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
As a local church music minister I was sufficiently astute to realize on Choir High Attendance Sunday I needed to be sure to plan a featured anthem or performative ministry opportunity for the choir. On my long list of stupid things I tried during my days as a staff minister was a congregational singing emphasis where I decided the choir would focus solely on helping the congregation’s singing. Week by week I watched the choir attendance go down despite my impassioned pleas of ever increasing spiritual ferver. I never really decided whether the problem was a kind of immaturity, a poor process for orienting the choir to its mission and ministry in the first place, or just a simple fact of life that I would just have to live with. Regardless of the cause, I did get a bit more response when we began using choir to dress up the congregational arrangements, adding descants, counter melodies, and that sort of thing. During the emphasis I called a couple of choir members whose response to my call, like their lack of participation in choir during the emphasis, surprised me. One just said flat out, “I don’t feel like it is that important if we are just leading congregational singing.” She went on in a scolding voice to explain how many years the choir had done a “special” (one of my favorite liturgical terms). While I did and do understand what she was saying, I was and am disturbed by the attitude reflected in the response and even more disturbed by the misunderstanding of “just leading congregational singing.” I have decided the word “just” should be banned from worship discussions. I have heard it used before other worship acts like baptism, the sermon, offertory, and even Lord’s Supper. Something wrong about saying “just the Lord’s Supper,” etc.
Well, in this same light, let’s reflect upon this year’s TBC SUMMIT. Tuesday morning, bright and early, and there we were in the choir loft (those of us who were present). Not a lot of bodies in the congregation at 8:15am, although many more than the 75 in the room when the TMC started singing at 1:15pm Tuesday afternoon. We had about 100 of us in the loft Tuesday morning to “just lead congregational singing” behind Keith & Kristyn Getty and the band. Keith’s comment to me following the Tuesday morning session, “the choir makes all the difference.” I agree! One of our singers said to me, “it sure helps to have a whole choir loft full of worship leaders singing the songs.” Well, frankly, yes it does. And that brings me back to the point I want to make. Leading congregational singing should always be an understood central aspect of a choir’s ministry in worship. It is not “just leading.” It is LEADING! A solo voice on a microphone is not the same as a group leading a group. And when there is a solo voice on microphone, for good congregational singing that voice cannot completely dominate the room. Kristyn’s pure tones and humble spirit is a great example. A good example of group leading was on display by those of you who ministered at the Nashville Rescue Mission Monday night, or at Forest Hills Sunday night. The singing was full-throated praise. There were tears as well as other open expressions of passionate engagement in the congregation as in the loft.
The choir leads in congregational singing by model, by setting the tone in demeanor and of course by projecting the melody as well as harmonizing as appropriate. As the brand new Getty hymn, My Worth Is Not in What I Own, was sung last Tuesday morning, the strains from the choir first began to waft across that huge sanctuary. The simplicity and timbre of the acoustic accompaniment allowed the sound of voices to float, and I sensed a growing confidence in singing the hymn, especially as we arrived at the refrain each time. A great example of choir leading congregation. Though I have had other opportunities to experience this new hymn, the result of Tuesday for me was that this song continued to linger in my mind and spirit. In the midst of personal struggle with challenges of family health and well-being issues coupled with other pressures, I found renewal in that repeating theme,
I rejoice in my Redeemer,
Greatest Treasure, Wellspring of my soul.
I will trust in Him, no other
My soul is satisfied in Him alone.
–K&K Getty and Graham Kendrick
Worship ministers, be sure and teach your choir to lead congregational singing – and perhaps keep on doing “specials” along the way as well when appropriate. Thanks to all who helped to lead at the SUMMIT!
I remember a time when it seemed to me that music ministry might have been described as downhill. In my experience, church music in the 80’s and 90’s was largely characterized by full choir lofts, growing interest in instrumental music ministry, parental support for children and youth choirs, and congregational as well as pastoral support for music ministry. A special seasonal or general program of music in a Sunday night service often meant a full house of worshipers and guests anticipating inspiration and encouragement through music. Often response to such an evening included open and private expressions of appreciation to musicians and leaders. It was good to be a church musician. Pedaling downhill is pretty easy. Sometimes the name of the game is just keeping up, knowing when to pedal and when to just glide. Sweet!
Again, perhaps I have romanticized remembrances of attitudes and results during the time frame thought of as the heyday of church music ministry. As to its actual long-term value to the churches, I would say there is room to speculate on several levels with pros and cons. I will leave that speculation to your reflection and perhaps to another blogpost. For now, though, I want to fast forward to present day and consider some of the challenges we face in the current environment of music ministry, and then think outloud with you briefly about a preferred future.
Nowadays many of our churches have put to rest what we termed “worship wars,” and have either decided to divide into multiple stylistic venues, or have converged into an inclusive format in one worship service, using an inclusive practice. Based on experience from my rather unique perspective I would have to say on a positive note that many leaders have recognized a need to change the conversation from music style to worship substance. This is a transition I applaud and seek to engender when given the opportunity. On a less than positive note, I would have to say that often, though the war has settled for the moment, a skirmish lurks just beneath the surface in settings where templates for worship environments have been put in place more by fiat than by honest and open healthy leadership methods. Just because a church or its music ministry has been bullied into marching in step with that which is demanded by an autocratic pastoral leader, or by a controlling interest group within the body, does not mean the church has settled the issue of how the church will worship together.
In current settings where stylistic tensions continue to exist, whether public or behind the scenes, a high price is being paid for this “luxury” of maintaining unresolved tensions. The price is often the dissolution of, or impotent support for once resplendent music ministry organizations. In the interest of winning the stylistic battle, parishioners may torpedo support of music ministry organizations that look and feel too much like something that would serve a stylistic mode other than the one they support. Why encourage teenagers to be part of a youth choir when rock band style groups are the preferred style (or craze). Likewise, if I really desire youth choir to be rekindled and attention and resourcing is being given to foster student worship bands, then I may withhold or offer only tepid support for that kind of ministry development. Of course there are many other factors weighing heavily in this conflict: schedules and activities for sports and school performance groups are relentless and demanding. Whereas parents of a generation ago might stand up to school and community leaders to say, “church comes first!” today’s parents seem more likely to confront church leaders either by clear declaration, “my kid is playing ball at that time!” or by undeclared allegiance that non-coincidently always places the child or student in the secular setting of achievement first.
It is in this current dilemma where we find ourselves, and where we must find and define our ministry. I am of the persuasion that we must have conviction that is biblically founded, and unrelenting. Staking our claim on solid ground of biblical truth and observed practice will help us convey our convictions as such. It is important that we write them, publish them, communicate them through multiple means to those who would join us in shared ministry. We must get them before our pastors and church leaders to establish our direction within the parameters of the authority we are given, and with an appeal for those who lead us to give sanction to our direction.
So what is our preferred future of church music ministry? I believe moving forward we must continue to relentlessly pursue worship ministry as the priority, and place our ministry of music under that larger umbrella while at once not equating the two, worship and music. They are not synonymous. Similarly, we must further develop music ministry as a means of discipleship growth and expression, and demonstrate its effectiveness as such. Likewise, our mission and ministry application of music as ministry will need to be adapted to the kinds of missional settings available to us, and we will need to find ways of demonstrating its effectiveness. This means working up music that proclaims in settings available to us, whether prisons, schools, or Summer campground areas. We may need to utilize music and music-making as a tool for evangelistic outreach. Teaching musical skills in a wholesome environment may lead to opportunities for Gospel sharing and evangelization. Customization of music ministry to our unique settings I believe to be a key to healthy forward movement. Similarly, we as ministers will need to be flexible in ministry aptitude and application, such that we may function in multiple ministry leadership roles, utilizing each of these to foster healthy worship practices.
These are my thoughts. What are yours?
According to that great seedbed of authority, Wiktionary (yeah, I had never heard of it either), the phrase “Strike while the iron is hot” means to act on an opportunity promptly while favorable conditions exist. Its more literal meaning comes from metallurgy, meaning to strike a hot piece of metal, especially iron, with a mallet or other tool before it cools, while it is still hot enough to be shaped. Well, since I am not planning to stoke up a fire to meltdown one of my cars, let me reference the idiomatic meaning. While this post is promotional in nature, it is also very much in keeping with the point of this blog, to address worship renewal in our churches in Tennessee Baptist life. What I need to promote is your participation in coming events surrounding the Summit, the gathering of Tennessee Baptists in Brentwood for our annual meeting, which includes Sunday night worship concert by the Tennessee Mens Chorale at Forest Hills Baptist Church, Monday rehearsals of Tennessee Ladies Chorus and TMC, Monday evening ministry for the Nashville Rescue Mission, and involvements and opportunities at the Annual TBC Meeting itself, singing with Keith & Kristyn Getty, leading worship through the day, and also participation of teen students in the Tuesday evening session. Let me address the worship renewal relatedness first, then I’ll do my promo:
My heartbeat and calling is related to worship renewal. Sure, at the state level we have music activities and events, and training, and I care much about these, but these reside inside a much larger picture, Trinitarian Christian worship. While some might prefer that we just stick to concern about music and music-making, there is a much larger concern. Music can be effective in many regards, but music itself cannot transform a life. Like other art forms and other means of expressive communication, music, at its best, points us ultimately toward the Creator. Therefore, even when we are making music together, or trying to help one another be better musicians and leaders of musicians in our churches, the intention is for these things to serve a larger purpose than the music-making alone. When people believe your primary role to be “just a music-maker” it can be challenging to draw the conversation to that larger encompassing sphere where music-making, like preaching, like discipleship, like mission, like evangelism, serves the ultimate purpose, the glory of God, Worship. Therefore, when given opportunity to offer some demonstration of ways music participates in that larger conversation, and to capitalize on such as an aspect of demonstrating how worship might be renewed, then we must “strike while the iron is hot.” I am looking at these coming opportunities as such moments, but they are hardly moments I can fulfill on my own. Rather, they are doors open for us to make our shared statement as a unified voice. Below are listed these opportunities and what I need you to prayerfully consider as actions of shared ministry and participation in Tennessee Worship & Music Ministry:
Sunday, November 9 – Tennessee Mens Chorale Concert of Worship Music at Forest Hills Baptist Church Nashville – Wayne Causey, Host
In my 14 years at TBC, no one has been a better friend to me, or a more loyal friend and brother to music ministers across our state than Wayne Causey. Forest Hills has hosted more retreats, worship and music events than any one church in the state. Our concert of worship music provides opportunity to say, “thank you” to Wayne and to the church, as well as providing a wonderful space in which to sing and offer thankful praise to God. Forest Hills church is full of very fine musicians with high appreciation for all styles (thanks to Wayne), and I believe this worship time will be a blessing to all involved, and best of all, an offering of worship to Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit.
Your Part – register now to sing, full schedule at www.tnworshipandmusic.org
Monday, November 10 – TMC and TLC Rehearsals at First Baptist Church Nashville (Joe Fitzpatrick and Laurie Hall hosts) and Missional Ministry to Nashville Rescue Mission Nashville
Thanks to outgoing president Michael Brown for his vision and leadership in setting up this opportunity for TLC and TMC to share our musical message with homeless and needful people at the Nashville Rescue Mission. Singing the Good News to these who hunger physically, as well as spiritually, will be as much a blessing to us as them. Worship through musical ministry.
Your Part – register and make plans to be present for this powerful application of music missions
Tuesday, November 11 – Summit Tennessee Baptist Convention worship leadership with Keith & Kristyn Getty at Brentwood Baptist Church (Dennis Worley, host)
TLC and TMC will join with our friends, the Gettys, for leading our convention in worship singing. You know how rich their songs are for worship. This is a great opportunity for us to commend them to pastors and other church leaders from all over the state. What’s more, worship leaders have opportunity to meet with Keith for lunch and hear more about new hymns, projects, and state of congregational singing from this Christian hymnwriter and thinker. TMC will be back in the loft to lead the afternoon session and as we sing, there will be photos from the Italy mission.
Your Part – get registered and plan to sing and spend the day together with the Gettys, presenting music for worship and inspiration, and engaging in a lunch gathering that will include many Nashville area worship pastors of all faith traditions.
Tuesday, November 11 – Youth Project Singers in Evening Session at Summit under direction of Cliff Duren, followed by Hilldale Baptist Clarksville and Lyndel Littleton leadership.
We need youth singers who can sing from your churches, whether you sang in this year’s Youth Project or not. We are doing 5 anthems, directed by Cliff Duren. This is an opportunity for pastors and church leaders to see many students (if you get them there) singing as part of a choir for worship. Great arrangements that you will get for a great discounted cost. Establish practice of involving teens in making music together with others – they may end up in college together, who knows?
Your Part – get your students together, register through Charlotte Hanson to sing, get music through Charlotte at deep discount, get mp3 files on dropbox link from me. Get parents and sponsors to help get your students to and from event.
Monday, December 22 – Joy! An Irish Christmas at Schermerhorn Symphony Center with Keith & Kristyn Getty, Ricky Skaggs, and Others.
This will be our third time to sing this special event that will sellout the symphony hall, and presents music to the Nashville music community, including major record label owners, Nashville dignitaries, and a list of who’s who in the music industry. We already have more than 70 TLC and a few less TMC singers (just kidding….you guys need to sign up NOW!)
Your Part – register with Charlotte to sing. Limited number of spaces as we invite Nashville area choral singers to join us. Get the music and rehearsal recordings from Paul via dropbox and learn the music (3 open rehearsals November 6, 20, and Dec 18 at Forest Hills Choir Room)
Join with us as we minister together NOW, while the iron is hot.
A week ago Sunday I joined the Middle Tennessee members of the Tennessee Mens Chorale worshiping and leading in a time of open discussion with a Baptist Church in Rome, Italy, Teatro Valle Baptist Church. Of course, we sang as chorale members, as did East and West Tennessee music ministers in other locations across the city and area. We presented several of our songs as seemed appropriate to the liturgical flow of the service designed by Pastor Herbert. Wayne Causey led our Middle Tennessee group. A favorite part for most of us was when we sang together with members of the congregation, we Americans either trying our best to read Italian words, or sometimes each singing in his or her native tongue. Worshiping with brothers and sisters in another part of the world, even though understanding may be limited, is non-the-less effectual in that we know we are praising and worshiping in Jesus’ Name. The pastor spoke some English, as did a few congregation members, but communications was a challenge through the day. However, extra effort was given by all as we worshiped, fellowshipped around the table, and then entered a time of open discussions – which, by the way, takes longer when everything is repeated in two languages.
It was not long into our discussion time that animated voices speaking Italian sounded eerily like voices I have heard in many of our churches in Tennessee. Of course, I could not understand the words these folks were saying until the pastor interpreted for us. Nevertheless, I could tell we had stepped upon the tender spot of talking about differences regarding worship music styles. Let me hasten to say it is not exactly the same in Italy as in the U.S., though many components come down to the same personality and sensibility issues as we often see at home. One of the aspects of this entire project has been the joy of getting to know and encourage, as well as be encouraged by Carlo Lella, who serves as the Minister of Music for the Italian Baptist Union. We got to compare notes, share common issues and pray for one another in our work. We both strongly desire that the church would renew her song of worship in unity and fellowship. The primary word Carlo used to describe the situation in Italian churches was “complicated.” Indeed, it is. We both noted that it is less problematic to sing and worship in two languages foreign to the ear than it is to try and resolve issues of personality and musical language differences.
Our trip was so filled with blessings and answers to prayers of people praying at home, as well as fulfillment of desired outcomes and prayers there on the field. Time and again the Tennessee Mens Chorale began to warm up in empty rooms or street locations, only to begin singing and see those spaces fill with people. We literally ministered and witnessed to people from all over the world through our time in Italy. As I reflect back over the days together I am more determined than ever to the mission and ministry to which God has called me and I believe has called us. I was profoundly reminded how effective it is when brothers in Christ lay aside any differences of language and style to defer to Christ and one another and the mission at hand above any personal preference of musical taste. I was reminded just how attractive servanthood is as brothers and sisters demonstrate Christlike care. We saw it in so many ways. All this makes the music just that much more beautiful and effective. The Prayer of Mother Teresa of Calcutta was more than just great devotional material as Michael shared it with us, and/or song lyric as we sang it in those different settings. It was an effectual prayer that I believe the Lord answered. I pray that the effects will be lasting including settings like that mentioned above in the churches where differences over styles and sensibilities continue to plague God’s people. Our worship wars must cease to be battles over what music we sing, and instead become the battle against powers of darkness that would distract us from raising up Jesus, gazing upon Him, and placing our full trust In Christ Alone!
For those of you unable to make the trip, whether TMC, TLC, or interested Tennessee Baptist, we thank you for your involvement through prayer and concern. Please continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in Italy, even as we also pray that we will be effective and bold witnesses to Christ’s saving love here in Tennessee.