Archive for April 2013


April 22, 2013


George Beverly Shea How can we begin to measure the lasting effect of the life and work of George Beverly Shea, upon the worship of evangelical churches?  Like Buryl Red, though in very different ways these two giants of church music have left indelible marks on our worship language and means of expression as we proclaim witness in song and as we consider what it means to engage in spiritual worship “in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24)

At 104 years of age, George Beverly Shea was known as “America’s Gospel Singer,” even though he was born in Canada, and sang in innumerable foreign countries as part of the Billy Graham team, in addition, of course, to singing in every state in the union.  At his memorial service Shea was referred to as the “Gentle Giant,” a fitting moniker given his humble demeanor and self-defacing humor.  Shea, along with Cliff Barrows, made up the principles of the Billy Graham evangelistic team.  His rich baritone stylings were a hallmark of every evangelistic service.  Even in latter years as new artists were included in the crusade programs, crowds waited with anticipation to hear the signature songs, The Love of God, The Wonder of It All, How Great Thou Art, or perhaps his best known musical offering that he scored at age 23, music for the poem by Mrs. Rhea Miller, I’d Rather Have Jesus.

Author, teacher, Reggie Kidd reminds us, “For two millennia, Christians have sung their theology – from catacombs to dorm rooms, and from cathedrals to football stadiums.  Every distinctive shape the faith takes finds its own musical voice.” (With One Voice: Discovering Christ’s Song in Our Worship)  No doubt the faith has been shaped through the years of the American church of the frontier, and the subsequent revivalist movement of which the Graham team provides the apex.  I would go as far as to say that most churches in my own Baptist faith tradition have patterned worship liturgy, at least as much, and many of them more, after the Graham crusades’ programs than by historic patterns of church practice.  Given this influence, we must pause to consider more resolutely not only the form of the crusade team, but as we say, “farewell” to this dear saint, George Beverly Shea, we must consider the consistent message and substance of the song(s) he sang.  It was GOSPEL – not in style, but in content.  It presented life-change, either by testimony, I’d Rather Have Jesus, or by biblical story, Ninety and Nine, or by a kind of spirit of abandonment to worship and wonder, The Love of God, The Wonder of It All, and How Great Thou Art. 

For many years, and some to this day, pastors – preachers – evangelists, looked for a Gospel-singer/soloist to serve as their own George Beverly Shea (combined with Cliff Barrows) as their right hand to flank them in weekly worship in attempts to re-create the crusade atmosphere in their own church.  Though there are multiple issues to be addressed in this ethos that deserve prayerful reflection, still this worship has served to shape much of where we find ourselves today.  For many in my own denomination when you say “Traditional worship,” it is this ambiance that comes to mind.  George Beverly Shea’s influence in this arena is paramount.  His signature voice, literally and figuratively, will remain with us in many ways even as he joins the mighty chorus of Heaven.  One cannot help but wonder if he will compare notes with other preacher – songster teams like John Calvin and Louis Bourgeois, John and Charles Wesley, Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey, or Billy Sunday and Homer Rhodeheaver.

The passing of Buryl Red and now George Beverly Shea is fresh reminder for all who share in ministry through music that we have opportunity to give voice to faith, witness, and worship through song.  While it is extremely rare for individuals to propagate the volume and depth of influence that has grown from the lives of these two men through their profound giftedness, talent, skills, and opportunity, it is, nevertheless, critical that each of us recommit ourselves to see the Christlike characteristics that they demonstrated, and to imitate those.  I will likely never write a Celebrate Life musical, or even an In Remembrance of Me song.  I can, however, seek to serve with the kind of humble spirit and treat persons with the kind of gentle caring that characterized Buryl Red.  My voice will no longer croon the baritone strains with the kind of richness and attractive potency that defined the solo voice of George Beverly Shea.  I can, however, offer my body including every utterred sound as a “living sacrifice as spiritual worship,” prayerful that God will be glorified, and trusting His Spirit to turn little into much for His Kingdom.

You and I are also leaving our signature upon the worship life and language of those with whom we live and serve.  Let us be faithful in making melody with thankful hearts for His glory.





April 8, 2013

BurylRed Since the word came that Buryl Red passed away, facebook pages, emails, and phonelines have been ablaze with “Buryl stories,” and reflections of encounters, special moments, and of course, music-making with Buryl.  While Buryl was one to avoid calling attention to himself, something about his soft gentlemanly demeanor coupled with the enormity of his musical prowess made “Buryl stories” stand out as the stuff legends are made of.  His music and musicianship spoke for itself, and left open the necessary space for others to call attention to the greatness therein.  The humility just made the greatness seem all the more. (a lesson much needed in today’s self-grandizing culture that allows us to facebook and tweet experiences as we want them to be seen, whether as they actually are or not)

I have engaged in a few Buryl stories myself, and given that I will join a tribute concert in New York that will include our Centurymen, I feel certain there will be many more days of reminscent tellings.  There are so many things I feel I gleaned from Buryl over 26+ years of singing with the Centurymen under his direction, and also spending rare opportunities to visit in New York, or see him in Nashville.  In the meantime I wanted to at least post partial text from a presentation of the 2004 W. Hines Sims award to Buryl that I had the distinct privilege to prepare thanks to then Southern Baptist Church Music Conference President, Joe Fitzpatrick.

 The individual who receives this award tonight is someone who has demonstrated dramatically what it means to color outside the lines, or to work outside the box, if I may use those clichés.  Within the church music world this individual has served up numerous published and recorded offerings.  Several works are considered landmarks in the church music genre, containing a timely and relevant style, yet seeming to have a timeless quality about their ability to communicate gospel.

 The individual who would be worthy of the W. Hines Sims award would need to be someone who had pioneered to new territory applying the power of music to applicable medium of the day….something that would likely be out of the pervue of the average church musician, yet well within the grasp of the craft and concept of the missional visionary.  To earn the respect and even admiration by those within the professional musician and recording world this person would have to possess impeccable credentials, obvious superior talent, and a genuine transparency.

 The recipient of the Sims award would be expected to have an impact outside the church itself.  The use of giftedness to influence and serve educational development, the entertainment community, and broadcast media helps to elevate awareness and respectability for the whole Christian enterprise.

 This year’s recipient personifies vision without calling attention to himself, or for that matter without calling attention to the vision itself.  Humble in spirit, yet commanding an adherence to a standard of excellence that often exceeds even the finest musician’s understanding.

 Singers, players, co-producers/arrangers and recording engineers who have worked with this man are quite familiar with the phrase, “One more time,” which they all are well aware probably does NOT mean, “ONE more time.”

 He is well-known and respected in his adopted home of New York City, where he has worked with the very best in the fields of recording, music education, and composition.  He has also worked with stars of stage and screen.  Yet, the relationships he seems to cherish the most are with young, developing talents for whom he seems to take delight in providing opportunity that will unleash their budding talents, or with fellow artists who are of diverse background and ethnicity, particularly African-American for whom he has obvious respect and admiration, and finally for his beloved recording and concertizing phenomenon, The Centurymen.  It is the latter that has given me the privilege of relationship with this musical giant.

 I can tell you that for a local church music minister, or a state denominational music & worship leader, or an educator to be walking the streets of New York, catching a cab, or traveling the world with this man is a great honor, but also a lesson in proper perspective.

 I will never forget my first experience riding in a car with my hero and mentor.  We had sung a concert in the church I was serving as Minister of Music.  It was a wonderful night.  As we traveled in the car I fretted over what to say.  After 30 minutes of near total silence other than the hum of the road, he spoke up, “uh……that was great bar-b-q tonight.”  Bar-b-q?  I was traveling with an idol, and we were talking bar-b-q?  For the next 30 minutes we tossed back and forth places we had experienced the southern cuisine.  We compared beef to pork, Texas to Tennessee to his home state of Arkansas.

 Since that time I have come to know him more than what we put in our stomachs, though that is still a subject of which we may speak.  I have had opportunity to observe his interaction with professionals, and commoners, and find him to be a Christian gentlemen in the best sense.  I have had the privilege of introducing him to my family, and seen him take interest in them.  I have been introduced to his family, and have heard his quiet affirmation and sense of pride of their accomplishments.  Perhaps best of all, I have experienced the witness and nuance of his marvelous music.  I discover much about him there, for his quiet and sometimes shy manner is not to be found in the profound musical expression.  There are surprises at every turn.  In making that music together with my fellow Centurymen over the last 17 years of my participation I have found God frequently and often.

 Some of us speak our music to the Church, and call for the saints to proclaim His praise in worship.  This man has also found ways of utilizing the intrinsic mysterious beauty of music itself to speak to the soul of Christians and non-Christians without deserting the essence of both subject and form.  God has granted me the privilege of knowing him, and making music with him.  Because of that my life has been made richer, and so has the musical expression and experience of Baptists and church musicians everywhere.

 Paul Clark, Baptist Church Music Council and former Centurymen President  — Upon the Occasion of Presenting the W. Hines Sims Award to Buryl Red, June 29, 2004


April 1, 2013

Resurrection Coypel 1700 FLASH!  WOOSH! BAM!  Those words are more fitting to a Superman or Batman cartoon than they are to the impact of the Resurrection of Jesus.  Our modern artistic pallet seems to be rooted in the dramatic that does not “take too long.”  I found myself both amused and disturbed by some critics’ review of the recent movie rendition of Les Miserables, due to the fact that it took 157 minutes.  Guess that is too long to wait for redemption.  Wow!  No wonder we do not have the patience to read the Bible through, or even worse, to cut God slack either because He seemed in history to go long periods of time without miraculous revelation, or because He said Jesus was coming back and here we are ….still waiting.

So, why in the world would we want to extend Easter past one Sunday?  Why would we want to stretch it out 50 days, all the way to Pentecost Sunday, like liturgical Christian calendars say?  I mean, we got it, Jesus was raised from the dead…now let’s move on. Right?  There are many excuses for such an attitude, and we evangelicals can be experts at excuses to avoid hard truth or convicting revelation.  For instance, among leaders I sadly hear the spiritualized stewardship efficiency excuse.  “These are demanding times.  Instead of reveling in the Resurrection, we must get the job done.”  This is the one that leans heavily upon our responsibilities, thus justifying our impatience.  That achievement-oriented thinking starts the Great Commission with “Go ye,” and leaves off the precipitating section that reveals the disciples’ ethos of worship in which the Great Commission was given in the first place; the one that prescribes the only means by which the “going and making” will have any effect.  For Jesus said, “all authority is given to Me (Jesus) in Heaven and on earth.”  (Matt 28:17-20)

One of our biggest problems in present day evangelical Christendom is our impatience.  Seems to me we experience (and foster) this impatience in our dis-ease with taking any time to linger in story, to mine its depths, unveil its art.  To the contrary, we have bastardized beauty, sought utility as highest virtue, and given in to the average videogame attention span, as if  all worshipers have minds the size of a peanut.  What are we saying when we trade Worship Preparation or Prelude with Video Countdown?  What is the message yielded when in our worship we chase away any possibility of silence with extended noodling on acoustic guitar or keyboard?  If we were actually still, what is it we are afraid we might hear?  Could it be that our over-stimulation of worship space and time is actually rooted in our impatience with God?  It surely can seem to communicate that message.

Where does this impatience show up for those in worship leadership?  For preaching pastors it may be the resistance to prescribed or long-visioned preaching plans.  For worship music leaders it can even be reflected in something as mundane as sped-up tempi, or penchant to favor usage of “new” songs in worship.  For worship planners, our present inclination to video testimonies in order to control both what is said and the time within which it is delivered, may well be indicators that we are giving in to efficiency over ethos. 

Why my appeal for more extended view of worship and worship effect in life transformation, and disciple-formation?  Because there is value in the aggregate effect of what the Risen Christ does in our lives and churches through the Holy Spirit over time.  In no way does this view diminish the instantaneous expression of God’s power through whatever means He deems appropriate.   Nor does it in any way belittle the man, woman, parent, or child bowing to accept when “that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.”  Rather, this appeal is that we might more boldly faith God’s work in His time, and help worshipers join in placing ourselves in His time, as opposed to trying to get Him to fit into ours.  Perhaps the live art offering in worship will replace the internet connection of my smartphone.  Perhaps my true joining of communal song will remind my ears, voice, and heart that there is joy in “making melody with thankfulness in heart,” that goes beyond hearing whatever music or song I want.

One of my trusted colleagues has a weekly blog entitled Worship EvaluationThese two words capture the essence of my appeal to you who plan and lead worship, who may either be regular readers, or who may happen upon this article whether by Google or the Holy Spirit, recognizing the latter is capable of using the former.  In Holy contemplation and Spirit-led community, let us give ongoing thoughtful evaluative effort to every aspect of gathered worship.  In this season of Pascheltide or Eastertide, let us continue triumphantly to “raise your joys and triumphs high. Alleluia!”

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