By Carl Stagner
“I grew up somewhat of a spiritual mutt.” The words of Sarah Scharbrough McLaughlin make sense when you consider that, at the time she was introduced to the Church of God through Anderson University, her faith background had consisted of Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, and Syrian Orthodox experiences. Resonating right away with the AU freshman were the loving unity of believers and the strong emphasis on Jesus and his Word so central to Church of God teaching. Kerry Robinson of East Side Church of God was one of many influential pastors, while worship artists Jay and Amy Rouse were two of several Christ-centered musicians, who took time to invest in the rising leader. Rivaling only her journey of faith in all its diversity is the eclectic style this mother of five now brings to the body of Christ gathered for worship. You can be sure a blessing is on its way when Sarah Scharbrough McLaughlin steps onto the platform at Central Community Church in Wichita, Kansas, for Church of God Convention 2017.
Guitar. Flute. Ukulele. Accordion. It wasn’t uncommon to find Sarah in her parents’ music room tinkering around on any of these instruments and more. Her parents were steeped in music—her mother was a piano teacher and accomplished pianist, and her father owned a piano store, where he not only tuned pianos, but also restored them. Not surprisingly, piano would ultimately become the instrument of choice through which she would find pleasure and glorify the Lord. Combined with a voice both dynamic and smooth, Sarah Scharbrough McLaughlin’s worship leadership goes beyond the norm, bringing in elements of classical and jazz music. These styles are a reflection of her childhood experiences.
“It wasn’t unusual for us kids to run around [my parents’] various gigs, be it the Renaissance Festival, the church, the local jazz clubs, or just playing at Dad’s piano shop,” Sarah explains. “We were just immersed in music. I don’t remember my parents ever viewing music as a chore to practice in our house. For that reason, I don’t ever remember them telling me I needed to practice, either. We were all just playing and singing constantly because it was the fun thing to do and is who we were.”
While a student at Anderson University, she helped lead worship at different points for Church of God congregations in town, including—but not limited to—East Side, Madison Park (then North Anderson), Sherman Street, Arrow Heights, as well as Church at the Crossing in Indianapolis. Since then, she’s also offered her God-given talent at churches beyond the movement. Wherever she has served, she’s helped to create an atmosphere of worship among the congregation. Her connection to Anderson University only grew stronger when, after graduation, she served nearly five years as worship leader for the school’s chapel services. Now she’s been invited to lead worship for the Church of God Convention, something she’s only imagined. “Honestly, I always hoped to have the privilege of serving in this very role someday!” she exclaims.
Today Sarah wears several hats. Besides worship leader, songwriter, and gifted artist, she’s a talented blogger. Most important of all the hats she wears is that of wife and mother of four girls and one boy. Her husband Jeff plays the piano, too, but perhaps is even more well-known for his skills on the drums. Several Anderson University students have learned a thing or two about drumming from Jeff. Westfield High School in Westfield, Indiana, is blessed today to have him on the music faculty. Many may recognize Jeff’s brother’s name, too—Jon McLaughlin, national recording artist and songwriter. Out of this wide variety of roles, amazing family connections, and experiences, Sarah brings a style to match and a tender heart.
“I’m praying and so hopeful that the worship at the convention feels moving, feels personal, feels diverse, feels accessible,” Sarah reflects. “I often feel like my role as worship leader is quite similar to that of the hostess of a dinner party—at God’s house. Someone is there to help everyone feel safe and welcome at the table. I don’t want anyone getting hung up on what fork to use. I want people to feel loved, to feel known, and to feel free to engage. We are putting together the final pieces of the band and it is going to be fantastic. I do hope there is an eclecticism to the group this summer that brings something new and different!”
More information and Sarah’s blog can be accessed at www.sarahtunes.com. Register for Church of God Convention, June 20–23 in Wichita, Kansas, at www.chogconvention.org. Hurry! Early-bird registration ends March 31!