Maximillian Low and Jaelle Teo are newlyweds who serve together in CityWorship, a ministry where they found their identity in God and gained confidence in themselves. They share their journey.
Maximillian Low, 32, a financial consultant, is a familiar face in City Harvest Church. Not only does he lead praise and worship in the main services, he has also written songs for the church. His wife Jaelle, 26, a human resource engagement associate, also serves in CityWorship as a backup vocalist. They are co-cell group leaders in Pastor Aries Zulkarnain’s district.
Maximillian came to church at the end of 2005 when he was in Secondary 3. He was invited by a classmate. “We had almost the whole basketball and netball team coming to church, and a few librarians,” he recalls.
In 2008, Maximillian auditioned to join a youth band in church. He passed the audition and began his journey as a backup vocalist, sitting in during practices to learn from the senior song leaders.
After a year or so, he officially joined the Backup Vocalist (BV) ministry. “That’s how I kind of stumbled into the ministry,” he says, “but I’ve always had a passion for music and that was why I auditioned for the youth band back in 2008.” He has been serving in the ministry for the past 14 years and grew up under the tutelage of seasoned song leaders like Annabelle Soh, Alison Yap and Teo Poh Heng. “Belle, Ally and Poh literally watched me grow up,” he smiles.
Jaelle came to church in 2010 at the start of the CHC trial. However, she was only 16 and didn’t think much of it. “I just really loved hanging out with my church friends and being in this community,” she says.
She was trained to lead praise and worship when she a student in the School of Theology in 2016. That was also when she got to know Annabelle and Poh. She was eventually invited to join CityWorship a few years after graduation, and she has been serving as a backup vocalist since then.
Maximillian and Jaelle met at a youth camp in 2015. In 2016, they both served as camp commandants and a year later, they started going out as a couple. The couple got married in May this year.
FINDING HIMSELF THROUGH THE SACRIFICE OF PRAISE
Since he was young, Maximillian had always been passionate about music. That love for music and singing led him to serving God the last 14 years as a singer. He shares that it has been a journey of moulding, correction and humbling.
Growing up as an only child, Maximillian felt that he never knew how to behave in social situations. He was taught to not be selfish or boastful, but that propelled him to the other extreme of not knowing how to interact with others.
“When I first joined the ministry, there was a season I really struggled between allowing myself to flow creatively while staying humble, and also trying to not overdo both,” he recalls.
Once, four years after he started serving in the BV ministry, he arrived at a music practice session at Singapore Expo (where CHC’s services used to be held) after booking out of camp during his national service. That weekend, CHC’s executive pastor, Sun Ho had told the singers who were serving that weekend to arrive earlier to pray.
“When I reached the hall, I felt this sudden sense of shame. Who was I to pray with them?” Maximillian remembers. Gathered at the stage front praying were Sun, Poh, Annabel and some of the seniors in CityWorship. The sense of self-doubt overcame him, and he hid himself in the artistes’ room, shellshocked at his behaviour and not knowing what to do with himself. “I didn’t feel comfortable praying with them, and that was definitely not from the Holy Spirit,” he said. Eventually, he regained his senses but still couldn’t bring himself to go into the hall to pray with the others. Instead, he went into the toilet to sit for the next 15 minutes until they were done praying.
That was when Maximillian started asking God what he was supposed to learn, and God said to him, “Max, when I created the heavens and the earth, I said that it was good. But when I created men and created you, I said it was complete. If I said you are good, why would you say that you are not good?”
That word was the start of a long journey for Maximillian, one that eventually brought him out of his shell.
In another instance, his vocal supervisors, Annabel and Alison Yap told him to lead when he was song leading but he had no idea what they meant. He later had a revelation that the lies of the devil were affecting the way he served God. While song leaders are taught that song leading is about worshipping God and the focus should not be on themselves, Maximillian took it to an extreme. “I realised that when I was leading, I didn’t even sound like I was leading, I sounded like a BV,” he says, remembering how his lack of self-esteem disguised itself as humility.
“It was the devil’s way of telling me that I’m not good, that I shouldn’t think highly of myself and shouldn’t try to stand out,” Maximillian explains. He slowly started to understand the role of a song leader and the attention it comes with.
“If you’re being called, you must be able to accept the limelight that falls on you as a song leader. But at the same time, you shouldn’t allow that light to make you feel like you are the most important person,” he elaborates. “I remember Sun teaching us that when you are the song leader, at that moment of time you are leading [the whole congregation and even] the pastors in worship.” Maximillian held on to those words.
Even after years of learning and growing, Maximillian admits that there are still seasons when praising God feels like a sacrifice. Just recently, on the weekend that he was song leading, he was not in the right frame of mind. From Saturday night after service, he started feeling down. By Sunday morning, he didn’t feel like praising God at all.
Thankfully, God placed people around Maximillian to encourage him. Without knowing what he was going through, worship leader Amos Ang shared his revelation that “our praise for God is not a result of how we feel or what we are going through, but our praise for God is because of who He is, His character, Him as our Father. That alone is deserving of our praises.”
Maximillian took Amos’ words to heart and was reminded instantly that what he does on stage or even offstage, is not about how he feels or the circumstances he is in. That weekend, Maximillian gave his all during praise and worship. “At the end of the service, Pastor Kong (Hee, CHC’s senior pastor) came up to encourage us and he said that I led very well. I almost wanted to cry because I didn’t feel like it,” he says.
GROWING THROUGH THE FIERY FURNACE
Like her husband, Jaelle had her own struggles with self-doubt and confidence. “It was during SOT that I really went through the fiery furnace,” she said. In those few months of Bible school, Jaelle learned to be more open to the Holy Spirit.
She recalled that in 2016, song leading, to her, was just singing a song to God. Soon, she found herself lacking in many areas, and began feeling lousy about herself.
“I thought to myself, I’m a leader but I’m not able to flow with the Spirit. Then how can I lead the people?” she relates. For a long period of time, she did not want to song lead because she was doubtful of her own abilities and how God could use her.
She remembers that Poh came to speak to her after lessons at SOT, to encourage her and gave her both Biblical and practical advice on how she could improve. “It was then I really felt the peace and release to lead again,” she recalls. Jaelle knew then that whatever she did, it was all about loving and serving God. She is glad that she did not give up back then—SOT became a season for her to learn to listen to the Holy Spirit and flow with Him.
The first song that she led after the short hiatus was “I Remember”. As she was song leading the song, she remembered all that God had brought her through—“I really wanted to cry”. Then and there, she had a breakthrough spiritually and she brought this experience back to her cell group and started to song lead more often.
However, transformation is not a one-time occurrence. After graduating from SOT, Jaelle went through another period when she constantly doubted herself. “No matter how people praised me or told me about my strength—I just rejected it all,” she shares. She simply could not see herself the way others saw her. That was one of the toughest periods in her life.
Her breakthrough came on a mission trip that took place during her school holidays. Since she had the time, Jaelle decided to give it a go and see if God would move. But her mind was filled with dismissive thoughts: “I can’t lead this song because the notes are too high,” she would say to every song her teammates suggested.
The breakthrough came during the mission trip when she had a revelation as she was leading the song, “Only You”. She wept as God reminded her repeatedly, “you are a child of God”. “That was when I gained my confidence back, knowing that I’m worthy in His presence and His kingdom,” she remembers.
It was such an important reminder for her that Maximilian had a necklace made specially for her that reads “Child of God”. It serves as a constant reminder of her self-worth and identity in Christ.
Since then, Jaelle has regained her confidence in God and now she really enjoys serving on stage as a backup vocalist. “Annabelle always tells us that as BVs, we are there to support the song leaders—we are there to lead the people and build the atmosphere,” she says.
For Jaelle, whether it’s serving God on stage or off, it is the greatest joy of her life. “Sometimes when we serve, we overthink things, but at the end of the day, the foundation of it is just a love for our Father,” she points out.
“SONGWRITING IS LIKE A JOURNAL OF MY WALK WITH GOD”
Besides being a song leader, Maximillian is also an anointed songwriter, penning songs like “Greater Are You” and “Rejoice”.
“He is so anointed when it comes to songwriting and I’m amazed at how God has blessed him with songs,” his wife shares excitedly.
“I woke up one night and wondered where he went,” she tells of one experience. She eventually found him playing his guitar, because he had a new song in his head.
“Sometimes it gets very loud in my ears, and I just cannot sleep. So, I’ll write it out,” Maximillian shares, adding that songwriting is a spiritual journey that is full of fun.
Maximillian’s songwriting journey began with him telling a fellow song leader that he couldn’t imagine writing worship songs, as he saw it as a great responsibility and therefore very stressful. His friend told him, “If you really think about it, you write out of your brokenness”.
Those words stuck with Maximillian. As he thought about it, he began to realise that it doesn’t take an experienced cell group leader, or a pastor to write songs. Christians worship out of their brokenness too. “For some of us whom God inspires through the Holy Spirit, we catch a melody and form it into a song. It’s a love letter to God,” he describes.
King David was a shepherd boy, but he worshiped out of the relationship that he had with the Lord, notes Maximillian. He was able to write so many psalms which are songs dedicated to the Lord. “That’s a testament that God doesn’t need us to be perfect Christians, but he needs us to be yielded vessels,” he says.
Many of Maximillian’s songs were written out of his own experiences and journey with God, “It’s almost like a journal of my walk with God.” His song “Greater Are You” was written when his family discovered his dad had liver cancer.
Another song “Generation” was written during a time when he asked God for one person to train as the next leader in his cell group. God corrected him, “Don’t you know that I’m a generational God? The same revival you experienced in your younger days, you can also be a part of in your older days. I don’t just raise one person, I’m a generational God, I will raise up a whole generation.”
Maximillian shares one key thing he learned from his pastoral supervisor, Ian Chong: people need to hear the Word of God. Because the Word of God trumps whatever a man has planned in his heart, or whatever sensation a man can create. The Word of God is the thing that will last in the people’s hearts. Each time Maximillian prepares to lead worship, he would ask God, “What Word do the people need to hear, Lord?” Then he would share different verses to encourage them.
The most recent Word he received was that whenever people praise God, there must be joy, because the joy of the Lord is their strength. Maximillian is mindful that not everyone that steps into the church is ready to praise God. Therefore, as the song leader, he needs to slowly bring them into God’s presence through praise and worship.
He explains, “The joy of the Lord gives them strength to go to the next level, to overcome what they might be facing. By the time they leave the hall, they are encouraged.”