As a local church music minister I was sufficiently astute to realize on Choir High Attendance Sunday I needed to be sure to plan a featured anthem or performative ministry opportunity for the choir. On my long list of stupid things I tried during my days as a staff minister was a congregational singing emphasis where I decided the choir would focus solely on helping the congregation’s singing. Week by week I watched the choir attendance go down despite my impassioned pleas of ever increasing spiritual ferver. I never really decided whether the problem was a kind of immaturity, a poor process for orienting the choir to its mission and ministry in the first place, or just a simple fact of life that I would just have to live with. Regardless of the cause, I did get a bit more response when we began using choir to dress up the congregational arrangements, adding descants, counter melodies, and that sort of thing. During the emphasis I called a couple of choir members whose response to my call, like their lack of participation in choir during the emphasis, surprised me. One just said flat out, “I don’t feel like it is that important if we are just leading congregational singing.” She went on in a scolding voice to explain how many years the choir had done a “special” (one of my favorite liturgical terms). While I did and do understand what she was saying, I was and am disturbed by the attitude reflected in the response and even more disturbed by the misunderstanding of “just leading congregational singing.” I have decided the word “just” should be banned from worship discussions. I have heard it used before other worship acts like baptism, the sermon, offertory, and even Lord’s Supper. Something wrong about saying “just the Lord’s Supper,” etc.
Well, in this same light, let’s reflect upon this year’s TBC SUMMIT. Tuesday morning, bright and early, and there we were in the choir loft (those of us who were present). Not a lot of bodies in the congregation at 8:15am, although many more than the 75 in the room when the TMC started singing at 1:15pm Tuesday afternoon. We had about 100 of us in the loft Tuesday morning to “just lead congregational singing” behind Keith & Kristyn Getty and the band. Keith’s comment to me following the Tuesday morning session, “the choir makes all the difference.” I agree! One of our singers said to me, “it sure helps to have a whole choir loft full of worship leaders singing the songs.” Well, frankly, yes it does. And that brings me back to the point I want to make. Leading congregational singing should always be an understood central aspect of a choir’s ministry in worship. It is not “just leading.” It is LEADING! A solo voice on a microphone is not the same as a group leading a group. And when there is a solo voice on microphone, for good congregational singing that voice cannot completely dominate the room. Kristyn’s pure tones and humble spirit is a great example. A good example of group leading was on display by those of you who ministered at the Nashville Rescue Mission Monday night, or at Forest Hills Sunday night. The singing was full-throated praise. There were tears as well as other open expressions of passionate engagement in the congregation as in the loft.
The choir leads in congregational singing by model, by setting the tone in demeanor and of course by projecting the melody as well as harmonizing as appropriate. As the brand new Getty hymn, My Worth Is Not in What I Own, was sung last Tuesday morning, the strains from the choir first began to waft across that huge sanctuary. The simplicity and timbre of the acoustic accompaniment allowed the sound of voices to float, and I sensed a growing confidence in singing the hymn, especially as we arrived at the refrain each time. A great example of choir leading congregation. Though I have had other opportunities to experience this new hymn, the result of Tuesday for me was that this song continued to linger in my mind and spirit. In the midst of personal struggle with challenges of family health and well-being issues coupled with other pressures, I found renewal in that repeating theme,
I rejoice in my Redeemer,
Greatest Treasure, Wellspring of my soul.
I will trust in Him, no other
My soul is satisfied in Him alone.
–K&K Getty and Graham Kendrick
Worship ministers, be sure and teach your choir to lead congregational singing – and perhaps keep on doing “specials” along the way as well when appropriate. Thanks to all who helped to lead at the SUMMIT!
I remember a time when it seemed to me that music ministry might have been described as downhill. In my experience, church music in the 80’s and 90’s was largely characterized by full choir lofts, growing interest in instrumental music ministry, parental support for children and youth choirs, and congregational as well as pastoral support for music ministry. A special seasonal or general program of music in a Sunday night service often meant a full house of worshipers and guests anticipating inspiration and encouragement through music. Often response to such an evening included open and private expressions of appreciation to musicians and leaders. It was good to be a church musician. Pedaling downhill is pretty easy. Sometimes the name of the game is just keeping up, knowing when to pedal and when to just glide. Sweet!
Again, perhaps I have romanticized remembrances of attitudes and results during the time frame thought of as the heyday of church music ministry. As to its actual long-term value to the churches, I would say there is room to speculate on several levels with pros and cons. I will leave that speculation to your reflection and perhaps to another blogpost. For now, though, I want to fast forward to present day and consider some of the challenges we face in the current environment of music ministry, and then think outloud with you briefly about a preferred future.
Nowadays many of our churches have put to rest what we termed “worship wars,” and have either decided to divide into multiple stylistic venues, or have converged into an inclusive format in one worship service, using an inclusive practice. Based on experience from my rather unique perspective I would have to say on a positive note that many leaders have recognized a need to change the conversation from music style to worship substance. This is a transition I applaud and seek to engender when given the opportunity. On a less than positive note, I would have to say that often, though the war has settled for the moment, a skirmish lurks just beneath the surface in settings where templates for worship environments have been put in place more by fiat than by honest and open healthy leadership methods. Just because a church or its music ministry has been bullied into marching in step with that which is demanded by an autocratic pastoral leader, or by a controlling interest group within the body, does not mean the church has settled the issue of how the church will worship together.
In current settings where stylistic tensions continue to exist, whether public or behind the scenes, a high price is being paid for this “luxury” of maintaining unresolved tensions. The price is often the dissolution of, or impotent support for once resplendent music ministry organizations. In the interest of winning the stylistic battle, parishioners may torpedo support of music ministry organizations that look and feel too much like something that would serve a stylistic mode other than the one they support. Why encourage teenagers to be part of a youth choir when rock band style groups are the preferred style (or craze). Likewise, if I really desire youth choir to be rekindled and attention and resourcing is being given to foster student worship bands, then I may withhold or offer only tepid support for that kind of ministry development. Of course there are many other factors weighing heavily in this conflict: schedules and activities for sports and school performance groups are relentless and demanding. Whereas parents of a generation ago might stand up to school and community leaders to say, “church comes first!” today’s parents seem more likely to confront church leaders either by clear declaration, “my kid is playing ball at that time!” or by undeclared allegiance that non-coincidently always places the child or student in the secular setting of achievement first.
It is in this current dilemma where we find ourselves, and where we must find and define our ministry. I am of the persuasion that we must have conviction that is biblically founded, and unrelenting. Staking our claim on solid ground of biblical truth and observed practice will help us convey our convictions as such. It is important that we write them, publish them, communicate them through multiple means to those who would join us in shared ministry. We must get them before our pastors and church leaders to establish our direction within the parameters of the authority we are given, and with an appeal for those who lead us to give sanction to our direction.
So what is our preferred future of church music ministry? I believe moving forward we must continue to relentlessly pursue worship ministry as the priority, and place our ministry of music under that larger umbrella while at once not equating the two, worship and music. They are not synonymous. Similarly, we must further develop music ministry as a means of discipleship growth and expression, and demonstrate its effectiveness as such. Likewise, our mission and ministry application of music as ministry will need to be adapted to the kinds of missional settings available to us, and we will need to find ways of demonstrating its effectiveness. This means working up music that proclaims in settings available to us, whether prisons, schools, or Summer campground areas. We may need to utilize music and music-making as a tool for evangelistic outreach. Teaching musical skills in a wholesome environment may lead to opportunities for Gospel sharing and evangelization. Customization of music ministry to our unique settings I believe to be a key to healthy forward movement. Similarly, we as ministers will need to be flexible in ministry aptitude and application, such that we may function in multiple ministry leadership roles, utilizing each of these to foster healthy worship practices.
These are my thoughts. What are yours?
According to that great seedbed of authority, Wiktionary (yeah, I had never heard of it either), the phrase “Strike while the iron is hot” means to act on an opportunity promptly while favorable conditions exist. Its more literal meaning comes from metallurgy, meaning to strike a hot piece of metal, especially iron, with a mallet or other tool before it cools, while it is still hot enough to be shaped. Well, since I am not planning to stoke up a fire to meltdown one of my cars, let me reference the idiomatic meaning. While this post is promotional in nature, it is also very much in keeping with the point of this blog, to address worship renewal in our churches in Tennessee Baptist life. What I need to promote is your participation in coming events surrounding the Summit, the gathering of Tennessee Baptists in Brentwood for our annual meeting, which includes Sunday night worship concert by the Tennessee Mens Chorale at Forest Hills Baptist Church, Monday rehearsals of Tennessee Ladies Chorus and TMC, Monday evening ministry for the Nashville Rescue Mission, and involvements and opportunities at the Annual TBC Meeting itself, singing with Keith & Kristyn Getty, leading worship through the day, and also participation of teen students in the Tuesday evening session. Let me address the worship renewal relatedness first, then I’ll do my promo:
My heartbeat and calling is related to worship renewal. Sure, at the state level we have music activities and events, and training, and I care much about these, but these reside inside a much larger picture, Trinitarian Christian worship. While some might prefer that we just stick to concern about music and music-making, there is a much larger concern. Music can be effective in many regards, but music itself cannot transform a life. Like other art forms and other means of expressive communication, music, at its best, points us ultimately toward the Creator. Therefore, even when we are making music together, or trying to help one another be better musicians and leaders of musicians in our churches, the intention is for these things to serve a larger purpose than the music-making alone. When people believe your primary role to be “just a music-maker” it can be challenging to draw the conversation to that larger encompassing sphere where music-making, like preaching, like discipleship, like mission, like evangelism, serves the ultimate purpose, the glory of God, Worship. Therefore, when given opportunity to offer some demonstration of ways music participates in that larger conversation, and to capitalize on such as an aspect of demonstrating how worship might be renewed, then we must “strike while the iron is hot.” I am looking at these coming opportunities as such moments, but they are hardly moments I can fulfill on my own. Rather, they are doors open for us to make our shared statement as a unified voice. Below are listed these opportunities and what I need you to prayerfully consider as actions of shared ministry and participation in Tennessee Worship & Music Ministry:
Sunday, November 9 – Tennessee Mens Chorale Concert of Worship Music at Forest Hills Baptist Church Nashville – Wayne Causey, Host
In my 14 years at TBC, no one has been a better friend to me, or a more loyal friend and brother to music ministers across our state than Wayne Causey. Forest Hills has hosted more retreats, worship and music events than any one church in the state. Our concert of worship music provides opportunity to say, “thank you” to Wayne and to the church, as well as providing a wonderful space in which to sing and offer thankful praise to God. Forest Hills church is full of very fine musicians with high appreciation for all styles (thanks to Wayne), and I believe this worship time will be a blessing to all involved, and best of all, an offering of worship to Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit.
Your Part – register now to sing, full schedule at www.tnworshipandmusic.org
Monday, November 10 – TMC and TLC Rehearsals at First Baptist Church Nashville (Joe Fitzpatrick and Laurie Hall hosts) and Missional Ministry to Nashville Rescue Mission Nashville
Thanks to outgoing president Michael Brown for his vision and leadership in setting up this opportunity for TLC and TMC to share our musical message with homeless and needful people at the Nashville Rescue Mission. Singing the Good News to these who hunger physically, as well as spiritually, will be as much a blessing to us as them. Worship through musical ministry.
Your Part – register and make plans to be present for this powerful application of music missions
Tuesday, November 11 – Summit Tennessee Baptist Convention worship leadership with Keith & Kristyn Getty at Brentwood Baptist Church (Dennis Worley, host)
TLC and TMC will join with our friends, the Gettys, for leading our convention in worship singing. You know how rich their songs are for worship. This is a great opportunity for us to commend them to pastors and other church leaders from all over the state. What’s more, worship leaders have opportunity to meet with Keith for lunch and hear more about new hymns, projects, and state of congregational singing from this Christian hymnwriter and thinker. TMC will be back in the loft to lead the afternoon session and as we sing, there will be photos from the Italy mission.
Your Part – get registered and plan to sing and spend the day together with the Gettys, presenting music for worship and inspiration, and engaging in a lunch gathering that will include many Nashville area worship pastors of all faith traditions.
Tuesday, November 11 – Youth Project Singers in Evening Session at Summit under direction of Cliff Duren, followed by Hilldale Baptist Clarksville and Lyndel Littleton leadership.
We need youth singers who can sing from your churches, whether you sang in this year’s Youth Project or not. We are doing 5 anthems, directed by Cliff Duren. This is an opportunity for pastors and church leaders to see many students (if you get them there) singing as part of a choir for worship. Great arrangements that you will get for a great discounted cost. Establish practice of involving teens in making music together with others – they may end up in college together, who knows?
Your Part – get your students together, register through Charlotte Hanson to sing, get music through Charlotte at deep discount, get mp3 files on dropbox link from me. Get parents and sponsors to help get your students to and from event.
Monday, December 22 – Joy! An Irish Christmas at Schermerhorn Symphony Center with Keith & Kristyn Getty, Ricky Skaggs, and Others.
This will be our third time to sing this special event that will sellout the symphony hall, and presents music to the Nashville music community, including major record label owners, Nashville dignitaries, and a list of who’s who in the music industry. We already have more than 70 TLC and a few less TMC singers (just kidding….you guys need to sign up NOW!)
Your Part – register with Charlotte to sing. Limited number of spaces as we invite Nashville area choral singers to join us. Get the music and rehearsal recordings from Paul via dropbox and learn the music (3 open rehearsals November 6, 20, and Dec 18 at Forest Hills Choir Room)
Join with us as we minister together NOW, while the iron is hot.
A week ago Sunday I joined the Middle Tennessee members of the Tennessee Mens Chorale worshiping and leading in a time of open discussion with a Baptist Church in Rome, Italy, Teatro Valle Baptist Church. Of course, we sang as chorale members, as did East and West Tennessee music ministers in other locations across the city and area. We presented several of our songs as seemed appropriate to the liturgical flow of the service designed by Pastor Herbert. Wayne Causey led our Middle Tennessee group. A favorite part for most of us was when we sang together with members of the congregation, we Americans either trying our best to read Italian words, or sometimes each singing in his or her native tongue. Worshiping with brothers and sisters in another part of the world, even though understanding may be limited, is non-the-less effectual in that we know we are praising and worshiping in Jesus’ Name. The pastor spoke some English, as did a few congregation members, but communications was a challenge through the day. However, extra effort was given by all as we worshiped, fellowshipped around the table, and then entered a time of open discussions – which, by the way, takes longer when everything is repeated in two languages.
It was not long into our discussion time that animated voices speaking Italian sounded eerily like voices I have heard in many of our churches in Tennessee. Of course, I could not understand the words these folks were saying until the pastor interpreted for us. Nevertheless, I could tell we had stepped upon the tender spot of talking about differences regarding worship music styles. Let me hasten to say it is not exactly the same in Italy as in the U.S., though many components come down to the same personality and sensibility issues as we often see at home. One of the aspects of this entire project has been the joy of getting to know and encourage, as well as be encouraged by Carlo Lella, who serves as the Minister of Music for the Italian Baptist Union. We got to compare notes, share common issues and pray for one another in our work. We both strongly desire that the church would renew her song of worship in unity and fellowship. The primary word Carlo used to describe the situation in Italian churches was “complicated.” Indeed, it is. We both noted that it is less problematic to sing and worship in two languages foreign to the ear than it is to try and resolve issues of personality and musical language differences.
Our trip was so filled with blessings and answers to prayers of people praying at home, as well as fulfillment of desired outcomes and prayers there on the field. Time and again the Tennessee Mens Chorale began to warm up in empty rooms or street locations, only to begin singing and see those spaces fill with people. We literally ministered and witnessed to people from all over the world through our time in Italy. As I reflect back over the days together I am more determined than ever to the mission and ministry to which God has called me and I believe has called us. I was profoundly reminded how effective it is when brothers in Christ lay aside any differences of language and style to defer to Christ and one another and the mission at hand above any personal preference of musical taste. I was reminded just how attractive servanthood is as brothers and sisters demonstrate Christlike care. We saw it in so many ways. All this makes the music just that much more beautiful and effective. The Prayer of Mother Teresa of Calcutta was more than just great devotional material as Michael shared it with us, and/or song lyric as we sang it in those different settings. It was an effectual prayer that I believe the Lord answered. I pray that the effects will be lasting including settings like that mentioned above in the churches where differences over styles and sensibilities continue to plague God’s people. Our worship wars must cease to be battles over what music we sing, and instead become the battle against powers of darkness that would distract us from raising up Jesus, gazing upon Him, and placing our full trust In Christ Alone!
For those of you unable to make the trip, whether TMC, TLC, or interested Tennessee Baptist, we thank you for your involvement through prayer and concern. Please continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in Italy, even as we also pray that we will be effective and bold witnesses to Christ’s saving love here in Tennessee.
On Tuesday, October 7, fifty-seven of us depart from Tennessee airports to make our way to Naples, Italy to begin a ten-day mission project that will also take us to Rome and Florence, as well as outlying towns surrounding these three major cities in Italy. Our IMB missionary, Charlie Worthy, will help guide our time in the country and introduce us to pastors and church leaders where we will serve to engage in training, singing, and what we pray will be inspirational encouragement for believers, and clear presentation of the Gospel of Christ’s saving love to those we meet. In a budget planning meeting one year I was asked, “How many churches are represented by the Tennessee Ladies Chorus and Tennessee Mens Chorale?” I initially answered that question in a manner that was in keeping with the way the question was posed. As I recall, I said, “about two to three hundred churches.” As the meeting went on, however, I continued to be bothered that this reply in no way reflected the effective mission and ministry of these two choirs filled with church music leaders from churches all across our state. Nor did it reflect the thousands of lives that have been touched either directly through the powerful music ministry of the groups in concert or musical worship leadership, or indirectly through those inspired and encouraged by that ministry. It did not in any way indicate the depth of relationships developed among and between these leaders as they share mutual experiences of ministry, mission, and life through their involvements. The longer the meeting went on, the more unsettled I felt with the response I had given. Finally, before the meeting was dismissed I requested to correct my short-sighted response from earlier in the proceedings. I re-stated the question and updated my reply.
The initial question was something like, “How many churches are represented by these two singing groups?” to which I replied, “somewhere between two and three hundred churches.”
That answer was wrong and I would like to correct it before we dismiss. The correct reply to “How many churches are represented by the Tennessee Ladies Chorus and Tennessee Mens Chorale?” should be “All Tennessee Baptist Convention churches are represented as these ambassadors engage in mission and ministry, whether in a concert given in one of our TBC churches, whether leading worship music in an annual meeting of the convention, or boldly singing the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the streets of a partnership foreign country.” This is certainly to be the case in this trip to the beautiful and musical country of Italy. So, as we represent all of us in expressing our love and concern for the people of Italy, would you please join the mission by way of praying daily for the events and mission of our travelers?
Keep up with our trip and pray regularly for this mission to our partnership country Italy.
I had an unusual assignment Sunday in assisting a church whose worship service is broadcast via internet. The request was to offer comment on how the worship service comes across and to suggest means of upgrading quality (non-technical, Eddie Hodges) in how the service might come across to those at home. I have viewed lots of videotape of worship services in my adult life, so I have learned to set aside those technical aspects that were such an irritant when I was leading and being captured by obsolete cameras and poor sound mixes myself. In one church where I served I would not watch the videotape until at least Wednesday after a Sunday, because I wanted the live experience to predominate my own thinking about how a particular Sunday went. Technology is both wonderful and distracting at the same time. But I digress. Because the church I was helping was in the Eastern time zone I finished my observation in time to call up a few other services of churches around our state. I did this partially as comparison, partly from curiosity, and a whole lot just because I wanted to check in on worship at the churches being served by pastors and worship pastors that I love and whose ministries I care about deeply. In each case as I viewed one of our brothers standing to lead music for worship I whispered a prayer for strength, confidence (some in the midst of storm), and holy unction of the Spirit. I also noted some common concerns I had for several of these settings – not all. I also noted a surprisingly consistent liturgical ethos among all, regardless of congregation size or location. Perhaps these are patterned after one or more large church formats, with a little added local flare. As a lifelong learner and student of worship study, I would love for fellow worship pastors to have more time to converse with one another regarding the order and piety of worship in our churches.
I will neither disclose the names of the churches (consultation confidentiality is a priority trust ingredient), nor the cities in which they are located. I will note some items that may be of common interest to all who broadcast services in any format, and an item that concerns all of us, whether our worship service can be seen on a screen or not. Consider these questions:
- Is worship always focused on the platform?
- Where cameras are present, do they show worshipers worshiping other than the Worship Leader, band, praise team, and choir? How about pastor singing? How about Worship Leader listening to spoken word? Are camera shots appropriate to where choir and other musicians are located and do they remain aware when being “on camera?” (sometimes nosepicking is part of life)
- Is lighting such that encourages an understanding that all present are to be engaged in participative worship? (more than once in past consultations Worship Leaders have expressed disinterest in “shooting the congregation” because of non-participation)
- What would it take to create a climate of genuine participation in all aspects of worship on the part of the whole congregation?
- Is the flow of worship understandable to the point that worshipers grasp where they are in the communion/conversation with God?
- Does pastor and other leadership encourage an atmosphere of full participation? (can people see him engaged?)
When working on a project regarding congregational singing I engaged some camera operators to work incognito to record some of what was taking place in sections of the congregation during congregational singing. These extra pairs of eyes helped me to grasp a bit more of the dynamics taking place past the visible front rows of the congregation in a large sanctuary. They also displayed some surprises, good and not so good, regarding engagement in what is intended to be a corporate act of worship. While none of us can either cheerlead or police our people into full participation, we can be aware and help others be aware of the shared spiritual responsibility that is corporate worship. God looks upon the heart, and just because someone is not visibly opening mouth and singing may not mean they are completely disengaged in the worship at any given point in a service. I have noticed, though, that often-time someone who is standing passively will suddenly open mouth when they realize I am looking right at them. It reminds me of one of my former mantras I used in Youth Choir rehearsals when a student was not singing. I would approach them and say,
“Here’s how it is suppose to work. I lead, the pianist plays, and you sing.”
Although it feels a bit snarky as I type it here, I was always surprised how well it worked and how often other students would help boost up the erring child so as to pull him or her in to the group effort. Quick praise always followed such a corrective, and I believe helped build the choir espri décor. While we cannot go all around the congregation calling out non-singers, we can offer unapologetic encouragement toward the biblical commands to “sing unto the Lord!” After all, He IS always looking.
Sisters, will you join and help us?
Moses’ sisters aided him;
George Atkins’ words from the Southern Harmony hymn, Brethren, We Have Met to Worship, that is sung as an opening at nearly all shaped-note singings, carries a colorful combination of southern cultural influence and liturgical potency as a Call to Worship on the one hand and a reflection of Southern song, harmonies, and lyrical emphasis common to churches in the South on the other. The reminder of dependency upon the Holy Spirit balances the call for worshipers to worship and pray in light of the plight of those who are lost and “sinking down.” A powerful line for me is “All is vain unless the Spirit of the Holy One comes down.” Lest we ever rest our confidence in our selves, hymn lyrics such as this one remind us that only He can spread sweet manna all around.
The stanza that begins “Sisters, will you join and help us? Moses’ sister aided him” has often provided an opportunity to highlight the ministry roles that women fulfill in our churches, and like many of you, I have sometimes asked men of a congregation to sing the verse to help feature the high value of women’s service in ministry. Egalitarian and complementarian perspectives aside, we surely recognize the incredible contribution women play to life and ministry in our lives and our churches. I can honestly say that some of the strongest Christian influences in my life have been and are women. I use to quip that if it were not for my mom, I wouldn’t be here. I also like to point out that Moses’ sister, Miriam, was the first Praise Chorus singer, since she took the song of Moses in Exodus 15, and repeated four lines over and over again, taking a group of ladies to dance and play tambourines in the repetition. Joking aside, it is fact that beginning with my own family and broadening out to include so many singers, choir officers, fellow ministry leaders, staff members, and friends from college and seminary days, the Lord has blessed my life richly through the lives of women. They have modeled Christlikeness to me and toward me in appropriate, caring relationships. 1 Timothy 5 provides a biblical foundation for healthy relationships with women as we serve in ministry.
How wonderful it is for me to be serving this week at First Baptist Church Whitwell, Tennessee, where Allison Leding serves as Minister of Music. It has been a special treat to be with several who have been and continue to be strong influences and partners in ministry. Dr. Jerry Massey serves FBC Whitwell as pastor in his “retirement.” Pat and Jerry are longtime friends, prayer supporters, and Jerry has served in numerous roles in Tennessee Baptist life. Dr. Phil Glisson is preaching, and although we have not been together all that much in our “more mature” years, we were actually at Union University at the same time in the 1970’s. Phil is a preaching machine and has served in fulltime evangelism for his entire ministry. The fellowship is great each and every time we get to be together.
When Tennessee Ladies Chorus went to Montana 10 years ago, I first got to know Allison (“Alli”) Leding. It seems like when we loaded up vans or cars for travel during ministry there, we ended up in the same vehicle. Likewise, eating at food courts or area restaurants during our trip we were frequently at the same table. I discovered during that trip that Alli likes to have fun, and has the great sense of humor that goes with it. I remember laughing a lot, just as we also prayed and of course, sang and worshiped. She has been a part of every ministry activity of TLC sense. Not only did she serve as TLC President (TLC members will remember the Tiara Retreat), but she has been Charlotte Hanson’s first phone call when help is needed to staff an event or ministry activity. That is the kind of servant spirit that is Alli Leding in my estimation. In speaking with Pastor Jerry and others here at Whitwell, I have heard consistently about the contributions she makes, and the heart with which she makes them to the life and ministry of First Baptist Church. She is loved deeply and appropriately, and that spirit carries over into service in her association of churches, and her community, just as we have experienced it at the state level in TBC life. She is not only a great model for women in ministry. She is a great model for any of us in ministry, even as she is a good model for those in the church she serves so well. I am honored to call her my sister in Christ, and deeply appreciate her faithfulness to our Lord, her church, her community, her association, and our state. I know that serving in fulltime ministry as a woman in Southern Baptist life must be challenging, but it is servant leaders like Alli Leding who demonstrate effectively that despite all odds the Lord uses His children that He calls to serve in ministry.
In 1994 I was serving as Minister of Worship & Music for Jackson’s First Baptist Church, when a guy moved to town with my same last name. It would take a special guy to fill the musical pulpit at West Jackson Baptist Church, given that the previous Minister of Music, Bob Brian was so well loved and whose untimely sudden death had left a hole in the church’s conscious and dealt a dramatic blow to the music ministry. It would take someone deeply committed to ministry beyond singing inspirational songs and implementing organizational techniques. That guy who had come to town with my same last name, my younger brother, Ricky Clark, was that guy. His qualifications to fill that bill were a testimony to God’s sovereign hand on the church, its music ministry, and on the sensitive spirit of Rick and wife, Sandra. I was excited to have my brother in town. Those three years of serving together in the same town at two sister churches were very special. Regular lunch outings, phone calls for sharing advice and materials, and of course occasional catch-up on all things family. We even actually played tennis together when schedule and weather permitted. We put our choirs together to perform music of praise that may have been a bit beyond either group’s capacity alone at the time. These were very special days that I still cherish.
Alas, however, the city of Jackson determined that three Clarks in ministry in the same town, and living in the same subdivision, was just too much. Seriously, Ebbie and I felt the Lord was leading us to serve the Briarlake Baptist Church in Decatur, Georgia. One of the struggles to leave was the thought of losing that regular fellowship with my brother and closest friend. The opportunity to return to Tennessee and sense that this was somehow in the Lord’s plan all along has continued to be a rich reminder of His sovereign hand. Ricky does not show up to one of our state events (or line us up to sing), but what I am reminded of this blessing to lean into our relationship, the joy of trust we share as brothers in ministry and brothers in Christ as well as blood brothers. It is a very good thing when family relationship stirs your heart to worship and give thanks.
Saturday night and Sunday were special days as West Jackson’s music ministry surprised Ricky with a grand celebration, complete with Rick’s longtime friend and fellow Unionite, Kevin Hamilton, doing the things as only Kevin can do (or would do for some of them). It was a raucous good time, and was appropriately sprinkled with laughter and tears. Sunday worship with a choir loft packed with current and former choir members accompanied by orchestra of like making, was powerful testimony to twenty years of faithful ministry. Most notable to me were comments from numerous attenders that reflected Ricky’s passionate and consistent ministry of presence. Hospital visits, pre-op prayers, phone calls, notes and emails at birthdays and other celebrations….these are all hallmarks of Ricky’s ministry. Knowing him as a brother and close friend, I know that these acts are not motivated by duty or obligation. They are truly acts of love, and deeds of spiritual investment. Private words spoken to me from parents of youth choir members were powerful statements of effective ministry. Especially meaningful to me, of course, were comments of Ricky’s willingness to encourage students to be involved in broader participations like state music functions. That, of course, did this state music leader’s heart good.
Most importantly, I believe, in this celebration is the evidence of a man’s ministry always focused toward connecting lives to the One Who has given gifts and talents, and Who deserves the best each of us have to offer. We heard this spoken in testimonies offered, and saw it in the singing of a group formed by Ricky during early days of a worship service begun to reach out to community. We also saw and heard this testimony through the powerful ministry of choir and orchestra and rousing congregational singing on Sunday morning through grand hymn arrangements of May Jesus Christ Be Praised, How Great Thou Art, How Deep the Father’s Love, When I Survey, and the moving anthem, To Love Our God. While these events were one weekend of celebration and worship, they hint of representation of twenty years worth of personal investment and sacrifice in service. To my knowledge, there is not a more loyal and faithful minister through music anywhere than Ricky Clark. West Jackson Baptist Church has been wise and blessed to encourage the establishment of a legacy that has continued in the trajectory of Bob Brian, and has continued to make strides amidst all the changes brought on in cultural shifts, leadership changes, and uncertain economies. This legacy is a testimony to the faithfulness of our Lord, and a shining example of disciple-making through the ministry of music.
Proud of you, Bro!
Our friend Mike Harland at Lifeway is known among Worship pastors for lots of things (I will resist my juvenile jokester tendencies at this point), but one of many that I am grateful for is a biblical sermon I have heard him share in devotionals, as a conference leader, and from pulpits often. It is a message rooted primarily in 2 Chronicles 20 where Jehoshaphat, preparing to march to the battlefront, places the singers and musicians out in front of the warriors. As a result of my ministry with worship pastors and other church musicians this message always strikes me at the heart of what happens in the lives of so many of us when we get discouraged. Worship music ministry in our day is characterized far too often by battles (some of our own making) and storms when it surely should be among the most unifying and edifying rally points in the lives of our congregations. The refreshing and encouraging reminder that Mike has shared resounds with rightful confidence available to us as we place our faith in the One Who is powerful enough to win the battle. It is most encouraging to be reminded of our place of faithfully responding to His call, a place to be more concerned with faithfulness and obedience than success.
There is a song that was written in 1984 (I know, ancient, right?), The Battle Belongs to the Lord. Written by Jamie Owens-Collins in what might arguably be called either the early or even pre-contemporary Christian music (CCM) wave. The song was titled by its refrain, a reference to scriptures such as 1 Samuel 17:47, . Its minor tonality connotes a seriousness, and evokes a kind of plaintiff, battle-like motif. I have found it to be sometimes powerful in the most acoustic and simple of settings, such as the song was recorded by John Michael Talbot with only single acoustic guitar. That recording that includes group singing reflects a Taize` like character. I remember using an arrangement of the song with youth choir in a simple choral setting to good effect. The message provides important reflection opportunities for teens who face plenty of battles in their spiritual walk. The song was also later recorded by Christian rock (insert oxymoron jokes here) band, Petra. For those of you too young to know about these names or their music, therein lies a whole opportunity for discovery. Google and/or Wikipedia away. By the way, the song is included in six hymnals including Lifeway’s 2008 Baptist Hymnal (#662).
I am running on about Mike’s message, and about this song because they have both been brought to mind as I have reflected on our Tennessee Ladies Chorus and Tennessee Mens Chorale retreat this past Thursday thru Saturday. Those who were present know that I shared about some challenges we face as ministry organizations for coming days. Your response to that sharing is such an encouragement of the kind of servants you are in Kingdom work. It is no wonder I so love the opportunities we have to come together and share burdens, share joys, openly share needs, and be nurtured and encouraged by the shared experiences of music-making and worship through praying, singing, praising, hearing.
I love and appreciate every member of our Tennessee Mens Chorale and Tennessee Ladies Chorus. Those who participate regularly in these groups know well of my inability at times to control my emotions that can be overwhelmed with the realization of that love as well as the blessings of our Heavenly Father that has called me into this ministry. I really do wish every worship music ministry leader in the state would avail themselves of this fellowship. I truly believe your ministry in your setting will be positively effected by involvement with others who serve in a variety of kinds of settings, urban, suburban, rural, mega church, small church, medium church, full-time, bi-vocational, or volunteer.
There are fruitful days of shared mission and ministry ahead. It is exciting to see what the Lord has in store. One thing is for sure, as we are serving in Great Commission work He is with us always. When we face trials and tribulations along the way, we have this truth to hold onto, “The battle belongs to the Lord!” What a joyful privilege to share the pilgrimage with you!
In heavenly armor we’ll enter the land;
The battle belongs to the Lord!
No weapon that’s fashioned against us will stand;
The battle belongs to the Lord!
And we sing glory, honor, power and strength to the Lord.
We sing glory, honor, power and strength to the Lord.
When the power of darkness comes in like a flood,
The battle belongs to the Lord!
He’s raised up a standard, the power of His blood;
The battle belongs to the Lord!
And we sing glory, honor, power and strength to the Lord.
We sing glory, honor, power and strength to the Lord.
Words and Music by Jamie Owens-Collins, Fairhill Music, Inc. ©1984
Webster seems to think retreat has to do with getting away from the front line of battle. First definition indicates that maybe the enemy is winning and thus the “run and flee” mentality would be needed, RETREAT!!! The next meaning he gives is getting away from a situation because it is dangerous or unpleasant. Hmmmm…. Dangerous? Unpleasant? RETREAT!!! Well, how about the third definition which has to do with changing your opinion because something is unpopular. Great….not exactly what I hope for this weekend’s gathering with Tennessee Mens Chorale and Tennessee Ladies Chorus.
Anyway, Tennessee Baptist Church Musicians – whatever you call yourself, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Ministers of Music, Pianists, Organists, Children’s Choir Leaders, Children’s Music Ministry Workers, Worship Singers, …. Or whatever…. Thursday and Friday is the RETREAT for Tennessee Mens Chorale. I surely wish that every man who serves in worship music ministry leadership were a part of this wonderful organization of music-making, mission-minded, Lord-loving, Kingdom-serving men! Serving together in this group enhances ministry and nurtures fellowship that helps us all to be more effective together and separately. Likewise I wish that women who serve in worship ministry leadership would participate as part of our Tennessee Ladies Chorus for the same reasons. Besides being so encouraging and great fun and inspiration, these groups make some beautiful music together and engage in important projects of mission and ministry. This year alone we will have the TMC on the mission field in Italy, TLC and TMC together singing and serving at the Nashville Rescue Mission, TLC and TMC singing at the Tennessee Baptist Summit joined by Keith & Kristyn Getty to lead in worship, the TLC and TMC on stage at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center for the third time behind the Gettys for Joy! An Irish Christmas, the TLC singing in Gatlinburg before 2000 women at the On Mission Gathering of Tennessee Women on Mission, as well as other possible smaller group engagements.
I know the list itemized in the above paragraph does not sound much like run and flee, or withdraw from….anything, but I can tell you that it is just possible that serving together and joining common inspiration through singing praise and praying for one another does the heart good, renewing minds and hearts to head back to the front line of ministry and lift high the name of Jesus week in and week out.
So, hurry and get your name on the list if it is not there already, it’s time to