Mark Swayze, who leads worship each Sunday in The Harvest, also happens to be the church’s Director of Contemporary Worship, which means he speaks into and helps guide the musical expressions in each of the contemporary venues. For him, worship — specifically in Harvest — is about so much more than four or five songs at weekend services.
“Years ago, we stopped calling ourselves a band and we started calling ourselves a ministry team, because we realized music is such a small part of what we do,” he says.
The Lord led Swayze and his team members to The Woodlands in 2014. They had been serving at University United Methodist Church in San Antonio for many years — nine for Swayze — and were quite settled in that community when he received a call from Bob Swan at The Woodlands UMC. Bob asked if he’d meet with Mark Sorensen, the pastor of The Harvest, which was looking for a new worship leader. Swayze insisted he was happy at University UMC but agreed to meet with Sorensen and his wife, Nycki, when they visited San Antonio.
“Sorensen was a worship leader, so he instantly connected with me, and Nycki and (Swayze’s wife) Missie instantly connected over Haiti,” Swayze says. “So all of a sudden we’re sitting there having lunch, and he starts talking about Harvest and where he wants it to go and the new building and his dream for the community. Missie and I sat there listening, and when we left the lunch were like, ‘Dang it. We’re going to go to The Woodlands.’”
Initially Swazye assumed that would mean leaving his team members behind in San Antonio. He sat down with the group and explained that he and Missie felt led to The Woodlands and that while the other members were welcome to join the couple and their two children, Caleb and Lauren, no one expected them to uproot their San Antonio lives to follow the Swayzes.
“By the end of that week, all seven members — plus Steven Rector, our sound guy from Austin — and their spouses and kids said ‘We’re in for Houston,’” Swayze says. “They sold their houses, quit their jobs, and 22 people moved from San Antonio to Houston and then went looking for new houses and jobs. It was crazy. Our first six months is the story of God opening up doors for jobs and opening up houses and neighborhoods for every single one of them.”
Swayze his team up front though them if they decided to join him in The Woodlands, he expected them to sell out to the church. He insisted that it wasn’t about leading worship on a larger platform (though at the time Harvest was smaller than University UMC) — it was more about living their lives with people during the week. So the team joined Bible studies and small groups, helped lead youth Bible studies, and generally got involved in the life of the church.
It’s the team’s engagement with The Harvest community that inspired them to create the songs on their album Mark Swayze Band: Live at Harvest. One of Swayze’s main goals going forward is to equip the Church — and especially Methodist congregations — with worship resources. For him, that begins with responding to what’s going on in the lives of those attending The Harvest.
“Corporate worship has always been, if it’s real and it’s raw, a response to something God has just done in the community,” Swayze says. “That’s why I think there are all these new Harvest songs that have been created — because we’re just taking what we’re experiencing in the community and saying ‘Let’s sing about it.’”
He’s excited about being at The Woodlands UMC and under the leadership of Mark Sorensen and Dr. Robb because they are willing to equip their people and give them a large canvas on which to bring their visions to life — visions that have the potential to reach far and wide beyond The Woodlands.
“One of the things that I’m believing about contemporary worship and Harvest and Loft and Woodforest and Rebelbase in the future is that we become a movement,” he says. “I think that The Woodlands United Methodist Church worship is going to be the epicenter of Wesleyan worship music and Wesleyan teaching and Wesleyan resourcing of the church. I literally think that the earthquake hits The Woodlands, and the aftershocks spread across the country.”
Mark and his wife, Missie, have two children: Lauren and Caleb.