Singing with the Saints: Leslie Parker Barnes Celebrates Jesus, Anticipates Tampa
By Carl Stagner
Rev. Dr. Leslie Parker Barnes can’t remember a time when music wasn’t a part of her life. “I was born singing!” she insists. And, while memories of making music with her immediate family and the family of God stretch back as far as she can recall, this longtime Church of God worship leader’s ministry consists of far more than singing with the saints. The holistic arc of biblical worship-as-a-lifestyle puts spring in her step as her work ranges from teaching to prayer to administration and much more. It should come as no surprise that, appearing with a selection of skilled, Spirit-led worship leaders from across the Church of God movement for Convention 2023, is the name Leslie Barnes.
The worship pastor of Arlington Church of God in Akron, Ohio, is no stranger to the Church of God movement. If you didn’t grow up in the Akron congregation, you knew her from Camp Meeting at West Middlesex. If you didn’t know her from Zion’s Hill, you remember her from Anderson Camp Meeting. Perhaps you would recognize her unmistakable voice from the 1994 Joy in the Lord video. While her notoriety cannot be dismissed, the only One she wants to make famous is Jesus.
“Music has always been integral to my life,” Leslie explains. “My mother sang in a trio with her sisters, my dad sang, my sister and I sang duets throughout my childhood—I can’t remember a time when we weren’t singing! But worship is not just fifteen to twenty minutes before the sermon. I’ve come to realize I can sing all day and never worship. Conversely, I can worship all day and never sing a note.”
That should capture our attention. Whether we have the talent of Leslie Barnes or we would describe our musical ability as strictly “making a joyful noise,” we know it’s not about us—and it’s not about the music.
“People will probably get tired of hearing it,” Leslie acknowledges, “but we have to remind each other that worship is our lifestyle. I think about the times I’ve lost my voice, yet still worshiped. Worship is honoring God in everything I say and do. Out of that, God’s going to strengthen my corporate worship. All of the struggle we see in congregational worship, I think, comes out of not having that intimate, on-purpose, uncompromising personal time in the presence of the Lord. My concern is our worship being limited to Sunday morning.”
It’s hard to ignore the Spirit’s visible activity in culture today, especially in congregational worship settings. Leslie sees this movement of God as a hunger to be in the presence of God; as worship leaders, she asserts, the objective is to lead people into his presence. She’s optimistic about what God is stirring in the souls of leaders today, inspiring a fresh desire to be used of God. Worship exalts the name of Jesus, not the name of the worshiper.
“I have a young lady with a phenomenal voice,” she explains. “She’s just asked to walk alongside me for a year—her desire is to become a worship leader. I told her that the Lord didn’t call me to win Grammys but to win souls. I think there’s a fresh desire to make it a priority to be a vessel that is so full of love for the Lord that you can invite others to know him, too.”
Speaking of Jesus, Leslie’s go-to hymn is the Barney Warren classic, “All in Jesus.” She also loves the message of “The Kingdom of Peace” and the testimony of “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” In the field of current gospel songs, she says she enjoys anything CeCe Winans sings, especially her rendition of “Goodness of God.” Leslie Barnes also finds songs by Maranda Curtis, Charity Gayle, and Jonathan McReynolds, among others, especially conducive to worship. Of course, there’s much variety in worship styles across the Church of God, and Leslie Barnes hasn’t waited until Convention 2023 to diversify her interests and involvements. A range of worshipful music has always been a part of her musical palate.
Networking with worship leaders across the Church of God movement is a prime example of this. She’s played a vital role in connecting and equipping worship leaders for several years, but in recent years, she’s connected with a specific group of worship leaders from varying backgrounds in the Church of God; this group has already met on several occasions, including at Church of God conferences. But her long haul in ministry at Arlington Church of God has been one of the dearest for Leslie Barnes.
“I’ve been at Arlington just over thirty years,” she says. “I’m blessed because I have the honor of serving as part of the staff, and it’s really a team ministry. We’re a disciple-making church, so I’m involved in mid-week Bible study, prayer meeting, working with the ushers and greeters, and ministering to the seniors, for example. I’m in a little bit of all of it, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Leslie Barnes has also been blessed to accept the invitation to teach through CWC’s Arise Academy.
Reflecting on the upcoming Church of God Convention in Tampa, Florida, Leslie beams. “It’s going to be amazing!” she concludes. “My prayer is that the church will sing. Beyond the agenda, the business meetings, and the breakout sessions, my prayer is that there will be special moments when the people of God really sing! Sure, there will be people who are impressed with the talented instrumentation and vocalizing, but it’s not a show. The presence of the Lord will be in that place. I want to see the whole room glorifying God!”
“He’s got the whole world in his hands.” What an encouraging reality! Be inspired by it, be challenged by it, and experience it firsthand at Convention 2023 and General Assembly, June 22–25 in Tampa, Florida. Learn more and register at www.chogconvention.org.
Feature (top) photo: Leslie Barnes (center) leads worship at Arlington Church of God.