The weather last weekend at Linden Valley was not exactly ideal for campfires, s’mores, and walks along the Buffalo River. However, the rain, drizzle, and grey skies did not seem to dampen the spirits of the 4th, 5th, and 6th graders who had been loaded into church vans and cars to make their way to Linden Valley for the 2015 Kids Choral Connection. As always seems to be the case, the energetic young musicians that showed up at Linden seemed to me to be the cream of the crop, so to speak. They followed the schedule, cooperated fully, sang like little songbirds and participated in worship. Guest director, Pam Andrews added her own blast of energy and enthusiasm as well as providing for more solo lines, speaking parts, and prop use than any previous KCC clinician, and the kids hung right in there. I am so grateful for the music ministers, sponsors, choir leaders, and parents who participated and jumped right in to help. Paula Farrar was a trooper at the piano, and Tiffany Pyron flew her first solo TBC Worship & Music event, and did great including standing in to turn pages for Paula as needed. James Hargrave is unparalleled as celebration leader for this event, given his fun and gentle demeanor he moves from fun guy to story-teller worship guide so smoothly. It is a joy to serve with such devoted ministry-minded people. And big kudos to the children of KCC 2015!
Being at Linden Valley reminded me of how much has changed. The flood of 2010 took a hard toll on the facility, but in God’s timing it provided for the building of a wonderful new Worship Center that we used to great effect last weekend. Acoustics are really good for singing, and it is so versatile that we used it for recreation and celebration which all had to be indoors given the inclement weather. Being at the camp reminded me of some great days of week-long children’s music camps, the last of which for TBC was 2003. Life and culture have continued to change, but I still find reason for deep concern as to how we pass on the torch of developing young musicians who will serve the Lord’s church, and how we help children to connect the joys of beauty, talent, and artistry with the Creator in effective ways. I know that each church worships in ways as directed by their own leaders, but I have concern regarding our capacity for common songs that come through common sources that still bear some denominational distinctives, remain sensitive to Baptist concerns and emphases, and embed the same into the lives of youth and children such that they will be carried forward into years to come. I cannot look at a group of children such as those who gathered last weekend and not wonder if there is a Fanny Crosby, an Isaac Watts, or a Bev Shea sitting amongst them. Nor can I keep from lamenting deeply at how many children in many of our SBC churches would have no idea who any of those people were. We live in a time when many college students and youth have no idea who B.B. McKinney, Hines Sims, William Reynolds, or Wes Fobes were nor why they should care. As training for worship leaders is more localized and more customized to each particular church, it is likely to be more and more challenging to find our common voice. I am convinced that simply letting go of what has been learned and sung and said and done in the past is not really an option. It is part of why I am committed to keep the torch burning, go again in 2016 and set things up for years and years beyond. Anybody with me? KCC 2016 will be at Linden again October 6-7. Put it on the calendar now. Fall Break? Come anyway. Never been? Come and see and hear.
Thank you, our brother and my Worship Pastor, Wayne Causey, for Sunday worship at Forest Hills, where we sang the same Getty hymn we sang at MMLC in August, Facing a Task Unfinished. In Sunday worship I sang with conviction and renewed determination verse 3 and 4 of this great hymn:
We bear the torch that, flaming,
Fell from the hands of those
Who gave their lives proclaiming
That Jesus died and rose
Ours is the same commission
The same glad message ours;
Fired by the same ambition,
To Thee we yield our pow’rs.
O Father who sustained them,
O Spirit who inspired,
Savior whose love contrained them
To toil with zel untired.
From cowardice defend us,
From lethargy awake!
Forth on Thine errands send us
To labour for Thy sake.
Amen, Lord, let it be so!
This blogpost goes along with the post on my more general site: www.paulclarkjr.com
Is it just me or is it getting more and more difficult to schedule anything these days? No matter what time of year it seems when you have an idea or an inspiration for something new, or think you will attend a new conference, a music reading session, or engage in some other added activity for personal or group development, it just seems impossible to make the time. Sometimes the calendar itself becomes oppressive. But I dare not stop reviewing it, because I am just likely to miss something if I do, and that is never good.
The TBC team that I am assigned to under updated reorganization is the Church Revitalization Team. We have stated over and again on our team that before churches are revived it is most likely that leaders will need to be renewed. So with all this busy-ness how can we be renewed, revived, or revitalized? As noted in my other blogsite’s post, silence and solitude are surely prerequisites, which means pulling away at some level. I am not talking about vacation days. Those are relaxing and fun, and usually with family, but those are not the same as spiritual renewal that begs for seclusion, silence, and solitude that allows for personal spiritual growth and development. With a slammed calendar and Christmas coming, where and how will any of us find time for renewing solitude? Here are a few suggestions to consider:
- Make an appointment: place an itemt on your calendar that blocks out a morning, or a few hours, and stick to it.
- Find a quiet place: whether out in the woods, in a church building, perhaps of another faith tradition, or even in a location in or around your home, find somewhere that you can actually be away for spiritual reflection, prayer, personal worship, singing, and reading scripture
- Open the agenda: activities for renewal need to be part of your plan, but the agenda is best left up to God. IN other words, schedule time for praying, reading, sitting in silence, singing/praising, but let God determine direction. If you decide you will pray about leaving your church, for example, that means you are setting the agenda rather than God. Leaving the agenda open God may direct you toward praying for neighbors, friends, the poor, or others according to His desires.
- Keep a journal: keeping a journal of what God reveals in times of solitude gives you a record to go back and review as the Lord answers prayer, or in some other way connects your spiritual journey and awakens your spirit
- Pray the Bible: rather than stream of conscience try praying the Bible with a disciplined plan. See helps below.
- Listen: silence provides opportunity to hear the Spirit
- Avoid work: this time is first about what God has for you, not about your job as a church leader.
Praying the Bible by Don Whitney
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Don Whitney
Spiritual Classics Richard Foster, editor
Life of the Beloved: Sacred Living in a Secular World by Henri Nouwen
The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence by Henri Nouwen
The great Robert Robinson hymn is a prayer and asks “Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace.” I find that the Lord answers that prayer in many ways. Sometimes it is in remembrance of a movement of the Spirit in a totally different setting that connects my heart anew to His grace. Other times it is in the beauty of the singing of the beautiful NETTLETON tune that my heart is stirred to reflect upon His grace and I sense His presence in the flood of gratitude for singing, for music, for His willingness to meet us as we worship through song. Even in moments when I could not sing this favorite hymn for various reasons still my heart was stirred, I believe stirred to sing His grace, even inaudibly.
Friday morning as our Tennessee Mens Chorale gathered to begin day 2 of our retreat we were blessed by the sharing of Chris Headley of First Baptist Dandridge and moved deeply by his transparency and testimony of worship on the road marked with suffering. What a powerful reminder of our need to be aware as we lead our congregations in worship that there are those who are suffering. I have high appreciation for Chris and his ministry in his church, with his family, and among his fellow worship music leaders. I believe Chris’s testimony of God’s grace filled our hearts and we were prepared to sing of that grace. Then you guys who are members of TMC absolutely blew me away. Yes, you totally surprised me with the presentation of the painting by Kay Hinson, and the recognition of my 15 years as your director with the anthem based on the text of Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing that Mary wrote for the occasion, which so beautifully captures TMC sound and sensitivity to this great text. Of course the lyric of the hymn reaches the depth of my soul as I heard you sing it to this beautiful new melody that fits your voices perfectly. When you came to the new lyric the second time it really soaked in.
May the message of your grace
Flow from our hearts into this place
Til we see you face to face
Lord, tune our hearts to sing your grace
I had no interest in analyzing anything musically in the moment. It was such a perfect expression of what I totally believe is the desire of our shared heart, that wherever and whenever we sing the message of God’s grace, the Gospel would flow from our hearts. It becomes the very desire of our hearts, and thus the prayer on our lips. We pray the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Then the second part of the new lyric hit me, “Til we see you face to face.” We have undergone so many changes in these last months and some have brought about strain on the organization, so much so that I wondered how we would go on, plus so many of you have experienced loss of position, loss of family, in some cases loss of confidence, and yet we sing on in response to the call upon our lives, and the need of the hour. It is what we are made to do “til we see Him face to face.” Now as that began to soak in I wanted to share those thoughts and at once knew I would just blubber, which I sorta did anyway, but you guys are an understanding bunch.
Here is what I simply could not begin to get out Friday that was in my heart to say. And to be honest, Chris set it up sharing openly with what he had said in his devotional. One of the richest means by which God tunes my heart to sing His grace is the depth of fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ. Look, we all know there is plenty of shallow to go around in what often goes on among those who claim the faith. And that can really hurt, especially for those who risked and felt that someone took advantage. To exercise grace it is important to be forgiving, to pray for those who may struggle with shallowness and do not even know, or who need enlightenment. Serious fellowship rooted richly in Christ that prefers others above ourselves is both risky and freeing at once. As you sang Friday I was praying that some of you would find your Ebenezer soon. I was grateful that so many of you have felt the freedom to call upon me to walk into dark places by your side, even for a moment. And I was reminded how several of you have been that same strength for me in my own time of despair, as well as sharing the joys of victory. And I think that through such unconditional fellowship of grace my heart is tuned to sing His grace. Lord, help us stay in tune ‘til we see you face to face.
This past week our Tennessee Baptist Church Music family was struck with a measure of sadness in the passing of another sister from our Tennessee Ladies Chorus ranks. Cheryl Dusky was a faithful member of TLC to the extent she was able. Cheryl experienced back problems and yet continued to sing, often apologizing that she needed special positioning in the lineup so as to be able to sit if needed. I tried to assure her that her beautiful voice and sweet disposition were always welcome, whether she was able to stand or not. I love the picture of the group singing at Tulip Grove as it captures Cheryl in her special position where she could sit down if needed. She was so good-natured, fun, and very musical. Cheryl’s mezzo-soprano voice was powerful and she knew it. She use to ask me about her blend and requested that I feel free to give her a “hi sign” if she was overpowering. That kind of sensitivity comes from someone who is a good musician, and a humble spirit. Cheryl Dusky was both of those things. She was an effective music ministry leader in the churches she served and a recognized music leader in her community – a real advocate for music as a means of building community and education.
Last Sunday I was privileged to fill in for Zach Young at First Baptist Church Jackson, where I served as Music & Worship Minister for nearly eight years. It was such a blessing to be with several who are still in the choir now who were part of the music ministry during my days on the staff. Wonderful memories flooded my mind and spirit as we warmed up Sunday morning and through kind expressions before and after the worship service Sunday. Meanwhile my youngest son, Adam was filling in for Joe Fitzpatrick at First Baptist Nashville Sunday and as I contemplated that joy while driving back home from Jackson I was warmed by thoughts of that special church family and the joy of sharing in music ministry during my own time of serving as their interim between Mark Edwards and Joe. The thought of my son and his family as part of that faith community and his being affirmed among the great fellowship and rich tradition of the choir and instrumentalists there brought words of praise from my lips. There is something special about the fellowship of those who serve together making music to praise and minister in the name of Jesus.
When the shocking news of Cheryl’s passing came up as a text message on my phone I began to fret because I had intended to check on her just recently and was distracted. Now as I read this message there was a pause of disbelief. I could only imagine what the family was feeling. The sadness of separation was deepened by the thought of missed opportunity for ministry and concern for Paul Dusky, and Cheryl’s daughter and TLC member, Rachel Yoder, as well as the rest of the family. Going to social media to learn more of the situation I was blessed to see pictures of Cheryl, expressions of love by the family. My heart was lifted as I read ministry expressions and assurance of love and prayer from members of the Tennessee Ladies Chorus family. I also noted so many expressions from those who had sung under Cheryl’s leadership in church or in community chorus settings. It was a good reminder of the depth of connection that occurs among those who not only declare their faith but learn to sing it together. There is something very special about touching the soul-nerves that can only be reached through the stirring miracle of music-making together.
Cheryl’s passing is also a reminder of how important these gatherings of TLC and TMC really are as we never know just when such a gathering might be our last. Not to be morbid about such a thing whatsoever, but rather taking great consolation in the assurance that when we sing, Cheryl continues to sing with us for that is precisely what she is doing now in the very presence of the Lord Jesus. In fact, I believe the same is true of every choir member, every music minister, every believer who had been saved through the power of Christ who stepped into eternity to join the everlasting song.
“I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations.” (Psalm 89:1)
Does your church know how to celebrate? I am sure not referring to any artificially inseminated atmosphere of hype. I am talking about the Sabbath pause to truly give God the glory for the great things He has done. To stop, remember and reflect on moments, seasons, periods of true outpouring of God’s Spirit among the fellowship of believers is critical to a church’s health. There are plenty of special occasions that call for such celebrations. When the era of a pastor’s leadership comes to a close or likewise the transition of a staff member or volunteer it just makes sense to celebrate what the Lord has done. Another great occasion can be the celebration of special anniversaries of a congregation denoting the passing of a given number of years that the church has engaged in Gospel witness, worship, and disciple-making.
This latter celebration was the occasion that has spawned my thinking regarding the subject as I was privileged to participate last Sunday in a celebration of the 70th anniversary and homecoming service for Hillcrest Baptist Church in Jackson. It was a special day of remembrance, of celebration, of offering praise, and hearing biblical truth from God’s Word proclaimed. In other words, it was worship of the living and sustaining God as these are the very components of the church at worship. Think about it:
- Remembrance – the Old and New Testament open to us the very story of God, which is a story of His deliverance and thus the ongoing remembrance of how He has worked in creation, in claiming a people to be His people, in the full story of redemption sending His only son, taking upon Himself our sin and paying the price upon the cross for our forgiveness, ascending and making intercession for us at the right hand of the Father, sending His Spirit, establishing the Church, promising His sure return and ultimate victory. From the Garden to the Red Sea to Joseph to prophets to a baby in a manger to a cross, an empty tomb, a gathering of belivers, to a commission and an expectant church awaiting a second coming. In worship we remember. But we also remember what he has done among us. Hillcrest looked at their beginning days, recalled the original vision, remembered all their pastor leaders, looked at pictures of their meeting places, and recalled the lives of people who poured themselves into the life and ministry of this faith family.
- Celebration – Dr Jerry Welch, pastor of Hillcrest for the past twenty-two years recognized past pastors of the church, staff members, and others who had contributed in specific ways to the church. Video testimonies were shared reflecting on experiences over the years.
- Praise through singing, expressions of fellowship, and the general spirit of the day were central in the response to consideration of what the Lord has done and continues to do in His church
- Preaching of the Word Dr Welch shared the providential timing in his sermon series which on this day was addressing Ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church. He took his message from Matthew 16:13-20, an important reminder to the church of who she is, whose she is, how she came about, and where her hope lies for a future.
- Response and fellowship opportunity for spiritual commitment, singing as the family of God and then a long-anticipated fellowship meal (aka dinner on the grounds) followed around tables of fellowship.
This day stirred much for me personally as it was in this church family under the pastoral tutelage of Dr Welch’s father, Brother James “Jimmy” Welch, that I answered the call to Gospel ministry while serving as part time music director. My “little brother,” Ricky followed me in that role, and on this day I was blessed to sit next to Ricky and his wife, Sandra in worship. That is a humbling privilege that does not happen often, and so I count it a rich joy when it does. I got to see ol’ high school buddies, fraternity brothers, members from other churches where I served, and just the rich fellowship of God’s people gathered with no pretense, no one to impress, but deep gratitude for what God has done in our lives through His church over many years. The tone was clearly set by Pastor Jerry Welch and Music Minister Marty Phillips for this service of gratitude and celebration.
I highly recommend that churches pay attention to anniversaries and landmark opportunities to pause and gather worship around celebrating to Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the earth hear His voice….and give Him the glory! Great things He hath done!
I have heard leadership speakers say that people do not really mind change. It’s the transition they have a hard time accepting. I believe there is truth in that, and I am in that position as the era of Charlotte Hanson serving as my faithful ministry assistant comes to a close after 13 and a half years. Preparing for the change has also given me cause to reminisce. Charlotte has been there during the good and the bad over these years. She was there during the early days of the Tennessee Ladies Chorus, which had already begun when she came on board but was an organization still in formative days. It was great help for me to have a woman with ministry sensitivity and was part of that group who was in close proximity. Her support with that ministry has been invaluable as all TLC singers well know. Likewise she has been a welcoming face when preparing for events of the Tennessee Mens Chorale, and an enthusiastic support for that group. Charlotte stood with Worship & Music ministry as we faced the disappointing decision to cease children’s and youth music camps. That would not be the last sense of ministry loss we would face. She has joined the lament when music ministry leaders have left our state, have been dismissed from their position, and she has joined me in mourning at the passing away of brothers and sisters with whom we have shared ministry.
Of course there have been many joyful experiences to share over the same thirteen year period as well, and anyone who knows Charlotte knows she likes to celebrate. Her optimism has been an important boost to the atmosphere in and out of the office. She has been involved in each of our mission endeavors for Tennessee Ladies Chorus and Tennessee Mens Chorale. She has celebrated the production of new recordings. She helped research copyright and license details for three of our four recordings, and has worked with every set of officers for the Tennessee Baptist Church Music Conference to coordinate meetings, CD sales, online dues & fees, holding accounts for travel, and event registrations as needed. Charlotte has shared in the singing, clapping, and yelling of “Oh!” for each of the Joy! An Irish Christmas presentations at the Schermerhorn Symphony Hall. She has been integral to every MMLC, TLC and/or TMC concert, Youth Project and Kids Choral Connection and has kept me ready with resources for roundtables, retreats, worship renewal weekends, and a host of other events that have come down the pike through this time frame. What’s more, she has brought the same smiling and enthusiastic spirit to it all. Her spirit has helped make days that were especially challenging a bit more bearable and sometimes even fun despite it all. All of this she has done while dealing with a disease of the nervous system, though in remission – Praise the Lord!
Most importantly, Charlotte has approached her work with us as ministry and as worship. Her spirit and interest in worship has allowed us both to function in a manner of thankful living. Each of us has experienced serious challenges with our health, and have depended on one another for prayerful support and practical help covering the bases when needed. We have shared in our families’ growing, compared notes as parents and grandparents, and generally learned to celebrate life together through our work and through our relationship as co-workers. As we walk through days of transition here I will miss her, but will always value the immense contribution she has made to our ministry and to me.
It occurs to me that all those who serve alongside ministry support partners must take pause from time to time to assess the value of serving together. While it would seem senseless to walk around tossing accolades every few minutes for work done, assistance given, and support offered, it makes all the sense in the world to live out a spirit of gratitude toward those who serve with us, and to share the ministry with them to the full extent appropriate. I pray that Charlotte has received that spirit and blessing from me, and knows just how truly grateful I am for the time we have shared ministry. I know the Lord has great plans for what’s next for Charlotte and for us as we prepare to orient someone new to all of this.
Now for the transition………..
Today (Monday) began a challenging week for our Worship & Music Ministry office and for me. The usual stresses say it is business as usual. There are reports to get turned in, emails to answer, churches to assist, ministry brothers and sisters who need support, appointments to keep, etc., etc. It’s all there just like the normal Monday that begins a new week. Ah! But there is more this week. First of all, this begins Charlotte’s last official week in the office. That brings a kind of sadness, a kind of flurry, and a kind of panic. And that sentence just describes my sentiments. I will have more reflection to share on Charlotte’s 13 years of ministry with us in coming posts, but a couple of other challenges this week deserve attention. First off, there is the question of who will be “the next Charlotte.” Of course, we know there is only one Charlotte, but prayerfully and carefully reviewing prospective candidates who are sufficiently qualified and demonstrate a potential for loving the work of ministry including the gritty details is a high priority, and a decision I take very seriously. Secondly, there is an important concert of the Tennessee Mens this Thursday in Fairfield Glade at First Baptist Church. I know this does not involve all who read this column (and why not?) but there is a wider principle related to worship in Tennessee Baptist life that applies here, so I will address it for your consideration, and ask you to seriously consider its implications and pray concerning your own response to the same.
Last January I attended the memorial service for Grant Caywood at First Baptist Church Faifield Glade where he had served as Minister of Music prior to his passing. I will not reiterate what took place in that service except to point you to a past blogpost in which I wrote in reference to the service and some of its dynamics. At that service, however, I sensed a need to minister to this family in a more tangible way. I also wanted to affirm Pastor Leonard Markham and the loving church at Fairfield Glade, and the vision of TMC singing a concert there was born in my heart’s eye. I spoke to Dr Markham and his wife following the service and they were very responsive as to the value for the church and community. When it was time to calendar the event commitments made in the whispers of my prayers began the challenging process of becoming commitments that lead to actual ministry. Instead of a good idea we were asking that schedules be adjusted, sacrifices be made, priorities be rearranged. That is what happens when vision is acted upon. It costs something.
You may think this over-spiritualizing a simple concert, but I think principal applies to everything you and I do in ministry. My conviction is that acts of ministry are acts of worship, offerings to the Lord of our time, talents, resources, energy, creativity, and all that we are. This is not motivational babble, brothers and sisters – this is theological conviction with biblical foundation. The principals apply to members of your choir and worship ministry just as they apply to you as members of TLC and TMC:
- Costly ministry demonstrates our desire to give God our best. 2 Samuel 24 is oft quoted to remind us that God surely deserves our best. Our sacrifice does not make us worthy, but it engages us in Christlikeness in which we reflect His glory, which is at the core of worship’s intent.
- Sacrificial ministry shows our faith in God to provide our needs. “Making time” to be involved in ministry shows we know who truly makes time and can multiply its effectiveness as Lord of all time. (Phil 4:19; Matt 6)
- Giving in sacrifice is a means of demonstrating our love for Christ. True love revealed in Jesus considers no cost too great. (John 3:16)
- Giving in sacrifice demonstrates our regard for the majesty and power of God by our esteem and respect in making the time for ministry to happen no matter what we must lay down to show Him. (Luke 9:23-25)
I often hear about how difficult it is to do ministry in our day because of how busy our lives have become. I live in that difficulty as a choir member myself, and as a leader calling you to sacrifice as well. All the more reason this is a golden time to reflect Christ by identifying with his sacrifice.
When I was at that funeral I had a vision for ministry at Fairfield Glade to make His praise glorious, not only through a sound made in a sanctuary, but through a demonstration of Christlike sacrifice made by a group of men whose lives are filled with busy-ness, but who would trust the one who makes time to “make time” for them to come from the four corners of the state to give their time, talent, and best effort to minister to a family, church, and community as brothers in Christ as an act of genuine Christian worship.
According to Merriam-Webster.com “conference” is a noun meaning a formal meeting in which many people gather in order to talk about ideas or problems related to a particular topic. Sounds pretty true to what was planned for last Friday and Saturday at Brentwood Baptist Church at the Music Ministry Leadership Conference….but that really is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg as to what actually occurred in the weekend event. Granted, we planned and prayed for inspiring worship, informative class sessions, meaningful fellowship, and effective ministry, and those seem like lofty goals. I have to confess that if someone had told me, “Paul, we were inspired in worship, learned from our classes, enjoyed being with other music leaders, and sensed that we gave and received a measure of ministry” I would have been tickled pink. I would have felt it was a good conference. Mission accomplished. But as is often the case, real life responses .
Instead, I was awestruck at what I was told by a couple of faculty members about participants in their classes. I was personally overwhelmed in moments of surprising illumination during the corporate worship, and I believe Spirit-urged to trust more deeply for missional courage. In the days following the conference I have received more communication indicating convictional transition on the part of conference participants. In addition to these powerfully encouraging reports, the spirit of sweet fellowship Friday night and Saturday was a precursor to something that really came full circle in my own mind in a memorial service I attended tonight (Tuesday) remembering the life of former Minister of Music for Woodmont Baptist Church Nashville, Joe Morrell. Let me share these instances, and let you know that my heart is filled with gratitude that promps worship within.
One of our guest faculty and I were discussing impressions of the conference. In a very serious tone he told me about a participant who waited after a class session to tell him that his life had been changed in this conference. Things that were said in class and in worship, biblical truth revealed had gripped the young man to evoke spiritual transformation in his life. And then I was personally caught a bit off guard during worship as Keith Getty led us in singing the new lyrics that Kristyn and he had written and placed to the AURELIA tune tagged with a new refrain with missional force. All of the worship music was inspiring as expected with so many musicians gathered and singing praise. But this sending hymn, Facing a Task Unfinished stirred me to the depths of my soul in a surprising way, such that my emotions made it hard to keep singing. Fueled further on the heals of the SEND 2015 Conference earlier in the week, I was deeply moved as the hymn called me to consider those from whose hands the flaming torch had fallen, who had given their lives to proclaim the Gospel. The song text then rises to call us: “Ours is the same commission, the same glad message ours; fired by the same ambition, to thee we yield our powers.” Then came that driving refrain, “We go to all the world, with kingdom hope unfurled…” I was convicted, empowered, and somehow renewed.
More communications in email, in social media, and through phone conversations have served as welcome surprise as to ways the Lord was at work in lives last weekend in ways that no one had anticipated. A spiritual reunion of two longtime friends that rekindled spiritual ferver in each, a renewed sense of ministry calling, and a healed broken spirit were among the enlightening communications indicating spiritual activity. And finally I would point to the sweet, yet deep fellowship shared in the vendor/exhibit areas, in the hallways between classes, in parking lots and hotel lobbies, as well as in the loft or aisles of the worship center. I noted to a colleague from another state that this kind of fellowship characterizes worship music ministry people in our state, and we agreed it was common anywhere ministering musicians gathered. We chatted about the emotional and spiritual impact and tendencies among these leaders and their church ministry personnel. This very discussion was replaying in my head tonight (Tuesday) as I stood in the choir loft of Woodmont Baptist Church celebrating the life and ministry of Joe Morrell, former music minister of the church. Here was Exhibit A of what we had been talking about. In the face of the loss of a friend and colleague, one who had faced his struggles in life and ministry, what did we do? We sang. Here were hundreds of people gathered to pay respects but also to remember. Here was a loft full of former choir members, fellow music ministers, professors, songwriters, and others whose primary common denominator was love for the Lord, love for His church, and love for church music, stimulated by love for their friend, and in the face of sadness in his death, the music was glorious. Powerful ministry in the psalm paraphrase, Refuge by Keith Christopher, originally penned for Mark and Susie Edwards during Susie’s battle with cancer leading to her passing. Then there was the sung testimonial proclamation, Satisfied written by former Nashville church musician and Belmont professor, Bob Mulloy. Congregational singing that prayed “Great Is Thy Faithfulness!” and “Amazing Grace” was a taste of heaven. Rightfully so, as in these gatherings we are preparing for our eternal worship to come.
If you missed the conference this year I am sorry. I truly wished all could be there to be inspired, encouraged, informed, and ministered to, as well as to bid farewell to Charlotte Hanson as she begins a new phase of her own life journey. I know we cannot be everywhere at once – at least not yet. When we do get opportunity to gather around music and ministry, however, we better take advantage of it. After all, we never know when it may be our last opportunity. Just as we never know how profoundly and in what ways the Lord is going to speak to our hearts and move us to “a more profound Alleluia!” When that happens a conference becomes a life-changing transformation, and much more than just a conference.
As the weekend began I got to spend a few hours at Carson Springs between scheduled events where I had responsibility there. The beautiful weather at the time beckoned me to come out and walk around the campgrounds. I thought I would take a walk to see what all had changed over the years. Just walking up the main road toward what use to be the dining hall stirred so many memories. Some of the changes that I noticed right off the bat took place some time ago. I even thought back to when I was in high school and there were old dormitory style buildings that housed campers during Youth Music Week that I attended as a teenager. I made some important spiritual decisions here during those days. Years later I would come as a Minister of Music bringing a group of teenagers of my own. I would pray for their spiritual enlightenment during their time on this mountain. Later yet I would be here as a guest director and eventually as the one in charge of Youth Music Week as the State Music Leader. I continued remembering and walking. Just before I got to the drive that use to serve as our starting point to welcome young campers I stopped and just looked across the whole camp that my eye could see. A chill ran down my spine as it occurred to me how impactful this place has been in my spiritual life. I looked over and noticed two stone platforms on which were mounted plaques. These were new to me. I read the message on each. These monuments serve as memorial expressions of gratitude for those who gave property or significant financial contributions making the facility possible.
The monuments are intended to remind onlookers that someone sacrificed to make the encampment possible, and also serve as inspiration for others to do likewise in carrying forward the intended purposes of Camp Carson. These stone memorials are something of an Ebenezer, or wall of remembrance (1 Samuel 7:12) for Camp Carson and all who come to the mountain there. As I reflected it occurred that Camp Carson itself is an Ebenezer to me. Walking past the old dining hall toward Stokely Chapel brought tears as I considered times marching up that hill anticipating enthusiastic singing, inspired preaching, and challenging moments of spiritual examination and decision. Faces and names came to mind as did feelings of jubilation, conviction, and lament. Although Stokely Chapel has been remodeled and improved, including air conditioning added, I still remembered back to swatting bugs that had flown in the open windows during worship. I reminisced about seeing each of my own children as teens, and others in my spiritual care, make life commitments to God in that place. Visions of hugs, tears, joyous celebration, and meaningful moments of prayer and singing stirred my spirit to rejoice again.
I continued walking across the camp pausing at places like the campfire circle recalling deep and lasting friendships that were sealed there as well as personal commitments prayed. I peered back up the hill to Gheens Hall where so many faculty breaks, late night prayer meetings, and nights were spent, both restful and restless. All these years later I could not help but think that times of prayer spent in that yellow building on top of the hill yielded answered prayer at the bottom of the hill as campers surrounded the flickering flames of final night campfires, and stood silent while songs echoed from the surrounding hills drawing on experiences of the week in which lyrical phrases were grafted into their mind and spirit as they had worked on notes and rhythms, melodies and harmonies, and experienced the miracle of music embedding spiritual truth inside their hearts.
While the memories mentioned above will probably only resonate with those Tennessee musicians who took part in Youth Music Week or Children’s Music Week those years ago, but there is a larger point I would want to make that concerns a critical aspect of the work of worship in our spiritual lives and that of the people with whom we serve. In our best practices, based on clear biblical teaching and models, worship enacts remembrances. At each of two recent Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing training events pastors focused a portion of their worship remarks on the high value of remembrance and returning to our first love. Those two things go hand in hand. This is never a matter of just longing for the “good old days.” Rather our remembrances in worship are of what God has done, His character expressed and demonstrated. Remembering the great things He has done stirs us to give thanks with a grateful heart, and to return to our first love.
Worship repositions and reforms the heart of the genuine worshiper. Relevance in present context includes remembrance of God’s saving acts in the past. His provision, His deliverance, His salvation are reason not only for remembrance but for response. Praise is ignited in such recollections, and hope in current circumstance is fueled by such memories. In the continuum of the already and not yet we place trust in the Triune God. Worship’s highest purpose must be to lift Him high, drawing others to Him. Revisiting our Ebenezers as individual worshipers, as families, and as congregations, brings us to reposition ourselves as servants in His Kingdom, loving the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.
Whether your Ebenezer is at Camp Carson, Linden, Ridgecrest, the Cove, or your home church, it is good to periodically visit those places where God has spoken in days past. It is likewise important to grasp the value of helping your congregation to symbolically revisit their Ebenezer as part of worship in spirit and truth.
I just returned from Atlanta Saturday night after speaking and teaching for Church Music Georgia, the Georgia edition of our Tennessee Music Ministry Leadership Conference (MMLC). It is always refreshing and enlightening to be a part of what is going on in other states. It helps me think and compare similar events in Tennessee that we are trying to use to enhance and encourage your ministry. Of course I also absolutely love the fellowship, seeing old friends (well…you know what I mean), and making new friends. Having served in Georgia before returning to our home state of Tennessee (Ebbie was actually on staff in the Georgia Baptist Church Music Office), the return was extra special because I got to visit with a few folks who were part of the choir I led at my former church including a fellow staff member there (yes, in some churches fellow staff members also sing in the choir). I saw a few Tennesseans who have moved to Georgia at some point as well, some choir singers who are now in our neighboring state to the south, a couple of writers, Dennis and Nan Allen formerly of Nashville Judson Baptist, a GBC music staff member who was previously in Bolivar and then Knoxville, Steve Brown, and at least one music minister who now resides on Georgian soil, former Jackson FBC music minister, Greg Williams. Visiting between speaking, teaching, and directing assignments was absolutely wonderful. I would say, “heavenly” except in heaven we will not have time limitations. I had to watch myself as it was hard to break away from conversations to be to my next spot. In fact, I could have spent the three days just visiting with the Georgia Baptist Church Music Staff, and that is because I love and appreciate each of them so much, and not just because there are so many of them. J I kid Dr Jon Duncan all the time that it takes seven of them to do what Charlotte and I do in Tennessee. Each of their four specialists (yes, I said four) are gifted and contribute to their effectiveness in meeting the needs of Gerogia Baptist musicians. I love being around them and enjoy that fellowship and shared insight.
I believe it is impossible not to compare and contrast aspects of what is taking place in Georgia with what is going on in Tennessee, or other states for that matter. Needless to say, some of that is disappointing, whether considering budget dollars or numbers of singers in the state singing groups by comparison (and I cannot help but draw some correlation). I must hasten to say, however, that there is also a sense in which the comparisons enrich my own spirit as I consider what we do despite extraordinary challenges. TBCMC officers, area music ministers and others warm my heart to think of the spirit of “can we help?” that has been so openly expressed. Charlotte has never been afraid to ask for volunteer help as you know, and has never gone wanting for such either. The close relationships within our fellowship provide ministry crucial in times of hurt and need. Regional gatherings have increased exponentially this year and subsequent availability of local ministry attention have resulted. I believe these are responses to Spirit-directed caring for brothers and sisters in ministry through music. It is my contention that ultimately the ministry of the state worship & music ministry is here to serve your churches by being a strengthening encouragement to you, by joining with you in helping to build your church’s worship & music ministry to lift up Christ, bear witness to His saving power, and engage together in effective mission locally and abroad. Our participation in efforts with the Getty organization, events, training, network building, efforts toward revitalization and renewal, are all intended to serve to this end.
In just two weeks we will have opportunity to join together in Brentwood and bring leaders from our churches’ music ministries together in a similar fashion to what I have just experienced in Georgia. The old saying “the more the merrier” is literally true for such activities, because the more present brings together prospect for a stronger sound of praise and thanksgiving in worship. In Georgia I watched as vans and busses pulled into the church parking lot at North Metro Baptist and observed nearly every church unloading groups of five to as many as twenty-five singers coming to learn from those of us leading each session. There were 240 in the choir group that I was privileged to lead. Having more enhances the interaction and input to discussions in each class and ministry track. Bringing students to train in worship band, instrumental music, or other sections further endears musical ministry to them and gives access to their leaders at a new and different level. We are not just seeking to build a crowd, and yet we are seeking to mount up praise that resounds in the halls of Brentwood Baptist, but much more importantly stirs and encourages the hearts of all of us and our people to sing and proclaim the Gospel in music. Keith Getty will be leading us in his spirited and infectious way as we lend our voices to gathered praise and worship singing of rich hymns. Come, Christians, Join to Sing Alleluia! Amen!
Singing and playing to the praise of our Lord is powerful no matter what state you are in. As for me and my house I am surely glad to be in Tennessee, to have our family here, to be walking this journey alongside you, and to live my life seeking to serve the Lord and His Church by serving you.