Lara Martin, worship pastor at ABUNDANT LIFE, spoke to Helen McCabe.
Helen: How did you first get involved with Abundant Life Church?
Lara: At the age of 14 I was convinced that I didn't need God and for seven years I lived my life without him. It had also been a difficult period for my parents who were not attending a church for much of that time. Then one night my father had a dream and God told him to go to Abundant Life Church as he would be able to find healing and restoration for our family. My parents attended first, leaving me in bed each Sunday, usually with a hangover - I wasn't interested in going to church. In my mind I'd been there and done that since I was a little girl. Several months later, at the age of 21 I came to a point in my life where I was desperate. That desperation caused me to get out of bed and jump in the car one Sunday morning and go to church with my parents. The first thing that amazed me was the number of young people, and the energy and excitement this church had. I experienced the awesome presence of God that I had missed for so many years. I vowed to God that day that there was no going back to my old way of living. That was nine years ago!
Helen: How did you get to become Worship Pastor at Abundant Life?
Lara: I first started working full time for Abundant Life Church as a receptionist. I was answering telephone calls and doing general office duties. I also used to oversee Paul Scanlon's tape ministry. I was always singing around the office; the photocopier, as I made a cup of coffee, as I typed a letter, etc. The staff used to say how happy I always sounded and I was. I felt so honoured and privileged to be serving in God's house everyday of my life. As far as music was concerned I served as a backing singer for many years and was occasionally asked to lead worship. My journey is a simple story. I was faithful with little, so God entrusted me with more. I didn't grumble or complain about being in the background. I served God wholeheartedly wherever I was because I knew my character was under construction and God was shaping me for the future - this was my training ground! During that time I developed a great friendship with Paul and Glenda Scanlon and we enjoyed a great flow together. Looking back I can see how God was re-positioning me for the next level he had already prepared. When Paul asked me to go full time as Worship Pastor three years ago I had a real Amen in my heart.
Helen: The worship at Abundant Life has been described as "powerful worship which is pregnant with a strong sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit." Has this always been the case at Abundant Life and if not how did it get to this point?
Lara: As a church we have always enjoyed awesome worship but I remember someone saying to me recently that where God finds a partnership between the worship and word ministry he present's himself there in a special way. We have certainly found this to be true. Once we have become more "lost" focussed our passion for his presence is much deeper. It's at this point that you realise that it's not about the singing, it's about reaching and changing lives. As you begin to see people coming to Christ and hear their amazing testimonies, you cannot help but want to worship God. It's in this atmosphere where miracles take place and that's without a prayer line!
Helen: Gareth Gates, a contestant on ITV's Pop Idol, is a member of the Abundant Life Church and a backing vocalist on the new album 'Divine Exchange'. How do you think the church has impacted Gareth's singing career?
Lara: I spoke with Gareth's dad recently who said that without Abundant Life, Gareth wouldn't be doing what he's doing and he owes so much to the church. Not many people at Gareth's age have got to sing in front of over 1000 people in church every week on a huge stage, with TV cameras and a live band; be broadcast on Christian TV all across Europe, South Africa, Australia and USA. Not to mention the two live CD recordings he's also been involved in here. Whoever said church wasn't exciting? Gareth is only 17 and to see what he has achieved in such a short time is incredible. As it says in Psalm 92:12 Gareth has remained "planted in the house" and God has blessed him for it and now the whole of Great Britain is able to watch him flourish.
Helen: What do you think of Gareth being on Pop Idol? Do you think he would make a good pop idol?
Lara: I think Pop Idol is fantastic. It's about time we saw Christians breaking into the music industry and making a difference. Every Saturday a group of us (would) get together and sit glued to the TV hanging onto every note that Gareth sang and then we'd hit the re-dial button when it wass time to vote. I am so proud of Gareth and I don't think that you could ask for a better role model. He's very gifted and but also strong in character. There is so much trash out there that many pop stars carry around with them but thankfully the only thing that Gareth carries around with him is treasure.
Helen: Is the album a representation of the worship at
Lara: Absolutely! Because it captures the passion and life that is in our congregation, many of whom have experienced their own Divine Exchange and have had their lives totally transformed by God. Because of this they don't just sing the songs, they believe every word! People have even said to me, "What a noisy bunch your church is," and the recording captures this. We shout and rejoice because we have something of worth to shout about! Why give all your energy to a football match on Saturday and barely give God an "Amen" on Sunday? It's just not right!