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!
For awhile it seemed to me like the Michael W. Smith CCM hit song of the early 80’s, Friends, was sung at every camp, youth retreat, or going away party I attended. More than one youth director told me, “If I hear that at one more graduation party I am going to jump out the window, or worse!” Eventually, its overuse petered out and the song just sorta faded away. I admit I had a few “somebody shoot me” moments with the song myself, but I also confess that I have deep appreciation for its sentiment. In fact, because of the significance of colleagues in ministry, who I would call dear friends over my 40 years of vocational ministry, I place a high priority on fostering networks among our worship ministry leaders as one of my most effectual activities of my work with Tennessee Baptists.
A few weeks ago our Middle Tennessee Music Ministers (group that gathers monthly through the school year) gathered to chat and lunch together. As we were departing the restaurant I walked out with two jewells, Dan Johnson and Bill Anderson. Dan is part time music minister for Glenwood Baptist Church Nashville and Bill re-retired a few years ago from his part time position with Spring Hill First Baptist. I asked them to share reflections on their relationship as a means of emphasizing to all of us how important our relationships with fellow worship music ministers can be. Here are some of their reflections:
Shared Blessings — Bill Anderson and Dan Johnson
A Relationship that Builds Each Other
- When, How, and Where We Met
Both Bill and Dan joined the Literary staff in the Music Department of the Baptist Sunday School Board (Lifeway) in 1969, and served together for a number of years. Regular time together working, lunching, meeting, and traveling set a backdrop for their friendship that has continued strong to this day.
- What were factors that strengthened your relationship over the years?
As the Team’s only semi-Yankee (from Maryland), Dan sometimes needed guidance in Team meetings in order for him to “talk right”. From the start, Alabama Bill was a faithful guide and Dan soon learned about “Y’all” (and its plural, “All-a-Y’all”), and LOTS more… “Momma-n-Nem”, etc., etc.
Having both served in the Service (Bill in the Air Force, Dan in the Army), they were the only ones who had some helpful understanding of how to deal with bureaucracy. They also helped the others handle disagreement with humor (a faithful source of strength). Also, early on, they learned not to discuss politics. They shared frustrations, laughs, and some great ideas!
Over the years, in difficult times, they knew they could lean on one another and the precious “what is said here stays here” understanding was solid.
- How has your friendship aided your music ministry?
Over the years, whenever they met, there has always been that basic joint love of their ministry. During his 56-year Music Ministry career, Bill has served as Minister of Music for fourteen churches (some full time, some part time), and Dan’s 60-year career has been in eleven (two full time, nine part time)(He’s still “at it”).
While in Nashville, with all the changes in music styles and organizational structures, Bill and Dan were constantly in touch with each other (as well as lots of local Ministers of Music) for the latest in ideas, materials, and people who could help. LOTS of recommendations have been shared! The blessings of being part of the Board’s Church Music family have certainly given Bill and Dan LOTS to share, and the nationwide family of Church Music leaders has been a goldmine for them.
And of course, there were times when they helped in each other’s church. Bill led the music for a revival in one of Dan’s churches, and MANY times, he has done his famous monologues, both the humorous AND the serious at those churches. Dan sang the part of the Disciple Peter in one of Bill’s performances of David Danner’s “Joy Comes in the Morning” (and is ready for a recommendation to do another).
Knowing David Danner so well has blessed Bill and Dan so richly!
- What encouragement would you give to young music ministers who may feel they are just too busy in their own church and family to get involved in relationships with other music ministers, and/or with groups like the Tennessee Men’s Chorale?
There are many opportunities available, some just recreational, but MANY can be so profitable. Of course, in today’s busy world, one’s own church and family MUST come first, but when we meet with people that do what we do, talk our language, and share experiences, our own church can be more effective and our own family can be enriched as well.
So often, as members of the Tennessee Men’s Chorale, Bill and I have brought our family members to concerts and they have been really excited! And I have learned about new music and approaches that have been really helpful in our church.
The groups that gather now (e.g. the Middle Tennessee Ministers of Music) continue to hear new ways to minister and our hope is that the word will be spread about what can be learned.
Dan and Bill are two who have served in large churches, small churches, and on a national literary – publishing platform, and continue to understand the core value of brotherhood in ministry. Their relationship is an inspiration and a model. I am convinced that there is not one Worship Pastor/Music Minister in Tennessee that would not benefit from the fellowship and shared kingdom perspective in the shared partnership mission and ministry that is the Tennessee Baptist Church Music Conference (www.tbcmc.org) and the Tennessee Mens Chorale or Tennessee Ladies Chorus (www.tnworshipandmusic.org)
None of us “have time for it,” rather we simply choose to spend time together in relationships that add value and meaning to our journey. Fellowship is two fellows in the same ship. Though under different steeples, we are in this together!!
Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent 2014. I worshiped with Hillcrest Baptist Church in Jackson. This was the church I served during my final days at Union University and where I finally surrendered to fulltime vocational ministry almost forty years ago. It was the church my brother Ricky served as well, while he was a student at Union. One of the young boys in the youth group and youth choir during those days was the son of then pastor, Jimmy Welch. Now these years later after graduating from Union and Mid-America Seminary, Dr. Jerry Welch serves as pastor of Hillcrest, as he has for more than twenty years.
Like many Southern Baptist churches across Tennessee, the Hillcrest congregation is comprised of a mixture of labor workers, professionals, and members who have retired in the area. Some members are extended families with more than one generation represented in weekly worship. Others are new to the area and have found a church home in the church family atmosphere. There are children and teens, as well as adults and senior adults. All-in-all Hillcrest is a healthy multi-generational church. Marty Phillips has served as bivocational music minister at Hillcrest since 1991. For more then twenty years he has balanced a career as a lawyer in one of Jackson’s largest legal firms with his responsibilities at the church, which he approaches with passionate care as a minister and musician. Marty is representative of music leadership in the majority of Tennessee Baptist churches. Not that most of our worship ministers double as lawyers (some may feel it would not hurt to be able to debate in court), but certainly it is the case that most of our music leaders are bivocational. Many, like Marty, do an outstanding job of planning weekly worship, and serving to provide developmental music opportunities for children, youth, and adults.
I had good reason to be excited about worshiping with Hillcrest Sunday, but to be perfectly I honest, I did not necessarily anticipate observance of Advent. I was very pleasantly surprised, and spiritually inspired to be ever so wrong about that. Marty Phillips led into the observance by calling attention to its celebration in churches of other denominations, yet focusing attention on its central truth noting the first coming of Jesus and the anticipation of His second coming. We sang Advent hymns and then the message from Isaiah 9:6-7 that Jerry preached was entitled “The Advantage of Advent.” In his folksy, yet diginified style, the pastor gave truth filled with rich theological truth that did not shy away from challenging concepts. Three simple, though profound, points framed the message extolling 1. A Jewish tragedy, 2. A Divine Truth, and 3. A Messianic Triumph. The service echoed a triumphant tone, and set the stage for the season beautifully, declaring the power and promise of the Gospel at the same time.
I was struck by the sway of simplicity in the service, and reminded that it does not take a major production, a technological magnum opus, or a liturgical masterpiece to effectively practice the spirituality associated with this season of the Christian year. To the contrary, it is just possible that joining much of Christendom in anticipation of Christmas could help worship ministers, full or part-time, to plan worship over four weeks in December that includes participation by family units, singing of familiar songs that might just engage everyone, and foster a congregational unity centered around the coming of our Lord. How ‘bout it?
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Has come to Thee, O Israel
I was blessed this past weekend to share in a worship renewal emphasis with First Baptist Church La Follette. After spending the morning with pastor and staff ministry leaders we gathered with choir and church leadership for an afternoon sharing and study time. I tried to ask prompting questions to encourage reflection on those underlying dynamics of corporate worship that foster response in our spirit. As leaders called out words that came to mind when thinking of what is evoked in their own minds and hearts during corporate worship I heard words like “peace,” “joy,” “blessing,” “praise,” and “thankful.” In drilling just a bit deeper I came back to the word “thankful” and asked the gentleman who gave the word to unpack it a bit. His expression captured my own spirit of worshipfulness as he said something like this, “You’re just thankful and thankful and thankful. Every week, every time, thankful, and thankful, and thankful, over and over.”
I thought “YES!” There is such evidence in New Testament worship of a spirit of gratitude. For worship music leaders we are, of course, drawn to Ephesians 5:
18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. –Ephesians 5:18-21
At the Institute for Worship Studies I often heard about living a Eucharistic life – a life of thanksgiving. Coupled with study of the Lord’s table, the expression gave me renewed praise at opportunities to receive the bread and the cup, and be reminded of what Christ has done for us, but also be reminded of the result. I love that expression, “living a Eucharistic life.” Thankful, thankful, and thankful, over and over. Many of you have heard me share about the time following my health scares and the sense of gratitude for every moment, recognizing that every moment is a gift. Well, it is! No guarantees. Oh, I am so grateful! The time with the pastor and staff of La Follette – I am grateful! The visits with TLC president and past president, Angela Kreis (prez), and Nancy McBee (past-prez) on Monday – thankful! The visit and coffee break with my new focus team leader, Dr Bob Brown at Starbucks in Knoxville, thankful! The drive home, even into the sun, noting again the beauty of the state in which I serve – thankful! Stopping by my daughter’s house to pick up the dog and getting the hugs of two growing grandsons hanging around my neck, and getting to hold my newest granddaughter and watch her bounce in her little bouncey chair – grateful! Visiting about upcoming music programs and talk about the Getty Christmas concert with my daughter – thankful! Even trying out my son-in-law’s pasta dish – thankful! Knowing my wife is finally coming home, after weeks of caring for aging parents in Jackson, to prepare for our family gathering at our house for Thanksgiving, which begins Wednesday – thankful!
Thanksgiving is indeed a way to live. Every minute, every breathe, every smile, every hug is a gift. The freedom of living in a country where it is good to gather as family and as worshipers, to pray and sing, and eat and fellowship, is a gift. Most of all, of course, our salvation, the forgiveness of sin, the joy of relationship as a child of the King, all because of God’s love and provision in Jesus are gifts of grace beyond measure. Almost as the metaphorical icing on the cake, we get to make music together that proclaims our Savior, declares our deliverance, cries for mercy, shouts praise among the nations, and serves as an offering from our hearts and lips to the Triune God to Whom we owe everything. We get to sing our thanks! Despite the nights when choir rehearsals go badly, and the Sundays when the sound guy forgets it is his Sunday to serve, or the days your throat feels like it has been through the meet grinder and the last thing you want to do is sing, still there is reason to be thankful.
Be assured that in my prayers of thanksgiving this week you will be included as you make my heart glad because you are each and every one a very special gift in my life.
For the joy of human love
Brother, sister, parent, child
Friends on earth and friends above;
For all gentle thoughts and mild,
Lord of all to Thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise!
–Folliott S. Pierpoint