If you have attended a service at Life Christian Church in West Orange, you have been treated to a live band playing everything from Christian standards to songs that were hits for secular groups.
The man behind the music is Bart Dyer, who plans the worship segments of the services, and disseminates the plan to the volunteers who form the band—a different band every week, and sometimes a different one on Saturday night than on Sunday morning.
“The backup band is a group of volunteers,” he said, “so they are ever changing.” Though Dyer has a list of people who regularly volunteer to sing or play an instrument, “I’m the only one who gets paid.”
Working out weekly musical plans with changing band members could be a recipe for disaster, but Dyer doesn’t have a problem with it. Though soloists have to commit for the weekend, other musicians sit in for whatever service they can, based on their own schedules.
Dyer has a few people that he calls when he has a special program planned that requires something specific; for instance, he has a jazz singer around whom he likes to build the offering. Usually, though, he uses the volunteers in rotation, which should be a real headache. There’s not much time for rehearsal, music has to be forwarded to the musicians and vocalists, and they have to pull it together pretty quickly.
Dyer, who is married and has two children, sees himself doing this job well into the future. “I feel really blessed,” he said. “I get to do what I love.”
In his youth, Dyer dreamed of being a Christian music artist and traveling the country and making music. He has always been an aficionado of Christian music. “I grew up in church—I was born on a church pew,” he jokes. “This has been a big part of my life.”
Dyer’s background is Christian, but he describes it as legalistic, a religion based on rules and works. “I now understand that there’s not anything I can do,” he said. The Christian faith to which he now subscribes is based on accepting Jesus into his life, and trying to follow in his footsteps.
“My passion is to connect people with God,” Dyer said. “I feel strongly that we experience God’s love and spiritual present through singing.”
Dyer’s choices are not limited to traditional Christian music in the weekend programs, but he can and does use secular music when it stirs up strong emotion. He can choose from any genre if the song has the right feel and passion. The audience at one of the upcoming services will be treated to his version of “World” by Five for Fighting. The song has language that supports the message of the Rev. Terry A. Smith, pastor at Life Christian Church, particularly in the chorus:
“What kind of world do you want?
Let's start at the start
Build a masterpiece
Dyer is from central Ohio, and received his degree in theology from Kent Christian College. He spent four years as a youth pastor in Houston, and 12 years as an assistant pastor in Ohio, and then decided it was time to move on. He traveled the country for 10 months with his wife Tricia and their sons Seth, 16, and Hayden, 11, both of whom are musicians themselves. In fact, Seth often sits in with the band on guitar. After so much time on the road, home schooling their boys, Dyer was offered the opportunity to work at The Life Christian Church. It was one of the churches he had traveled to during his nomadic time, and he was grateful to find a place that offered work he wanted to do.
The family’s home base was in Kentucky during this period, and Dyer found himself making the commute to New Jersey every week, driving for an hour and a half to Nashville to catch a plane to Philadelphia, then he would rent a car and travel to West Orange. After several months, Dyer’s family joined him and he has been with Smith for two years.
Dyer went through “lots of personal growth” during this period, and though he and his wife have had a solid relationship through 20 years of marriage, he said the upheavals and constant travel “proved what a strong relationship we have.”
Dyer’s dreams of being a traveling Christian artist have not died, and he wouldn’t turn down the opportunity should it come his way, but he believes he’s where he’s supposed to be right now. “My initial desire was not based in the right motives,” he said. “ I find my direction shifting to songwriting these days, and doing some recording.
Dyer has respect for Smith and what he’s trying to accomplish at Life Christian. “I see Smith as someone who could be very influential,” he said. “He’s very real—not intimidating. When I think about the future of Life Christian Church, I’m tremendously excited to be a part of it. "