Meet Dieter Zander

Posted by Craig Borlase on 5 November 2014

Meet Dieter Zander… The Living Parable Of The Modern Day Worship Leader?

Dieter Zander was on his way to achieving something big, something significant. He was one of those curious hybrids, a worship leader with a pastor’s heart. He pioneered one of the first GenX churches in America in the 1980’s and went on staff at Willow Creek Community Church. He was a man in demand, a worship leader with great talent and potential.

And then came the stroke. On February 4, 2008 he went into a coma, waking six days later. His right hand was crippled, his singing voice vanished. At best his speech consisted of a handful of words painfully strung together.

In that one week, everything that had defined him previously was stripped away. No more applause, no more performance, no more stages, no more income. All gone.

And yet, not all was lost. Inside he was the same person. Sort of. His difficulties with communication led him to become increasingly isolated. And from that place, came a new perspective on his life before:

"My kingdom used to be a stage,” he says. “A microphone. A piano, and an audience of thousands. My kingdom was a performance. A show. A sham. Then came the stroke. Now, five days a week, I arrive at Trader Joe’s in the early dark, hours before the sun cracks the horizon. I push my mop up and down aisles, sweep my broom into corners to collect the debris from the day before. The store is quiet, empty. There is one audience in this kingdom. But that’s ok, because I’m not performing. There is no Stage Dieter here. No superman seeking to wow the masses with feats of spiritual strength. I’m just me. Just Dieter. The guy who mops the floor, who bales the empty cardboard boxes for recycling, who delivers the spoils to the Salvation Army. There’s something beautiful about this simple, menial work, though.”

Dieter relates to those spoils - the food that is still nutritionally good but is cosmetically flawed.

“I understand the spoils. I can relate. Because I, too, am spoils. Over, and over, and over again.

I used to be packaged as perfect. Back in the heyday of my church career, I was a shiny, unblemished apple. At least that’s the image I polished up and displayed to the public.

But now, stripped of my talent, my stage and my six-figure salary, I relish the imperfection. I revel in the spoils.”

There in the back room, filling carts with imperfect goods that will feed the local homeless, Dieter has learned a new lesson in life: "God was my boss. God is my friend now. God says, 'Dieter, you are not going to work. Now, we play.'"

[Thanks to Bill Gaultiere for his article here and Vicki Larson for hers here. To see Dieter’s current work as a photographer visit dieterzander.com]

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