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Life and Work with Chelsea Cardenas

Today we’d like to introduce you to Chelsea Cardenas.

Chelsea, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My story is anything but brief, but I will do my best to keep it short! I came to Grace fresh out of high school. I’ve been a musician/singer my entire life and often lead worship in the youth programs at the churches I attended. I met someone who was the youth director at Grace and we talked about how their program didn’t have worship. He found out I was going to SDSU in the fall and asked if I would come and lead worship for the youth. He ended up taking a different job and I figured I’d just focus on my freshman year of college. The Worship Director at the time had heard about me and reached out asking to meet. We met and I played through and sang a couple of my favorite worship songs. We talked about having me serve in the youth still, but starting off on the main worship team first to learn the songs they were currently doing. He never had any intention of handing me off to youth. Within just a month or two, he told me his intention was to create a spot on staff for me but he needed to make sure I could learn the technical parts of the systems first, and within 4 months, I was hired as a Worship Leader… as an 18-year-old freshman in college. I thought they were crazy. For three years, I learned under his leadership and battled some of the toughest personal challenges of my life. Having the position I did at such a young age meant I had to grow up faster than the people around me. This was nothing new in my life, I feel like that’s how it’s always been, but I didn’t spend my college years thinking they were the best years of my life. I spent them working hard to manage school and my job so I could get to the best years that would come when I’d be able to fully step into God’s calling in my life. Half way through my final year of college, I was promoted to Worship Director and given the reigns to the ministry here at Grace Church under our new Campus Pastor for Spring Valley. It was an incredibly difficult transition. A mentor and friend were transitioning out and I was transitioning in. Fast forward to now, it’s been almost a year that I’ve had this position and just since May that I’ve been out of college. I graduated in 4 years with an English major. I am 22 years old and incredibly blessed to have a job doing what I love, pouring into people with a passion for Worship, pouring into this church leading them in worship. There was no question in my mind that this was where God wanted me 4 years ago as a confused 18 years old going off to college, but I didn’t know why. Why me? I still don’t know if I can answer that question, but I know that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It has definitely not been a smooth road. Take all of the regular difficulties with learning to live on your own and manage your own time and your own learning, and add a job that had the potential to turn in to a career on top of it. It was never a regular part-time job. Leadership and ministry is the kind of job you take home. You don’t just leave it at the door when you leave. People take time and investment and when they’re volunteers, it’s important to form relationships, to make sure they know you really care, and to make sure they feel appreciated. I had a lot of my own personal struggles through all of this. I struggle with depression and anxiety. My first two years of college I suffered pretty regularly from panic attacks. It was hard enough to handle depression with college, but even harder when you’re expected to pour into others as a leader. It took me a long time to find a healthy balance. The best thing I ever did was talk about it. I had someone who had struggled with the same things in her life and mentored me through them. I now know how to manage the depression and take the necessary steps in my life to make sure that I don’t bottle things up and create more anxiety in my life than is necessary. A year ago, our church experienced budget cuts and my boss got laid off. We were extremely close. His wife was my mentor. It was one of the hardest transitions I’ve ever dealt with. I had to manage my own emotions and still lead the team we had built. I had to step in to and fill some pretty large shoes and felt very alone. I needed to give them the time and space to they needed, and no one my age had ever experienced anything like what I was going through. My complete love and devotion to my team and this ministry is what kept me afloat. That’s kind of the short version of a couple of the struggles, but you get the idea.

As for advice that I’d have for other young women, I have a couple things. #1 don’t underestimate yourself and your passions. I never, not once, though I could ever get a job in music. I never thought I’d be put into a position to lead other people, people who were older and had more life experience, most of whom had families of their own. I never thought I’d have anything to offer in a position like this, but it turns out I was wrong. My team trusts me. They trust my leadership, they trust that I care about them, they are willing to go above and beyond for the visions I have for growth. I lead and they follow. It has nothing to do with my age and everything to do with the giftings and passions I’ve been given and the constant desire to learn and grow. This leads me to #2 always keep learning and finding new ways to grow. The worst thing we can ever do for ourselves is to believe we know all there is to know about anything or believe that our way is the best way. Don’t be content with what works, figure out how you can make things better and excel. Leaders, bosses, coaches want people who want to learn and grow. That’s one of the most valuable things you can bring to any organization. #3 find a mentor. I always brushed this off. Even now I don’t really have one person I consider to be my mentor. I need to find that again. I would not have gotten through those first two years without the woman I called my mentor. Even now, I seek counsel and guidance regularly for life decisions, work decisions, just about anything that truly means something to me. There are always people wiser than us and it’s important to learn from them.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Grace Church San Diego – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
I am the Worship Director of our North Park campus at Grace Church San Diego. That means I am in charge of worship and production. On the worship side of things, I not only lead regularly, but I schedule the teams each week, run rehearsal mid-week, and lead 4 services every Sunday (once a month I get a small break and only lead the 3 morning ones and set up a team to lead without me for the evening service). Along with our Worship leader for Spring Valley, I choose the songs each week and decide how they are going to be arranged. On the technical side of things I set up the service and make sure everything is going to work properly. That involves our programs that run the images we put on the screens, videos we show, lights, cameras, an online campus which is where our services can be streamed each Sunday. This leads to the production aspect. That’s the 2 cameras manned by volunteers, the controlling of the program that runs our images/videos (ProPresenter) and lights, and the switcher which controls what camera shots are being shown on the screens and what our online campus is seeing. I also help with the youth worship.

I think the most amazing thing about this ministry is that it’s run by volunteers. A lot of churches pay their musicians or have one band that always plays, or are full. We believe we can never have too many people serving and it’s a different mix of people every week that make up the morning and evening bands. We are community focused and are intentional about creating a safe environment where we can feel like a family even with a large number of people we have on our team. Everyone cares for each other and helps each other and they’re all extremely bought into the mission and vision of our ministry. They are what makes it so powerful!

Are there any apps, books, podcasts or other resources that you’ve benefited from using?
I’m not trendy enough to use a lot of this stuff, but a couple good books are Crucial Conversations and Love Does by Bob Goff. In terms of podcasts, Andy Stanley has a couple really good leadership podcasts. I mainly seek influence and guidance from people I identify as strong leaders or people I trust to speak into my life. Planning center is a lifesaver for scheduling.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 4637 Oregon St
    San Diego, CA 92116
  • Website:
  • Email:
  • Instagram: gracesdworship

Image Credit:

Robin Carby, Nick Bauer, Jeremiah Bonds, Sarah Jones

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