Sunday night I had the privilege of singing under the baton (ok, he didn’t use one this time, but “singing under the hands” sounded wrong somehow) of Wayne Causey as part of the Forest Hills Baptist Church choir in presenting a service of music and worship leadership entitled Amazing Love after the last song in the program. Wayne is such a dear brother in Christ, and singing under his ministry serves as reminder to me how deeply I love and appreciate all of you who serve in music leadership across our state. The service Sunday was a beautiful service of worship through choral and congregational music, interspersed with biblical narration marking the events of that week that began with Palm Sunday. The service also included communion whereby worshipers were served at the table, and thus partook in family or other small groupings, while we in the choir observed after we had eaten the bread and drank the cup ourselves still there in the loft.
The logistics offered me an opportunity to observe from a bit different perspective unique to any that I recall. Lord’s Supper services nearly always heighten my spiritual radar and stir ecclesiastical connection for me, but it seemed that this was particularly the case Sunday night. First off, scriptures read included Jesus’ words that He would not eat of the fruit of the vine again until the kingdom of God comes. Thoughts of the Great Feast in heaven were stirred in my spirit, and I began to think about who would be included there, and best of all, of course, Jesus Himself. In those moments we were partaking together of the spiritual meal, but that promise of one day partaking with all the saints is part of our worship around the Table of our Lord. Of course, thoughts of those gone before us always loom in special worship moments for me, so I was not surprised to feel some closeness to my dad, grandparents, and other family and friends who have already passed over. But I was also endeared afresh to church family, which for me includes not only present kinship to Forest Hills brothers and sisters who have been so patient with us, especially given my scant attendance as a denominational minister. I noted brothers and sisters with whom we have shared Bible study, with whom we have prayed of private matters, and others with whom we have stood side by side.
Early in the service I had been a bit surprised to look back and see my TBC predecessor, Dr. Julian Suggs and Francis sitting toward the back. Julian and I have lunch plans this week already, but this was a bonus meeting. What’s more, in the communion time it was another reason to rejoice in the communion of saints. Given that this was a choral music program, other musicians dotted the room, and I began to spot these brothers and sisters as well, even as I noted attendance of friends from other churches where I have served as interim. There was a sense of reunion to all of this. I longed for the rest of my family, though all of them were, no doubt, busy in their own church settings. Ebbie was not able to be in the service either as she was home with two grandsons who have been with us the last of this week. Something about coming to the Table of our Lord stirred up a part of me that longed for everyone I know and love to be present to eat the bread, drink the cup, sing the songs, and join as one. I believe that to be the Holy Spirit stirring a kind of oneness that goes beyond articulation, save thoughts of that same Great Feast we were foreshadowing as we followed our Lord’s command to, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
The Apostle Paul exhorts us to think on things that are true, honorable, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. When Christian worship centers appropriately in Jesus and the truth of the Gospel, then surely these are the thoughts stirred among His people. In this Holy Week, let us call all people to turn their eyes upon Jesus. In Him is love, goodness, patience, peace, kindness, and all that is good. He took our sins and our sorrows. He made them His very own.
I pray that this Holy Week will be filled with the goodness of God for you and your church family, and that the power of the Resurrection will characterize your life and ministry as you step before the Bride of Christ and call them into worship and praise. Please remind them that one day He’s coming again. O Glorious Day!!!
There was a day in Baptist life in Tennessee (and most other states with Baptist work) when Spring and Fall meant revival services. It appears these seasons of special spiritual emphasis followed closely with the Liturgical or Christian Calendar being observed more closely by other denominations. While other so-called mainline churches were promoting services around themes of preparation for Advent in the Fall, and/or Lent in the Spring, Baptists were promoting worship services focused on spiritual renewal, and evangelistic appeal. In the 1960’s and 70’s television broadcasts of Billy Graham Crusades began to shape the pattern of these revival services. Often churches invited guest evangelists who were either a pastor of another congregation, or even were a vocational evangelist. Likewise guest music leaders were invited to work with choir and to lead the church in spirited congregational singing. Services were accented by featured “special music,” often a solo sung by the music evangelist, or a message through music by the choir, or many times, both. Cliff Barrows and George Beverly Shea were the epitome of crusade musical prowess, and many music leaders were encouraged, if not expected, to mimic both. Over time the pattern of these revival services became the pattern practiced in weekly Sunday worship in many, if not most, of our Baptist churches, and the practice continues even to this day to a large extent. When the term “traditional” is used in the Baptist context, this is the tradition most Baptist folk are thinking about.
Whatever happened to these revival meetings? Oh, I well know there are still plenty of churches who hold these services every year, though it seems less and less are able to schedule one in Spring and one in Fall, just as there are less and less able to maintain such an event for more then a half-a-week’s time. In fact, most years I participate in leading in at least one in each of those seasons. At the risk of sounding even older than I am, I can remember when Revival Meetings went on for a full week, and often extended to ten days or two weeks. I admit that even typing that sentence makes me weary to just think about it, but then again, I also recall a kind of slow boil that set in over the extended period of spiritual emphasis. Something like a running of a long race, there would be points during an extended meeting when it would seem the spiritual fuel was running out. I remember revivals where something of a second wind would seem to blow, as church members warmed anew to their spiritual heritage, and repeat attenders who were unbelievers would begin to sense the Spirit at work to draw them toward the Savior. Phrases like “praying through,” were predicated by events that preceded the revival services. Cottage prayer meetings brought church members together around concerns for neighbors and friends who seemed to live outside the faith. Gatherings provided opportunities for authentic expressions of concern for the souls of those around us.
Fast forward to 2014. I believe there is a hunger for more genuine engagement in small groups, especially those that can gather in homes, at the coffee shop, or even in less formal settings at the church house. As I hope you know, your TBC staff has been involved in a strategy of evangelistic organization and emphasis that centers around evangelistic manifestations of small groups. While not exactly the kind of groups that cottage prayer meetings use to be, they have similar dynamics. The “1-5-1” emphasis relies on starting up of groupings whose primary purpose is to share Christ with lost persons in our communities. As these groups begin to bear fruit as we trust in faith they will, our churches that you lead in weekly worship will have opportunity and reason for celebration of new life in Christ. I trust as this happens you will keep the focus on the Gospel, and Lift High the Name of Jesus!!
Times do change, and methodology is hard (scratch that….make it impossible) to keep up with, even in a denomination steeped in tradition, whether revivalist, liturgical formal, or any of the numerous contemporized traditions. Our churches are practicing everything from strict Christian calendar and lectionary adherence to open non-compliance of anything beyond local church autonomy. Our challenge is to offer resource, advice, and training as opportunities present, but to help maintain attention to the centrality of worship that helps engage people with our Triune God. Our ultimate end is to glorify God. While I do not know of any two-week revival meetings scheduled anytime soon, I know Who holds the future and believe the Spirit can break forth at will. As Chris and Diane Machen wrote in a song, “God Still Moves!” I pray that He chooses to do so among us Baptists in Tennessee. Whether it happens at a Good Friday Tenebrae service in silence, or during a glorious Easter production with a cast of thousands, or during a 1-5-1 Harvest Plant group at a Starbucks, I just pray He will move among us to reignite spiritual passions that will aid in bringing neighbors and friends to know Him.
Will join me in prayer, and stand ready to sing and celebrate?
Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God
Holy Spirit living Breath of God
Breathe new life into my willing soul
Let the presence of the risen Lord
Come renew my heart and make me whole
Cause Your word to come alive in me
Give me faith for what I cannot see
Give me passion for Your purity
Holy Spirit breathe new life in me
Holy Spirit come abide within
May Your joy be seen in all I do
Love enough to cover ev’ry sin
In each thought and deed and attitude
Kindness to the greatest and the least
Gentleness that sows the path of peace
Turn my strivings into works of grace
Breath of God show Christ in all I do
Holy Spirit from creation’s birth
Giving life to all that God has made
Show Your power once again on earth
Cause Your church to hunger for Your ways
Let the fragrance of our pray’rs arise
Lead us on the road of sacrifice
That in unity the face of Christ
May be clear for all the world to see
CCLI Song # 4779872
- © 2006 Thankyou Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)
Attending a Senior Voice Recital at Union last week I was deeply blessed. The literature was as what you would expect. Included was Some German lieder, folk songs of other lands including Ireland, (appropriate seeing as how the Union Singers were soon leaving for a tour in Ireland). The recital closed with two sacred pieces, one an arrangement of the Getty’s O Come Redeemer of the Earth, and a setting of the hymn I Stand Amazed in the Presence. All standard voice recital fare. What was particularly notable, in this case, was best described by my brother Ricky after the first song set. He leaned over to me and said something like, “There is a picture of transformation.” He was talking about the change we had been privileged to observe in the singer. And he was right.
Five years ago a young high schooler signed-in for a weeklong camp at Carson Springs. He was field commander for his small town’s high school marching band, and indicated limited music aptitude, especially in the area of music reading skills. He was right. His musicianship was limited as sometimes happens in band programs where teachers are so time-restricted that they are doing good just to teach a half-time routine for football season and competitions. Very little resource is left to really develop music skills. The young man’s limitations were aptly confirmed in his first session of music-making at the camp. He did, however, have driving interest in playing his blue off-brand acoustic steel-string guitar, and he pondered someday leading students in singing worship songs. He, in fact, already had some experience doing just that in his small home church where his dad pastored. Aside from some social clumsiness and lack of self-confidence, Adam Stanford was a very likable young man, and a willing learner, even though challenged by limited exposure. His drive to do well and desire to connect with peers was evident as he strummed that blue guitar, playing right along with others at the camp. The interaction was a critical part of the camp’s design. I really enjoyed watching these guys and gals compare notes, discuss and demonstrate shortcuts, and embellish standard chords on certain worship songs, trying to add some of their own flare. All this while they grew in their grasp of what Christian worship was about. Along with the other camp faculty I had a sense that the Lord was at work through what we were seeing. Transformation process perhaps?
Transformation can be a lovely thing. Everybody likes to see the beautiful butterfly flitting about the flowers or landing on the blades of freshly mown grass. It can make you smile even during times when a grin is hard to come by. The only visionary effort needed is to open your blasted eyes. Easy stuff. Observing the transformed may indeed usher us to lah-lah-land, but how’s your perceptivity prowess when you are staring at a scrunched up worm? How about when there’s that gooey string-looking thing stuck to a twig or leaf on a tree? And when the outside skin of a caterpillar splits down the back, in order that this thing’s inner bug can burst forth, are you hailing the stunning beauty at that stage in the process? Mmmm? Well, if your sensitivity is like mine, probably not so much. Even just watching a youtube video of metamorphous registers on my yuk factor radar. Interesting for sure, but it isn’t all that pretty.
Let me quickly and emphatically state that I am not putting down the high school camper stage of Adam Stanford and/or any of the students who attended that very unique week we called Next Generation Worship Leaders Camp. In fact, my purpose here is to say quite the opposite. I want to call on my fellow Worship Music Ministry Leaders, Senior Pastors, and others to join me in discovering the phenomenal dynamics of the transforming process, and the transforming musician-minister in whatever stage at whatever time. Too many of our churches have opted to severely limit opportunities that serve as discovery points for young musicians, some of whom may well grow to become leaders if they are given proper encouragement, accompanied by measured and well-timed opportunities. Youth Choir, properly guided youth worship bands, and youth instrumental groups can provide splendid training ground for future worship music leaders. Periodic worship ministry internship programs for older high school and college students can be highly fruitful to aid discovery and encourage progress toward understanding giftedness as well as calling. Recognition and proper access and attention offered by music and student ministry leaders of the church can serve to help gifted young persons to recognize their potential, and encourage their prayer toward understanding of God’s direction. Offering and encouraging exposure to Baptist entities, whether our Baptist colleges, seminaries, or Baptist Collegiate Ministries on secular campuses, can help students and parents when considering options and future directions.
In the case of Adam Stanford and the other students who attended a TBC Next Generation Worship Leaders Camp, that was just one part in their journey in transformation. For Adam Stanford that experience complimented and helped lead toward his subsequent entrance into Union University as a Church Music major, where he was groomed and guided by Dr. Chris Mathews and the outstanding faculty of Union. There the progress grew in big steps through academic study, musical skill and performance instruction, and spiritual assistance. Ricky Clark added much O.J.T. as Adam served at West Jackson Baptist Church as an intern in music ministry during part of his Union career. Pastor Lynn Walker at Rock Hill Baptist Church in Lexington, where Adam serves as part time Music Minister now, has given opportunity and guidance in ministry at a formative stage. Of course, Adam’s mom and dad have been and are contributors all along the way. Adam is now praying about seminary as a possible next step.
Plenty of other stories from that group of NEXT GEN Worship Leaders from that camp could be told with similar results. After a recital where I heard a wonderful voice sing and exemplify transformative development I just wanted to share and remind us all to keep our eyes and ears open for those students who may still be in worm form. Encourage and invest in them, and give thanks and praise for whatever stage along the way.
I am preparing to move my office. As most of you know the TBC has sold the Baptist Center at 5001 Maryland Way and will be moving. You know what this means….lots of stuff to go through. Lest it be thrown on the trash heap (not by me) Charlotte intercepted ten years worth of issues of The Church Musician, a periodical formerly published by the Baptist Sunday School Board (now Lifeway), which she promptly brought to my office and set in the floor. The oldest year represented by these bound volumes is 1958. Mind you I was five years in old in 1958. I could not help but thumb through the pages. The pictures were a bit humorous, and the music material nostalgic. Photos of women at church in their pillbox hats signing their kids up for children’s choir made me smile. I remember seeing my mom dressed exactly like that and there was never any doubt but that whatever was going on at church, especially choir, this “P.K” (preacher’s kid) would be participating. As I looked through the magazines, a voice within kept chiding, “Man! Have times changed!” The more I perused, though, the more I realized that many of the issues being addressed in this August 1958 magazine were issues we still contend with in present day. Don’t get me wrong, I recognize that references to the Church Music Record System, suggestions of concerted efforts through Training Union, and the idea of using music directors in Sunday School Department assemblies, are probably not commonplace vernacular for many of you reading this article.
Everyone knows the practice of Church Music Ministry has undergone voluminous changes over the last several decades. If you search the internet for images of what music in the church looks like nowadays you are quite likely to see guitars, drums, lights, microphones, and platform stages. On the other hand, images of church music from say the 1960’s or 1970’s would likely have been pictures of choirs in robes, pianos, organs, maybe some handbells, possibly other orchestral instruments, and would likely have included depictions of children and youth singing and playing music.
Much could be said about the changes that have taken place in the church’s practice of music-making in worship ministry… and perhaps you are thinking, and correctly so, that indeed much has been said, and not all of it has been constructive. Regardless of what any of us think about the state of Church Music now, or “way back when,” the fact of the matter is that in our day there are many different ways that our 3000 plus Tennessee Baptist churches practice music as ministry week in and week out. There is a very wide variance in the styles of music that are sung and played in church services. The style of music and the atmosphere of the worship environment determine much of what else takes place in music ministry to support the worship environment. In churches where a choir is a central part of Sunday worship, music ministry likely still includes the developmental groupings needed to sustain choral music. Preschool – Children’s, and Youth Choirs are likely included in the church’s weekly scheduling, at least for eight or nine months out of the year. Churches that use more rock-influenced music for worship likely depend on youth and children’s worship environments to set a pattern for upcoming worshipers. Musicians in these settings often get experience by being part of a student worship band. Though there are certainly exceptions, systems for training musicians in the more “contemporary” style settings generally are rooted in experiences of on-the-job training. Leaders work to provide and/or find opportunities for younger players and singers to perform. While more models of purposed musical and spiritual development are emerging, it would be far reaching to say these have crystalized into the kind of systemization of more “traditional” style music ministries. It makes sense, since that is the nature of “contemporary,” and maturation continues.
This whole blog could have been written about the discoveries within The Church Musician, August 1958 edition. Musical selections included choral hymn arrangements, a song for evangelistic emphasis, and service music. Articles by notables like W. Hines Sims, and Tommy Lane (both who served in Tennessee) reflect the organizational approach common to the industrial age. Interestingly, however, I found some writing to be apropos to our day, and the spirit behind ministry approach to be a much needed long lost friend in our day. Which choir leader would not still be interested in having choir members read “Ten Ways to Please Your Choir Director?” Who would not want their worship leading forces to be engaged in “Interpretive Singing,” an article interestingly written about a woman music ministry director in a “small-town-and-country” church. Or what about an issue near and dear to my heart in “So You Want Good Congregational Singing?”
Why do these article have issues in common with us today? At their core they deal with human nature – which, by the way, at its root is unchanged. They also presuppose that the music ministry leader has an innate desire to progress in effective ministry. While this is presumptive on its face, and a point of contention would be situated in the question, “What does it mean to have effective music ministry?” But I choose to find a common thread and continue to see that in all of you who lead, though in very different settings, in very different ways, and nowadays using a wide variety of completely different music. Our God is still the same! Lost people need the Gospel! The Church needs ongoing renewal! Whatever gifts and talents in our churches, they are for ministry to the glory of God! Let’s come together warmly and often to hold one another up, and band together in the marvelous ministry through music.
Dr. J.L. “Pete” Ford was the very picture of a Christian Gentleman. Any and every time that I was ever around this Baptist statesman he embodied all the attributes you would probably think of when you hear that term, “Christian Gentleman.” Given Dr. Ford’s age, you can well imagine that he had specific notions of how one dresses when going to worship, much less when someone is leading some portion of a worship service. It was my experience that Dr. Ford’s decorum was always respectfully polite, appropriately formal, but always warm. Most importantly, I believe his intentions were devotedly characterized by concern for others. One writer, in fact, defines a Christian Gentleman in just that way, one who sees life as ministry to others, and carries himself for the glory of God, interacting with those around him with the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Dr. Ford was father to TBC Keyboard Consultant, Martha Ford Robinson, and Dr. Brian Ford who serves as Director of Human Resources for Jackson Madison County Schools, and with whom I served when Brian was Church Pianist at First Baptist Church Jackson, where I served as Minister of Music & Worship. Pete Ford was Director of Adult Homes for the Tennessee Baptist Convention and pastored churches in Tennessee before and after that responsibility. I wanted to address the passing of this, yet another saint and servant in Tennessee Baptist life, for a couple of reasons. While there is not sufficient room or need to try and provide a full memorial tribute in this article, I believe there is value to worship ministry for us to consider the links of this well-lived life with the act of worship in our churches, lives, and families. In many ways he was a high mark model for us to consider.
The first reason I wanted to call your attention to Dr. Ford’s passing is our relationship as Tennessee Baptist musicians with this family. Martha Robinson has been such encouragement and support of TBC Worship & Music Ministry, serving as Keyboard Consultant, and so often assisting by her keyboard skills in accompanying Youth Project(s), Kids Choral Connection(s), and regional events, often with short notice. Best of all, Martha’s servant spirit provides a model for all of our pianists and organists, even as it is an example of so many of the same. Martha’s husband, Bob, is, of course a member of our Tennessee Mens Chorale, and serves as Minister of Music & Worship for Central Baptist Church Fountain City in Knoxville. You will recall that it has been only a few short months since Bob’s father, Bill passed away. In other words, we Tennessee Baptist Musicians have relationship with this extended family. I believe it is important to foster those relationship for Kingdom sensitivity and for brotherly support of prayer and appropriate sympathy.
The second reason I wanted to call your attention to this event in this family’s life was to note the beautiful model of family being fleshed out among the Fords and Robinsons, and the good reminder of the importance of making worship about more than something that happens “at church.” At the visitation on Friday I got to visit a bit with Brian’s young adult children, Valerie and Andy, who grew up at First Baptist in Jackson during my years there. Children become teens become young adults formulating lives that model life pattern for communities and churches in which they live. Though brief, one of the most touching moments for me of Dr. Ford’s Memorial Service at Woodmont was hearing Valerie read scripture, and grandson, Bradley (son of Martha and Bob) share comments and read scripture. Stories told of family praying, laughing, eating, and yes, singing were such wonderful reminders that worship occurs in the whole of life, not just on Sunday in church. Church worship does however set the pattern, gives us the songs to sing, teaches us the words to pray. Watching Martha and Bob’s other children, Ellen, Elizabeth, Bradley, and Grant interact with spouses, of course their grandmother, and the friends and family who came to pay tribute, was an inspirational reminder of the crucial nature of living life as worship through family.
Finally, I wanted to call to our attention what I believe is an important reminder, that is that many of those we lead in worship week in and week out are Senior Saints. So much emphasis is placed on the youth of our society, children, teenagers and young adults, that I believe we can discount the importance of the worship and witness of mature adults whose energy may not be what it once was, whose memory may not be as sharp as younger persons, but whose contribution is great. Like my own parents, Dr. Ford and Mary have been faithful participants in church worship over many, many years, whether leading or just being part of the congregation. The spirit of serving has just been a hallmark of who they are and have been. Thank the Lord for their example and lives. I know that for me a deep impression has been made by the life of Dr. Pete Ford who has gone on now to be with the Lord. He will be missed, a true Christian Gentleman.
An all-too-frequent question I receive is, “Paul, what are churches doing when it comes to __________? You fill in the blank. Pastors and committees often want to glean an insight on what is taking place among Tennessee Baptist churches in the area of worship, especially as it relates to pragmatic issues like style of music, technical support systems and equipment, financial support, venues for services, multiple worship options onsite, etc., etc. Trouble is….I don’t really know.
While we have some statistical information available at TBC, our data is almost exclusively dependent on churches responding to the ACP (Annual Church Profile). While we do have a good number of churches who faithfully complete that information year after year, we also have another group of churches who either do not give the information requested, or give us selective parts of the query. Another fact of the ACP is that it does not annually ask the kinds of questions to reflect a more realistic statistical aggregation of all the different styles, budget percentages, multi-venue worship environment practices, etc. that we have among our 3,000+ churches. In response to churches who ask the, “What are Tennessee churches doing?” questions I mostly tell them that I can tell them what I have observed by traveling all across the state, talking with worship ministry leaders, and collaborating with colleagues. I can give some larger picture statistics like how many churches indicate they have a full-time music ministry leader, or what average worship attendance is recorded in a given percentage of our churches. Those kinds of stats are usually informative, but seldom provide any “silver bullet” kinds of data. As a matter of fact, I am convinced there is no such fix-all intelligence, anyway. I hope that is not a cop-out for me, because the truth is that I want to be an information source for churches and leaders, and work with Libby Eaton, TBC information specialist, to find ways of securing information needed on case by case basis. She is a friend for all Tennessee Baptists, and has a servant spirit under difficult circumstances.
Given that disclaimer, the point I would like to briefly address is that in our customized culture there is less “one size fits” for worship ministries than ever before. Given the proliferation of new songs, expanding technologies, and ever-expanding affinity groupings among church leaders, worship ministry is being contextualized more and more. While there are some general categorizations of style, environment descriptions, and ministry approaches in worship ministry, these give at best a general sense of how that ministry is being practiced in a given church. Most of us struggle even to find appropriate descriptors to give an idea of Church “A” or Church “B.” Most of us still make some use of the tired old adjectives, like traditional vs. contemporary, but quickly realize there are different traditions among the more contemporary churches. Liturgical vs. informal really does not hold, since many of us are trying to help worship ministry leaders recognize that all churches have a liturgy of worship, whether it has a sense of formal, or not. Plus, I would have to say the most formula-driven worship environments I observe are those whose formula has been fashioned after televised mega-church patterns, which tend to be the most predictable of all.
Just as there is not one kind of worship environment for TBC churches, likewise there are as many different approaches among worship ministry leaders and senior pastors (who set the grounding for the worship environment in most cases), as there are leaders. Event planning and shared ministry projects on a statewide basis are quite a challenge. We try to focus on those ingredients that are common to us all in worship ministry. While there may be theological differences among us, still a focus on undeniable biblical affinity for worship is a proverbial no-brainer. Means of assessment to aid leaders in evaluation processes are another common denominator among us. Leadership skill development, deeper understanding of music’s effect as a human artform, and lifestyle habits of the broader culture in which we serve – these are pretty safe territories of common interest among us. When it comes to music selection, aesthetic approach, evangelistic worship methodology, etc. we find it more challenging to address common needs.
I pray that in our shared ministry of helping facilitate gathered worship among Tennessee Baptists, more and more of us will purposefully find common ground upon which we join together in ministry through worship, even though we make application in very different ways. I pray we can learn more from one another, and that God will protect us from dismissive attitudes. Recent tragedies among us have served as stark reminders of the high value of fellowship, brotherhood, sisterhood, mutuality in ministry. If you have not done so, let me encourage you to read my other blogsite post this week, www.tunemyhearttosing.com and you will recognize the names of Jackie Vaughan and Tommy Moore, TMC brothers who ministered in special moments with John Norvell and his family last weekend. We could list the names of all the TLC and TMC members who sacrificed resources in that setting and so many others to minister to fellow ministers. I am convinced the Lord is pleased with this kind of fraternal involvement among us that fosters heart connection. Such overpowers stylistic differences, and models Christian love, even to those among whom each of us try to foster such in our own individual settings. I love when I can point to these kinds of things to say, “This is what churches are doing.”
Way too many Christians have the notion that worship is about their emotions. If worship were about emotions, then who would ever want to go to a funeral service, especially if they were feeling happy? That would just make them sad. If worship were about emotions, then who when hurting would want to go to a jubilee type celebration? That would just make them mad at those people who act so happy when they are feeling sad. Well, thanks be to God, worship is not about our emotions. Of course, we are human beings and we all have emotions. The Lord made us with that wonderful capacity of emotive expression and sensation. Worship certainly evokes emotions in and from us, and may well help us come to grips with emotions we are feeling. Worship itself, however, is not about our emotions. Rather, Christian worship is about Christ. Our Triune God is at work, as He has been in the past and continues into the future. He is Lord of all! Here is the way Robert Webber puts it so well:
God as the subject of worship acts through the truth of Christ proclaimed and enacted in worship to form me by the Spirit of God to live out the union I have with Jesus by calling me to die to sin and to live in the resurrection. Worship forms me and transforms my life to do God’s purposes in this life in this world, to the glory of God who created me in the first place, and re-created me and the whole community of faith to be the people of his own glory in this world now, and in the life of the world to come, forever.
Robert E. Webber, The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006), 238-239.
Last week I spent the week working with Watauga Baptist Association in their 36th annual Music School. What a joyous privilege! Every evening was filled with music, sweet fellowship, and preparation not only for the week, but helping church choirs get ready for their Easter season musical presentations. In many ways it would have to be considered glad times. While in the area I had opportunity to visit with worship music ministers, had brunch with Allen Bowling, and celebrated with Mikel Caywood as he welcomed a new grandchild in the world. Gladness!
Then on Thursday afternoon I got a call from Kevin Hamilton telling me devastating news, “Paul, I think Jane Norvell has been killed in a car accident.” What?? My mind would not wrap itself around that thought. Like any horrific news, it took a few hours to catch the breath of reality that this might be so. I tried to call John a couple of times and did finally get to talk with daughter Bethany. It was true. It was sad, hurtful, and still shocking. Follow up conversations with John helped move toward planning and preparation for a service of worship to be held Sunday afternoon. Could her TLC sisters come and sing? Would I help lead in the service? Ugh!! This hurts. Jane is gone from us? Now? We have much left to do. And John….my dear sweet brother, John. What will he do? How can he make it? I never see John without Jane. Oh Lord, please help John
Phone messages….texts…emails….Facebook….overwhelming. I called Ebbie to tell her. She wept….Jane was special…her words were simply, “I loved her.” My word was short, “yep.” Still hurts. Sadness.
But alas, in the midst of the hurt, there was more rehearsal and then a Friday night worship presentation with the Watauga choir(s). Moments spent with friends and colleagues, Deb Gouge, Larry Adams, pastors who sang in the choir all week….that’s right, I said Pastors who sang in the choir! No wonder, look at their encourager, who so encourages me as well, Director of Missions, Jack Roddy. More gladness, more joyful celebration of the Lord of life. More preparation to declare His ultimate victory. “O death, where is your sting?” “O grave, where is your victory?” Faith expressed in worship becoming faith found in worship. Thank you, dear Lord! Friday night’s ending worship at Grace Baptist Elizabethton was followed by a long drive back to middle Tennessee late at night. Time to talk privately with the Lord, sing in the car, and continue fervent prayers for John, Bethany, and Joseph. Meanwhile I am missing the East Tennessee Handbell Festival where Dan Arterburn is leading, while wife, Alice, waits in the hotel, still recovering from weeks of illness, and Charlotte is manning our station, although she too is fighting illness. Lord, help them. Lord, help us. We are weak, but You are strong.
Saturday morning – choir retreat in Mount Juliet with Silver Springs Baptist Church Choir and Minister of Music, young Chris Gregg. Another wonderful group of people, excited with their energetic young music ministry leader, accompanied by one of the sweetest pastor’s wives, Theresa Stephens. More gladness….this group sings out loud and strong. Vowels and consonant talk does not hinder them from singing their praise.
Sunday morning. Up early preparing for the Jackson trip. Early worship at Forest Hills. The Lord knows my need….no choir this morning…Chamber singers singing….I love to hear this fine group, and they are singing a beautiful song I don’t know, but hear important phrases for worship, “we catch our breath at Your glory.” Hmmm….what a thought….His glory renews our breath…astounded at His works. We sing the great hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, ladies sing the verse, “For the joy of human love, brother, sister, parent, child, friends on earth and friends above…” Jane….now friend above…”for all gentle thoughts and mild.” Sing on! “Lord of all to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise!” Gratitude and gladness…sermon from Mark 7-8 by pastor Sam Boyd recounts Jesus’ compassion. That is what Jesus is like. He is compassion.
On to Jackson. Finally get to hug John’s neck. Sadness. Open casket reveals that Jane has on her TLC blouse. Overwhelming. Sing on, dear sister!!!! Sing on!! Eighteen TLC make it to help lead the service as well as nine TMC guys supporting John – others came to visitation on Saturday and many phone calls. This is part of our ministry to one another. Then the service of worship. Powerful testimony of Jane’s life coupled with lots of music, Be Still and Know, Bow the Knee, A Mighty Fortress, O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus, and then the finale, packed congregation stand and sing to raise the roof, In Christ Alone. Yes!! Yes!! In Christ alone my hope is found! Yes! Yes!
Worship is not about me, my emotions, my needs, my wants. It is Christ alone!!
“Til He returns, or calls me home, Here in the pow’r of Christ, I stand.” Doxology! All creatures here below, above ye heavenly host, praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!! Amen!
One of my colleagues of the Tennessee Baptist Convention staff, Lana Rose, relates to the Tennessee Baptist Secretaries Association, as part of her TBC responsibilities. A longtime member and former officer of that organization, Sharon Ramsey, is undergoing chemo treatment for cancer. In a show of support, Lana recently shaved her own head in order to identify with Sharon’s situation, using the act as a means of expressing her support and love. Sharon and Lana have a relationship that began rooted in their common ministry as secretaries. As would seem obvious, over the years that relationship has grown on its own merit and continues to be expressed in mutual love and respect. The fellowship and professional organization, TBCSA, obviously serves to build a network of church servants, but it also fosters relationships of love and support like we see between Sharon and Lana.
Of course there is a very similar organization for Tennessee Baptist music leaders, the Tennessee Baptist Church Music Conference. This is the umbrella organization that serves as official sponsor of our two performing choirs, the Tennessee Ladies Chorus and Tennessee Mens Chorale. I love the fellowship that is fostered in these groups and its parent organization, and was thrilled when our state Baptist newspaper, The Baptist & Reflector, determined to post an article on TBCMC’s past President, Allen Bowling, and asked me to write an accompanying article informing others of the relationship and ministry of the TBCMC. Editor, Lonnie Wilkey took a very personal interest in Allen’s story, expressing concern for the circumstances surrounding Allen’s illness, as well as some prevailing challenges given his resignation from his church position. You can see the article here:
As I write this post I am actually preparing to head over to Allen’s house to take him for a late morning trip to the Waffle House. It will be good to visit. Scott Andrews has been especially attentive to Allen’s situation given their longtime relationship and partnership in serving churches as well as their TMC involvements. Our entire TBCMC organization have prayed regularly for Allen and his family, as has been the case for others who have faced challenges to health, financial stability, career disruptions, and illness or loss of family. Of course members also enjoy sharing the joy of celebrating landmark church service anniversaries, significant ministry accomplishments, and special family life events, as well. It is much more than a professional organization, although that is part of the function of TBCMC. There is a shared sense of calling and ministry to a particular kind of service in the life of the church, and in the work of the Kingdom. Those who have the responsibility to call God’s people into times of shared praise through music expression know a similar sensibility to life, art, and ultimately to the Spirit. I believe this shared common sensibility is why the groups so readily make wonderful music together, and why there is such a sweet spirit of cooperative effort and fellowship anytime they come together.
On May 2, the Tennessee Ladies Chorus and Tennessee Mens Chorale will present a concert at Grace Baptist Church in Tullahoma. Their Worship Pastor is current President for TBCMC, Michael Brown. The concert will be an evening of great music that praises our Savior and proclaims the Gospel message, inviting all to worship through music. But what’s more, on that day there will be a gathering of music ministry leaders from churches across the state who share a special fellowship that is largely rooted in a common service ministry through music and seeking to lead others in worship and praise of our Lord. It is a shared ministry that by its very nature places God and others before self. Such is the posture of worship. Church secretaries assist ministry in their churches by preparing weekly worship bulletins, recording numerical statistics to help monitor the church’s finances and numerical health, and engage in countless other behind the scenes (often thankless) jobs. Music Ministry leaders usually have a higher profile role in the church body, planning and leading worship through music, organizing and leading music forces of various kinds, but the spirit of service is very similar. What’s more, the common bond among those who serve in these roles are similar. They are strong as we follow the very nature of the One our service is ultimately about, the One Who came not to be served, but to serve.
If you are a Tennessee Baptist Music Ministry Leader, do not miss out on the fellowship and shared ministry and mission in this organization of fellow servants. Whether you are in a time of high celebration, or special need for love and support, you will find a fellowship and bond of common service. See: www.tbcmc.org
Everyone likes to think about worship in relation to the happy times. More than one preacher has asked me to start services off by “getting ‘em up on their feet – make it upbeat!” Well, sorry sirs, but there are times when Happy Clappy is completely inappropriate. When the music of our worship helps us express the sense of our souls the truth is that there are times when our need is to express lament. Most likely there are some in our congregations on any given Sunday who have that need. We therefore may want to factor in a broader emotive expression week in and week out in our gathered worship. Granted, there may be Sundays when the overarching spirit is celebration, but there are also those weeks when sadness and hurt are dominant in a congregation’s journey. As a reminder, the psalms are filled with expressions of wide ranging emotional manifestations.
This past week has been filled with heavy emotions in the Tennessee Baptist family. One of our music ministers lost his wife following her long battle with cancer. Other music leaders have parents who are battling longterm disease and special challenges to their health. Undoubtedly, the most dramatic events in the Tennessee Baptist family were those surrounding the tragedy at Union University when a 21-year-old music education student was found dead in her car from a gunshot wound. What first was thought to be a suicide was later reported to appear to be a homicide followed by staging of the crime scene to make it appear as a suicide. The young lady’s fiance, a Union senior Christian Studies major, has been charged with the crime. Yet more deep sadness and sheer confusion. Intrigue as to details are certainly superseded by the anguish felt by the entire Baptist community from the university to the girl’s home church, First Baptist Dyersburg. No tidbit of insider information could ever remotely make up for the pain of a family who has lost a daughter to senseless death, a family who may have lost a son to prison and scorn, or a university with a stellar record as Christian institution who must now focus to help students cope with happenings that lead to deep remorse and hurt. There are no easy answers here, and no simplistic explanations that will suffice. To the contrary, all involved must embrace the severity of this reality and pray that somehow in God’s infinite wisdom and grace there will be deliverance through it all.
Not surprisingly, I have been impressed and encouraged by the response of faculty, administration, staff, and fellow students in this tragic scenario. The thoughtful and deliberate response of Dr. David Dockery, Dr. Todd Brady, and others is not terribly surprising. They have had to respond to tragedy before. Their patterns of grace-filled care for the Union family are well established. My own familiarity with music faculty and staff likewise lead me to observe what I would expect from these deeply committed pastorally sensitive persons, Dr. Chris Mathews and Sandy Currin to mention just two. I find even more encouragement, however, in what I see in the ongoing response from students, who perhaps feel the hurt of the loss in a unique way. In a very real sense their response reflects back on all the other aforementioned staff, administrators, and faculty. Several of them have posted on Facebook texts of classic hymns, rich lyrics from anthem literature, verse and refrain of the best of modern worship songs, and sections of Psalms and other scripture filled with words of comfort and hope. What we are seeing in these posts are the bearing out of what has been internalized. They are exemplary reminders that “what goes in comes out.” When I read students’ Facebook posts that include texts from hymns like “I Need Thee Every Hour,” “Be Thou My Vision,” “Day by Day and With Each Passing Moment,” “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” and modern song of comfort, “Still, My Soul Be Still,” I am strengthened to know that these students are turning to their faith. I am also grately encouraged to know they are finding strength in these lyrics. This is surely a polemic for continuing the use of hymns of the faith that carry rich and weighty truth.
Please join in praying for the Union University family. Pray for the Music School especially as we have such special connection with them as fellow musicians. May we all be reminded through this tragedy that we help others worship in times of gladness and sadness, and as such we need to be prepared for celebration and lament. Even so, help us, Lord.
A week ago I had the privilege to worship with Madison Avenue Baptist Church in Maryville, and spend the day with the family of our brother, Sam Wagner. I told the church I would have come just to spend the day with the Wagners, but it was a blessing to share in worship leadership on the Sunday that the church first used its 2008 Baptist Hymnals, to share the platform with Sam, and Senior Pastor, Dr. Glenn Cummings. I was further privileged to offer a book overview to a Discipleship class that Sam and Kelly will be leading using Tune My Heart to Sing Thy Grace, and then shared platform with Sam again Sunday evening, and sharing a message on worship singing as a unified church body. I love this church, their leadership, and appreciate the opportunity as well as the warm reception. Two important reasons that contribute to the connection are first, Sam’s faithful participation in TBC activities as part and parcel of his worship music ministry – singing in TMC, youth music events, handbell festivals, roundtables, and Music Ministry Leadership Conference to name a few. His participation allows me the joy of knowing him and his ministry better. Having been to his services several times over the years, and among his folks gives me a stronger sense of his ministry effect. What a joy!
Serving for the day last Sunday at Madison Avenue, combined with several other activities of this past week has served to remind me of a simple, yet profound truth. That truth is that only God can renew worship. We can (and most do) work very hard at planning, preparing, practicing, and leading out in gathered worship for our churches. These are all very important aspects of serving the body of Christ known as our local churches. The necessary ingredient for transformative effect, however, is the power and presence of the Holy Spirit active in the life of the worship, and the lives of the worshipers. This means that we must come to God in prayer to ask His empowerment, His work, His blessing, and then trust Him for results. Engaging in that prayerful attitude takes place during every phase of the aforementioned activities – planning, preparing, practicing, and leading out. I believe that we also need a personal set aside time of prayer and reflection that engages us in listening as well as addressing. Such a time might be achieved through personal retreat, set aside time and place in our home, or other means of stilling the outside noises. One reason I advocate such a set aside time is realization that in the other phases of worship preparation there is continued temptation, if you will, to convert everything to work application. If not careful, we can end up living our lives for ourselves to gain influence and status (even as a “worship leader”) and try to hide our self-aggrandizement behind an overtly spiritualized demeanor. And after all, who will know?
Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks upon the heart. We who help facilitate the gathered worship of God’s people, need to steal away and lay our hearts open before Him. He alone can bring about renewal in worship, for only He can transform lives and life. And isn’t that, after all, what we are about in our pastoral ministry?
It does my heart good to be around fellow worship pastor-ministers, like Sam Wagner, who are not afraid to embrace the mystery of our area of ministry, and to serve with patience and diligence in the fields assigned through our calling. There is something very affirming about the fellowship stirred in the freedom of knowing our Sovereign Lord has ultimate control as we seek to faithfully serve.