Music ministry as an extension of the local church is all I know. Twenty years ago, my wife and I loaded up our Ford Escort with all our belongings as well as our first child and moved to Texas to be part of Last Days Ministries. My Irish Catholic, blue-collar father-in-law was unimpressed to say the least. “What kind of life is that, runnin’ around the country singin’ Christian music like a bunch of gypsies?!” Our family thought we were crazy, but we felt an undeniable call to “full-time ministry,” whatever that meant.
So we arrived, stayed in Keith and Melody Green’s old motor home, and tried to find places to serve. One of those places was the local fellowship down the road where all the “ministry people” went to church. At first we just attended; then we began helping with kid’s ministry, youth ministry, and serving on the worship team. After a few months of playing guitar, the pastor asked me at the end of service to “come up and lead a few songs” while he prayed for folks. With fear and trembling, I stepped up to the mic and did my best to “lead worship,” but my mind was protesting, “I’m just the guitar player!” The pastor kept asking me to lead over the next few weeks and eventually offered me $50 a week to “put a band together and see what God does.”
I look back on that time and am so grateful for his willingness to make a space for me and the congregation’s acceptance of a young, inexperienced guy who had much to learn about all that goes into leading a team and building a ministry. I am forever grateful for the grace they extended by overlooking the awkward growing pains of an ingenuous novice.
Probably out of fear of failure, I would spend hours on the platform during the week, singing and playing guitar-praying psalms and prayers to the invisible God. During these times, I would imagine the upcoming Sunday and begin preparing a flow of songs and forecasting the potential transitions. It was during these times that I would often sense prayerful phrases and melodies rise up in my heart that resulted in some early songwriting experiments. I say experiments because I didn’t feel like a songwriter or see myself in that way, but toward the end of our worship set, I would sometimes encourage the congregation to sing out a phrase or a few lines as a closing prayer sung to the Lord. It was from these moments that songs would start to take shape, and it seemed like a good way to chronicle what God was doing in our community. I never envisioned recording a CD, moving to Nashville, touring, or any of the typical paths that one might imagine if hoping to be involved in “Christian music.” Writing songs became an expression of our local journey, conceived during moments of corporate prayer, intense worship, or flowing from messages and themes from our pastoral staff.
Helping Others Worship
Fast-forward 20 years and six live recordings later, our local church continues to be the anchor of my spiritual health and the inspiration for new songs-simple prayers set to music. I can’t seem to finish a song idea without running it through the “congregation filter” in my mind, asking the question, “Will this song help others worship?” If our motivation is to serve our community and see hearts changed, marriages strengthened, and broken lives restored, that has to be the bottom line-helping others worship. Constantly asking this question is imperative in distinguishing and adjusting our motives for ministry.
Jesus spoke of being faithful in the small things, serving in the situation where we find ourselves, before any kind of increase or “promotion” will transpire. It’s a delicate balance of holding dreams of ministry loosely in one hand while faithfully serving where we’re at-with no strings attached. I can appreciate the frustration one might feel when they imagine one kind of ministry and yet endlessly fall short of their expectations. But to live in that place for too long only poisons the well of your heart and steals your joy.
I would encourage you as a leader to see your “art” as a means to serve others. In the case of a worship pastor, team member, or songwriter, that means that your local church is your primary place of service. Your church is filled with a tapestry of gifted people: intercessors, artists, teaching pastors, moms, dads, sanguines, melancholics, and so on. Every nation, tribe, tongue, and personality may contribute to the diversity of backgrounds and expressions in the people that make up your church and will contribute to the overall sound of your worship and the sound of your recordings, if that is part of God’s plan for you.
It doesn’t get much better than serving a local community of believers and seeing lasting fruit take root in their lives and relationships over the long haul. Knowing that you are helping them connect with God and to each other is rewarding to your own soul. It’s a healthy response to Jesus’ question to Peter: “Peter, do you love me?…Feed my sheep.”