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
While in Washington, D.C. I had the privilege of visiting a church I have longed to visit for sometime. I was privileged to worship at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in D.C. Ebbie and I had the joy of visiting a bit with Tennesseans Josh and Lindsey Trent and their son, Hudson. Great folks!! Josh was a fraternity brother of our younger son, Adam, and they have continued friendship into their “grown-up life.” Adam had visited the church a few years ago and his impressions then as a twenty-something were very strong – talked about the connectivity and hospitality as well as vibrant worship, all of which are still evident characteristics.
I have heard interviews with pastor Mark Dever on numerous occasions, and had some clue as to the kind of worship material used in the church, but until the last Sunday in June this year I had not been able to worship with them in person. Let me hasten to say that I am not writing this article to say Tennessee Baptists need to all worship like Capitol Hill. I am writing, however, to share some observances regarding this church’s worship that I believe can be food for thought for pastors and worship music ministers. Some of these observances are, no doubt, going to cut against the grain of many presuppositions I see quite often by church leaders. And there certainly are characteristics of the church’s worship that are clearly biblically-rooted, and thus are worth emulating. Let me just point out my observations, and then also refer you to a recent article/blog posted by Meredith Flynn, editor/staffer with Illinois Baptists, as it discusses the draw of the church on millenials. Some characteristics:
- Logistics of the church setting in the city were challenging (I had to park 6 cars deep and was blocked until 20 minutes after the service ended), yet adequate provisions had been made for the complications by serving people (parking attendant who explained the system, gave me a pager, and bore very personal greetings) when we had to wait in the hall we were engaged on personal level by helpers
- Though the congregation was largely made up of young adults, all age groups were represented in the worship gathering, as were multiple races
- A worship guide provided full detail including text for corporate prayer, music score and text on most hymns and worship songs, and scripture addresses for readings and sermon. No projection or screens provided
- Intention of prayers were explained for their liturgical significance (praise, confession, illumination, response, dismissal)
- Congregational singing was vibrant, unencumbered, supported by instruments at times, and acapella at times. Liturgical function was briefly explained in introduction
- The two-hour long service was unhurried and included a sense of congregational community – ocassional mention of names for prayer, reminders of opportunities without overburdening details
- Much singing and participation – six songs – all verses – slightly varied accompaniment instrumentation – strong part singing, especially hymns
- Children present in corporate worship, though prior to prayer of confession an opportunity was given for parents to take younger children to alternate room for planned learning activity was provided (some got up, others did not)
- Usher work was efficient and warmly polite, whether passing the plate or asking worshipers to make room for additional people
- Fifty-five minute expository sermon. Bibles opened, pew Bibles page #’s given for those who might need the help – central focus verse text printed on front of woship guide
- Song of response sung as response to the Word (no call to walk the aisle, but encouraged for reply on cards and for all to respond in heart through prayer and song)
- Sending prayer and song uplifting and purposeful, Behold Our God by Bob Kauflin sung with great exuberance in harmony.
- Reflecting back upon the worship I was struck with its Gospel-clarity, and God-centered affinity. I worshiped personally, but I was aware I had been within the community of faith expressed in this congregation.
You are welcome to reply and weigh-in on thoughts in reaction to my observations. As a leader concerned about participation in congregational singing in today’s evangelical church, however, I must say that in this worship I was greatly encouraged.
Link to Meredith Flynn’s article: You’ll never believe what’s drawing millenials to church
My heart is full, my mind is blown (not as in completely shot- at least not yet, but blown in the 70’s sort of “blows my mind” way minus the drugs of course). I cannot quite come up with adequate words to describe events of last week’s Freedom Children’s Choir/Camp project, and I know many who read this blog have known nothing about it anyway. It was not an official TBC event, but rather a ministry project envisioned by a few leaders and embraced by others who prayed, got sufficient support to put things together, and pull off a weeklong camp making music with children and youth with full-on international implications and flavor, and participation. Within one-and-a-half miles of host church Tusculum Hills Baptist there are people who have come to Nashville literally from all around the world. At least seven languages were the primary language of children involved in the camp. I do not have room to describe the whole event, but do want to say the kind of ministry that took place here may well be the wave of future ministry and mission in many churches and areas, and I am a proponent and want to be a catalyst of such.
When I heard about the Freedom Children’s Choir/Camp project from Terry Taylor (fellow church choir member and Growing in Grace children’s music curriculum editor), Wayne Causey (Forest Hills Worship Pastor), and others, I was immediately drawn to get involved for a number of reasons. A primary motivation was that several TBC churches were involved in the effort using music as ministry. The style of worship music of these congregations is quite different, one church from another, so I was attracted to the spirit of cooperation that overcomes stylistic differences in order to serve the purpose of Great Commission ministry. It is the heart of what we experience among our Tennessee Baptist Ladies Chorus and Mens Chorale, as well as events like Youth Project and MMLC, and I wanted to see that spirit at work among those leading children in music, and wanted to see it from the inside, close up. From the beginning I felt this could be a model for other churches and communities in our state. Sharing resources and getting at the mission where God has brought the world to us needs to be a big priority for Tennessee Baptists, including music ministry. Often called the “universal language,” music has a powerful effect, and that was certainly demonstrated in dramatic fashion last week. As blest as so many of our churches are with musicians and music, it only makes sense that we would employ these resources to proclaim the Gospel. I believe the blessing is enhanced when churches of different stylistic bents overcome those differences to prioritize witness and discover unity in the spirit of mission.
Tusculum Hills Pastor Paul Gunn and volunteers from that church, a host of music leaders from Forest Hills, The People’s Church, First Baptist Nashville, and several other churches were phenomenal at demonstrating the love of Jesus as the children learned songs and motions, and heard the Gospel story.
On the first day two young boys were assigned to my group, whose family had gotten out of Iraq, and had only been in the U.S. for six days. They did not speak English, nor did I speak Arabic. I wondered how this would work, but felt sure God had brought them here and I cared about them in His Name from the first moment. The grandfather in me reached out to them. When the ever-resourceful Tusculum Hills pastor brought an Arabic interpreter to us I was greatly relieved. For the first hours of the event all I could do was smile at these boys, put a hand on their shoulder or head, guide them from one activity to the next, and try to stay up with them when they would dart off to the hah-mem, which because Abdulrahman (the younger of the two) rubbed his hands together as if washing them when he said the word, I figured out meant bathroom. I could not begin to imagine how confusing all of this must be to a nine and eleven-year-old. I so wanted to communicate with them, kid around, find ways to help them feel at ease. I could only point, or physically guide, or draw in some instances. My translation app on the iPhone seemed to just confuse them. When the whole group was singing, moving, listening to stories, they were just observing and occasionally mimicking the song movements. I was praying every minute, “Lord, help them know You through us – through me – through Your Spirit.” That prayer mantra never ceased.
Thank God for Maged, the interpreter from Murfreesboro. He is an Egyptian believer who has his own business translating for dental and medical offices. He spent time sitting with us and talking to the two boys in their language. I could not wait to hear from him what he was learning about their experience and also to know more about them and their family. Two older brothers and a sister were participating in the camp as well. When I heard their story I was even more deeply moved, especially when I heard that their own grandfather was killed before their eyes in Iraq before they got out. My heart broke, yet was even more grateful that they were here where they could hear the Gospel. Time to reach toward them in the name of Jesus was now.
I wondered, “was the music and dancing and playing together communicating? As the interpreter, Maged confirmed, “we are planting seeds. They are happy.” What a blessing to help sow seeds of freedom.
Faith of our fathers, living still,
In spite of dungeon, fire and sword;
O how our hearts beat high with joy
Whenever we hear that glorious Word!
Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.
Faith of our fathers, we will strive
To win all nations unto Thee;
And through the truth that comes from God,
We all shall then be truly free.
Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.
Faith of our fathers, we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife;
And preach Thee, too, as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life.
Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.
Frederick W. Faber, 1849
Among the many blessings of my ministry life has been the rich gift of capable and spirited accompanists. It will come as no surprise to those with whom I have served that my own keyboard skills are significantly lacking. I have had Sunday School classes and Senior Adult groups before to ask me if I would play piano for a gathering, and my usual response is, “I do not think you can sing that slow.” My own inability on the black and white keys has served to just increase my appreciation all the more for those who can play, whether by reading the music, playing by ear, or the most hallowed who can do it all. Such was the case with Linda Grammer, former pianist for many years at Crievewood Baptist Church in Nashville.
When asked to serve Crievewood as an interim music ministry leader following the tenure of David Guy, I had two conditions related to the church’s immediate plans regarding the interim period. One of those conditions was that the talented and dedicated duo of Linda Grammer and Joyce Byrd, pianist and organist respectfully, would continue to serve. At our first Wednesday rehearsal Linda told me she had indications that cancer had returned to her body. Nonetheless, she committed to doing all she could through the time I would serve as interim, and that is precisely what she did. Linda and Joyce had played together so long they literally knew what the other was thinking, and could tell where they were going together, whether the music leader knew where he was at all times or not. In the short time I served Crievewood before current leader, Ross Rainwater joined the staff, Linda, Joyce and I had some good laughs, shared tearful prayers at moments and were able to keep worship leadership at the forefront of our work together. These two were amazing in adapting to requests, adjusting to Sundays when choir forces were lower than usual, and just generally adding their special touch to musical expression in worship. All the while both of them had physical struggles, and Linda’s battle with disease intensified all along the way.
The first time I recall hearing Linda play was at the memorial service for longtime Baptist Sunday School Board/Lifeway instrumental music leader, Gerald Armstrong. I recall entering the sanctuary for that service with a heart deeply lamenting the loss of a Baptist musical giant. The music of the piano that day washed over me like a cool waterfall on a hot Summer day. As a musician I appreciated the musicality of the expression at the keyboard, but there was something so beyond that. Somehow there was heart in the sound. The music ministered to me. I could not know for certain, but at once could not imagine anyone hearing this not being served by its beauty, not to mention the word associations with familiar hymntunes stylized by such gifted fingers. That experience actually stayed in my mind even to the time years later when I was invited to serve that church in an interim capacity.
News of Linda’s passing came to me through David Guy with whom I was actually having lunch last Friday. For those of us who remain on this side of eternity, the passing of a fellow servant brings reflection on the gift that person was in the days spent serving together. I remember meetings with Linda when she served on the Board of Directors for the Tennessee Dramatic Arts Festival. Challenges were always faced with such grace and kindness. Linda set the bar high in displaying such an attitude. Talking about the appropriate place for puppets in the church’s ministry seemed to offer us good opportunity to find laughter needed when budgets were shrinking and participation in events went wanting. That ability, however, really characterized Linda as we knew her. Such a spirit is rooted in deep faith, and should tell us much about how someone whose hands were hurting to the bone could nonetheless minister with incredible passion.
Remembering Linda Grammer today is a good reminder to me of the rich gift of those who serve and have served churches as pianists and organists through thick and thin of music ministry in our churches. Regardless of directions for future days of that ministry, many, many people have been ministered to through the gifted and devoted fingers of women and men who, like Linda, dedicated their time and talent to serve the Lord and His church. Thank you, Lord, for the days we have had to hear them, sing and serve with them. May we treat them with the dignity, respect, and appreciation they deserve. We know Linda’s great reward is in Your presence even now for which we offer you musical praise inspired by the promise before us to see her yet again one day.
Summertime and the livin’ is easy. NOT! At least not for most of the music ministry leaders I know about. For some Summer means VBS, Choir Tour, Music Camps, Independence Day picnics or music. The age old question arises for some, “How long should I make a Summer break for the choir?” That is if you give your choir any time away from loft duties. Even when there are changes in the weekly schedule, worship music responsibilities continue in one form or another. Whew! It could wear a leader slap out.
What if you made Summer a time for some refreshment. No, I do not mean homemade ice cream on the back porch, a glass of lemonade at the pool, or choir party hot dogs and hamburgers – those are a given. I mean you need some refreshment for mind and spirit. I hope and pray you are planning some time away with family apart from the stresses of church responsibilities. Important for you and your family! Just do it! You will have a better shot at returning refreshed if you do.
How about recharging of your spiritual and ministerial batteries? Lifeway Worship Week at Ridgecrest, Baylor’s Alleluia Conference, and more opportunities area available to you. Do you have time planned to read a book or two, attend a conference, and/or study that resource you have considered using for your worship band or choir? Never have there been so many resources available to worship music leaders in the form of books on worship, ministry, music-writing and performing, leadership, communication, and technology, to name a few categories. Careful! Information can be overwhelming. I suggest being reflective, and selecting an area in which you feel you really need to be refreshed, and going for it. For some that might mean tackling a DVD Worship Band leadership kit, and for others it may mean a choral conducting online seminar. This kind of investment is not selfish if it truly benefits your church and corporate worship.
If you plan to be away and need fill-in for a Sunday or two, let us help. Consider using one of our worship ministers who is currently without a church position. Give our office a call if you need names and contact information. This could be ministry for the fill-in as well as for you and your people. And don’t forget the value of nurturing an uprising high school or college student who could benefit from exposure to leading the congregation. I have a couple of Sundays available myself if the calendar coincides with your need for a substitute. Just take the time away that you need to refresh the spirit.
Don’t forget that toward the end of the Summer we are having Regional Music Ministry Leadership Conferences as training to help prepare your folks for next Fall. Because of Italy preparations and other limitations we will be holding four of these regional events, rather than six this year. Choose an event closest to you, or one that fits your schedule and enlist your folks for a Saturday morning of getting geared up for Fall. Check the website for updates to faculty and class lists. www.tnworshipandmusic.org
Worship Renewal is often predicated by spiritual renewal in the leaders themselves.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! –2 Cor 5:17
Yes, I know there will be those who immediately interpret this post as a shameless ploy to once again post pictures of my brand new granddaughter. You know me well enough that I definitely would do that in a New York minute. So, try to get past the gratuitous photo opp and allow me, if you would, to share a rather intimate moment of being overwhelmed yet again at the sights and sounds of new life coupled with the confident assurance in the Author of life. In spite of whatever wanton family rave you may detect here, I also want to pronounce the immeasurable joy stirred at the hearing of the name of Jesus being sung to a grandchild in her very first moments of life. Grandchild #7, Autumn Elizabeth Evans was serenaded by her mother, Rachel Elizabeth Clark Evans when she had been breathing hospital room air for less than an hour. The go-to song was one sung to the Mom when she was an infant, the same one sung to little Autumn’s two older brothers (for multiple photos friend me on Facebook) who are now well prepared to take the lead when singing the tune in the car, at bedtime, bathtime, or even in church. I know there are other songs for children, Jesus Loves Me, Jesus Loves the Little Children, He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, etc., but for some reason this one stuck with us. Thank you, Bill and Gloria Gaither.
As those who know me would expect, the moment at the hospital proved emotional for me. The more I have contemplated its power and implications, the more moved I have become. I am flooded with memories of living in Wichita, Kansas, where our daughter was born, coming in from work with hopes I would get to spend time holding our first little girl (she has two older brothers as well). New life begats new life in those precious daddy – baby daughter moments. Works with little boys too, and of course with grandkids, the whole thing is on steroids – but I digress. For the life of me I cannot remember exactly how old our daughter was, just that she was very young, when she began to parrot back to me the sing-songy descending third, “Jesus, Jesus, Jeeee—sus” I would continue “there’s just something about that Name.” In time she would join with broken syllables, “sumping….naee” In my memory it was all bits and pieces of high praise. Our daughter carried on the same practice with her two boys from their infancy forward, and now here we are beginning again. But wait, we are not technically beginning, but rather continuing. In the larger sense, we are actually participating in an unbroken song of praise.
Ok, besides my personal raving about my family here, there really is an application available to all of us who share in song and singing as primary means of making sure Gospel truth makes its intended journey from generation to generation. Obvious personal applications for your own lives and families I would dare to presume – that you would sing to your babies and keep them singing through life. Fostering that kind of singing for the infants born into your church families (and thus into your care) and continuing it through to adulthood, however, I see just as unmistakably integral to our calling as Worship Pastors, or ministering musicians. Mounting a platform with a guitar, microphone, or baton to call people to sing songs of praise is well worth the while. Ah, but to guide people to join the eternal song of praise as a way of living is central to our very life’s calling of making disciples. And get ready, as you well know it is likely a lot simpler singing in cradle-to-toddler years than when they get a job, a car, a girlfriend or boyfriend, or just lose their want-to when it comes to church, singing, or both. But ours is not simply a call to convenience. Some of the strongest ministry and witness may occur during the most difficult days of resistance. Keep the faith brothers and sisters! The song must go on, unruly children, obstinate teens and all. And it is well worth it. Some sweet day you may be in a hospital room with a young mother or father holding a precious innocent new life singing songs of Jesus, songs of life. There’s nothing more inspiring or encouraging. It is a sound that echoes through the halls of eternity, one generation to another.
Kings and kingdoms will all pass away, but there’s something (“sumping”) about that Name.
At the end of the workday yesterday I left my office at 5001 Maryland Way in Brentwood for the last time. After fourteen years of coming and going from that space the TBC staff offices, for those who will still have them, will be moved to a leased 3rd floor suite of offices just a short drive from the present location. At 5:30pm I walked out of my office door, turned back three or four times just to “make a memory,” as my wife calls it. I was headed to my oldest grandson’s kindergarten graduation, so I had plenty to distract my attention, but still found it challenging not to struggle at the questions unearthed by closing this chapter, as it were. I decided that the struggle with some of these questions needed to be a shared struggle with those of you who lead your Tennessee Baptist church in worship music ministry. Some are questions that have lingered at varying levels of intensity throughout the full fourteen years of my tenure. Interestingly, discussions with my predecessor, Julian Suggs, indicate the lurking questions pre-date me. Maybe you can help with some answers. If so, chime in, please
- What would it take for all worship music leaders to participate in opportunities of shared fellowship and ministry of TBC – regional meetings of worship leaders, taking active role in ministry of Tennessee Mens Chorale, sending people from their churches to take advantage of training and ministry skill development events?
- How can churches, whose coffers of talent resources are full to overflowing, be effectively encouraged to yield some of those resources (especially personnel) to worship ministry in smaller churches, church plants, and other mission ministries where they are needed?
- Why do more churches not encourage their middle and high school musicians to continue to use their musical gifts to serve the Lord’s church through those years of transition from childhood toward adulthood?
- What might cause leaders (senior pastors and worship pastors) to pay more careful attention to the power that worship has to unite our churches, within themselves and with other congregations, even as it has been implied in scripture and prayed for in Jesus prayer for disciples?
- How can the music forces of our convention and churches be more effective in proclaiming the Gospel to our communities, our state, and the world through our art?
For me these questions really precipitate a larger question that I wish could be simply answered by all church leaders, namely, “How can our state convention worship and music ministry office more effectively serve Your churches and their leaders?” That is really what we want to know, and what we want to be able to accomplish. As I have told Julian before, I do not know of any worship music leader in a Tennessee Baptist church who will not respond to my calls, let me take them to lunch, or who otherwise simply ignores my attempts to connect at a basic level. Thanks be to God for this privilege and blessing! According to what others tell me, this is not true in every state.
Now, if we can just turn that openness into something more tangible in the way of consistent commitment to fellowship and ministry joined with other Tennessee Baptists involved in worship music ministry. As Charlotte and I move our offices to a new location with the rest of TBC staff, so I want to renew commitment toward a vision of worship and music ministry at the state level, and to better define pieces of that vision so that those who will join us in prayer and work (which is worship by the way) will do so. Here are planks of that vision:
- To have the support of all worship music ministry leaders toward the work of the Tennessee Baptist Church Music Conference and its ministry and mission arms – the Tennessee Mens Chorale and Tennessee Ladies Chorus (note: this does not presume all will actually sing in these groups, but that those who do not will be supportive in prayer, finance, membership and spiritual companionship)
- That the support mentioned above will result in heightened involvement in all ministry and mission projects of these groups (TLC and TMC) and their sub-groups, such as regional expressions (Midsouth Singers, West Tennessee Ministers of Music, Middle Tennessee Ministers of Music, Upper East Tennessee Music Ministers, etc.)
- That we will aid pastors, worship ministers, and churches in their grasp of the biblical meaning of worship, personal and corporate, so as to foster healthy worship practices in weekly worship gatherings of our Tennessee Baptist churches and daily practices of their leaders and members
- That we will foster stronger participation of children and youth in music-making opportunities in their churches and beyond as a means of passing important traditions on to each subsequent generation as taught in scripture (“from one generation to another”)
- That we will strengthen music and musicians in the expressions of worship in our churches through multiple means of training and inspirational endeavor
- That we will encourage our churches to engage in regular proclamation of the Gospel through the art of music, and that we will involve our state music organizations in the same.
- That we will participate with other state missions staff (TBC) in ministry and foster their understanding of ways worship and music ministry serves the Great Commandment and Great Commission ministry.
- That every endeavor undertaken by Worship & Music Ministry will be conceived and executed with excellence such that reflects desire for God’s glory
So, what do you think? Would you take time to read through questions above, and vision mentioned immediately above and give some response? Would you help us help you and your church for the glory of God?
As a background for this blog in which I want to name names and describe events with some specificity, please read my other blog, www.tunemyhearttosing.org which makes the point that we need to consider how we treat one another in times of death and mourning (funerals) as a means of also considering one another when planning and preparing for weekly worship. Because readership for that blogsite is on a wider scale, I refrained from including specific details. By design readership for this blogsite is more specific to Tennesseans and those who have close ties and interest in Tennessee Baptist churches and worship ministry associated with those churches, so I want to offer more detail of these experiences in this article. I attended two memorial events last Saturday in which two wonderful Christian women were celebrated. A spirit of unity, love, and a definitive embrace of a wide range of human emotions characterized Christian worship in those services.
One of the characteristics I would note from each of these services was a vulnerability in those leading. I am convinced that there is a need for vulnerability as an attitude in worship, whether private or public. The Bible teaches clearly that God hates pride (Prov 8:13), and yet I am convinced it is the attitude toward which we leaders are most tempted. There are too many scripture references for me to include with text, so here are some good meditation reference addresses for your prayerful consideration: Leviticus 26:19, Job 22:29, Job 35:12, Proverbs 16:18, Psalm 10:4, Psalm 31:18, 23; Psalm 59:12, Proverbs 11:2, Proverbs 16:18, and many more from the Old Testament, then in the New Testament the pride problem continues to be addressed in Mark 7:22, 1 John 2:16. The Apostle Paul has some positive references to pride as a way he looks toward those with whom he has served. He seems, however, to reference that pride in them as a motivator for continued ministry and mission. I believe that even in pride we might express toward others we must walk carefully lest we fool even ourselves and slip into a self-aggrandizement. Genuine vulnerability seems to encourage a more clear sharing of our place in God’s story and aid other worshipers in discovery and consideration of their own place in the Spirit’s activity in the world.
At the risk of over-personalization, the first of the two memorials I attended Saturday was the funeral service for Loretta Murray, wife of grammy-award-winning tenor, Jim Murray. Jim serves as music minister for Victory Baptist Church in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, which is where the memorial was held. Music for worship and ministry was presented by the church choir that Jim normally directs. The choir of adult singers sang two songs full of promise and hope, I’ll Fly Away, and what some call the Baptist national anthem, Victory in Jesus. The singing was spirited and the sense of intentional ministry was palpable. The service included celebration of a life well-lived with a videotaped word from a longtime pastor friend of the family, a remembrance by yet another pastor, Tennessee Baptist, Larry Gilmore, and finally a clear biblical message centered in Gospel truth was preached by the church’s pastor, Chuck Groover. Each of these pastors offered personal reflection in which some display of their own vulnerability seemed evident. Especially in the case of Brothers Larry and Chuck, they displayed something of their own response to a strong-willed, wife-mom-grandmother, and what appeared to be mixed emotions to her strength of personality and determination. Their stories were both humorous and disarming, demonstrating an interesting collision of being “the pastor” and responding to someone for whom they held obvious respect. Antidotes about Loretta’s big hats, preferred accessories, aka “bling,” and relationships with family and church brought us all closer to the “real life” situations in which all characters of the story lived. In this sense, even Loretta’s vulnerability was on display as described by these pastor friends, as well as remembrances of her two sons. Pauses by all of these speakers for regaining of emotional composure stirred empathy in this worshiper, and I feel certain I was in no way alone in that experience. The service closed with the full congregation joining in the hymn of hope, It Is Well with My Soul. Sprinkled through the crowd of attendees were some of Jim’s fellow recording artists, friends of family members, and church members representative of all age groups. It was a beautiful service of remembrance, ministering comfort and hope to family, proclamation of Gospel, and reminder that each day is a blessed gift we have opportunity to live in keeping with God’s promises and direction in fellowship with other believers with whom we are privileged to walk and worship. It allowed those present to hear testimony about a loved one living out faith in bold colors, and helped us to grasp something of the beauty of being who the Lord makes us to be. Loretta Murray was not Mother Teresa, but likewise, neither was Mother Teresa Loretta Murray.
The second service I attended Saturday was actually a concert to benefit the Olivia Greenlee Memorial Scholarship Fund, sponsored by the Union University Department of Music and Zeta Tau Alpha national sorority. Olivia was a student at Union University who was part of both of these entities, and the evening’s worshipful components were intended, according to promotions, to remember the life and song of Olivia Greenlee and to celebrate the faithfulness of our God. As such, one would have to recognize that the very nature and apparent cause of Olivia’s death, her fiancé has been charged with murder, displays enormous vulnerability in complex ways, and at once in so many ways places us all in a posture of humility in contemplation of our dependence upon our Sovereign Lord. Students, faculty, and school officials who continue in their own grieving, nevertheless testify boldly to the ministering Christ who is ultimate Christus Victor.
Well over a hundred students participated in the music-making aspects of the evening, as part of the school’s musical ensembles. Music presented was punctuated with scripture readings, prayer, testimonials, and congregational participation, all of which fit well the theme, comforted the family and friends gathered, and testified boldly to the hope that defines Christian witness in the face of evil. Original compositions of ranging styles, academic and folk-like, added creative color in addition to profoundly moving arrangements of familiar hymns like How Great Thou Art, and simple renditions of other hymns such as the comforting prayer, Abide with Me, in which I heard strains of four-part harmony ruminating through the West Jackson sanctuary. I found this musical expression especially touching given Olivia’s field of study and musical interests. The purposeful inclusion of congregational singing added participative physical response opportunity to the emotional wash of ministry in the songs presented through the evening, sacred and secular. Oddly enough, a profound moment of ministry for me took place in the singing of a duet from famed Broadway musical, Wicked, the song, For Good. There was no want for lament in the evening, as longing strains of psalms read and sung were augmented by testimonies of former roommates, sorority sisters, fellow choir singers, her pastor Mike Hickman of First Baptist Dyersburg, all testifying to a young life well-lived in Christ, even in the brevity of the twenty-one years the Lord gave us Olivia. Though labeled a concert, the two-hour event prompted profound worship for individuals and community joined in its well-planned form, its explicitly spiritual content, and God-honoring style. The latter struck me profoundly in its inclusivity. As mentioned there were songs of secular origin that nevertheless ministered in the context.
I trust that it does not take loss of life for our worship to find its context. Worship pastors and music ministry leaders, let us carefully design and plan worship in a rhythm of revelation and response that not only allows but encourages vulnerability in worshipers and fosters humility encouraging right relationship to God and neighbor.