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
Music Ministry leaders, how do your church members respond to your attempts at enlisting participants in worship music ministry functions? While it seems there was once a time when music leaders in the church were the “fair-haired children” whose ministry area was popular for those inside and outside the church, it certainly is not the case anymore. Days of announcing youth choir rehearsal and anticipating a full loft Sunday afternoon are long gone. Over the past thirty years something has drastically changed. Worship Ministry leaders can no longer presume that everyone has some understanding of the value of music and the arts in the life of the church. Subsequently, enlisting singers, players, and leaders for the work of the ministry presents a sizeable challenge for those responsible for fielding the proverbial worship ministry team. So back to the opening question, how do people respond to your enlistment prompts? While experience indicates there are many kinds of responses and responders, here are two categorizations of kinds of responses. Perhaps you will identify with these and even be able to place names and faces from your congregation in your own mind.
#1 – Exuberant Joiners. These are the first-in folks. When it is time to sign-up for music ministry activities, whether in the church’s worship life, or musical missions projects, you can count on them. They are ready to find out what needs to be done and get busy doing it. These folks will bless you by their enthusiasm. Those whose motivation is pure will keep you challenged as a leader. You may find yourself wondering whether you are doing enough to keep them occupied and satisfied in their enthusiasm for worship music ministry.
While the exuberant joiners are very encouraging to be around, and the kind of participants most all of us want to have in our ministries, leaders must also exercise caution that we do not drift into pleaser-mode where we become less spiritually intentional about our ministry and mission. Offering good leadership to appropriately channel the energies and enthusiasm of these people can be more challenging than we might think at first glance. As with leading all of our flock, we will need to pray for wisdom in sorting thru those things that are stimulated by the emotional buzz of pleasing the exuberant joiners. Guarding our own motivational center can serve to help us guard theirs as well.
#2 – Doubting Pragmatists. This group awaits the demonstration of what’s in it for them. Depending on the culture of your church, they may not ever openly reveal that motivational center, but you will either highly suspect it to be the case, or perhaps be fully convinced of it. But just as they may be trapped in their masquerade, neither can you let on that you suspicion that their motives are anything less than the best, either. Bless their hearts. These are the folks that may agree to participate in the big special seasonal programs, but are just too busy to commit to weekly involvement. The bigger the show-factor or crowd-component, the more likely they are to somehow “work it out.” They might even consider working in a children’s or youth music ministry if they feel it might benefit their own little darling’s shot at getting a solo part, or secure their spot as a leader. Of course, the child may need to miss half the choir year for soccer, baseball, and school play, but these things are just further grooming them to be the American idol mom and dad want them to be. “And we just knew you would understand.” Any attempt to help them consider the value of the church side of their child’s development will likely be met with either overt or covert pushback that sees little Johnny or Susie as a sure-fire star “Christian athlete,” or “Christian artist” musician. You sure would not want to get in their way, would you?
The doubting pragmatists probably deserve more patience than we may initially be tempted to afford them. I say that for two primary reasons. The first is that our churches (and dare I say, we in leadership) have created the very atmosphere (ethos) that has fed their kind of thinking. We have done it by constantly adapting schedules to the convenience of people’s harried and fractured lives. Perhaps we have too highly revered celebrity in our own music practice, and elevated iconic “star Christians” over the diligent faithful servants. Sometimes we have ignored misplaced priorities, rather than taking the hard stands to grow disciples, and instead have marketed to consumers. We have reaped what we have sown in this regard. The second reason we owe these doubting pragmatists patience is that the challenge of leadership that we have accepted includes shepherding these brothers and sisters. Their coldwater committee ways are quite likely to stir up cynicism and even anger in us in response to them. If we are not careful we can get caught up in building entire systems around the futile enterprise of trying to thwart their ways. What they more likely need, instead, is truth presented in love.
Let’s face it, folks! You and I are serving in immensely challenging times in the life of the church. Culture no longer affirms much of our work of ministry. The church itself for that matter, even here in the sunny south, may do more to bolster celebrity idolization that leads to competitive dynamics uncharacteristic of Kingdom service. Worship Ministry leaders can find themselves betwixt and between exuberant joiners and doubting pragmatists, trying to determine how to lead toward a unified vision of Kingdom mission and ministry. Whew! No simple task. All the more reason we need to be of all things most diligent in constant prayer and devotion to scripture. Perhaps we should join the spirit of Martin Luther who in his testing wrote to his collaborator and friend, Melancthon,
“Only pray for me that my faith in the Lord does not fail.”
Let us listen more intently to the call of the Lord than the push of the brethren.
 Edwald Plass This is Luther (Concordia House 1948) 289.
The Lord is faithful! Great Is Thy Faithfulness is one of my favorite hymns. It is one of about 100 “favorites” for me I think. The hymn has significance in my faith walk with God. I have noted previously a distinction between meaning and significance in hymns and songs. It may be somewhat arbitrary, but it just helps me think about a different way of attaching value to how a hymn or worship song works in expressing our worship through singing. The simple distinction is that meaning has to do with what an hymn author or songwriter originally intended when a song was written. As such, when we sing the hymn or song we may attempt to re-mean what it was originally intended to say or mean. It is important for us to sing worship meaningfully – important stuff. Significance, on the other hand, has to do with something that may happen for a particular congregation or person when a hymn or worship song finds attachment to either a particular event or season in the life of a church or family or individual. Congregations may have a song that is significant because it was sung during the loss of a member, a pastor or other leader, some victory or tragedy in the church, etc. Some event becomes identified with the song or hymn, or the other way around, and thus the idea of significance.
Well, Great Is Thy Faithfulness has significance for me. It has a particular significance because it is the first hymn I tried to sing with my church family at Forest Hills Baptist Church following my 2008 stroke experience. I will never sing the song the same again as it is associated in my mind with standing at Forest Hills on a Sunday night and trying to join the congregation in singing. Every phrase was difficult to voice and I finally just kinda gave up and listened to the congregation around me, and allowed my heart to sing what my voice would not. My voice was too weak to make a sound. My emotions were overwhelmed with the severity of all that had happened, but my heart was simultaneously flooded with joy as I had lived through scary days. I was not sure what all the future would hold, but I felt I would see more days of sharing in the lives of my family, more music-making with people I love, and more worship on this side of eternity. I was and am convinced there was and is more the Lord wants to do through the ministry He has given. The phrase “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” continues to be especially powerful in my hymn-singing vernacular. Thanks be to God! He is our hope! And He is faithful
When days are dreary and grim, or when pessimism visits my psyche due to circumstances beyond my control, I find this classic hymn often comes to mind and that phrase, “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” in particular, is significant. Fact is, the song lyric also may come to mind when all seems well also. In those times it serves as celebration just as well as it does as inspiring reminder of God’s faithfulness to me – to us – to the world He made. One reason I am so deeply committed to fan the proverbial flame of children’s and youth choirs is to promote the learning of great hymns of the faith as well as the best of the newer worship songs. I want to be certain that our children and grandchildren have songs in their heads when they come upon the challenging days of their lives, and that they can join with fellow believers to lift their common voice in songs of praise. The Lord IS faithful! His mercies are there every single morning! All we have needed His hand has provided! I want to do my part to be certain the song goes forward, and that we pass along the joy of praising Him for Hs faithfulness to the next generation. Those preschool – children’s choir leaders who have attended our training sessions these last few weeks give good reason for hope. I pray the Lord will continue to raise up adults who will be willing to spend an hour or two each week teaching children hymns and worship songs, and who will avail themselves of training opportunities just like those of the last few Saturdays, and like the one to be held in Morristown at First Baptist there this next Saturday. I pray blessing on those who are involved in such training, and hope the Lord will give you songs of special meaning and significance through it all. Perhaps you will join me in one of my favorites as you recognize in the eyes and voices of these precious children that indeed there is reason to believe we will have “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside
Great is Thy faithfulness, great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness Lord unto me.
–Thomas O. Chisholm
At the heart of worship is agreement. That may sound wildly out of sync for those who have been fighting over music styles, environments, etc. for a long time, or worse yet, have been released or demoted from your worship ministry position because of disagreements having to do with worship. In fact, I sometimes quip that in consulting with churches I often feel that I need a black and white striped shirt and a whistle, so I can referee some of the disagreements that characterize talk about worship in churches. Way too often, these “discussions” uncover underlying frailties that have become high hurdles too big to climb for worship minister, pastor, other staff personnel, other musicians, or church members. Well, as they say, there’s a song about that. It is now an “old” contemporary song….is that possible? Oxymoron? If it is an old song, what is it? A traditional song? Or has it risen to the level of hymn? But I digress. The song is The Heart of Worship. It is surely not fleshed out much theologically, but the motivation behind it and the core of its lyrical meaning seems to clearly apply. The heart of worship really is Jesus. Back to the agreement thing in a minute. We have gotten so comfortable with our me-worship that we have fooled ourselves to thinking it is about Him, especially if we feel good about it. So why am I writing about this?
There are several reasons. One is that it pains me to see you hurt! So many fine ministers have been and/or are being tossed to the trash heep of so-called irrelevancy. Dismissals, ongoing turmoil, relegation to lesser value, and/or little input into decision-making – these are disturbing trends. Another reason is that many youth and children’s choirs have been halted due to shortsightedness on the part of leaders who have had their vision of worship confiscated by the tyranny of falling attendance and collection figures, popular misperceptions of what worship looks and feels like, and childish congregants, who use straw-man arguments about what millennials want in worship in order to get their own way. Just hearing the words, “youth” and “choirs” in the same sentence causes eyes to roll for many. Please do not mis-hear me. There are issues within these situations that desperately need to be wrestled to the ground. Any of us can become stale in our ministry skills or need an upgrade in our musical skillset. Updates and adjustments within our developmental ministries through music are an ongoing reality. Leader decisions about all things of the church need to be made that are biblically and theologically sound, and that truly benefit (edify and strengthen) the church over the long term. But none of this progress is likely in adversarial environments where the theme of worship that should be the highest uniter has been allowed to become the primary divider.
It seems to me that in the best situations the leaders find a way to come to agreement. Often this means give and take on all parts. Unfair fighters have all kinds of fraudulent tools at their disposal: positional power, popularity, passive aggressive behavior, gossip, secrecy and withholding information, etc., etc. Sadly, many are more adept at using these hellish techniques than have the patience and determination to pray through decisions such that harmony can demonstrate gospel effect. The spirit of genuine agreement provides a great model for how believers treat one another (Romans 12, John 17, Ephesians 4, Philippians 2 and 4).
What’s more – back to my first statement. Agreement is at the heart of worship. Here is what I mean. Worship rehearses our relationship with God, which is rooted in covenant agreement. Consider the roots of Worship, our relationship with Holy God:
God’s Covenant with Israel – I will be your God, you will be my people
God’s Covenant with the Church – Jesus does for us what we could not and cannot do for ourselves forgiveness of sin. We are to be faithful believers.
In every situation God has been faithful. He has kept His covenant. The story of Israel and of the Church is a story of breaking the agreement through disobedience and disbelief. Worship in our own power always falls short. Worship in God’s power rehearses the story of God. It is the Gospel, all about Jesus. In an ongoing manner we renew our relationship with Him. He is God, we are His people because of the satisfying finished work of Jesus! As Robert Webber reminds us “through worship our relationship with God is maintained, repaired, and transformed.”
Worship that renews our agreement with Jesus places in that position afresh to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8) What joyful refreshment of soul and spirit to live in peace with God through Christ by the Spirit!
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
 Robert Webber, Learning to Worship with All Your Heart: A Study in the Biblical Foundations of Christian Worship (Hendrickson Publishers, 1996) 18.
Those of you who are as old as I am (or who have watched the TV-Land channel on cable) may recall the Hee Haw show and the skit from Archie Campbell’s Barber Shop, “That’s bad, no that’s good.” Yes, it was corny, but often some good clean humor. For the young (and uninformed) the gag was built on the timing of back and forth statements in the dialogue where Archie Campbell, as the barber, would make a statement. The customer in the barber chair (usually Roy Clark) would reply with a response that whatever had been said was good or bad. Such as:
Barber: “you know my uncle died”
Customer: “that’s bad”
Barber: “no that’s good”
Customer: “how come?”
Barber: “he left me $100,000”
Customer: “oh, that’s good”
Barber: “no that’s bad”
Customer: “how come?”
Barber: “a burglar found out and robbed me”
Customer: “oh, that’s bad”
Barber: “no, that’s good”
Cutomer: “how come?”
There were punchlines all along the way as the twists and turns of back and forth from “that’s bad” to “that’s good” could infect you with a kind of comedic whiplash. It was kinda fun, and I have seen more than one church fellowships where a couple of staff member re-enacted this skit, but using church scenarios as fodder.
As proclaimers of the Gospel in worship through preaching and/or song, we can find ourselves at times challenged to apply aspects of the Gospel drama in a timely manner in response to what may be occurring in the lives of God’s people. The world is in terrible condition! Oh, that’s bad! No, that’s good. How come? Because God sent His Son in the form of a baby. Oh, that’s good! No, that’s bad. How come? Because His own kind rejected Him and killed Him. Oh, that’s bad! No, that’s good! How come? Because He was paying for the sins of the world. Etc., etc. You get it?
In fact, emotional atmosphere in the church, and in a particular church family even during worship itself, could even change mid-sentence, if you will, like the skit, where, for instance, the worship leader has planned to sing something gleeful and celebrative, oh that’s good!, no, that’s bad. How come? We just found out that some tragic news has come to one of the worshipers, and all of a sudden changes need to be made in the timbre and tone of the service. Oh that’s bad! No, that’s good. How come? Because it reminds us that Jesus is Lord of all, and ultimate Victor, etc., etc.
As worship leaders we have probably all been in that position at some time or another where we had selected music that expresses one emotional direction, and something happens – news comes of a death, an illness, a tragic accident, some world situation that calls upon the church to intercede on behalf of the world.
One of the things that has happened to me through worship study and the rich spiritual renewal it has brought to my personal life, is that I believe I am much more an optimist than perhaps I was before. The reason for that is singularly vested and rested in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He is the ultimate Victor! This is not pie in the sky. I am also a realist in many ways, but central to our reality is saving faith in a sovereign God, Who was, and is, and is to come!
I know that many of you are serving in church situations where there is plenty of gloom and doom to go around. Attendance numbers, finances, choirs and other music groups’ participation is down, and there doesn’t appear to be much light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. As communicated with members of the Tennessee Mens Chorale and Tennessee Ladies Chorus recently, much the same story is true with your state convention. And you say, “oh, that’s bad!” No, that’s good! How come? Because we are being faced once again we having to turn to the only One Who can renew us! And…..those of us who serve in roles in which we lead worhip in the church…..we are staring at the answer and calling the church to join us in engagement with our Provider – Sustainer – Redeemer week in and week out! Worship is our ultimate purpose! The lost are not lost because there is no provision for them. They need to know the One Who saves! We lift Him up and stare upon Him through worship every time we gather, confess, assure pardon, hear the WORD, respond openly, and go out to seek those very same lost.
In the midst of bummer news, dismal numbers, and intimidating atmospheres where the proverbial whip is being cracked as one of our worship pastors recently described to me, let us hold fast to Jesus words in finishing His Great Commission to us! “Ane surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age!” (Matt 28:20)
WE ARE NOT ALONE!! NOI NON SIAMO SOLI! for those going to Italy.
Sing a new song to the Lord! (Psalm 33:3) He put a new song in my mouth (Ps 40:3) Oh sing to the Lord a new song (Ps 96:1) If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) New! New! New! There is something about newness that is inviting, and strangely reassuring at the same time it is a bit unnerving. And yet we have sweet assurance from the Lord, even as we see new mercies “morning by morning” reminding us of God’s dependable faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23) in all circumstances. In worship leadership we too often think of new in relationship to the material we present. As I wrote in my book:
“I have colleagues who have utilized the scriptural admonition to “sing a new song unto the Lord” as a polemic for tossing out music that has been used, and possibly overused, and embracing a new repertoire. To me, the psalmist’s “new song” admonition seems best applied to our singing rather than our repertoire. New music has its time and place, but the new song in our worship is surely the reflection of becoming a “new creature” as all things are becoming new (2 Cor. 5:17). Surely you know the serendipitous joy that catches us by surprise when an old song becomes a new expression of present praise. Of course, the same “aha” can occur with new music. It is the singer and the singing that have become new in the fresh breath of God’s Spirit. A William Cowper hymn exclaims, “Sometimes the light surprises the Christian when he sings. It is the Lord that rises with healing in His wings,” an especially meaningful lyric from Cowper who battled through life with a proclivity toward a deep, dark depression. Even the spirit of one given to the doldrums can be surprised and made new.” 
I am passionately desirous of renewal. Spiritual renewal that might infuse Tennessee Baptist churches with a renewed sense of the presence and power of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit is something for which I pray daily. I believe this kind of new (renewal) is far more effective and lasting than any façade of newness. It is not the perception of new that we need, it is genuine renewal. Such renewal will not be found on the latest worship songlist. It will be found when God sends it, and thus we must search for it on our knees, in our prayer closets, in the Word, and leading our people to cry out to the Lord. As we do, He may well show us places where new already has taken seed.
Sometimes new is spawned by necessity. What may seem in a moment to be disappointing news can actually lead to new beginnings. On the other hand, sometimes new is brought on by chosen new beginnings. Opportunity turns into choices and choices made may well mean new beginnings. It is all part and parcel of life.
This weekend I was privileged to visit the choir room of the high school where my daughter will be choral director this Fall. She is trying to get her office setup, and the choir room is being renovated. There was dust everywhere. The drop-in ceiling had the grid, but no tiles had been yet dropped in. The room was a mess with a long way to go before being ready for students. As she showed us around we could hear the excitement in her voice as she anticipated meeting her new students next week, and as she told us about some music settings she had been listening to in searching for music to be used this school year. She was able to see past the distractions of the momentary mess and envision coming days filled with new friends, new young musicians to be shaped and encouraged through the joys of harmonies, rhythms, balance and blend.
Likewise, in these days we are welcoming new and returning worship music leaders to Tennessee. They come to new church settings open to God’s direction for coming days serving Him among a new people in new venues. I am excited to welcome these newcomers to our state and share our excitement for their ministries among us. I am hopeful and confident of new relationships as fellow worship pastors join me in extending Tennessee welcome. I am prayerful for days of walking together with them as we share in mission and ministry, and yes…..renewal.
As we continue our cross-state regional Music Ministry Leadership Conference training events I ask you to pray with me that we might be inspired and encouraged to open ourselves to those new things the Lord has in store for us, and that we might have eyes wide open to see the new mercies He provides morning by morning. I hope you will bring your musicians for fellowship and training. Gathering together as musicians committed to worship leadership is something we do not get to do often enough (for me anyway). Each time we do, the Lord seems to unveil new blessings. Don’t miss yours, and don’t miss being one for others!
As most of you know, I grew up a P.K. (Preacher’s Kid) in Oklahoma, and then in West Tennessee. When I was a young boy, Dad sometimes took me with him when he was preaching in revival services. I loved going for several reasons; first, I was spending time with Dad (a place of warmth, love, security); second, I sometimes got ice cream or went to church fellowship after service; and finally, I experienced what I came later to discover was the Lord at work in and among his people through singing, preaching, and fellowship. The same was true in our own church where Dad pastored. I honestly had no real clue at the time, but later as I reflect back on those times, I know the Lord was doing something in the churches, something in and through Dad, and something in me. Likewise, our family’s week in and week out treks to the church house (at least three times every week) to attend Sunday School, worship, Training Union (Discipleship Training), Prayer Meeting, Choir Rehearsal(s), and later Youth Group, meetings, etc. were all impacting and shaping who I was becoming. Granted, being a P.K. never seemed like the way real people lived, but then again, I always seemed to have a group of friends, kept mind and body quite active, and later came to find out I was developing sensitivities to human expressions in music, art, and both oratory and written communication. The sounds, ways of thinking, emotions, and social interactions were shaping me.
I realize that there are those in present-day culture who would read the above paragraph and conclude I was a victim of child abuse. My parents made me do stuff. Sundays and Wednesdays at our house never included the question, “Hey kids, are y’all going to church today?” No, that was a given, just like doing homework, making our beds, keeping our rooms clean – well, mostly clean….Ricky and I shared a bedroom growing up….speaking of abuse (ha). But I digress. For certain, the 1960’s were a very different time than now for all aspects of our culture, including the family and church. Not everything suited me back then. Things sure did not always go the way I wanted, or thought I wanted, at the time. In fact, I had to beg to play organized sports – yes, I played football, baseball, and some basketball – and yes, I stunk at most of it, but I sure love to watch. As I got older, my appreciations and interests grew and changed to some extent in all aspects of life, and I sprouted my proverbial wings in many ways of thinking and living. The foundational roots, however, of Christian faith, of a worshiping life, of family relationships, response and responsibilities within civic culture and community, were all molded at their roots in my childhood. Within those norms are my default settings to this day. Music and music-making in and through the church was and still is a big part of that picture.
As I raised my own three children I wanted some of those same norms to be their experience as well. In a changing culture, some of that was possible, and some was not, but Ebbie and I strived to pass along the basic spiritual heritage that was delivered to us by our parents and grandparents. The burgeoning cultural shift of postmodernism presented fierce challenge all along the way. I found as a parent that spiritual renewal in me deepened my faith as much if not more than my resolve to do more. Late night chats with our adult children, as well as reflections shared by former youth choir kids now adults who have kids of their own, added to our own personal reflections of childhood have all served to underscore the imperative nature of passing on the faith. For us, of course, music has served as a fond friend through which to deliver aspects of spiritual truth that go beyond simplistic explanations. Spiritual touches that reach deep into the soul sometimes strangely find their way on wings of song when no other deliverer will do. While we cannot guarantee this will be the case for all who come behind us, we can neither allow such a grace gift to simply burn up on the heaps of negligence. The question for us as musicians and church leaders is whether or not we will continue to serve coming generations by at least assuring that opportunity is provided to hear and learn to make music that will aid us in passing along spiritual truth from generation to generation.
Saturday I attended the dedicatory service for the new Worship Center at Linden Valley Baptist Conference Center. The dedication service was rich with celebration of those who participated in the physical chore of building the new facility. It was good to see Baptists representing areas around the state, and especially, of course, West Tennessee. Great to see Henry and Jayne Simpson (FBC Huntingdon). Henry helped in construction. It was inspiring to be reminded through the day of how serving together builds unity and fellowship. It was even more inspiring to participate in prayer that these facilities would serve to house gatherings where decisions for Christ will be made. Statistics were shared as to how many have already come to faith in Jesus in the new worship center, even before the dedicatory service was held. It was a time of being reminded that although facilities do not fulfill responsibility to plan and execute camps, retreats, or cause spiritual renewal, they do, nevertheless aid in those gatherings. In fact, walking past the old Tabernacle that was nearly destroyed in the flood of 2010, brought back a flood (pardon the pun) of memories. I recalled moments of intense personal prayer for direction, as well as times of jubiliant praise in my own life participating with children, youth, and adults from many churches over the years.
I never visit the site of one of our conference centers (Linden Valley or Carson Springs), but what I wish I could plan something very soon (I’m ready right then and there) to get as many Tennessee Baptist musicians together in one of those locations to sing, pray, fellowship, and better prepare ourselves for ministering worship and music in our churches and communities. Most often, finances, conflicting schedules and/or priorities get in the way. I am revived, however, in my prayer for such barriers to be broken down, so that we might awaken the sleeping giant of shared experience that comes from cooperating ministry leaders joining in shared effort for the singular cause of stirring the fires of spiritual worship renewal. Would you join me in such a prayer? I cannot make it happen. Rather, like worship renewal itself, it will take a movement of the Holy Spirit among us.
I am hopeful that many Tennessee Baptists involved in worship leadership in music, preaching, and/or technology will rediscover the value of learning and growing together in the settings of our conference centers at Linden Valley and Carson Springs. Of course I hope you will use these hallowed halls for strengthening your own choirs, worship teams, and ministry staffs, as some of you do already. But I am praying, as well, that a renewed hunger for spiritual fires will lead us to reach toward one another that together we might be pace-setters in demonstrating unity focused on reaching our state and beyond for Christ, even through music. This is not a harkening back to “the good old days,” hoping we will stir that up at our camp settings. Rather, it is recognition of a new need for cooperative spirit that fosters our unity in Kingdom focus, even through the fellowship of shared ministry and mission. Churches whose worship ministry is large and strong must think beyond, “What would we get out of that cooperation?” and rather inquire, “What can we offer to encourage others in and through mutual cooperation?” Churches whose worship ministry may seem small must resist thinking, “How could we add anything by participating?” and instead consider, “How can we learn and grow by joining with other musicians and serving together?”
In 1974 New Zealander, Richard Gallant wrote this hymn text we use to sing frequently. It is The Servant Song.
We are trav’lers on a journey, Fellow pilgrims on the road;
We are here to help each other Walk the mile and bear the load.
I will hold the Christlight for you In the nighttime of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you, Speak the peace you long to hear
Sister, let me be your servant, Let me be as Christ to you;
Pray that I may have the grace to Let you be my servant too.
Brother, let me be your servant, Let me be as Christ to you;
Pray that I may have the grace to Let you be my servant too.
I will weep when you are weeping, When you laugh, I’ll laugh with you;
I will share your joy and sorrow, till we’ve seen this journey through.
When we sing to God in heaven We shall find such harmony;
Born of all we’ve known together Of Christ’s love and agony.
Carson Springs in the Springtime