as well as more upbeat fare, what Jackson calls â€œfeel good music.â€
The album was released by Lamon Records, a Monroe-based studio headed up by Dave Moody of the Moody Brothers. The first single, entitled â€œBeyond Me,â€ reached number one internationally on the inspirational chart for indieheaven.com., a website that promotes independent Christian artists.
Interestingly, Jackson also saw a music chart from Japan. â€œBeyond Meâ€ was number 41.
â€œMy band always teases me,â€ said Jackson. â€œThey say Iâ€™m really big in Japan. It puts life in perspective.â€
Jacksonâ€™s songs are even available as ring tones.
The single has gotten some air play on Charlotte Christian radio station 106.9, as well as on stations in Kentucky and Indiana. Jackson says he is about to release a second single off the album.
Whether itâ€™s his music or his ministry, Jackson is committed to presenting a Christian message in a way that is accessible to people.
â€œItâ€™s about touching people where they are,â€ Jackson said. â€œItâ€™s about delivering the same message but framed in a different way. Christ thought out of the box, and He told us to follow His example.â€
At Boger City Methodist, Jackson is doing just that.
Rather than the traditional organ, Jacksonâ€™s contemporary praise service uses piano and drums for a more lively sound. A power point display shows song lyrics so people can sing along. Itâ€™s an interactive service that tries to engage the congregation in new ways.
While Maddox delivers a sermon at both the traditional and contemporary services, the message at the latter service is packaged differently; itâ€™s more current and easy for people to relate to their modern lives.
As Jackson sees it, having both services maximizes the number of people who may be touched by the Gospel.
â€œWe are able to minister to the entire congregation by providing two very different worship experiences,â€ said Jackson.
Reaching as many people as possible, whether through a CD or worship service, is the ultimate goal for Jackson. In June, he will embark on a tour of Western North Carolina, including a stop at the Graham County Heritage Festival in Robbinsville.
Jackson points out that the contemporary approach to worship is becoming more mainstream. After all, what we think of as traditional was contemporary in its time.
In the trend toward updating worship services to appeal to a modern congregation, itâ€™s all about getting the message across.
â€œWeâ€™ve got to continue to enhance the worship experience,â€ Jackson said. â€œWeâ€™ve got to engage people.â€
To learn more about Brian Jacksonâ€™s music, including tour dates and how to download ring tones, please visit www.brian-jackson.org.
by Allyson Levine