Archive for May 2010

Where do Music Ministers Come From?

May 24, 2010

Where do Worship Music Leaders come from?  (Mars and the Moon are not viable answers)  Though we pray all worship music leaders are called by God, like disciples they are made not born.

The traditional music minister was patterned after an educational model.  In fact, many of the earliest part time music ministry leaders were school teachers and choral directors who served in the church based on their musical know-how.  As music ministry became more complex, educational institutions developed programs to accommodate the churches’ needs.  Music camps, church youth choir trips, mission endeavors, and music festival gatherings all contributed to the development of church musicians of all shapes and sizes.  Music Ministers, who trained under the mentorship of Christian educators who believed in developmental patterns designed on sound educational philosophy, went to work in the church seeking to develop singers, players, accompanists and leaders.  A pattern of perpetuation seemed firmly in place.

We have been through a time when the popularity of Christian music recordings, and media in general have come to dominate influence on much of church music and worship music ministry.  Subsequently, many churches seem to have lost a developmental pattern of bringing up church musicians.  It seems we have gone through a significant amount of time where the importance of rudimentary music and spiritual concept and skill development have been minimalized, overshadowed by a populist approach to inspiration, preferring an environment of entertaining stimulation.  Recent YouTube and Vimeo spoofs on contemporary worship environments have driven home some of the potential harmful results of placing too much confidence in such formula driven approaches including music.  Positive changes are being addressed in many larger churches who are able to conduct Fine Arts Schools, or other instructional program formats.  Conducting classes or private instruction in guitar, drums, keyboards, and other instruments that have contemporary music applications have helped make these schools popular as well as placing developmental patterns back in the church setting.  Medium and smaller size churches that utilize church facility as space for music lessons in similar fashion provide a similar service, some that even have the added feature of a proving ground.

Most of us know of Music Ministry leaders from both of these strands that have enjoyed a measure of success in providing worship music for the church setting in which they serve, and have found ways to continue influence for upcoming generations.  We are richly blessed in Tennessee to have many deeply committed ministry leaders who continue to bring forth talented young musicians with much potential to carry the Gospel message forward through musical expression of varied styles and levels of complexity.  I thank God for the growing determination among so many of our leaders to be certain God’s praise through song continues in their setting “for future generations.”

A great challenge that seems inherent to the task regardless of whether built on an educational model or the latest trends, is keeping children, youth, young adults, and parents engaged.  Developing music skills takes time. Students and parents seem willing to “commit” themselves until the reality hits that time tends to be a mutually exclusive commodity.  If choir and soccer practice are at the same time, a student can not be fully present at both.  Budgeting time to practice guitar chords will not work if all twenty four hours of the day are filled with other engagements.  WHAT CAN WE DO?

I am a strong believer in the application of pastoral authority and ministry.  Music ministers, we need to speak the truth in love!  Lowering standards and making accommodations to the extent that you are running yourself ragged does not work for the long haul.  Senior Pastors need to be kept up to date and encouraged by your appeal to help make the case for practicing biblical stewardship of time and talent as well as finances.  And that includes parental stewardship of parental effort and energy as needed to be certain a child takes part in lessons, rehearsals, and spiritual nurturing such that will avail him or her to those things God wants to develop.  It is high time Music Ministry Leaders call for the best among the people God has given us to lead.  Spoken with sincere conviction and genuine Christlike love, the message will not be easy, but empowered by the Holy Spirit, it can be amazingly effective.

Pentecost   has come!  Allow the Holy Spirit to be alive in you.

More Musician Talk

May 17, 2010

I am admittedly still basking in the experiences of the concert by the Tennessee Mens Chorale at First Baptist Church Livingston last Friday night.  I started just to send a specific word of thanks to TMC singers and let it be a personal word of gratitude and thanksgiving for shared ministry.  I am still planning to do that, but the more I have prayed and reflected regarding the experience and particularly the connection of music and spiritual expression, the more I have sensed a need to share words with my enewsletter and blog lists about that application of the other night’s worship time.  If you are not a chorale singer, please read on anyway as I believe there is application for all church musicians, and church music leaders in particular.

I am writing this to call music leaders to recognize some similar elements in your own church setting as I experience in leading the chorale.  Your choir members and other musicians may not drive from across the state, but they do come to rehearsal from busy lives of jobs, family, and community participation.  You bring your best preparation to rehearsals and make many decisions during the actual rehearsal time you have working with your ensembles and choirs.  Some things that you would like to address in rehearsal you will leave alone, believing the singers and musicians will correct them on their own when they sing in worship or presentation.  You trust that because you know them, and have history of experience together.  Some things you will need to attack in rehearsal, knowing the musicians can apply your correction to other places in the music.  I hope you get to the point of analyzing text, phrasing, and bringing musical interpretation to bear on lyrical expression of faith and worship.  I fear the musical technician and/or performer in us may leave those portions of musical preparation to last, not believing we have sufficient time to deal with those things, opting to hammer pitches and rhythms.  A long time ago I adopted a philosophy that capturing the mood and meaning of the lyric will shape the musical expression and itself correct some woes that are otherwise overlooked simply because singers have not connected to the heart of the message they are singing.  Thus in a musical expression from Russian Orthodox Liturgy like Tchesnokov’s “Salvation Is Created” we can call upon singers to consider the miracle and mystery that the very notion of salvation was born in the heart of God.  The depth of such mystery combined with images of a Russian cathedral’s spacious setting that seeks to spatially and acoustically convey the same awe, seems to help singers heighten vowel sounds and sing a richer “Alleluia!”  Granted, simply saying, “sing taller vowels” may accomplish similar results, but I think it risks belittling the singer to just sing technically efficient, rather than appealing to the soul and spirit of the artist in them.  At some points it takes both, but drawing attention to deep truth gives opportunity for spiritual connection almost too deep for words.

Can lay persons respond to such ethereal reflection?  I absolutely believe so, and have experienced the results of the same through most of my ministry and conducting career.  So much of music making and instruction is imagery.  Instead of just trying to get singers to “Smile!”  Why not connect their musical thinking to Gospel?  “Victory in Jesus” connotes a particular brightness because such a truth is in fact sunshine to life!  Beethoven’s “Hallelujah!” elicits percussive punch from true believers who desire as humans to “proclaim His grace and glory.”  Can you really sing Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Is Our God” and not crescendo through the word, “great?”  Using that one word to give singers pause to consider their participation in calling attention to God’s greatness through a simple crescendo as if pointing toward God Himself can allow a repeated phrase to find new life every time it is sung in a repeated chorus!  I have experienced numerous occasions where non-musicians got in touch with their musical selves through such experiences to find spiritual expression through the art of song.  Isn’t that part of what we are about as Ministers through Music?  Lest you think this is just thoughts for conductors, consider the support of accompanists who interpret along with conductor, and connect to lyric in such a way as to underscore the phrasing, give crescendos and decrescendos the nudge they need to happen in a more timely manner.  I am ever grateful for the accompanists God has allowed me the privilege to serve alongside!  Some of you are thinking, “Yeah, not all of us have a Mary McDonald and Vicki Wright,” to which I respond, “very true that there is only one of each of them,” and I am deeply humbled to serve with them and to be so richly  blessed in every situation where we are privileged to share ministry.  Likewise, there is only one of your accompanists as well, and God has given them to serve with you, so serve together to bring the best.  That subject deserves its own article, but for now please consider as I often do the miracle that is making music together sensing nuance and emphasis together as one, whether in rehearsal or presentation.  It is part of the miracle of connecting spiritual expression with the art of music.


Connecting Worship and Life

May 10, 2010


If we follow the Apostle Paul’s admonition in Romans 12:1 to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God as our spiritual act of worship, then we surely recognize that this is all inclusive of every moment, every day – all of life. Worship and Music Leaders have a great opportunity and responsibility to connect worship and life.  The season of high school and college graduations, or other end of the school year celebrations present obvious opportunities for life connection in worship.  Careful planning presents worship leaders with a powerful analogy whereby they (pastors and music leaders) can speak truth into the lives of the congregation.  Drawing direct attention to God’s sovereign hand at work in the lives of students who arrive at a landmark may not only encourage the students and their families, but provides vicarious application to the entire congregation. It may also help church members recognize the part they can and do play in lives of fellow believers.

As music ministry leaders you may have had close relationship with students through their school years.  (Note: I strongly affirm direct relationship by the minister of music with student choirs!  The benefits of engagement through teen years far outweigh the costs.)  If so, graduation presents a beautiful opportunity to confirm this ministry through creative reminders to students.  I know music ministers who have written hymn texts in honor of graduating senior classes, and not only sung them in worship, but framed lyrics and presented them to graduating seniors as a gift.  I know music ministers who give mementos that include an inscribed phrase or title of a song from youth choir literature to remind students of their experiences on mission through song, or other appropriate messages.  Video presentations accompanied by music that has been meaningful to students are emotional statements of shared life and ministry during years of Christian development.  Having said that, I believe it very important to hasten to the ultimate center of our worship, namely Jesus Christ!  While we celebrate the lives of students and families at landmark points of their lives, stopping there leaves us falling far short of Christian worship.

As worship music leaders you have opportunity to connect songs to these landmark days that bring focus “back to the heart of worship, Jesus.”  I believe the best songs to underscore worship in these instances, as in all of worship, are those that lift high the Lord.  In these seasons students and families are inundated with opportunities to focus on themselves through nostalgic reflection.  Baccalaureate services and graduation ceremonies are often punctuated by reminiscence of “the glory years,” and are dramatized by innocent emotional statements like, “we will never forget.”  The truth is, however, that much will be forgotten, and much deserves to be forgotten.   The Truth of worship is that every gathering for worship is remembrance, and rehearsal, restating of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who was and is and is to come!  What a blessed privilege to engage students, families, and congregations together in singing eternal remembrance, eternal Truth!

As you approach worship planning for these special days, let me encourage you to keep the question before you, “How are we pointing to God?”  This question includes thoughts of ways God has brought us to this point, which applies beyond graduates and families and includes all worshipers.  It also includes questions and faith answers of trusting God for our future.  In each instance it is important to prayerfully consider the focus – engagement with God on His terms.  It is insufficient to bask in our need, or to celebrate our lives.  There are many approaches that can be fruitful:

  1.  Tried and true hymns applicable to the setting and season, such as Great Is Thy Faithfulness or For the Beauty of the Earth.


  1.  Songs that remind worshipers of God’s watchful eye, guiding hand, and shepherding love in His sovereignty, such as Day by Day, My Shepherd Will Supply My Need,or worship song, Blessed Be Your Name.


  1. Songs that call attention to the attributes of God that assure us of His continuing presence, which opens a huge list of songs from Leaning on the Everlasting Arms to My Lord Is Near Me All the Time to How Great is Our God.


  1. Usage of planning aids.  One of the best results of the new Baptist Hymnal and Lifeway Worship Project is the Resource and Planning Edition.  Whether your church uses the hymnal or not, this tool should be on your shelf.  The index for songs of “CHURCH LIFE” includes a host of songs suitable for Graduation, which the index gives as a category.
  2. Review of new hymnals and song sources.  Celebrating Grace Hymnal includes some songs by outstanding contemporary hymnists.  Timothy Dudley-Smith has some fine hymn texts that pray Christ’s reign in life (see lyrics below from the hymn, Lord, for the Years).  Celebrating Grace also contains fine congregational readings, including one entitled, “Seasons of Life.”
  3. I am not a fan of “give me your favorites” worship planning, but there may be rich information gained through asking students and parents to offer lists of music, scripture, and other material that have served their spiritual development through childhood and teen years.

You who have been planning worship for singing, playing, and reading for years certainly do not need me to give you ideas.  I hope the reflection is some help to young worship leaders, musicians who sit at the bench of an instrument and look for music to include on days of particular significance to worshipers, and to any who might benefit from a little prodding just to get going as this season of the year rolls around yet again, yet is a season of life for some with whom you serve, some to whom you minister.  May God bless you as you guide worshipers through communion with God and help them offer thanks to Him for His promise to be with us always, even to the end of the age.


Lord, for the years Your love has kept and guided,

Urged and inspired us, cheered us on our way,

Sought us and saved us, pardoned and provided

Lord of the years, we bring our thanks today.


Lord, for ourselves; in living power remake us,

Self on the cross and Christ upon the throne;

Past put behind us, for the future take us,

Lord of our lives, to live for Christ alone.

                        Timothy Dudley-Smith, 1967

                        ©1969 Hope Publishing Co




Rain and Rainbows

May 3, 2010

I have never seen so much rain fall at once in my life as what we experienced Saturday and Sunday.  The normally dry creek behind our house was a rushing river with a fierce current.  Sunday I worshiped with Pleasant Heights Baptist Church in Columbia as we were wrapping up a Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing Conference there with music minister, Rush Harrison, and Pastor Bob Vasser.  Pastor Bob reminded his people Sunday that the Lord can speak in the midst of events including weather challenges like this.  He also noted he had never seen so much water and had been reflecting on the amount of water with a prayer that God would make Himself known.  He told of seeing a rainbow in one of the few moments of relief from constant rain.  What a powerful reminder that God always cares for us and desires to let us know of His greatness.  The pastor was obviously moved by the message he experienced firsthand in the reminder that God is the God of deliverance as richly symbolized in the beauty of a rainbow hanging in the sky as if drawn there by the very hand of the Almighty.

The torrential downpour of this weekend has reminded me of the juxtaposition of profound powers in water, and subsequently of spiritual application reflecting on its significance for Christians.  Water is a lifegiving substance.  It was somewhat ironic that in my home area, Franklin, TN, the first dispatched emergency crews were sent out delivering the highest priority request voiced by needful patrons, water.  In the midst of a death threatening flood of water, the need was for water.

Like Pastor Bob, I had passing thoughts this weekend of the flood to which Noah responded.  While I was not privy to the rainbow the pastor saw I did find myself thinking about the power that water represents in many respects of our faith as expressed in worship.  Sadly, we have come to think of the word, “baptism” for its quantitative value to represent church growth and by extension, evangelistic effect.  A first question related to the word for many pastors and church leaders is, “How many baptisms did you have last year?”  This is a question and concern of obvious legitimacy, but falls short of reflecting the real power of what the word is about.  Though Baptists have generally avoided sacramental leanings relative to water’s effect. it seems it should be acceptable to all that baptism provides a potent means of worship as it reflects the Gospel of Jesus Christ symbolized in its dramatic action before the church.  During this act the church welcomes in the new member of the family, a newborn believer who is “buried with Christ and raised to walk in newness of life,” and speaks by action of his/her testimony in these first steps in follow-ship.  What’s more, all present in worship, who observe this dramatic act, may be moved by the Spirit to either recall their own baptism and re-member their connection to the body of Christ in light of new life walking with Him, or (for nonbelievers) may be drawn to the Truth of this Gospel so dramatically displayed.  There is bold witness and proclamation of Gospel available in the dramatic act of baptism in worship!  WORSHIP LEADERS, LET’S MAKE MORE OF BAPTISM IN WORSHIP!

Touching and hearing water, considering its death power and the faith to plunge oneself under its influence could be profound connections for worshipers.  Consideration of water, such as in the Spirit hovering over the water before the world began (Gen1:2), the deliverance acts through the flood (Gen. 6-9), and through the Israelites escape from Egypt (Ex.15) and (1 Cor. 10:1-2), our birth through water and by the same means the birth and thus Incarnation of our Lord, Jesus’ own baptism in water by John (John 1), Jesus’ first miracle turning water into wine (John 2), Jesus’ reference to His provision of living water (John 4), the gushing of water mixed with blood from Jesus’ side at the cross (John 19:31-37), the gathering of all the Saints at the Crystal Sea (Rev. 22), and even the notion of thirst as the most basic of human needs all seem to hold rich opportunity for enhancing worship at the pool of water.[1] 

Baptist statesman, teacher and musician, Don Hustad, tells about an occasion when a pastor asked him to play the organ with sufficient volume to cover up the sound of the immersion noise.  He reflects, “In retrospect, it seems to me that the most prominent sound of the occasion should be that of the swirling water!”[2]  In a multi-sensory culture it seems we would do well to allow this most basic substance that God has made to speak its voice as to what God has done. 

Here in Tennessee we have seen something of water’s power in the last two days.  In Christian worship, we who serve as worship planners and leaders have opportunity to call worshipers’ attention to the One who created life and all its essentials.  In worship we can draw attention to the One Who gave us the rain and the rainbow.  We can sing to celebrate the Living Water and the one who pours out His Spirit and who demonstrates His power in as well as through phenomenon of nature.  We can call worshipers to higher praise for the Shepherd who leads us beside still waters, makes the storm clouds (Zach 10:1) and commands the storm to cease (Matt 8:27), and calls us to follow Him in baptism.




[1] Reggie M. Kidd, “Baptism’s Story,” (class notes and visual presentation to DWS 704 at the Institute for Worship Studies, 12 June, 2007).


[2] Donald P Hustad, Jubilate II: Church Music in Worship and Renewal (Carol Stream, IL: Hope Publishing Company, 1993), 351.

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