Many God-inspired decisions led Joel Chan to serve as a CityWorship keyboardist. He shares with City News his journey.
In the quiet, reflective moments during worship at a City Harvest Church service, you will hear distinct melodies played by the CityWorship keyboardists. One of these anointed keyboardists is Joel Chan, 26, who also serves as a youth cell group leader (CGL).
Music has always been a part of Joel’s faith journey. He first came to City Harvest Church at the age of 13, and soon started serving as a guitarist in his cell group with the encouragement of his then CGL Rhonda Tan, who was also his cousin.
When he was at youth camp at age 16, he put his years of formal piano training to work as a keyboardist during camp. At that time, his pastoral zone also needed a male vocalist. Once again Joel stepped up to the plate, this time leading praise at his zone camp. Since then, he has been serving as a singer, guitarist and keyboardist for his zone.
“When I was younger and I didn’t know where and in what capacity to serve God, I believed the saying that ‘the need is the call’. Over time, God has revealed to me what specific areas He wanted me to focus on,” Joel shares.
COMING TO A CROSSROADS
“During one youth camp, I received a call from God to be a CGL,” the musician says. At that time, he was serving as a connect group leader in his cell group. “God gave me a burden for the youth, and it has been burning in my heart ever since.”
In 2017, Joel enrolled in City Harvest’s School of Theology. Ironically, that brought him to a crossroads: “I was in a dilemma—should I serve God as a musician, or as a spiritual leader?” he shares.
Joel was fresh out of National Service then. While he was in the army, he found it hard to spend time with his cell group members because of his duties and multiple training sessions. Thus, he stepped down as a connect group leader but continued serving as a musician.
“I was rising up in my band to be one of the Music Directors in my zone band and was accepted into the SOT band (at the same time). I asked God if He had closed one door (to become a cell group leader) and opened another for me. My cell group was also going through a transition, and I was appointed as a connect group leader again. I was lost and couldn’t understand what God wanted to show me. My main prayer throughout SOT was that He would reveal to me His direction and plans for my life, especially in my ministry,” he recalls.
During one of Joel’s mock cell group assessments in SOT, HarvestKidz pastor, Glordia Goh conducted the evaluation. She also prayed for Joel and his team members. “When it came to my turn, she gave (me) a word of knowledge, saying that she sensed I was at a crossroad, specifically in my ministry, and that I was asking God whether I should serve Him in music or leadership. She told me that God wanted to tell me that I could do both. She prayed for me to have the strength, and shared with me how worship pastors in other churches serve God in both capacities as well. There and then, I experienced God as a God of turnarounds. He had never forgotten about me.”
A WHOLE NEW BALL GAME
After graduating from SOT, Joel auditioned for the Emerge youth band in 2018 and played the keyboard for Emerge Conference for the first time that year. From there, he started serving in CityWorship as the second keyboardist. This posed a whole new set of challenges for him.
Once when Joel was serving as second keyboardist during the main service, he wanted to try something new by using software to create sound patches. To prepare for that, he created many layers of sounds, practised transitions and made sure he did his homework. He says, “I felt quite confident that I would be able to add value to the worship service with all that preparation.”
However, when it came to the rehearsal, things didn’t turn out the way he had expected. “During the sound check, I was testing the sound in front of all the other seasoned musicians and MDs who came to observe the practice. The sound engineer asked me through the mic, in front of everyone, ‘You play the highs, mids and the lows, so we don’t need bass, electric guitar or any other instruments, right?’”
The second keyboardist’s role is mainly to play atmospheric sound effects and synths that would help to make the music sound and feel fuller, Joel explains.
“At that point in time, I felt so embarrassed as a newcomer to the band. I felt condemned and that all that effort I spent creating the sound was put to waste,” Joel admits. “But I quickly bounced back from it and used it as a learning point to improve my craft.”
Joel is also thankful to have keyboard mentors who have guided him on this journey. “When I am serving, keyboardists like Gloria Lim and Sandy Yeo would often give me feedback on how I can improve on the voicing in my playing. They would even give me notes on the tone and texture of the touch and sound I create,” he shares.
“My biggest support and mentor is (fellow keyboardist) Eugene Tay who often encourages me by dropping me a text, telling me I did well whenever I serve. He also challenges me to improve on my craft and technicality, to maximise the unused potential of the gear that is provided by the church.”
Beyond mastering the technical aspects, Joel’s playing is an expression of worship to God, one that cannot be expressed with words. “I feel free and more expressive when I worship God through my playing,” he says.
During SOT, Pastor Choong Tsih-Ming also prayed for Joel, prophesying that his playing would bring about joy and healing. “I have since seen God working in this way through my ministry and I thank Him for the word released over my life,” Joel shares.
“I also hope that my passion to serve God in music can inspire others around me to use their God-given gifts and talents to serve Him, regardless of instrument or capacity. I also hope that through my ministry, many others will step up to learn music and deepen their worship with God.”