Wade Williams Called Home
By Bob Tamasy
Wade Williams feature

Heaven’s harmonic ensemble became richer when the Lord called Wade Williams to his eternal home.

For more than 35 years, Williams served as director of music and worship leader at Perimeter Church (PCA) outside Atlanta, ChristChurch Presbyterian in Atlanta’s Buckhead community, and North Shore Fellowship (PCA) in Chattanooga, Tenn. Born July 10, 1953, he passed away May 1 after a two-year battle with brain cancer.

He was known throughout the PCA and beyond for leading worship “liturgically rich, historically rooted, theologically full and robust, and musically eclectic,” according to the Rev. Joe Novenson, with whom Williams served for five years at North Shore Fellowship, a church plant of Lookout Mountain Presbyterian.

Randy Pope, senior pastor at Perimeter Presbyterian, agreed. He hired Williams to become Perimeter’s second staff member in 1977 when it also was a church plant. “I’ve yet to meet anybody with as deep and biblical a philosophy of worship as Wade. He was uncompromising in this emphasis.

“He was a gifted singer and guitarist. Unlike many musicians who are so artistic they can’t lead others effectively, Wade was excellent at organizing. A people person, he attracted top musical talent, not only from metro Atlanta but also across the country. Many outstanding lay musicians came just to be part of our ministry and perform under his direction.”

Williams, a University of Alabama graduate with a degree in musical composition, later earned his master’s in choral conducting from Georgia State University. After undergraduate study, he became a music director with Campus Crusade for Christ, leading evangelistic teams in the United States and around the world.

Through his Campus Crusade experience, Williams developed a heart for evangelism that always remained part of his worship presentations, as well as a passion for international ministry. During his PCA career he led praise and worship teams to many countries, including England, Scotland, Russia, and Italy.

Pope and Williams both grew up in Gadsden, Ala., and knew each other. Based in Atlanta with Campus Crusade, Williams became one of Perimeter’s first members and then was invited to join Pope on the staff, initially serving as worship leader as well as overseer of the singles ministry and small group/discipleship programs.

By the church’s third year, the staff had grown sufficiently, enabling Williams to focus solely on worship, but “he and I spent so much time together, it would have seemed to the congregation as if we were co-pastors,” Pope noted.

A Musician Evangelist

In 1995 he coordinated services for the Korean War Memorial dedication in Washington, D.C.

One of the innovations Williams started at Perimeter was an evening evangelistic outreach called PM Perspective, productions held several times a year using secular music to attract non-believers. Each program had a specific theme, such as music of the 1960s, a Las Vegas-style revue, love (around Valentine’s Day), or a show featuring Disney film tunes, merging drama and music into a message consistent with the Gospel. At the end of each, Pope would connect the evening’s content with the truths of Jesus Christ.

“I remember stating if I ever lost Wade, I think I might just quit,” Pope said. “And when he decided to help in planting ChristChurch, I did feel the loss deeply.”

Suzanne Haley and her husband, Jim, met Williams in 1983 when they started visiting Perimeter. From the beginning they found him gregarious and fun-loving, yet exacting, knowing what he wanted and how to get it done.

Haley not only sang in the choirs at Perimeter and later, ChristChurch, but also assisted him in administrative roles. “We performed difficult, challenging music, not simple ditties. His attention to even small details in planning the worship alerted me to the importance and values of biblical worship. Wade’s loyal friendship to so many people in and outside of our ministry taught me so much about ‘the friend who sticks closer than a brother.’ And the love he exhibited toward everyone was a stellar example of the all-encompassing, never-ending love of Christ.

“Wade was always open to new things,” Haley said, “but never anything that would misrepresent Christ.” Time after time, I heard people say, “No other soul on earth ministered to me more than he did.”

Evangelism and church planting remained passions for Williams, so in 2003 after ChristChurch had become established, he was receptive to Novenson’s invitation to lead worship at North Shore in Chattanooga, which was still in the planning stages.

“We were praying about whom to bring in to be our worship director, and almost everyone I talked with recommended Wade Williams,” Novenson said. “I had known of him but didn’t really know him until I drove to Atlanta to meet with him.

“I told him we really didn’t know what was going to happen with the church plant….  It was kind of like joining the crew of a ship that hadn’t been built yet and was being constructed in mid-water.

“The sacrifices Wade and Jennifer made to come here were huge, but we were so thankful they did.”

At North Shore, Williams continued his strategy of staging musical events to appeal to the lost, with very positive response. “I can still picture Wade standing in front of the orchestra and choir for our Christmas concert, playing a Fender Stratocaster,” Novenson said. “He was stylistically flexible while being theologically deep — I’ve known no one else like him. He was able to do old things in new ways, and did new things with old truth. He always wed those two together.”

Williams left North Shore in 2008 to rejoin the staff at Perimeter, but he and Novenson remained close. “When I visited him recently during the latter stages of his illness, Wade was extremely weak and could barely talk. Unable to complete a sentence, he looked at me, and all he could say was, ‘Pray that I will glorify …. Pray that I will glorify …. Pray that I will glorify ….’ Without a doubt, Wade was willing to fight all the way to the end for Jesus.”

Williams Cast a Long Shadow

One of those recommending Williams to Novenson was James Ward, longtime worship director at New City Fellowship in Chattanooga, himself an accomplished musician and recording artist. “Wade was connected to the very core of the PCA and its mission. He cast a long shadow and had such a wide swath of influence — he had a way of making things come into being from what seemed to be nothing.”

They had performed together previously, but when Williams moved to Chattanooga, he reached out to Ward, and they became friends, sharing bonds of faith, music, and ministry.

“We’d often talk about everything from goals and vision to things in ministry that are hard, encouraging each other,” Ward said. “I have to admit Wade had a spontaneity about ministry I didn’t have, but greatly admired.

“One time he told me about an overseas musical tour he was organizing. He said, ‘Hey, Jim, you want to go to Italy? We’re leaving March 1. There’s a guy in Rome starting a church. You only have to raise about $1,500. You want to go?’ My schedule didn’t allow me to go, but that’s the way Wade was, always open to opportunities to spread the Gospel through music anywhere.”

Ward recalled joining Williams, his choir, and orchestra at North Shore for a presentation on great musical folk artists. He performed covers on songs by Neil Young and Bob Dylan. Using tunes like those, a message to communicate the truth of Christ was crafted. “He was more biblically and spiritually driven than any other musician I’ve known, so evangelistic and mission-minded.”

Williams’ survivors include his wife of more than 35 years, Jennifer; their children Heather, Rebekah (Josh) Smith, Chelsea (Bill) Cox, and David; and grandchildren Judah, “Little” Wade, and Molly Eliza.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday May 7 at Perimeter Church. Perimeter is located at 9500 Medlock Bridge Road/Highway 141, Johns Creek, Ga. 30097; the service will be in the main sanctuary.

For more information, please call 678-405-2000

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