I once heard a friend say that one of the Baptist theme songs was “Anything You Can Do We Can Do Twenty Years Later.” That is usually good for a chuckle or two even when I tell it, at least from leaders who have engaged in the challenging task of trying to assist churches through change. There are lots of ways that we find ourselves trying to help our churches in and through changes, whether as a staff member serving an individual church, or one engaged in ministry assigned to assist lots of churches in an association, region, or state. Like it or not, we all face change. Greek philosopher, Hiraclitus is credited with positing that change is a central force in the universe. Plato quotes this dude with memorable quotes like “everything changes and nothing stands still,” or a favorite of mine, “you could not step twice into the same river.” Have to think a second on that last one.
So, let’s go with the idea that change is a given. In fact, when it comes to church music and worship the truth is that we have always been in a state of change. I contend that in relation to styles we have always been morphing into something new and incorporating new and different material, adding to what already is. Granted, those changes at times may have seemed to come oh so slowly, and it may have seemed along the way we found ourselves woefully behind the times, but it also seems to behoove us to always be asking what that even means, and what values concern for such implies. Seems to me the church may be too ready to assume that being “behind the times” is automatically bad, inferring that catching up to the times is always what we need. With cultural change steamrolling at mind-numbing speed there is hardly time taken by church leaders for true assessment of our context and to prayerfully determine how abrupt and to what extent our environments need to change. When we adapt to accommodate the culture by bringing aspects of the culture into the church and its worship, then we also bring the value systems associated with those adaptations. Let’s take, for example, the adherence to marketing strategies based upon commercial models focused on prospective consumers. We seek to give people what they want in music, environment, casualness, and then are surprised when they continually expect to have their wants met in those same areas. Someone has said, “What you use to win them is what you must use to keep them.” If change is the constant, then I guess that means continual change becomes our driving force. And so we have conferences and resource materials with titles like “What’s Next,” and “Next Level,” or “Push Forward.”
Obviously, part of keeping up with the times has to do with the music we use in worship. We change from the old to the new which quickly becomes old. The snowball effect is overwhelming. Try as we might, it is nearly impossible to keep up with the rate of new songs. Likewise, demonstrating our prowess of the almighty new, the people we are trying to lead cannot learn and incorporate the number of new songs at the rate they are given. And so we are confronted with the law of diminishing returns. In the effort to keep up with the times and give people what “they want” (which is really what we, or a marketer thinks they want), we are experiencing less singing participation. We have now begun training children up in this same pattern by giving them more choreography than singing. As I work with churches in relation to worship renewal a challenge is to get past assumptions that if we just modernize the music and overall environment then renewal will come, and lots of new people with it. I often hear “we have just not kept up with the times,” or worse yet, that sentiment as an accusation pointed toward others in the church.
Lest you think I am sitting here in my office with dialup internet service, or an IBM Selectric typewriter – younger guys it’s a 1960’s thing – I am not calling for return to days of old, there is no going back. What I am trying to do is call for a very careful, thoroughly prayerful, assessment of methods and materials that come our way, and intensely thoughtful theological scrutinizing of those materials and methods. As you review lyrics and run into questions remember this mantra, “when in doubt ask your pastor and/or other theologian.” If written song keys or melody lines present challenges for your musicians, they will surely present bigger hurdles for a congregation to grasp. That does not mean throw them out necessarily, but it may well mean you take plenty of time to teach them to congregation.
Here’s the bigger thing. If not careful we give the impression that updated environments, methods, and materials including songs and music can bring life transformation to the church and by extension individuals. It cannot! No song ever changed a life. Only the Holy Spirit can change a life, and send renewal. New songs and other changes may come with the renewal, but Spirit is always first.
I recommend you read Trevin Wax’s thoughtful blogpost titled, “The Disciples’ First Assignment: Do Nothing,” an excerpt from a book by J.D. Grear, Jesus Continued: Why the Spirit Inside You Is Better Than Jesus Beside You
I simply must tell you about last weekend’s joyful experience with Pastor Gregory Lindsey, Worship Leader Linda Mabe, and the Mill Springs Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Tennessee. A few months ago I agreed to come to Mill Springs to lead one of the Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing Weekends that I have been promoting and conducting for the last few years. From the moment I met Pastor Greg I was impressed that he was an under shepherd with a burden for his church family to know the renewed joy of singing their worship. Last weekend that sense was confirmed as I was immediately struck with his clear desire to offer his people an opportunity for revived worship through singing. We began immediately to discuss many of the variables that affect the congregation’s capacity to engage in song.
I will not extend this blog by expounding a play by play description of the weekend, but rather I want to focus on the high value of a pastor’s role in fostering healthy worship singing which I am convinced is a critical component of any effort toward renewal in Christian worship. The experiences of last weekend with Pastor Greg have just re-emphasized to me how crucial and filled with prospect is the enthusiastic involvement and support of a senior pastor to the congregation’s participation in congregational singing in worship. What’s more, I have been reminded that singing both fuels worship on one hand, and reflects that genuine worship engagement is taking place on the other.
Let me brag a bit about Pastor Greg. Here is a senior pastor who gets it! First off it is crystal clear that Greg loves the Lord with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength. Secondly, it is clear that he has a deep abiding love for the people of his church that he is called to serve, and the community in which he lives. It is likewise clear that springing from these deep commitments this pastor remains devoted to God’s Word, and to functioning and leading within the teachings of holy scripture. He understands that this is a hedge of protection not only for him, but for the people he leads. Secondly, from that teaching Greg understands the high value of biblical music-making. It helps that he is a musician himself, but this pastor actually demonstrates a clear grasp of the high value of congregational worship singing, and it shows. For example, he demonstrates a grasp of what congregational singing sounds like. He knows the difference in energy generated by electronic devices verses the power of a roomful of believers engaged in passionate worship singing. He knows the difference in a song that may make us feel good and those that help to engage head and heart. (1 Cor 14:15) He understands that listening to a worship band does not equate to God’s people singing His praise together. I shared with Pastor Greg and with Ms. Linda the handout we had received in a Breakout session at last year’s Tennessee Baptist Convention Summit from our friend and passionate hymnist, Keith Getty. What Keith has to say in that piece, “Five Ways to Improve Congregational Singing,” begins with something that struck Brother Greg.
Pastors not only have a duty to be involved in preparing for the time of congregational singing, they also have a responsibility to personally model and demonstrate the importance of it. We need pastors who constantly delight in their congregation’s singing and the musicians who serve them and who also joyfully and authentically participate themselves.
Keith’s call for pastors to “be intimately involved in the language being placed in the congregation’s mouth, for that singing ultimately affects how they think, how they feel, how they pray, and how they live,” is a clarion call that I fear far too many pastors too easily shelve, preferring to figure out a shortcut to entrepreneurial success. The quick fix world of our day and our culture pushes us to look for a new trick, some adornment that we convince ourselves will change the demographics of our congregations, fill our pews and enliven sad and sick souls and their interest in offering praise to the Triune God. Instead we are often fostering abject disengagement, music that is too loud for the human voice to be heard above it, “leaders” who give off vibes of performers looking more for acclaim than to facilitate the song of the redeemed on the lips and in the hearts of God’s people gathered.
At Mill Springs the music leader is a young lady who grew up a P.K. (Preacher’s Kid), does not profess to read music, but has a lovely voice, plays chord on the keyboard, has pulled together a band of singers and instrumentalists, and demonstrates a kind and gentle loving spirit, and people follow. In the relationship of pastor and music leader there is a patient and appropriate work of unity seeking to help the people of Mill Springs to express their song of worship. In this environment I am convinced the Lord is renewing the sounds of His praise to ring loud and clear from a hillside close to Cherokee Dam, outside Jefferson City, Tennessee. Thank you, Pastor Greg, Ms. Linda, and Mill Springs Baptist Church for allowing me to come alongside for awhile and see the work of the Lord in your midst. You have reminded me again that the Lord will indeed “tune our hearts to sing His grace.”
Early in my tenure with TBC I perceived a decline in active worship participation in many of our churches. Through that assessment I sense that the Lord put me on a path of prayer, study, and concern that we have a serious need for worship renewal in many of our churches. I do not think it coincidental that our churches have been tagged with the “plateaued or declining” status reportedly attached to more than 80% of TBC churches and the subsequent need for revitalization. One of the Five Objectives in the vision adopted at the Annual Meeting last November addresses revitalization of 500 TBC churches over the next ten years. Given my ministry trajectory it is little wonder that my heart so readily and fiercely resonates with the that objective. While priority is placed on seeing these churches baptize new believers, I am also convinced that renewed worship will be both an aspect of the revitalization process and also an evidence that rejuvenation is taking place as we see the Lord at work. I believe churches will once again sing the sweet, sweet song of salvation, and we will know it.
Last Thursday I got to sit in on one of Wayne Causey’s class discussions at Belmont with his undergraduate students. He shot me a text message inviting me to join, knowing that I had been in doctorate sessions with Constance Cherry at the Webber Institute for Worship Studies. Wayne’s class discussion Thursday centered on readings from Dr Cherry’s book, The Worship Architect. I jumped at the opportunity because I am adapting some of my metaphors in worship renewal discussions to match up with her four structural walls of worship, and plan to use this in efforts toward worship renewal. I wanted to hear the students interact with the material, and I wanted to interact with them. Plus I got to hang out with Wayne a little while on a Thursday. It was very informative and encouraging to hear 18 -21 year olds’ observations of some of what happens in worship. As has been the case every time I have had similar opportunities to address and interact with students at Union, Carson Newman, our seminaries, and other schools, I found plenty to garner hope for a bright future of thoughtful worship leadership.
The particular section toward the end of the book that was being addressed at length in Wayne’s class was the section on style. As we discussed these I felt they deserved to be highlighted for those of us leading churches in worship and praying toward renewal. The premise in Constance’s thinking is her definition of worship style.
Style in worship is the way a certain faih community expresses the content of its worship (liturgy) as a result of a its given context.
She gives Five Myths about Worship Style that merit prayerful review by every Worship Leader. She prefaces these myths by emphasizing that “style alone cannot carry the weight of worship renewal. Style isn’t big enough or important enough or universal enough to do that.”
Myth 1: Style Is Content
Content is the material of worship, the essence of Who it is for and about, and the materials and actions that facilitate our corporate conversation with God in Christ – things such as reading and hearing Scripture, praying, singing, witnessing, affirming the truths of the Christian faith, communing at the Table, presenting offerings, presenting ourselves, silence, and so forth. Style, on the other hand, is not what we do, but the manner in which we express what we do. It may deliver content, but is not content itself. *Renewal in worship is never accomplished by changing the style.
Myth 2: Style is Structure
Structure has to do with ordering the content of worship. It is the shape of the communion with God in Christ. It gives logic and order to our gathered conversation with God. Style, however, is the language and manner with which we converse. *Renewal will never come from restructuring worship or changing the style of the structure used. The historic structure (gathering, Word ,Table ,sending) can be done in a myriad of styles.
Myth 3: Style Has Only to Do with Music
Style is much broader than music style alone, but rather encompasses many aspects of worship. It includes the version of scripture used for readings, and the language of prayers. Style includes atmosphere, architecture, technology, accepted attire, and so forth.
Myth 4: Style Has the Potential to Bring People Together
Nothing related to worship has been quite as divisive as style issues in the last several decades. Finding the right style will not bring people together in unity and peace. What draws people together is being in community with other Christians – the gift of God’s grace.
Myth 5: Style Impacts Church Growth Positively
This is a myth promoted with millions of dollars through an industry developed in an effort to capitalize on financial opportunities of churches experiencing decline and hungering for a “magic bullet” to grow their church like someone else’s church in someone else’s context. There is no study that shows that the use of a certain worship style will result in church growth. Studies of growing churches worshiping in various styles resulted in demonstrative responses expressed in words like exciting, celebrative, joyful, expectant, warm, spirit of revival, exuberant, spirit of revival. This was the case in formal and informal settings indicating the spirit of the worship is more important than its style or the type of music used. *Church growth will not be accomplished simply by a change of style in music.
For full explanation and rich material on worship planning and structure I highly recommend this book by a wonderful thinker and excellent communicator. Meanwhile, pray for renewal in our worship and in our churches.
 Constance Cherry, The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services (Grand Rapids: Baker Academics 2010) 227.
 Ibid., 223
Facebook pages this week are adorned with beautiful pictures of the Winter Wonderland that is Tennessee and most all areas of the country…..If this is your annual trip to Hawaii it is probably best keep your photos to yourself for awhile. With all the ice and snow across our great state schools are closed and church services are being cancelled in the interest of safety. I was looking forward to leading for an Ash Wednesday service at First Baptist Lebanon, but alas, it has been postponed to a time I will not be able to participate, and I am sure it will be led by interim music ministry leader, Karen Fisk. But Wednesday is still Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. This begs the question, “What do we do when we cannot all get together for worship?” I’m glad you asked.
I know that most of you have answered this question in different ways, but I want to use it first to revisit the importance of gathering for worship in the first place, especially as a local church body. In her book on worship structure Constance Cherry uses the metaphor of a building to beautifully demonstrate the importance of worship structure as foundational to Christian worship. The first “load bearing wall” as she calls it is Gathering. She reminds us that God has invited us, and He is the one calling us out (ekklesia) to come apart and worship Him together. Obviously, when we join together we form the worshiping body, we “admonish one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Col 3:16), we “spur one another on to love and good deeds” (Heb 10:23), we “greet one another with a holy kiss” (Rom 16:16). What? Not at your church? Well, you see the point I hope. Biblical worship includes regular (Lord’s Day) gathering of the church for worship. Gathered worship includes things that happen when we are together in person. In addressing the way the body informs the mind and emphasizing the importance of gathered worship, writer/researcher Rob Moll states,
Worship can lead us into experiences of God, whether sublime or profound, that shape our hearts. Worship can give us an experience of God himself, in unity with fellow worshipers, and in a theologically rich, multisensory environment full of meaning. It forms our desires and shapes our emotions, making us more like Christ, uniting heaven and earth, creation and Creator. But it’s not until we get off the sofa and into the pew that we are able to experience these things.
I wanted to lay that groundwork, reiterating the obvious even though it is not so fashionable these days to go to church. Nothing replaces the physical gathering of the body of Christ for worship as manifested in a local congregation. Far too long we have created our own problems, engineering worship that divides the worshiping body by convenience, preference, age, and ethnicity. While attempting to “grow the church” (meaning grow our church) we have committed ecclesial division, thwarting biblical models in favor of consultant-driven marketing theories. If all we wanted was more people, perhaps some have achieved that goal. If our aim is making disciples? Not so much. The evidence of this is frightening.
OK, as you might observe, gathering as a body is a big deal to me as I believe it to be the clear teaching of scripture, and reflection of an answer to Jesus’ prayer for us, His disciples, in John 17 (“that they might be one, Father, even as you and I are one”). I believe gathered worship is the primary function of the church, and the only activity that will last into eternity after all other activities have ceased. We are saved to worship and crafted into a body of baptized believers; we join the eternal stream of worshiping. That said, the question lingers as to what we do when it is not possible or wise for health or safety reasons to gather? The digital age in which we live offers us tools that can be used to aid in our dilemma. At the very least, leaders can offer worship music for listening and singing, Bible teaching or preaching for hearing, and guides for in home conversations or personal reflection. People much more internet savvy than I am can guide toward means of meeting online in real time or through delayed means for interactive participation.
Today is Ash Wednesday. I was going to be leading music for First Baptist Lebanon tonight for their Ash Wednesday service, but it has been iced out. But it is still Ash Wednesday. I will dedicate time to prayer and worship as the observance of Lent begins. In this way I know I am joining with Christians around the world whose affections and thoughts will turn in the direction of Jesus’ journey to the cross. When physical presence is not possible, bowing before the same throne of grace in confession, adoration, petition, instruction, and commitment in like manner as others is a next best thing.
 Rob Moll, What Your Body Knows About God: How We are Designed to Connect, Serve, and Thrive (IVP 2014)
Search for books on Church Renewal at Amazon.com yields more than 8,000 results. More narrowly, Worship Renwal yields more than 1,300 titles itself. Wow! According to most research entities 80% of evangelical churches are plateaued or declining. Whether or not we agree with quantifying a church’s health, declining numbers of participating church members and visitors serve as some kind of indicator as to what is and/or is not happening in our churches. For those of us in worship ministry leadership there are obvious alarms that affect us directly, and that should awaken us to address a need for revitalizing our churches’ worship.
As many of you know I have been asked to serve on the Church Revitalization Team as part of my work and ministry with Tennessee Baptists. That assignment makes sense. I have been interested in, studying about, praying over, and researching actions and disciplines that would serve in a movement of renewal in the church and its worship for a long long time. I wrote a book on worship renewal through congregational singing. I have consulted on issues related to worship renewal with hundreds of churches over the last fifteen years, not to mention the ones I served as a staff minister for twenty-six years prior to coming to TBC. So, looks like I should be an expert, right? Not only that, but our team includes members who have also been working at some aspect of renewal for many years as well. Our team leader is a senior pastor who has just recently joined the TBC staff, and has a special passion in renewal. The team includes a seasoned bi-vocational pastor with many years experience in revival efforts, and we also have two younger leaders who serve with children, youth, and college students. We have an experienced discipleship development ministry leader, and even our state newspaper editor who has written about sparks of renewal in individual churches during his years with the TBC, is on our team. There is a lot of experience gathered in the room when this team meets. And yet we cannot really say, “Here! Do these five actions and your church will be renewed.” As a matter of fact, there is a bit of question over exactly what is the right word for the area in which we are engaged. As I speak with other staff ministers I hear words like reboot, reignite, reengage, restart, renew, and the word that has been used in our TBC Five Objectives vision as the objective toward which we are striving, revitalize.
The fact is that all of these words point toward a central need for many of our churches. It has to do with vitality – life itself. The “re” part indicates a return to something we have known previously, and therefore we naturally tend to look back to see what we had before, how we lost it, and how it can be recaptured. No doubt that contemplation can help. However, there are dangers involved in such reminiscence, and my guess would be that most all reading this post know these dangers all to well, either by personal experience or observation. Our churches can find themselves wanting to live in the past, or discounting the need for change. They and we can too quickly embrace change for the sake of change itself without recognizing we have done little more than window dressing. Too often churches have been led to put proverbial lipstick on the pig, and journeyed down a path of misleading people to think renewal has come because we built a new worship center, added the latest technology, and/or enticed an American-idol worthy worship leader. The challenge is great! And it seems the answer is beyond us. Perhaps that is most challenging of all. I may serve this purpose, but I cannot make it happen. The end of our efforts can look a lot like the place we began with us sensing emptiness in the spiritual life of our worship and by extension in our churches themselves. We could easily become discouraged, or do endless searches for more material and technique. It seems to me that at the end of these roads lies a foundational truth, that only God can bring renewal, and our deep need is for God Himself. Surely whatever efforts we affect must serve the purpose of revealing Him, proclaiming His truth, presenting the Gospel message, and nurturing healthy community that gathers around the assurance of His promised presence.
The following statement articulates the core of our need in revitalizing worship in our churches. I find it a healthy reminder of our need.
Vital worship is not something that human ingenuity or creativity can produce or engineer, but is a gift of God’s Spirit. It is a gift for which we pray, rather than an accomplishment we achieve.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because[g] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27 ESV)
Making music with teenagers that encourages their worship of God in Christ is a critical part of the ministry of the Worship Music Minister or Worship Pastor, and I believe an important responsibility for the church itself. Whether through youth choir ministry, or through development of worship bands, orchestral or instrumental ensembles, or some other means of music-making, the thoughtful Worship Pastor will understand these opportunities as building blocks for making disciples, developing worship leaders, and fostering Christian community and service. What’s more, providing music-making activities with teenagers places them in a position to experience firsthand ways that the art of music touches the spirit and speaks to the soul. Making music together stirs connections that can implant notions of Christian community that bear fruit for years to come. Try as we might to articulate what it is like for music-making to touch the depth of your soul, adequately communicating such is surely impossible. All the more reason it is crucial to give students an opportunity to actually make music designed for worship expression. Surely we should pray they will sense the spiritual depth as part of their own experience and their own spiritual encounter during music-making. In the midst of it, often the Lord speaks His truth to a group, and/or to an individual soul.
As students and leaders from more than twenty churches gathered at Union University’s Grant Center on Friday night and at West Jackson Baptist Church on Saturday for Youth Project 2015, they came with some expectation that they would sing and learn some choir songs, have some fun, hear some others sing and share about music-making, and enjoy the time with other teenagers. The songs selected for this year’s event, directed by Dennis Allen, carried an overarching theme and message of resting our trust in the Lord. A triumphant tone underscored the musical expressions as well as the lyrics. Assurance secured in the strength of the Lord resonated through the sanctuary of West Jackson Baptist Church on Saturday as the students proclaimed psalm texts, declared their living “By Faith” and harmonized beautifully in expressing to the Lord thanksgiving for, “Your Awesome Love for Me.”
As the strains of 200 students singing in four-part harmony touched my own spirit, confirming a deep commitment to continue these kinds of opportunities despite all the distracting obstacles that come our way, I whispered a prayer for the words and music to find fertile soil in the hearts of these young people. With the exception of a handful of students that I knew a little about personally, the life situations of all the rest singing up there in the loft were a mystery. Certainly, their future life scenarios are unknown to all of us leaders. Nevertheless, the universal truths of scripture and biblical truth expressed through poetic song lyrics have eternal significance when the Spirit breathes them into the soul of the believing singer.
As I made my way around to several leaders, I heard of individual students who had special need for a message of assurance to be rooted in their spirit. One had recently experienced the death of a close friend, one had gone through the challenge of parents ending their marriage, and another who had been deeply disappointed by discovering a family member with substance abuse issues. On the one hand, these situations break my heart. As a dad and granddad it disturbs me when adults’ problems effect youth and children. Then again, thanks be to God for adult leaders who offer their time and energy to provide for students to be involved in things like Youth Choir and Youth Project, where strains of phrases like “He cannot be shaken,” and psalms like “I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my strength, my refuge, my fortress.” Thank the Lord for hearing Dennis Allen try to describe being sheltered under the wing of the Most High God. What a sound of the formed community of worshiping students singing in biblical order the revelation of creation, prophets, the Messiah, and the church and to respond resolutely with the refrain, “We will stand as children of the promise; we will fix our eyes on Him, our soul’s reward, ‘til the race is finished and the work is done. We’ll walk by faith and not by sight!”
It takes concentrated time and effort to develop and maintain a ministry through music with youth, but I am deeply convinced it is part and parcel of what it means to make disciples, and especially to “raise up a generation of praise.” (Youth Project’s permanent theme and intention) Far too often worship music ministry leaders get caught up striving to have “a great Sunday” to the exclusion of ongoing ministry through music with children and youth. Stringing together a bunch of “great Sundays” may seem like an appropriate strategy for positive ministry, but I believe it can, in fact, be very misleading and certainly shortsighted. I say misleading in that we could easily receive thunderous applause and enthusiastic kudos for cliché songs wrought with weak theology and pseudo spirituality, and still feel that we have had “a great Sunday.” Of course, I am not saying such would be the intention of anyone, but fixing our gaze on weekly experiences for attraction, is likely to lead us toward those things. I say shortsighted because when the applause dies down, the need goes on. It takes a broader view and a longer vision to build music and music-making into the lives of children and teens. Some years the youth choir looks more like an ensemble. Sometimes the only ones who can work it out to go to outside music events like Youth Project are a handful of teens.
I believe it is worth it, music minister! How I appreciate and affirm the efforts of those who help children and students make music, even at the most elementary level, so that they continue to grow toward ministry and mission using their gifts and talents. What a powerful community is being raised up, guided by loving hands of leaders who see past the big anthem or song of Sunday to weeks and years to come when children and youth become adults and leaders. Let us all sing along with these students with great enthusiasm and full meaning and intention, “We’ll walk by faith and not by sight!”
Over the course of my soon-to-be 15 years of serving in state Worship & Music ministry I have joined wringing hands with music ministers who are adjusting the style of music in worship to answer a pastor’s demand for “something different” musically, only to find that the new style upsets a group of people in the congregation, sometimes resulting with the same senior pastor calling for said music minister to slow down the change. Playing the guessing game trying to figure out what will please people, and/or please the senior pastor most often serves to break relationships down rather than build them up. Often we begin to pigeon-hole one another into categories we think we can control, or we can belittle. We think this goes quicker. It is much simpler to put each other in boxes marked “thinks this way or that” than it is to yield the time it takes to really get to know one another’s heartbeat regarding faith, ministry, family, relationships, and life. It takes genuine commitment to pour into one another enough trust to honestly presume the best intentions. It takes real patience to see how well someone can adjust their skill set or application. Scripture is so instructive to us (DUH!!) in these matters of relational health. Instead of looking for the upper hand in a combative posture, what if we looked to act and react in a manner that displayed the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23)?
I want to tell you about two senior pastors actions I have encountered this week. I will protect the identity of one and gladly inform you of the other. I received a call from one of our Worship Ministers who has served his church for double-digit number of years with good support from pastor and church family. In a changing community the church and worship ministry have remained strong. Without warning the Music Minister was dismissed from his position in a manner I have seen replicated far too often in recent years. The strong arm tactics used are ethically questionable at best. In this repeated scenario no option is given other than punitive measures for not complying with an uneventful dismissal. The music minister could easily be devastated, feeling betrayed, confused, and in an impossible position to keep quiet while questions from church members abound. Responding as a husband, dad, minister, and friend is suddenly a severe challenge for a deeply wounded spirit, who, nevertheless, in this case demonstrates determination to protect family, and church by compliance. As I write this I know of a dozen who will read and resonate as they read and think, “this is my story too.” My prayer is that it does not pull the cover off healing wounds for them. The way forward for the church involved here is not likely to be real pretty, at least in the short term.
The other senior pastor about whom I want to tell you is Dr. Leonard Markhum, whose partner in ministry, Worship Minister, Grant Caywood went to be with Jesus last weekend. The memorial service for Grant at Fairfield Glade First Baptist was a wonderful testimony of one who poured his life into people, into ministry, into bringing others to Christ, ministering in his community, and loving his wife, Vicki, their special needs son, Brett, and their son, Jeremy and daughter-in-law, Amanda. He was a son to Dr. Jim Caywood and Arlene, and brother to fellow Worship Minister, Mikel. Dr. Markhum shared from his heart about a kind of relationship I would pray for all our worship ministry leaders. The pastor’s struggle to contain emotions as he spoke was tempered by humorous stories about time spent together enjoying food, fun, fellowship with family and congregation. The pastor’s spirit of appreciation for Grant’s contributions and abilities overflowed in his expressions of sincerity. The exclamation point, however, came when this gentle pastor made his way to the casket and spoke directly to the departed brother in Christ. In a solemn and resolute tone the pastor declared “Before God and these witnesses I commit to you that your dreams and visions for this church’s ministries are not dead! We will carry them forward! What’s more, your wife and family will not experience want! We will take care of them! They will not go without! We will provide for them!”
I was dumbfounded! Not because I was surprised by Leonard Markhum. To the contrary, that is exactly the kind of generous brother in Christ I know him to be. I was overwhelmed by the rush of joy among this people at the open display of the kind of oneness that I believe Christ was praying for His disciples in John 17. Applause melded into the singing of Tomlin’s I Will Rise! Worship of Christ found its voice in the relationship of two men of God, one now gone to glory and the other continuing to serve the Bride of Christ by taking care of the widow and by continuous demonstration of what it means to be one in the Lord.
The weeks ahead are likely to be very different in the two churches represented in these scenarios.
In the last few weeks the ranks of our Tennessee Baptist Worship Music Ministry family have been hit hard with heartache as a result of the passing of loved ones, with challenging and threatening health situations, and with frightening scenarios. Funerals have taken place for family members of TLC and TMC members. There was one memorial service for a faithful TBC pastor with whom one of our worship pastors served, while yet another church whose senior pastor has been gone for nearly a month still continues to mourn the loss. There are still others who are continuing their fight with cancer, and at least one music minister who has entered into hospice care for assistance while family and church continue to pray for the miracle of healing. Our Worship Ministry office is not immune to the health challenges either as Charlotte Hanson has been hospitalized this week as well. Meanwhile we have lamented the loss of some contemporary Christian Music icons and an SBC church music hero. At the same time we have rejoiced in testimonies of deliverance by some who have passed through times of trial, and rejoiced with the birth of precious new life.
Our journeys through this life are marked by pain and sorrow. We should not be surprised. Scripture as well as the sum of humanity’s experience to date testify to the realities of peaks and valleys in the ebb and flow of daily living. As ministers of the Gospel our challenge continues to be responding to these ups and downs when we meet them in the lives of the congregations we serve. Indeed, the same trajectory faces those of us who serve in vocational ministry as well. We have family with health needs, physical, emotional, or spiritual. We face the challenges of balancing our time and prioritizing disciplines that will help us grow and serve, and live lives of faith in practice.
One of the pastors I use to serve with often reminded us as staff that the needs of people are not “in the way of your ministry, but rather are your ministry.” While we cannot meet every need that people under our watchcare may have, we can meet some of those needs, and can demonstrate brotherly concern for those in our care. What’s more, in the midst of ministry needs we find the heart of Gospel application in these life situations. Songs we sing in worship find new wings in the comings and goings of ministering to and with people. Whether rejoicing with songs triumphant like Come, Christians, Join to Sing! or confessing our never-ending need with something like Lord, I Need You, or praying any number of other prayer hymns, in the midst of our ministry we can find the spark that will aid renewal of our worship. It is in the midst of life that we are reminded that we are helpless without Christ, powerless without the Spirit, non-existent without Father God.
In the midst of ministry among you and special needs so many of our Tennessee Worship Leading musicians have experienced lately, I have discovered a sense of renewal. Renewed commitment to find ways of ministry to and with you. The Lord has sparked fresh fires toward sharing the Gospel through music, meeting needs where people are, and has at once fostered new reliance upon and hunger for His power through the indwelling Spirit. So many of you are great inspiration as you minister among those the Lord has given to your shepherding care. Would you join me in praying as we search out new ways our corporate witness as ministering musicians might be enhanced for the Kingdom to the glory of God?
In a recent gathering with officers of Tennessee Mens Chorale and Tennessee Ladies Chorus (separate meetings this time), we are discovering fresh vision for days of ministry and mission before us.
I hate to use a sports analogy for a lot of reasons, but having seen these two plays on TV that had me laughing out loud, which along with the Tennessee bowl win and the Facebook and Twitter fallout from such, rekindled some of the fun of college football (sorry ‘Bama fans and others whose teams lost). Anyway, back to the plays: I was watching the Baylor – Michigan State game when 6’ 7” 380-pound LaQuan McGowan lined up at tight end wearing number 80 (not his normal jersey number) and they tossed him a pass which he took to the end zone for a score. Like….who was going to stop him? It was one of two such plays through the bowl season that have come to be called “Fat Guy touchdowns.” I don’t think that is politically correct, but have not heard from the anti-fat guy language league as of yet. The second scenario came in the Cactus Bowl when Oklahoma State defensive lineman, James Castleman, went in on offense and ran a couple of plays including a 48-yard pass and run play that set up OSU at the goal line. Going against all the TV commentators said would and would not happen, Castleman received a direct snap and the 6’2” 300-pounder took it to the house mowing over people. What fun! For a few minutes, big-money college sports felt like the playground again. Refreshing. Something “new.” Yet, we use to do this playing in our side yard when I was a kid. Hand the ball to the big guy ‘cause nobody dares try to stop him. New?
What does the apostle mean when he says, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!?” This time of year we see and hear about that 2 Corinthians 5:17 passage a good bit. It is appropriate in that we are looking at a brand new year. It is a time of resolutions, new commitments, new strategies. Today (Monday) is a day of re-entry into the traffic, office details, music selections, updated listening and reviewing, new projects, clean-up of old projects, etc., etc. Ready or not, 2015 is here! Many of the challenges we faced way back in 2014 are still staring us in the face. Some may have intensified. New challenges are making sure we know they are raising up to be counted and dealt with. So…..where’s the new in this? Is it new because it is hard for me to write the numbers “2-0-1-5?” Is it a new because I am getting older and slower, and so I have to take a new way to approach some of the challenges? How about you? As you approach a new year of worship ministry, do you have a sense of new? If so, where does it originate? If not, where are you looking to find newness?
Far too often I think we are tempted to try to find “new” in a stack of new tunes, new music arrangements, an updated style or treatment of the familiar, or new technology that offers more cleverness or flash. Serving on the Church Revitalization team at TBC I have read interesting data and reflections through the holidays. Flash and such are out! As one who has tended to hold to the basics in discipleship models, ancient-future worship modes, and relationship-rooted means of sharing the gospel, I see some glimpses of vindication, and more importantly great hope in what I am reading. With some mega churches folding, some networks disbanding and breaking down into autonomous local entities, and some cutting-edge pastors finding meaning in some of the oldest ways of praying, reading, and engaging in Christian community, we seem to be back to the future. In many ways it appears some of the “new” is really not new at all, but rather, rediscovered. In a changing cultural environment, methodologies naturally morph and call for ongoing adjustments. When it comes to finding “new” as in new spirit, however, I find that often the freshest new comes in familiar forms.
Sometimes the deepest thirst-quenching refreshments come through basic kinds of personal spiritual engagement. Whether it is moments of lectio divina when the light comes on and the Spirit’s breath blows anew, or whether it is in the affirmation of answered prayer through physical healing or other forms of turning to the right, there is unmistakable joy in knowing the power of the Lord at work in and through our lives, in worship, in ministry. While such refreshment may inspire the writing or discovery of a song comprised of new material, it may just as well return us to an old song that nonetheless carries new significance because our heart has been transformed. The Lord is the source of this new that we need and seek. Life transformation, church revitalization, Spirit-breathed renewal in worship is never of our manufacture. It is a precious grace gift from the Lord Himself!
Would you join in a renewed commitment to pray for and with one another as we begin this new year of challenging ministry? Would you serve the Kingdom by serving one another with larger vision that sees past your own “neck of the woods” and recognizes our common challenge to allow the Holy Spirit to fill us that we might know His power to be witnesses to “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth.”
I have been loving the Facebook posts of pictures from the infamous Christmas Program! I know…..for many of you there is an “s” after “program” because you do something every week of Advent, or have many music groups who field some kind of Christmas music presentation. It seems this past weekend was a very popular calendar date for the big production for churches that do such a thing. Some of you get your Singing Christmas Tree or your Christmas Pageant accomplished earlier, so that you have time for the dust to settle (and for those who use live animals get things cleaned up) before hosting family or traveling to Grandma’s house for your family Christmas. Still others continue events right up to Christmas Day and beyond. I remember studying the Christian Year and thinking what kind of mutiny there would be if Baptist Worship ministers suggested a full Advent season followed by a protracted Christmastide celebration. Filed in the “Not Happenin’” category, most likely. My guess is that most all of you who plan seasonal Christmas programs schedule them around the most likely attendance pattern of your choir singers and other musicians, and of course consider your congregation and community. It is no less than a miracle if the time that your music forces are available matches up generally with when the people of church and community will come to Christmas presentation. All just part of the fabric in the tightrope for a worship music leader.
I have only been able to make a couple of programs this year due to complications with family responsibilities, and/or being personally involved (I actually sang in the two performances of the Forest Hills Festival of Carols this year), but I hope to get to a couple more Christmas events before the season gives over to the new year, and of course the Getty Joy! An Irish Christmas Celebration at the Schermerhorn is coming up very quickly. (two rehearsal options this week for that event).
I think more people utilized Facebook this year than ever to get the word out about their special Christmas programs, whether using a designed graphic piece, or just having choir singers and church members help spread the word to friends. After the overflow crowd at Forest Hills for the 4:00pm presentation I know I heard an usher say that most of those present were non members, but rather people from community who had heard about the Carol Festival through social media, word of mouth, or a mailer sent out by the church. Interesting times in which we live. I would also note that reporting on the event happens similarly. I have loved watching facebook posts go up with pictures from the presentations with full choir lofts, manger scenes, laser lights (for the big budget music programs), and pictures of children singing. Love it!! Be sure and post a few shots on our TN Baptist Church Music Conference and Tennessee Ladies Chorus pages. You realize by posting such pictures we are continuing the announcement to the world that Christ has come! A Savior is born and His Name is Jesus!
Post away! And let us know about decisions for Christ, renewed spirits, and anything else that reflects the Lord at work in your ministry and mission. In this virtual way let us stir one another on to love and good deeds!