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A Look Behind The Leader: Tim Carter

CarterTimUsually the summer months are a bit more relaxed for church music-creative arts leaders. But not so for Tim Carter." We do an intern program here each summer,” said Carter, 43, from his office at Grand Rapids First church on 44th St. SW.

“They go through classes and work alongside us, joining us (for worship) on Sundays as well as Tuesday rehearsals,” he said of this year’s crop of teen and college age students.

Carter is entering his third year as associate pastor for creative arts at GR First. And the internship program is a teaching/training function that Carter sees as part of his ministry, which includes mentoring volunteers and moving them toward positions of leadership.

The New Mexico native is responsible for “anything creative” that happens at the church on Sundays or during the week – that includes drama, music, video and other audio-visual arts. He reports to Grand Rapids First executive pastor Eddy Brewer.


Carter said the church’s creative arts staff was streamlined recently, moving the church’s media and web workers to their own department, although he still works closely with them.

There are approximately four paid staff members under his direction, working with more than 100 volunteers, including a choir ranging between 40 and 60 voices. (There are separate choir and drama directors). Worship teams (vocalists and band members) are rotated, usually 12-14 of them on the platform on a given Sunday, led by Carter.

“I have other worship leaders in training who lead once a month or so,” he said.

The musicians rehearse each Tuesday night, but there’s also a rehearsal between the two Sunday morning services for members who can’t attend on Tuesdays.

The church hosts two identical worship services on Sundays, often totaling more than 3,000 persons between them.


Carter said a good chunk of time each week is spent on preparation for the technical tasks of worship especially electronic and software support. “We use a lot of technology in our services, and I’ve been slowly building a team of folks who are a great help in that area,” he said.

Grand Rapids First uses multi-tracks in worship – adding strings and other effects to the music and layering the sound. “We use a program called Ableton Live that runs tracks and ‘talks’ to other software programs to tell them what to do,” he said of programs running lights, on-screen lyrics, video backgrounds and other images. (They no longer have hymnals in the pews, relying entirely on the screens for lyrics).

Carter receives support from his wife Lissette, who also works in the creative arts department. She handles scheduling and organization and also fills in as choir director.


The creative arts pastor meets twice a year as part of a team with senior pastor Sam Rijfkogel, exploring the direction of sermon series and messages. “He is free to change – and that does happen,” noted Carter.

“But really, we don’t spend a lot of team thinking about matching the music with the theme – it just seems that we end up getting pretty close.”

“Carter said he likes an “extreme variety” of music - from Hillsong to Desperation Band to even some gospel sounds of Tye Tribbett.

“I’m not a giant Chris Tomlin fan, but there’s a song on his latest album called ‘Crown Him,’” he said. “It’s the old hymn but a little ‘bigger,’ and it’s an absolutely wonderful song.”


Carter grew up learning the rhythms of the road. His parents were traveling evangelists. “Wherever our trailer was, that’s where we lived, leading at revivals,” he recalled.

Family members were all musicians - Carter sang and played several instruments.

His dad became a pastor in Carlsbad, NM during Tim’s high school years. Tim gained even more music experience, including the role of Will Parker in the school’s production of “Oklahoma.”

Tim went to college to study music and theology, and eventually served for three years at a church where he was both youth and music director. It’s also where he met his wife, Lissette.

But it was after 11 years at a mega church in Albuquerque that the Carters felt it was time to move on to the next “season” in their lives.

Their children’s godparents attended Grand Rapids First, and told the Carters of a ministry opening here. The family moved to West Michigan in 2011.


Grand Rapids First (formerly First Assembly of God), has a past tradition of large-scale productions around the holidays. Many area residents recall the huge “Singing Christmas Tree” pageants held even before the current sanctuary was built. “I’ve seen pictures,” he said.

“A previous pastor took me to this point – and Pastor Sam (Rijfkogel) believes it as well – that the time, energy, money and creativity expended would be better spread out over an entire year rather than in a one-shot program."


Who: Tim Carter, 43, married with two children
What: Associate pastor of creative arts

Where: Grand Rapids First, 2100 44th St. SW, Wyoming; www.grandrapidsfirst.org, 616-531-2100

How: work with staff and volunteers - choir, vocalists, band and technicians - in planning and executing two worship services each Sunday and Wednesday evening program
Philosophy on the role of creative arts in worship: “It is to allow people - no matter what kind of week they’ve had or what they’re going through – to get their walls down, to be at peace, and be open to focus on what God wants to do or say to them that day.”
Author Information
Terry DeBoer
Author: Terry DeBoer
Terry is a journalist/feature writer for newspapers, magazines and websites, with a background in radio broadcasting. His usual beat is arts and entertainment, specializing in Christian/gospel music. A married father of two, he is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan Contributing Writer: West Michigan Christian News August 2011 – Present Feature writer: -Mlive.com (website and various newspapers) 1988– 2016 -Spotlight New Christian Music Magazine 1997-2008 -Church News Editor, Church Herald Magazine 2004-2009

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