WORSHIP CELEBRATIONS OF CHURCH ANNIVERSARIES – A HEALTHY PRACTICE

Hillcrest Quartet Does your church know how to celebrate? I am sure not referring to any artificially inseminated atmosphere of hype. I am talking about the Sabbath pause to truly give God the glory for the great things He has done. To stop, remember and reflect on moments, seasons, periods of true outpouring of God’s Spirit among the fellowship of believers is critical to a church’s health. There are plenty of special occasions that call for such celebrations. When the era of a pastor’s leadership comes to a close or likewise the transition of a staff member or volunteer it just makes sense to celebrate what the Lord has done. Another great occasion can be the celebration of special anniversaries of a congregation denoting the passing of a given number of years that the church has engaged in Gospel witness, worship, and disciple-making.

This latter celebration was the occasion that has spawned my thinking regarding the subject as I was privileged to participate last Sunday in a celebration of the 70th anniversary and homecoming service for Hillcrest Baptist Church in Jackson. It was a special day of remembrance, of celebration, of offering praise, and hearing biblical truth from God’s Word proclaimed. In other words, it was worship of the living and sustaining God as these are the very components of the church at worship. Think about it:

  • Remembrance – the Old and New Testament open to us the very story of God, which is a story of His deliverance and thus the ongoing remembrance of how He has worked in creation, in claiming a people to be His people, in the full story of redemption sending His only son, taking upon Himself our sin and paying the price upon the cross for our forgiveness, ascending and making intercession for us at the right hand of the Father, sending His Spirit, establishing the Church, promising His sure return and ultimate victory. From the Garden to the Red Sea to Joseph to prophets to a baby in a manger to a cross, an empty tomb, a gathering of belivers, to a commission and an expectant church awaiting a second coming. In worship we remember.  But we also remember what he has done among us. Hillcrest looked at their beginning days, recalled the original vision, remembered all their pastor leaders, looked at pictures of their meeting places, and recalled the lives of people who poured themselves into the life and ministry of this faith family.
  • Celebration – Dr Jerry Welch, pastor of Hillcrest for the past twenty-two years recognized past pastors of the church, staff members, and others who had contributed in specific ways to the church. Video testimonies were shared reflecting on experiences over the years.
  • Praise through singing, expressions of fellowship, and the general spirit of the day were central in the response to consideration of what the Lord has done and continues to do in His church
  • Preaching of the Word Dr Welch shared the providential timing in his sermon series which on this day was addressing Ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church. He took his message from Matthew 16:13-20, an important reminder to the church of who she is, whose she is, how she came about, and where her hope lies for a future.
  • Response and fellowship opportunity for spiritual commitment, singing as the family of God and then a long-anticipated fellowship meal (aka dinner on the grounds) followed around tables of fellowship.

This day stirred much for me personally as it was in this church family under the pastoral tutelage of Dr Welch’s father, Brother James “Jimmy” Welch, that I answered the call to Gospel ministry while serving as part time music director. My “little brother,” Ricky followed me in that role, and on this day I was blessed to sit next to Ricky and his wife, Sandra in worship. That is a humbling privilege that does not happen often, and so I count it a rich joy when it does. I got to see ol’ high school buddies, fraternity brothers, members from other churches where I served, and just the rich fellowship of God’s people gathered with no pretense, no one to impress, but deep gratitude for what God has done in our lives through His church over many years. The tone was clearly set by Pastor Jerry Welch and Music Minister Marty Phillips for this service of gratitude and celebration.

I highly recommend that churches pay attention to anniversaries and landmark opportunities to pause and gather worship around celebrating to Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the earth hear His voice….and give Him the glory! Great things He hath done!

TRANSITIONS ARE NOT EASY

Charlotte phone I have heard leadership speakers say that people do not really mind change.  It’s the transition they have a hard time accepting. I believe there is truth in that, and I am in that position as the era of Charlotte Hanson serving as my faithful ministry assistant comes to a close after 13 and a half years. Preparing for the change has also given me cause to reminisce. Charlotte has been there during the good and the bad over these years. She was there during the early days of the Tennessee Ladies Chorus, which had already begun when she came on board but was an organization still in formative days. It was great help for me to have a woman with ministry sensitivity and was part of that group who was in close proximity. Her support with that ministry has been invaluable as all TLC singers well know. Likewise she has been a welcoming face when preparing for events of the Tennessee Mens Chorale, and an enthusiastic support for that group. Charlotte stood with Worship & Music ministry as we faced the disappointing decision to cease children’s and youth music camps. That would not be the last sense of ministry loss we would face. She has joined the lament when music ministry leaders have left our state, have been dismissed from their position, and she has joined me in mourning at the passing away of brothers and sisters with whom we have shared ministry.Charlotte and Allie

Of course there have been many joyful experiences to share over the same thirteen year period as well, and anyone who knows Charlotte knows she likes to celebrate. Her optimism has been an important boost to the atmosphere in and out of the office. She has been involved in each of our mission endeavors for Tennessee Ladies Chorus and Tennessee Mens Chorale. She has celebrated the production of new recordings. She helped research copyright and license details for three of our four recordings, and has worked with every set of officers for the Tennessee Baptist Church Music Conference to coordinate meetings, CD sales, online dues & fees, holding accounts for travel, and event registrations as needed. Charlotte has shared in the singing, clapping, and yelling of “Oh!” for each of the Joy! An Irish Christmas presentations at the Schermerhorn Symphony Hall. She has been integral to every MMLC, TLC and/or TMC concert, Youth Project and Kids Choral Connection and has kept me ready with resources for roundtables, retreats, worship renewal weekends, and a host of other events that have come down the pike through this time frame. What’s more, she has brought the same smiling and enthusiastic spirit to it all. Her spirit has helped make days that were especially challenging a bit more bearable and sometimes even fun despite it all. All of this she has done while dealing with a disease of the nervous system, though in remission – Praise the Lord!

Most importantly, Charlotte has approached her work with us as ministry and as worship. Her spirit and interest in worship has allowed us both to function in a manner of thankful living. Each of us has experienced serious challenges with our health, and have depended on one another for prayerful support and practical help covering the bases when needed. We have shared in our families’ growing, compared notes as parents and grandparents, and generally learned to celebrate life together through our work and through our relationship as co-workers. As we walk through days of transition here I will miss her, but will always value the immense contribution she has made to our ministry and to me.

It occurs to me that all those who serve alongside ministry support partners must take pause from time to time to assess the value of serving together. While it would seem senseless to walk around tossing accolades every few minutes for work done, assistance given, and support offered, it makes all the sense in the world to live out a spirit of gratitude toward those who serve with us, and to share the ministry with them to the full extent appropriate. I pray that Charlotte has received that spirit and blessing from me, and knows just how truly grateful I am for the time we have shared ministry. I know the Lord has great plans for what’s next for Charlotte and for us as we prepare to orient someone new to all of this.Charlotte and PC at MMLC farewell

Now for the transition………..

MINISTRY AS WORSHIP

Grant CaywoodToday (Monday) began a challenging week for our Worship & Music Ministry office and for me. The usual stresses say it is business as usual. There are reports to get turned in, emails to answer, churches to assist, ministry brothers and sisters who need support, appointments to keep, etc., etc. It’s all there just like the normal Monday that begins a new week. Ah! But there is more this week. First of all, this begins Charlotte’s last official week in the office. That brings a kind of sadness, a kind of flurry, and a kind of panic. And that sentence just describes my sentiments. I will have more reflection to share on Charlotte’s 13 years of ministry with us in coming posts, but a couple of other challenges this week deserve attention.  First off, there is the question of who will be “the next Charlotte.” Of course, we know there is only one Charlotte, but prayerfully and carefully reviewing prospective candidates who are sufficiently qualified and demonstrate a potential for loving the work of ministry including the gritty details is a high priority, and a decision I take very seriously.   Secondly, there is an important concert of the Tennessee Mens this Thursday in Fairfield Glade at First Baptist Church. I know this does not involve all who read this column (and why not?) but there is a wider principle related to worship in Tennessee Baptist life that applies here, so I will address it for your consideration, and ask you to seriously consider its implications and pray concerning your own response to the same.

Last January I attended the memorial service for Grant Caywood at First Baptist Church Faifield Glade where he had served as Minister of Music prior to his passing. I will not reiterate what took place in that service except to point you to a past blogpost in which I wrote in reference to the service and some of its dynamics. At that service, however, I sensed a need to minister to this family in a more tangible way. I also wanted to affirm Pastor Leonard Markham and the loving church at Fairfield Glade, and the vision of TMC singing a concert there was born in my heart’s eye. I spoke to Dr Markham and his wife following the service and they were very responsive as to the value for the church and community. When it was time to calendar the event commitments made in the whispers of my prayers began the challenging process of becoming commitments that lead to actual ministry. Instead of a good idea we were asking that schedules be adjusted, sacrifices be made, priorities be rearranged. That is what happens when vision is acted upon. It costs something.

You may think this over-spiritualizing a simple concert, but I think principal applies to everything you and I do in ministry. My conviction is that acts of ministry are acts of worship, offerings to the Lord of our time, talents, resources, energy, creativity, and all that we are. This is not motivational babble, brothers and sisters – this is theological conviction with biblical foundation. The principals apply to members of your choir and worship ministry just as they apply to you as members of TLC and TMC:

  1. Costly ministry demonstrates our desire to give God our best. 2 Samuel 24 is oft quoted to remind us that God surely deserves our best. Our sacrifice does not make us worthy, but it engages us in Christlikeness in which we reflect His glory, which is at the core of worship’s intent.
  1. Sacrificial ministry shows our faith in God to provide our needs. “Making time” to be involved in ministry shows we know who truly makes time and can multiply its effectiveness as Lord of all time. (Phil 4:19; Matt 6)
  1. Giving in sacrifice is a means of demonstrating our love for Christ. True love revealed in Jesus considers no cost too great. (John 3:16)
  1. Giving in sacrifice demonstrates our regard for the majesty and power of God by our esteem and respect in making the time for ministry to happen no matter what we must lay down to show Him. (Luke 9:23-25)

I often hear about how difficult it is to do ministry in our day because of how busy our lives have become. I live in that difficulty as a choir member myself, and as a leader calling you to sacrifice as well. All the more reason this is a golden time to reflect Christ by identifying with his sacrifice.

When I was at that funeral I had a vision for ministry at Fairfield Glade to make His praise glorious, not only through a sound made in a sanctuary, but through a demonstration of Christlike sacrifice made by a group of men whose lives are filled with busy-ness, but who would trust the one who makes time to “make time” for them to come from the four corners of the state to give their time, talent, and best effort to minister to a family, church, and community as brothers in Christ as an act of genuine Christian worship.

WORSHIP MUSIC CONFERENCE – WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE?

MMLC Worship 2015 According to Merriam-Webster.com “conference” is a noun meaning a formal meeting in which many people gather in order to talk about ideas or problems related to a particular topic. Sounds pretty true to what was planned for last Friday and Saturday at Brentwood Baptist Church at the Music Ministry Leadership Conference….but that really is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg as to what actually occurred in the weekend event. Granted, we planned and prayed for inspiring worship, informative class sessions, meaningful fellowship, and effective ministry, and those seem like lofty goals. I have to confess that if someone had told me, “Paul, we were inspired in worship, learned from our classes, enjoyed being with other music leaders, and sensed that we gave and received a measure of ministry” I would have been tickled pink. I would have felt it was a good conference. Mission accomplished. But as is often the case, real life responses .

Instead, I was awestruck at what I was told by a couple of faculty members about participants in their classes. I was personally overwhelmed in moments of surprising illumination during the corporate worship, and I believe Spirit-urged to trust more deeply for missional courage. In the days following the conference I have received more communication indicating convictional transition on the part of conference participants. In addition to these powerfully encouraging reports, the spirit of sweet fellowship Friday night and Saturday was a precursor to something that really came full circle in my own mind in a memorial service I attended tonight (Tuesday) remembering the life of former Minister of Music for Woodmont Baptist Church Nashville, Joe Morrell. Let me share these instances, and let you know that my heart is filled with gratitude that promps worship within.

One of our guest faculty and I were discussing impressions of the conference. In a very serious tone he told me about a participant who waited after a class session to tell him that his life had been changed in this conference. Things that were said in class and in worship, biblical truth revealed had gripped the young man to evoke spiritual transformation in his life. And then I was personally caught a bit off guard during worship as Keith Getty led us in singing the new lyrics that Kristyn and he had written and placed to the AURELIA tune tagged with a new refrain with missional force. All of the worship music was inspiring as expected with so many musicians gathered and singing praise. But this sending hymn, Facing a Task Unfinished stirred me to the depths of my soul in a surprising way, such that my emotions made it hard to keep singing. Fueled further on the heals of the SEND 2015 Conference earlier in the week, I was deeply moved as the hymn called me to consider those from whose hands the flaming torch had fallen, who had given their lives to proclaim the Gospel. The song text then rises to call us: “Ours is the same commission, the same glad message ours; fired by the same ambition, to thee we yield our powers.” Then came that driving refrain, “We go to all the world, with kingdom hope unfurled…” I was convicted, empowered, and somehow renewed.

More communications in email, in social media, and through phone conversations have served as welcome surprise as to ways the Lord was at work in lives last weekend in ways that no one had anticipated. A spiritual reunion of two longtime friends that rekindled spiritual ferver in each, a renewed sense of ministry calling, and a healed broken spirit were among the enlightening communications indicating spiritual activity. And finally I would point to the sweet, yet deep fellowship shared in the vendor/exhibit areas, in the hallways between classes, in parking lots and hotel lobbies, as well as in the loft or aisles of the worship center. I noted to a colleague from another state that this kind of fellowship characterizes worship music ministry people in our state, and we agreed it was common anywhere ministering musicians gathered. We chatted about the emotional and spiritual impact and tendencies among these leaders and their church ministry personnel. This very discussion was replaying in my head tonight (Tuesday) as I stood in the choir loft of Woodmont Baptist Church celebrating the life and ministry of Joe Morrell, former music minister of the church. Here was Exhibit A of what we had been talking about. In the face of the loss of a friend and colleague, one who had faced his struggles in life and ministry, what did we do? We sang. Here were hundreds of people gathered to pay respects but also to remember. Here was a loft full of former choir members, fellow music ministers, professors, songwriters, and others whose primary common denominator was love for the Lord, love for His church, and love for church music, stimulated by love for their friend, and in the face of sadness in his death, the music was glorious. Powerful ministry in the psalm paraphrase, Refuge by Keith Christopher, originally penned for Mark and Susie Edwards during Susie’s battle with cancer leading to her passing. Then there was the sung testimonial proclamation, Satisfied written by former Nashville church musician and Belmont professor, Bob Mulloy. Congregational singing that prayed “Great Is Thy Faithfulness!” and “Amazing Grace” was a taste of heaven. Rightfully so, as in these gatherings we are preparing for our eternal worship to come.  Friends at MMLC 2015

If you missed the conference this year I am sorry. I truly wished all could be there to be inspired, encouraged, informed, and ministered to, as well as to bid farewell to Charlotte Hanson as she begins a new phase of her own life journey. I know we cannot be everywhere at once – at least not yet. When we do get opportunity to gather around music and ministry, however, we better take advantage of it. After all, we never know when it may be our last opportunity. Just as we never know how profoundly and in what ways the Lord is going to speak to our hearts and move us to “a more profound Alleluia!” When that happens a conference becomes a life-changing transformation, and much more than just a conference.

WALLS OF REMEMBRANCE IN WORSHIP – Here I Raise Mine Ebenezer

Camp Carson Walls As the weekend began I got to spend a few hours at Carson Springs between scheduled events where I had responsibility there. The beautiful weather at the time beckoned me to come out and walk around the campgrounds. I thought I would take a walk to see what all had changed over the years. Just walking up the main road toward what use to be the dining hall stirred so many memories. Some of the changes that I noticed right off the bat took place some time ago. I even thought back to when I was in high school and there were old dormitory style buildings that housed campers during Youth Music Week that I attended as a teenager. I made some important spiritual decisions here during those days. Years later I would come as a Minister of Music bringing a group of teenagers of my own. I would pray for their spiritual enlightenment during their time on this mountain. Later yet I would be here as a guest director and eventually as the one in charge of Youth Music Week as the State Music Leader. I continued remembering and walking. Just before I got to the drive that use to serve as our starting point to welcome young campers I stopped and just looked across the whole camp that my eye could see. A chill ran down my spine as it occurred to me how impactful this place has been in my spiritual life. I looked over and noticed two stone platforms on which were mounted plaques. These were new to me. I read the message on each. These monuments serve as memorial expressions of gratitude for those who gave property or significant financial contributions making the facility possible.

The monuments are intended to remind onlookers that someone sacrificed to make the encampment possible, and also serve as inspiration for others to do likewise in carrying forward the intended purposes of Camp Carson. These stone memorials are something of an Ebenezer, or wall of remembrance (1 Samuel 7:12) for Camp Carson and all who come to the mountain there. As I reflected it occurred that Camp Carson itself is an Ebenezer to me. Walking past the old dining hall toward Stokely Chapel brought tears as I considered times marching up that hill anticipating enthusiastic singing, inspired preaching, and challenging moments of spiritual examination and decision. Faces and names came to mind as did feelings of jubilation, conviction, and lament. Although Stokely Chapel has been remodeled and improved, including air conditioning added, I still remembered back to swatting bugs that had flown in the open windows during worship. I reminisced about seeing each of my own children as teens, and others in my spiritual care, make life commitments to God in that place. Visions of hugs, tears, joyous celebration, and meaningful moments of prayer and singing stirred my spirit to rejoice again.

I continued walking across the camp pausing at places like the campfire circle recalling deep and lasting friendships that were sealed there as well as personal commitments prayed. I peered back up the hill to Gheens Hall where so many faculty breaks, late night prayer meetings, and nights were spent, both restful and restless. All these years later I could not help but think that times of prayer spent in that yellow building on top of the hill yielded answered prayer at the bottom of the hill as campers surrounded the flickering flames of final night campfires, and stood silent while songs echoed from the surrounding hills drawing on experiences of the week in which lyrical phrases were grafted into their mind and spirit as they had worked on notes and rhythms, melodies and harmonies, and experienced the miracle of music embedding spiritual truth inside their hearts. Stokely Chapel

While the memories mentioned above will probably only resonate with those Tennessee musicians who took part in Youth Music Week or Children’s Music Week those years ago, but there is a larger point I would want to make that concerns a critical aspect of the work of worship in our spiritual lives and that of the people with whom we serve. In our best practices, based on clear biblical teaching and models, worship enacts remembrances. At each of two recent Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing training events pastors focused a portion of their worship remarks on the high value of remembrance and returning to our first love. Those two things go hand in hand. This is never a matter of just longing for the “good old days.” Rather our remembrances in worship are of what God has done, His character expressed and demonstrated. Remembering the great things He has done stirs us to give thanks with a grateful heart, and to return to our first love.

Worship repositions and reforms the heart of the genuine worshiper. Relevance in present context includes remembrance of God’s saving acts in the past. His provision, His deliverance, His salvation are reason not only for remembrance but for response. Praise is ignited in such recollections, and hope in current circumstance is fueled by such memories. In the continuum of the already and not yet we place trust in the Triune God. Worship’s highest purpose must be to lift Him high, drawing others to Him. Revisiting our Ebenezers as individual worshipers, as families, and as congregations, brings us to reposition ourselves as servants in His Kingdom, loving the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.

Whether your Ebenezer is at Camp Carson, Linden, Ridgecrest, the Cove, or your home church, it is good to periodically visit those places where God has spoken in days past. It is likewise important to grasp the value of helping your congregation to symbolically revisit their Ebenezer as part of worship in spirit and truth.

THE “STATE” OF CHURCH MUSIC (PUN INTENDED) – BACK FROM GEORGIA

Georgia Chuch Music Event I just returned from Atlanta Saturday night after speaking and teaching for Church Music Georgia, the Georgia edition of our Tennessee Music Ministry Leadership Conference (MMLC). It is always refreshing and enlightening to be a part of what is going on in other states. It helps me think and compare similar events in Tennessee that we are trying to use to enhance and encourage your ministry. Of course I also absolutely love the fellowship, seeing old friends (well…you know what I mean), and making new friends. Having served in Georgia before returning to our home state of Tennessee (Ebbie was actually on staff in the Georgia Baptist Church Music Office), the return was extra special because I got to visit with a few folks who were part of the choir I led at my former church including a fellow staff member there (yes, in some churches fellow staff members also sing in the choir). I saw a few Tennesseans who have moved to Georgia at some point as well, some choir singers who are now in our neighboring state to the south, a couple of writers, Dennis and Nan Allen formerly of Nashville Judson Baptist, a GBC music staff member who was previously in Bolivar and then Knoxville, Steve Brown, and at least one music minister who now resides on Georgian soil, former Jackson FBC music minister, Greg Williams. Visiting between speaking, teaching, and directing assignments was absolutely wonderful. I would say, “heavenly” except in heaven we will not have time limitations. I had to watch myself as it was hard to break away from conversations to be to my next spot. In fact, I could have spent the three days just visiting with the Georgia Baptist Church Music Staff, and that is because I love and appreciate each of them so much, and not just because there are so many of them. J I kid Dr Jon Duncan all the time that it takes seven of them to do what Charlotte and I do in Tennessee. Each of their four specialists (yes, I said four) are gifted and contribute to their effectiveness in meeting the needs of Gerogia Baptist musicians. I love being around them and enjoy that fellowship and shared insight.

I believe it is impossible not to compare and contrast aspects of what is taking place in Georgia with what is going on in Tennessee, or other states for that matter. Needless to say, some of that is disappointing, whether considering budget dollars or numbers of singers in the state singing groups by comparison (and I cannot help but draw some correlation). I must hasten to say, however, that there is also a sense in which the comparisons enrich my own spirit as I consider what we do despite extraordinary challenges. TBCMC officers, area music ministers and others warm my heart to think of the spirit of “can we help?” that has been so openly expressed. Charlotte has never been afraid to ask for volunteer help as you know, and has never gone wanting for such either. The close relationships within our fellowship provide ministry crucial in times of hurt and need. Regional gatherings have increased exponentially this year and subsequent availability of local ministry attention have resulted. I believe these are responses to Spirit-directed caring for brothers and sisters in ministry through music. It is my contention that ultimately the ministry of the state worship & music ministry is here to serve your churches by being a strengthening encouragement to you, by joining with you in helping to build your church’s worship & music ministry to lift up Christ, bear witness to His saving power, and engage together in effective mission locally and abroad. Our participation in efforts with the Getty organization, events, training, network building, efforts toward revitalization and renewal, are all intended to serve to this end.

In just two weeks we will have opportunity to join together in Brentwood and bring leaders from our churches’ music ministries together in a similar fashion to what I have just experienced in Georgia. The old saying “the more the merrier” is literally true for such activities, because the more present brings together prospect for a stronger sound of praise and thanksgiving in worship. In Georgia I watched as vans and busses pulled into the church parking lot at North Metro Baptist and observed nearly every church unloading groups of five to as many as twenty-five singers coming to learn from those of us leading each session. There were 240 in the choir group that I was privileged to lead. Having more enhances the interaction and input to discussions in each class and ministry track. Bringing students to train in worship band, instrumental music, or other sections further endears musical ministry to them and gives access to their leaders at a new and different level. We are not just seeking to build a crowd, and yet we are seeking to mount up praise that resounds in the halls of Brentwood Baptist, but much more importantly stirs and encourages the hearts of all of us and our people to sing and proclaim the Gospel in music. Keith Getty will be leading us in his spirited and infectious way as we lend our voices to gathered praise and worship singing of rich hymns. Come, Christians, Join to Sing Alleluia! Amen!

Singing and playing to the praise of our Lord is powerful no matter what state you are in. As for me and my house I am surely glad to be in Tennessee, to have our family here, to be walking this journey alongside you, and to live my life seeking to serve the Lord and His Church by serving you.

Finding Meaningful Worship through Music! Guest Blogpost

Bob Agee Over the years the Lord has blessed our family with very dear friends through shared work and ministry. Dad led the way in helping us see the richness of such a blessing. His love for fellow pastors, denominational servants, missionaries, and those involved in Christian higher education was palpable, and easily caught as well as taught. One of Dad’s closest friends who meets all of these criteria is Dr. Bob Agee. Many of you know Dr. Agee, but for those who might not let me share just a word or two as I have asked his permission to share an email and article he wrote and sent to me regarding worship through music. A graduate of Union University, Southern Seminary, and Vanderbilt’s Peabody with a PhD. Dr. Agee has served in administration and development at Union on several occasions, and served as President of Oklahoma Baptist University for sixteen years before returning to his alma mater to once again serve Union. He has remained a dear friend of our family and an inspiration to me personally and professionally. Dr. Agee is one of those rare persons who embodies intellectual respect and genuine spiritual passion. I am always better for being around him and/or speaking with him. Perhaps you can catch a bit of his sincerity and passion through this testimonial that also reflects some of the Baptist statesman/churchman that endears Bob Agee to so many pastors, music ministers, and churches.

FINDING MEANINGFUL WORSHIP THROUGH MUSIC!!

by Bob R. Agee

I came to know The Lord in a mission started by Shelby Baptist Association in the outskirts of Memphis when I was nine years old.  The Association rented a vacant lot on Dunn Road at the outskirts of Memphis and parked a trailer that had been made into a chapel and enlisted a retired missionary to be the pastor.  It was named Dunn Road Mission, later to constitute as Beverly Hills Baptist Church.  We met for Sunday School in people’s homes close to the trailer.  The music instrument was an old pump organ played by the pastor’s wife.  Our worship singing was from shaped note song books that were given to the mission by a church that could afford new books for their use.  Within a few weeks, the first person came forward to receive Jesus as Saviour – a nine year old boy.  I was that boy and was the first person baptized into the membership of the mission.

The songs we sang were not the ones sung in the big churches.  They were old Gospel songs.  Our second pastor even led “singing schools” on Sunday afternoons where we learned shaped note singing.  The songs really spoke to me then and still do.

My worship music pilgrimage has taken me through the little brown shaped note song book to the Broadman hymnal, to the early Baptist Hymnal and it’s several updates, through the youth musicals of the late sixties and early seventies, into cantatas and anthems led by excellent ministers of music, to fireside and parking lot youth rallies, to beautiful worship experiences through music at great Baptist universities.  Introducing congregations to youth choirs using guitars and drums, helping older folks accept that, and seeing hundreds of kids saved in those settings has been a fantastic journey.  Oklahoma Falls Creek worship services led by Bill Green and the Bison Glee Club 50 yr. reunion led by Dean Warren Angell still are as close to the mountain top as you could get.

Whether worshipping with youth in churches, camps or in Christian university chapel services, or in traditional, blended or contemporary church services with multi-age congregations, I am moved by the same characteristics.

Do the words tell about and exalt God and His Son?  Is the text of the song theologically sound and consistent with the Holy Scriptures?  Does the melody exalt The Lord and help me express my love for and devotion to Him?  Are the melody and text memorable and singable?  Does the song bear witness to the greatness of God and tell of His wondrous works?  It helps too, if the melody invites harmonizing and if the songs talk about things like repentance, forgiveness, salvation, redemption, hope, help, and heaven.

Music is so much a part of my worship experience, both public and private.  So much of my spiritual growth and strength has been nurtured through the hymns, gospel songs, and praise songs sung with the family of faith or alone in private worship.

It doesn’t help the Kingdom to fight over musical preference.  Pastors and worship Leaders need to work at involving the entire congregation in expressing their love for the Lord and in heartfelt praise of Him.  True worship takes place when the heart and soul of the worshiper is moved to want to draw closer to The Lord.  I can’t imagine anything more beautiful and heaven-like than to be in a crowd of people hungry to feel the presence of the Heavenly Father who are lifting their voices in love and praise to Him.  Worship is not something you go to watch – it’s something you DO to express your love to God and His Son.

IS THE RECORD STUCK?

record-player There are these round vinyl things called records that actually can hold recorded music to be played back. Miraculous, right? If you are as old as I am you likely remember those well, and for the younger set you may know them in as a novelty sought out for the unique sound qualities of analog recording. Well, hang on for a little more nostalgia use in my analogy here. When I was a kid we use to play records to help us go to sleep (and try to keep Ricky and me from throwing socks at each other in our room). Sometimes we would drift off to sleep and wake up to hear the record either stuck in a place, repeating the same phrase or word over and over and over, or the record would simply be spinning with the needle stuck at the end of the music. The metaphor, “She sounds like a broken record,” used for someone who repeats the same thing over and over, was based on this occurrence.

Sometimes it can feel like dealing with issues related to music ministry are like the record that gets stuck. Music leaders can find themselves bouncing back and forth between the very same needs over and over again, and to be honest a lot of things just get more and more difficult given change in our cultures, church culture as well as societal culture. Recruiting leaders comes around over and over again. About the time you think you have all the leadership roles filled, someone moves, or decides to take a year off, or has a change in circumstances that do not allow them to serve. I have heard plenty of you say that the scariest thing about giving choir a month off in the Summer is the question of whether they will be back when it cranks back up in August. Issues related to the worship environment tend to be in unending flux for many of you. When our church culture reflects the societal culture, then the more fickle the societal culture the more fickle the church. It can all be maddening – frustrating and tiring.

The important thing is to remember WHO this is really for and about. Remember how the Lord has blessed in days gone by. Hold to the hope of what is to come, and relish in the thought of glorious sounds of praise emanating from the voices and instruments of all generations. Consider the joy of leading your church’s musicians to enjoin other people groups of every tribe and every tongue in joining the eternal song of praise. It is what they were made for. It is what we were made for. Do not lose sight of the fact that what is done in music ministry matters! Our upcoming Tennessee Music Ministry Leadership Conference is all about that, “Music Ministry Matters,” and I hope you will come and bring your church musicians and your pastors and join with others to be strengthened, built up in the Lord, and strengthened in your resolve to keep the music playing! You can pick up the proverbial needle and place it on another place where the music can play on. You can blow the dust off the vinyl so that the needle can keep progressing and play the song.

If you have not done so, register today for Music Ministry Leadership Conference at http://www.tnworshipandmusic.org

Disturbing the Hush – a Guest Blog

congregational-singing1I invited Pastor Greg Lindsey of Mill Springs Baptist Church in Jefferson City to write a guest blog.  Earlier this year I conducted a Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing Weekend at Mill Springs, and sensed a real connection with Pastor Greg.  His writing is articulate and artful.  While the post is longer than my normal articles I think you will find it engaging.  I am happy to note that Greg will be with those of us who are gathering for an East Tennessee Training for Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing leaders at the end of July.  Thank you, Brother Greg for your friendship and for sharing from your heart.

“Disturbing the Hush” – Pastor Greg Lindsey

I can still hear her voice. Loud. Strong. And above all, joyful – soaring upward to the highest notes of her favorite hymn: “Love Lifted Me”… but also, here and there, lagging just a bit behind the words, as was her wont. In all her years, my Granny was never asked to sing a solo in church; but that didn’t stop her from singing! Instead, she lifted up her “ordinary voice” (by human standards), given her by the Lord of voices, and praised Him with all her heart through all her days – until, in 1986, she passed from this earth to keep on singing of His greatness in heaven. Her example of love for God in song inspired her grandson to lift up his own “ordinary voice,” which I’ve tried to do ever since.

Several months ago the familiar thought returned: “I sure do miss hearing Granny sing!” And that’s when I realized, “I miss hearing anybody sing like Granny used to sing!” And I began to ponder it: “How come that kind of singing seems to have disappeared? Where have all those voices gone? Ordinary voices (most of us), but loud, joyful, and intense – united in stout praise of the God of our salvation? Why isn’t that kind of singing heard anymore? We still gather, but what happened to the singing that used to ring out?”

I think of John Wesley’s, Directions for Singing (1761): “Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.” (By “lustily,” our brother meant “vigorously, enthusiastically.”) This is the kind of singing that’s so largely vanished. Voices “lifted up with strength.” Oh, yes! We can amplify music “lustily” today – more than Wesley would have ever imagined, I’m quite sure! We have the power and technology. Unleash Brother Bose® on a congregation and he can jar loose the snuggest dental fillings! But kill all the microphones, loudspeakers, stage monitors, power amps, mixers, and instruments just for a moment on any given Sunday morning, and listen to what’s left: not much. A hush that disturbs.

“Since when did a hush ever disturb somebody?” Since the day this pastor began to notice call after call in his Bible for God’s people to praise Him loudly with their singing! “Therefore in the east give glory to the LORD; exalt the name of the LORD, the God of Israel, in the islands of the sea. From the ends of the earth we hear singing: ‘Glory to the Righteous One’” (Isa 24:15-16); “My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to You – I whom You have delivered” (Ps 71:23); “Sing the glory of His name; make His praise glorious” (Ps 66:2); “But let all who take refuge in You be glad; let them ever sing for joy” (Ps 5:11); “that my heart may sing Your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise You forever” (Ps 30:12); etc., etc., etc…. You get the idea!

Does anyone else see the irony of gathering on the Lord’s Day to faintly sing, “Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise”?

Then, as God would have it, I came across a brother named Paul Clark, Jr. and an online brochure describing something he was calling a “Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing Weekend.” I stared at those half dozen words. “Yes, this may be it!” I said. “The answer to the hush!” So I emailed Brother Paul and inquired about a weekend, and received a most gracious reply the next day. “I am at once humbled and encouraged that you would reach out,” he said. “And I would be honored to assist and consider serving alongside of you by conducting at Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing conference at your church.”

And just that quickly, the ball was rolling. We were able to secure a workable date for both our schedules, which turned out to be March 6-8, and Paul shared the plan: He would meet with me and the church’s worship leader on Friday afternoon into the evening. The next morning, he would gather with all our leaders (Sunday School teachers, deacons, committee chairmen, etc.) for conversation and instruction, followed by an afternoon session with our praise team, musicians, and audio/visual team. On Sunday morning he would preach God’s word on the subject of worship. The weekend would be capped off with an evening session led by Paul on “A Biblical Theology of Worship Singing,” culminating in an hour of “congregational rehearsal,” in which we would attempt to translate our learning into action.

When I met Paul in person for the first time and we sat down to talk, I quickly realized that my brother in Christ not only has a mind for worship, but a heart for worship. His years of working with the Lord’s churches and, most importantly, of walking with the Church’s Lord, made our time together extremely edifying and beneficial. I discovered in Paul a man who genuinely loves the church that God “bought with His own blood,” and who also appreciates the tremendous responsibility that pastors bear as under-shepherds, “to keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” (Acts 20:28). And now he had traveled many miles to come alongside me in seeking worship renewal for a local church. I was grateful and hopeful. I knew that with a servant-leader like Paul, if the Lord saw fit to bless our weekend, something special was going to happen.

He did. And it did!

We had good participation in the conference (although as a pastor, it seems like you always wish you had had better). I think a lot of people, especially our leaders, came curious, wondering what it was all about. I guess some may have wondered if we really even needed such a conference. By the end of the weekend though, I could tell that the congregational singing “picture” was becoming clearer in our minds and that a noticeable shift in understanding was beginning to occur – away from us being “okay” with hushed non-participation and back toward the biblical standard: “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Col 3:16). Although we have some amazing voices (again, by human standards) in the church, we have many more “ordinary voices” like mine – and these were the voices I was especially hoping to reengage in singing, so the result would be all our voices together as one in praise of the Lord.

It was actually several weeks later, during our Sunday evening Bible study. About forty-five of us were gathered in our fellowship hall. I know of at least one person who was thinking about Brother Paul’s outstanding teaching given us over the course of our weekend together. (Inwardly, I was yearning to see and hear a singing difference.) Then suddenly, it happened! With the words of a song on a sheet of paper in our hands, we had begun to sing. No instruments were accompanying; it was just us. But now the voices were growing louder, the singing stronger than usual. The sound was becoming “fuller.” It seemed more intense somehow, more robust. It’s hard to describe. Everything just felt more “focused,” more “alive.” Unison was melting into the sweetest harmony, and the sound of praise to God was filling the room. It was beautiful! Faith was awakening from sleep! Distant memories of a treasured sound were roused in my own heart! I hadn’t heard God’s people sing like that in years! I looked around the room at my fellow worshipers. Eyes were wide open and faces appeared surprised, as if to say, “What’s happening?!”

I knew exactly what was happening: I was hearing my Granny’s voice again!

Three months after Brother Paul’s biblical instruction and investment of his time and heart in our “Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing Weekend,” I wish I could say that loud, joyful, intense singing to God is now the new normal in the precious church I serve. But, I can’t – at least not yet. Worship renewal is a battle, and not for the faint of heart. At times when we meet, I think we’re “coming alive” to what we’re singing in worship, but then we seem to slip back into the older, colder tendencies that we’re so familiar with. (What is it they say about “old habits”?) Truthfully, I’m the last person in the congregation qualified to point worship fingers. My heart knows all too well how easy staid, perfunctory worship is! And speaking of the heart, isn’t that the real issue for us all?

But I believe what the Scripture proclaims: “Jesus is Lord!” (Rom 10:9). And as “the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior” (Eph 5:23), He loves His church profoundly – beyond any measure of love that I could ever understand or show! “For Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word” (Eph 5:25-26). And one glorious day, He’s going “to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph 5:25-27). And on that day… oh, listen to us sing His praises!

Meanwhile, though, the people of God on earth aren’t called to sit around and wait until we’re the people of God in heaven. No! We’re charged to sing now! “Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, praise His name; proclaim His salvation day after day. Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; He is to be feared above all gods” (Ps 96:1-4).

Brother pastors, when it comes to the worship of our triune God, isn’t whole-hearted, full-throated singing worth contending for? Surely! Then let’s preach and teach like it! Let’s walk right up to this “hush that disturbs” and poke it in the eye with our preaching! How about we decide to disturb it for a change? How about we preach some sermons on worship that, like thunder rolling across a night sky, will rumble in the quietness of our churches? Sermons that will signal unmistakably to our listeners our own passion for the return of heart-engaged, Spirit-filled singing on the part of all God’s people? Imagine for a moment the impact of such congregational singing – on believers and unbelievers alike (1 Cor 14:25)!

More and more, my conviction grows that the hush in our churches is a sinful thing. Mumbled praises are malfunctioning praises, and utterly absent in heaven; let’s strive then to make them absent on earth! Pray for loud, impassioned, full-bodied singing when we gather as Christians! Let’s lead toward it in the churches that the Lord graciously has called us to serve! And keep leading toward it, until by His mercy it becomes a reality! Draw inspiration, if you’re able, by recalling how the Lord’s people used to sing – all those “ordinary voices,” united in loud praise. Be convinced, for example, that if a group of people who love folk songs can sing with power (Portsmouth Maritime Folk Festival), then a group of people who love Jesus can absolutely sing with power (Capitol Hill Baptist)! Call your people to sing this way! Encourage them in it! Urge them with all your heart, “Come, Christians, join to sing Alleluia! Amen! Loud praise to Christ our King; Alleluia! Amen!” And make sure they see you doing what you’re calling them to do – even if you’ve been blessed with an “ordinary voice” like mine… and my Granny’s!

“Sing to the LORD, for He has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world” (Isa 12:5).

MUSIC HELPS PLANT, WATER, AND HARVEST THE SEED OF THE GOSPEL

Vicki drum classHave you taken students on a youth choir mission tour where you had no first time professions of faith, no kids surrender to fulltime vocational ministry, and came home to questions of whether or not the trip was “worth it?” Worse yet, have you had those kinds of doubts as to the value of such a trip in your own mind and spirit? Have you done a Summer music camp, or another special event where halfway through the week you thought, “there’s no results.” Perhaps you wondered to yourself, “Is this really worth all the time and money we are pouring into it?” In our pragmatic culture (church culture as much as the culture at large) everything tends to be utilitarian. We do something to get something, and if we don’t get what we intend, then we must have done something wrong. So-called success must surely be determined by measurable outcomes. Make a note. If it wasn’t “successful” then change it for next time – assuming there is a next time.

Brothers and sisters, this is the world in which we live and serve. It is part of what makes ministry a challenge. Do not misunderstand my sentiment. Every decision for Christ counts, and it is incumbent on us to count them and celebrate them along with those in our ministry teams who are involved in the kingdom work that brings them about. That is especially true of younger musicians as we help them discover the joy of ministry results. We pray ferventy that our student choirs will experience the joy of bringing others to Christ and be effective in ministering the gospel through music and personal witness. We dare not, however, allow ministry efforts that do not result in immediate measurable decisions be deemed ineffective. In fact, music mission ministry gives us a golden opportunity to call attention to the small nuances of growth that do not result in immediately visible measurable results. We need to keep the faith and help young musicians discover how music ministers. I find that the discouraging spirit that can so easily grab us by the……………….. choir stole……can put us in our own special Summer slump. Oh, but consider God’s plan and His way of working.   My grandfather use to point to tree plants, little vegetable growths, and tiny grass poking up out of the otherwise bald ground and tell me, “Look at that, God is growing a ___________! He helped instill in me an understanding of why planting, watering, fertilizing, weeding, and harvesting were all a part of the growing process. Likewise, in our nurture of young lives and in our serving in Kingdom work we have opportunity to help them understand what is involved in God’s redemption of a life. God is always at work after all.

Last Summer I got to be a small part of the first Freedom Children’s Choir event that was a shared ministry effort involving ten Nashville area churches seeking to reach refugees and internationals through a music experience for children and teens at Tusculum Baptist Church. I was assigned to be a part of a small family group of six or seven kids. On the first day leaders brought two young boys to my group and asked if I would pay them special attention because they had just come to the country from a war torn part of the world and they spoke no English. Their older brother and sister were in other groups in case I needed help. We had no words that would communicate between us, but animated gestures and voice inflection would help us until we could get an actual translator who could help some. I was not sure what good was being accomplished from day to day, but had a sense that God was doing something. At the end of the week I was sad to see it come to an end and felt compelled to continue prayer for this family living in a land that was strange to them. Fast forward to today. The second annual Freedom Children’s Choir event began. The two boys were back. They both recognized me and spoke English after the first year to tell me, “Yes, I remember” speaking of last year’s event. Talking with Pastor Paul Gunn about these boys and their family he told me an amazing story. An older sibling had indicated an understanding of who Jesus is and what He has done. That older sibling walked by us about that time, smiled, and Pastor Paul said, “That is him and this year he wanted to work as a small group leader in the event.” What a rich blessing to hear that God is at work in the family’s lives, and to think about those experiences of a year ago. A reminder that this is how God works. Music ministry is instrumental in every phase from planting to harvest. Keep the Faith!  And pray this week for Freedom Children’s Choir at Tusculum Hills.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:6-9)

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