Category Archives: Music

#99: Music Ministry of an Apostle

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #99, on the subject of Music Ministry of an Apostle.

We have been talking about being “called” to “music ministry”.  Our first installment, #95:  Music Ministry Disconnect, made the point that most Christians are not what we call “ministers” and most musicians are “entertainers”.  In #97:  Ministry Calling we examined how to know whether you are “called” to be a “minister”, based largely on who you are, what motivates you and how you relate to others with needs.  Last time we identified five specific “ministries” in #98:  What is a Minister?, and said we would begin looking at individual ministries this time.

A man speaking on behalf of a major missionary organization once said that Billy Graham was not an evangelist.  His contention was that evangelists didn’t merely preach the gospel; they founded churches.

Painting of St. Paul, imagined c.1550
Painting of St. Paul, imagined c.1550

I knew that had to be wrong, not merely because Doctor Graham is perhaps the quintessential modern example of an evangelist but because it didn’t seem to fit what I knew of the first century church–so I looked it up.  The New Testament gives us only one example identified for us (in Acts 21:8) as an evangelist, known to us aptly as “Philip the Evangelist”.  Of his ministry we know three facts, which we will present in reverse order.

The third fact was that after he was some distance to the southwest of Jerusalem he traveled north and east (Acts 8:40), preaching the gospel in towns along the way until he reached Caesarea.  It does not say that he founded churches in these places, nor even that he stayed any time in each.

The second fact was that after his major effort preaching in Samaria he was directed to travel to Azotus in the southwest (known as Ashdod in the Old Testament) where he met an Ethiopian eunuch and explained the gospel to him (Acts 8:27ff), then after the eunuch’s conversion and baptism he let the man continue to Ethiopia and did not travel with him or say anything about starting a church.

It is the first fact that is most interesting in this regard, though.  In Acts 8:5ff Philip, fleeing persecution in Jerusalem along with many others after the lynching of Steven, arrived in Samaria and began preaching the gospel, and many were converted.  Word reached the apostles, still in Jerusalem, and they sent two of their own, Peter and John, who prayed that the Samaritan believers would receive the Holy Spirit.  Philip brought people to Christ, but it appears to have been Peter and John who started the church.

We see this also in the ministry of Paul, who said that he wanted to preach only where the gospel had not yet been heard, who told the Corinthian church, which he founded, that they were proof of his apostleship.  He was an apostle, that is, translated more precisely, an emissary or envoy or representative, whose job it was to found churches, to bring the gospel to people who had not heard it and get them organized into gatherings (ekklesia, which we often render “churches” but which generally refers to groups of people assembling based on some commonality that distinguishes them from the general population) through which they could grow–and then move elsewhere.

But then, aren’t apostles infallible speakers on behalf of God?  Isn’t that why we respect everything they say?  No, and not exactly.

In Galatians Paul tells of the occasion on which quite a few leaders from the Jerusalem church visited the church in Syrian Antioch.  The Jerusalem church, being in the heart of Judea, was almost entirely Jewish believers; the Antioch church, being in a gentile country, was much more integrated.  Jewish and gentile believers sat together at meals.  (This did not mean they ate the same food; Jewish Christians in the first century were clearly still observing kosher diets, while accepting that gentile Christians were not obliged to do so.)  When Peter arrived, he saw that this was the way it ought to be, and joined the party.  However, when James (probably “the brother of the Lord”) arrived, he created a “Jews Only” table around himself, and gradually all the Jews in the Antioch church–including Barnabas and Peter–were separating themselves from the gentiles during meals.  Paul publicly rebuked them:  they were wrong, they were sending the wrong message, they had bought the lie.  Jews might eat different food than gentiles, but all were equally embraced in the family of God and called to embrace each other as equals.  That was the important point in Galatians–but the important point for us is that Peter and Barnabas, both called apostles, were wrong.

The authority of an apostle derives from the fact that he is the person who brought the message and founded the church, and it’s his responsibility to get it organized and see that it thrives.  We have apostles today–most of them we call missionaries in places where there are no churches, working to bring people to Christ and join believers in organized mutual support groups.  The apostle tells people what to do to make that work, and ultimately to make himself obsolete.  The New Testament apostles in a very real sense founded all the churches, and so what they wrote has authority in part because they are the founders of our churches, and they told us the best ways to do things to make them work.

The writings of the apostles have another basis for being authoritative, in that they are “scripture”, that is, we believe God was behind those writings specifically giving us His directions for how we should live and work together.  Note that Mark, Luke, James, and Jude are never said to be apostles in the New Testament, and we do not know who wrote Hebrews, but we do not consider their books any less authoritative than those written by Matthew, John, Paul, or Peter.  They are the divinely-preserved record of our founding principles, and as such are the written basis for all we are.

The apostles of today are on the front lines of ministry, some of them in places like former Iron Curtain countries where faith had been obliterated, some in Islamic countries where a confession of faith can mean death, some in primitive regions where the message has barely penetrated.  They work with people who need to have the gospel, but who need more than that, help and direction in building a community of believers who can work together.

That is not to say that there are no apostles in modern civilized western countries.  Faith has been fading in many of these, and there are mission fields in the cities and the countrysides, places where no one is proclaiming the message of grace and peace.  God sends people into these places to bring hope, to save the lost and unite the dispersed, to build churches not so much as buildings but as gatherings.  These are the first people to minister to a local church, because these are the people who create that church and set it on the path toward unity and love and service.

The apostle’s response to the needs he encounters can vary greatly.  He will of course use whatever gifts he has to meet needs directly, but his greater interest is in creating a community of believers who can meet each other’s needs.  One person’s need within the community is an opportunity for another person to meet that need, and the apostle seeks to make that happen, to make himself obsolete as the community learns to minister within itself.

There is a degree to which the apostolic ministry uses music in the greatest variety of ways, because the apostle has the broadest ministry objectives.  He needs to evangelize like the evangelist, but also shepherd like the pastor and instruct like the teacher, at least until he can find persons in those congregations who are called to those ministries.  Then, once the church is established, he goes somewhere else and starts the process anew.  His job is not to be the ruler in the church, but to be its first servant, and see to it that others are moved into positions of service that allow him to leave.  If Paul is our best example, the apostle will return from time to time to help with any problems, and sometimes stay for a while to support the ministry efforts in one place or another, but the job is to start the church and then get it to a place where it runs itself without him.

So apostles are vitally important to the existence of churches, but they aren’t special in any other sense, and we need them and should recognize them–and particularly if you have that calling, you should understand what it is you are doing.  If indeed you are called to found a church, you probably are not called to stay there long, but to leave it in the capable hands of other ministries while you go found another.  There is no long-term job security for an apostle, one of the reasons Paul and Barnabas did not bring along wives.

Next on the list is the prophet.

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#98: What Is a Minister?

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #98, on the subject of What Is a Minister?

We have been talking about being “called” to “music ministry”.  Our first installment, #95:  Music Ministry Disconnect, made the point that although all Christians are called to minister and do all things to the glory of God, and all Christian musicians are to use their gifts for God’s glory, most Christians are not what we call “ministers” and most musicians are “entertainers”.  In #97:  Ministry Calling we examined how to know whether you are “called” to be a “minister”.  A large part of that proved to be that you simply and quite unintentionally acted like a particular kind of minister, and thus to know whether you are a “minister” you need to know something about what motivates those who are, and what they do quite naturally.

Immediately we hit a problem:  It does not appear that the New Testament uses the words “minister” or “ministry” in quite the, shall we say, technical way we do.  Everyone in the church has a “ministry”.  It is perfectly proper to speak of as ministers those whose ministry involves making the coffee for the break, or driving the shut-ins to services.  Where the words are used, they mean “servants” or “servers” or “services” or “serving”, what it is that we do to help others.  In that sense everyone is a minister, and everyone has some kind of calling.  Indeed, our musical “entertainers” can reasonably be said to have “ministries” of entertaining and encouraging and enlightening us with their music.  Yet there are some who are distinguished in what we might think leadership positions, people we call “ministers” because they in some sense stand apart from those we sometimes call “laymen”.  Sometimes we distinguish it by what we call “ordination” or “being ordained”, but we also give “licenses” to preach and other forms of recognition to various ministries, and in some churches and denominations it is much less formal but still structured, that some people are seen to be the pastors or leaders of the church who do the ministering and others the congregants who benefit from it.  The New Testament does not give us a word for this beyond saying that these people are “gifts given to men”.

This is not entirely foreign to the New Testament, though.  We previously noted that in Ephesians 4:11 Paul identifies five types of people who are given as gifts to the church, by the designations apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher.  These are apparently distinct, serving specific but related functions and purposes within the body of Christ.  No one is called to be “a minister”; rather, an individual is called to be one of these–an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, or teacher.  There is precedent in the New Testament to support the notion that an individual can be more than one of these, but these are the five categories we mean when we speak of “ministers” being “called”.

img0098Pulpit

Again to be clear, these are not the only people who have what we might call “positions” of “service” or “responsibility” within the church.  The New Testament also mentions “episkopos” which we usually render “overseers” or sometimes “bishops” (which is from the Latin for overseers); “presbuteros” which means “elders” but is sometimes transliterated to “presbyters”; “diakonos” which technically means “waiters” as in the people who serve food at meals but is often generalized to “servants” or transliterated to “deacons”.  However, we are told that it is good to aspire to these offices and given requirements for them, which makes no sense if we’re talking about who you were born to be.  There are people with gifts of healings, gifts of administration, and many other kinds of gifts, but there is at least the suggestion that you can pray for gifts you believe would be useful (specifically interpretation if you speak in tongues), and that gifts come at some point during your life, so again this is not who you were born to be.  These five, though, are identified here not as jobs people assume or gifts they have received, but as five kinds of people who have been given, and with the purpose stated as (quoting from the Webster Bible) “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”  These seem to be the people who do what we might call the “spiritual” work, whose job it is to build the church into what we, individually and collectively, are intended to be.

Interestingly, the list appears to be built as a stack of contrasts.  It uses a Greek grammatical form known as a “men…de” construction, typically read “on the one hand…on the other hand”, although in this case there are several hands, on the one hand the apostles, on the other hand the prophets, on the other hand the evangelists, on the other hand the pastors and teachers, and so the list seems to be in some kind of order.  Because of our reverence for apostles and prophets, we often make it a hierarchical order of authority:  the infallible apostles are in charge, followed by the divinely-inspired prophets, and then the others–but we don’t really like putting evangelists above pastors, and many of us assert that there are no longer any apostles or prophets in the church today.  Those conclusions are probably all mistaken.  I believe that when we understand what these ministries are we will also understand that they are listed in the sequential order in which they are needed in a local church.

Some argue that there are not five items on this list but only four, the fourth being properly understood something like “pastor-teachers”.  My own experience and observation suggests that there are some excellent pastors who are not very good teachers, and some good teachers (among whom I might number myself) who are not pastors.  That, though, is too empirical for the basis of an exegetical conclusion.  Rather, I observe that although there are several persons in the New Testament who are specifically identified (by name) as teachers–most prominent among them Paul–only one is specifically identified as a pastor, Peter, who is never identified as a teacher, and obviously none of the teachers are identified as pastors.  That is either a remarkable coincidence or an indication that the two words identify distinct ministries within the church, and the latter explanation fits the empirical observation.  Thus it would seem that if you are called to ministry in that sense, you are probably called to one of these five ministries, and it is important to understand which one you are.

Again, this applies even if you are called to music ministry.  An evangelistic music ministry is going to look very different from a pastoral one, because in the one case the music is being integrated into a primarily evangelistic outreach ministry while in the other it is connected to pastoral care and shepherding.

It would be overmuch for this one post to tackle all five of the named ministries, so we will stop here and begin at the top of the list next time.

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#97: Ministry Calling

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #97, on the subject of Ministry Calling.

We began this series with post #95:  Music Ministry Disconnect.  My reasons for writing and my credentials are in that article.  We finished with the observations that

  1. All Christians are to do all things to the glory of God and minister as they are able;
  2. All Christian musicians should glorify God in their music;
  3. Only some are called to be what we call “ministers”; most are “entertainers”.

Our continuation in this article is really about that aspect of being “called” into “ministry”, what that means, and how to recognize it.

There is a sense in which the two aspects–being a musician and being a minister–might be linked, but there is another sense in which the question of being called is entirely separate from the question of being a musician.  That means I am, perhaps rather hazardously, embarking on asking the question of how to know whether you are called to be “a minister” of some sort.  I do not want anyone to suppose that I am questioning or challenging the calling of some minister–I make it a rule not to do that, and to remember that God deals with us as individuals, giving us individual tasks through individualized guidance.  If you are a minister, I presume you know that you are called, and this should not in any way be taken as suggesting otherwise.  This is intended to help people who don’t know whether they are called or not.

I should also repeat that musicians who are not “called” to ministry are not thereby excluded from using their musical gifts within the church.  When Paul told the Corinthians that some attending their gatherings would have “a psalm” (I Corinthians 14:26)–a Greek word for a type of song–he appears to have meant that ordinary members of the congregation would be encouraged to share songs with the group.  The fact (if it is a fact) that you have no calling to ministry does not prevent you from singing in the choir or playing in the worship band or sharing a song sometimes.  It means something entirely different.

Chris Tomlin, composer and worship leader
Chris Tomlin, composer and worship leader

When we think about New Testament examples of someone being called to ministry, Paul’s Damascus Road encounter often comes to mind.  Jesus appeared to Paul and told him he was fighting against the truth, and thereafter Paul repented and became an apostle to the gentiles.  We conclude that this is when and how and where Paul was called to be an apostle.

And we are wrong.

Paul himself tells us in Galatians 1:15 that God called him to this ministry before he was born.  He was called to be an apostle before he was breathing, and certainly before he was a believer.  The entire time he was persecuting the Christians, he was already called to be one of our most prominent apostles.  He received extensive seminary training–they would have called it rabbinical training, from Rabban Gamaliel I, the only person cited in both the New Testament and the Talmud–long after he was called, and before he was a believer.  A calling is with you from before birth.  It’s only a matter of when you realize it and understand it–and that might take some time.

This, though, fits with what Paul says in Ephesians 4:11ff.  We misread that quite often.  We think it says that Jesus gave some the gift of being a pastor or an evangelist or one of the other ministries, but it does not say that.  It says that Jesus gave the church gifts in the form of people who are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.  I once heard Evangelist Tom Skinner say that if he were not an evangelist he would be an excellent used car salesman, because he had the “gift of gab”.  That’s a glib way of putting it, but it makes the point:  if you are called to be a minister, you already are that minister, you were born that minister, and you cannot help being that minister.

One of my friends went through a very bad time in his life.  He had been in Bible college preparing for the pastorate, and working full time to support his family, and it all became too much so he ran away with a younger girl and got a job as a custodian in a bar.  While he was there, people brought their problems to him, and he gave them solid biblical advice–because he was a pastor, even when his life crashed, and he couldn’t help being a pastor.  If you’re called, you are probably already doing the things that fit your calling–you just haven’t recognized it.

This also tells us that you don’t become a minister by developing specific skills or getting special training.  We are told that Paul was, in addition to being an apostle, also a teacher.  He was presumably also a teacher before he was born, before he had that extensive training in scripture.  God didn’t call him because he had been to college; he sent him to college because he had called him.  My degrees in Biblical Studies aid my teaching significantly, but they are neither the reason I am a teacher nor the qualification for my calling.  Observation suggests that a calling to ministry is seen in personality and motivation:  what you find yourself doing, and why you do it.  If you are frequently acting like a pastor or teacher or other kind of minister, there is a very good likelihood that you are such a person, such a minister, born that way and possibly unaware of it.  I was constantly learning and teaching before it ever occurred to me that I might be called to teach; it was just something I naturally did because of who and what I am.  You probably can’t completely avoid being whatever it is God called you to be–as Paul said, “woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.”

The other half of it, though, is that other people are going to recognize this in you.  People with needs that fit your calling will come to you, whether it’s for understanding or guidance or something else.  Other people in ministry will recognize your place, and some will try to help you move into it.  There are two issues here, though, and they both concern what we should call confirmation.  The short form is that God is not going to send someone else–not even a prophet–to tell you something He hasn’t already been telling you directly.

The one side of that is that you should not permit yourself to be pushed into a ministry that does not fit you by someone who thinks you have a calling you honestly do not believe you have.  This goes back to my experience with The Last Psalm and my observations of many other Christian bands of the time:  a lot of us trying to do evangelism were not evangelists.  I remember when one of our members left the band, he said to me that it was his impression that we had a tremendous amount of impact on the members of the band, but nothing of note on the audiences.  That was undoubtedly because he was a pastor and I was a teacher, and we were the ministry front of a band that was desperately trying to fit the mold of an evangelist without having a clue how to do that beyond copying what others did.  People will attempt to fit you into their expectations, their molds; but even if you are called God does not use molds but individually crafted vessels.  If you really are not called, if God is not trying to tell you that you are a minister, He is not going to tell someone else what He has not told you.

The other side is that we can be notoriously poor listeners.  I was completely obtuse.  The fact was that I was on the radio six nights per week opening the Bible between songs and sharing what I had learned of what the scripture taught with some unknown number of listeners, many of whom made a point of joining me at that time for that sharing, but it had not occurred to me that I was a teacher; I only knew that I was not a pastor and was looking for my place in “music ministry” which I still assumed meant evangelistic outreach.  It was not until someone I knew as a man of God introduced me to a complete stranger who was said to be a prophet, and in his prayer he noted that I was a teacher, that I realized it–and at that moment I saw that he was right.  (That happened to me again decades later, that another prophet in another place recognized the same fact about me.)  You might not get word from a prophet–you might be more aware than I was of what God is saying to you–but you will find that others recognize and acknowledge your ministry.  If others seem to think you have a calling of which you are not aware, take some time prayerfully to consider whether they might be right, whether God has been nagging you about this and you have been ignoring Him.  It is easy to miss, either because we are too modest to imagine that God might have made us for something special (which is silly, because He made everyone for something special, it’s just that your special purpose has a name and function within the body of Christ), or because we are unwilling to follow the path God has for us if it does not lead where we wanted to go (which is again foolish, since that’s the only place we will ever be content).

So what has this to do with being in “music ministry”?  In a sense there is no such thing.  There is music, and it can be a tool used in ministry.  Being a musician is about skill sets and ways of processing information, talent and practice.  Being a minister is about who you are more fundamentally, about something that consumes your life, becomes the very definition of who you are and what you do, how you relate to others and to yourself.  When I say that I am a musician, I mean only that I have musical abilities that I use in various ways; certainly if something happened that prevented me from using music, I would miss it, but I would still be who I am.  When I say that I am a teacher, I mean something much more basic, that this is who I am, what I do, that if you chat with me in the kitchen while I’m washing dishes it’s very likely that I will start teaching you about something, whether it’s the basics of relativity or the concepts of Lord of the Rings or the fundamentals of law and grace.  It’s who I am.  It becomes “music ministry” when I figure out how to integrate my musical abilities into that calling, how to use music as part of the teaching.  It is the same for all the ministries:  ministers are people with specific tasks for the building of the body of Christ; some learn to use music as part of the pursuit of those objectives.  The same can be said of visual artists, dramatic artists, and indeed of computer programmers and game designers and basket weavers and taxi drivers, that those with a calling integrate their skills and talents into that calling.

A music ministry, then, is simply a ministry that has integrated music into the process.

A calling, meanwhile, is a fundamental aspect of who you were born to be which unfolds and is discovered by you and others during your life, as you grow into the place for which God made you.

We’ll talk more about ministries in future articles.

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#95: Music Ministry Disconnect

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #95, on the subject of Music Ministry Disconnect.

I was recently invited to join a Facebook group created for Christian musicians to “network”.  I’m not sure whether it’s working–most of the posts I’ve seen thus far are the same kinds of self-promotions I’ve seen in other Christian musician discussion groups–but it prompted me to consider what a Christian musician network would do.  The top of my list was that it involve Christian musicians helping each other understand what they were doing and how to do it better.  I have some experience with that, which inspired me to start composing a miniseries here for the web log through which I might perhaps be able to share some of that with other musicians.

Before I get to the first step, though, it might help you for me to give a few credentials–who am I, that I would presume to advise Christian musicians in their craft?  Don’t worry; this article is about the first step, but I want to cover those preliminaries before I get there.

I have been a musician for so long that I tell people English is my second language–I originally spoke Music.  My kindergarten teacher noted it (she told my mother I was her “little songbird”).  By the time I started high school I played about a dozen instruments (piano, clarinet, saxophone, oboe, ukulele, guitar, fife, recorder, tonette, organ, bass guitar, that I remember) and the list has since grown–give me an instrument I’ve never seen, and in half an hour I’ll be able to play a tune I composed specifically for it.  I was also in choirs and choruses, often as soloist.  Twice I was in New Jersey All-State Chorus, and I also joked that I was in every musical ensemble my high school offered except the Girl’s Octet.  (I was student director of the Freshman Chorus when I was an upperclassman.)  I clepped out of three terms of music theory in college before deciding that I was going to major in Bible rather than music.  I also played in quite a few local rock bands and jam sessions, formally and informally.  With a group of friends I recorded an album of my original music (Genuine Junk Lives in Ramsey) in about 1968, but we never released it because we were concerned about copyright issues.  My credentials as a musician are fairly solid.

At the beginning of 1973, the last “secular” band I directed, a precision jazzrock group called BLT Down, made the decision to change to all Christian music and ministry, under the new name The Last Psalm.  Since then I have been involved almost entirely in Christian music, playing with or directing Jacob’s Well, Aurora, TerraNova, Cardiac Output, 7dB, Collision, and a number of other bands some of which did not have names, plus doing solo work.  Around that time I also took every opportunity to speak with artists after their appearances, to get their thoughts on what someone hoping for a career in Christian music ought to do.  These included Barry McGuire, Ted Sandquist, Phil Keaggy, Larry Norman–well, it was a long time ago.  In 1979, after college, I landed a job at WNNN-FM, then one of the most respected contemporary Christian music stations in the country, and had opportunities to speak with more artists, including Noel Paul Stookey, B. J. Thomas, Marty McCall, again Barry McGuire, Glad, Found Free, Scott Wesley Brown, Glen Kaiser, Chris Christian, Brown Bannister–we ran an artist interview show every week, and probably half of these were my interviews.  I knew quite a bit about what was happening in the Christian music world, and had plenty of opportunity to get ideas from people.

I also discovered along the way that I had a calling to ministry, specifically as a teacher.  If this series survives, we will discuss that.  For now, the fact that I am Chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild and author of several books should be adequate to support the presumption that I am a teacher; it thus makes some sense that I would take this opportunity to teach what I know about Christian music.  I hope at least some of you will benefit, and will let me know how you benefited at some point.

Also, although this is particularly targeted at musicians, I expect many of the principles will apply to those in other fields, particularly artistic and performance fields, and perhaps those in other kinds of ministry, although I don’t expect to be tackling those directly.

Amy Grant, c.2008
Amy Grant, c.2008

When I began doing Christian music, the question should have arisen as to whether being a Christian and a musician automatically put me in Christian music ministry.  Because I lived in the northeastern United States in the early 1970s, that was not a question:  if you were a musician and a Christian, of course you were a minister, and were called to use your music for evangelism.  We did that not because we were particularly good at it nor particularly successful nor in a sense particularly led that direction, but because that was what Christian musicians did.  If you were a Christian and a musician, and you did not use your music for evangelistic outreach, believers in that part of the country at that time would seriously question your commitment to your faith.  We, that is, people in the Evangelical/Charismatic community, were aware that there were singers in Nashville doing Country Music who would throw in an occasional Christian song (usually Amazing Grace, but they would also produce Christmas albums with a mix of sacred and secular songs), but we assumed that they were not really Christian.  Somewhere I encountered the testimony of a man who had sung Black Gospel (that’s a musical style, not a racial denigration) for years before he had discovered that the gospel message was true and became a believer; singing an occasional Christian song as an audience pleaser did not make someone a Christian musician.

Yes, we were rather judgmental; we probably would have called it discernment, but it was really about applying our concepts and standards to other people.  We failed to grasp that it was possible to be a Christian, a musician, and an entertainer without being an evangelist.

Our mistake was in one sense defensible.  After all, every believer is called to “preach the gospel”, to “do the work of an evangelist”, to “have an answer ready”.  We therefore assumed that anyone who gathered an audience to hear some music was obliged to use that music entirely to deliver that message.  Yet even those who are called to ministry, such as pastors, don’t constantly talk about the gospel–sometimes they talk about what to have for dinner, and some of them even talk about favorite sports teams or music or movies.  Certainly a musician who is a Christian is going to mention it, and share his faith with others; that does not mean he is of necessity called to be a minister at all, let alone an evangelist.  I have known quite a few musicians who were called into ministry; I’ve known quite a few ministers who were never musicians and Christian musicians who have never been called into ministry.  It took me a long time to grasp that, but Amy Grant and B. J. Thomas are just two prominent examples of Christian musicians who have always been entertainers and probably never called to ministry.  B. J. Thomas severed ties with many believers because they couldn’t understand that.

Thus the first question a musician who is a Christian needs to ask himself is whether he is called to ministry at all, or whether he is just an entertainer who happens to be skilled in music.  Jubal, father of all who play the pipe, was a son of Cain, not of Seth.  God’s people do not have exclusive ownership of music.

In reaching this conclusion, it might help to have some understanding of the kinds of ministry that we can identify.  That’s part of what this series is going to cover in future installments, so you’ll have to read those for that kind of help.  It should also be noted that just because you do not have a calling to ministry does not mean you can’t play in a ministry band of some sort with people who do.  I sometimes am invited to play with local worship bands; I am not a worship leader, but that does not mean I cannot contribute support to the ministry of someone who is.  In the same way, if your church needs someone to play guitar for a service, you are not excluded from doing so simply because you are not called to ministry.  I don’t think Donna Summer ever claimed to have a ministry calling, but that did not prevent her from sharing her testimony during her televised concert special.  You don’t have to be an evangelist to share the gospel.  The point here is that you don’t have to share the gospel to be a Christian entertainer.  Obviously sometimes you are going to have to let people know that you are a Christian, and what that means; you do not have to build your concerts around it.  God wants us to enjoy life, and that includes having entertainment that is God-honoring; not everything that is God-honoring necessarily has to mention the name of Jesus.

The flipside of this is that if you are called into music ministry you must understand that not everyone is.  That’s distinct from recognizing that everyone’s ministry is unique, and that other Christian ministers are going to have different objectives and different methods for reaching them.  You have to understand that just because this guy is a good guitarist and a good singer does not mean he is called to be an evangelist or worship leader or other minister.  He might merely have a musical gift.  He might be able to support those other ministries, to play in your worship team or your evangelism band, but there’s no reason why he can’t use his gift to share some secular music he enjoys and thinks uplifting in some way.  If he plays in bars or coffeehouses or county fairs, he’s not being unchristian simply because he chose a secular venue and did not use it to sing a lot of Christian songs.

I would expect that a Christian entertainer would give thought to the messages his music conveys.  You don’t always have to be preaching the gospel openly, but you should be careful about preaching that which is against it.  Certainly a minister should prayerfully consider what he intends to sing and say, but the fact that you are not a minister does not excuse you from prayerfully considering your own performances.  Indeed, you might discover that you are called and simply failed to recognize it.  On the other hand, you might be an entertainer who happens to be Christian–and the world needs those, too, because we are to be lights in all the worlds.  The Christians I know in the hobby game industry make a difference in the lives of the people around them without all being pastors or preaching sermons.  The same is true in the music world:  we need musicians who are Christians interacting with people who are not, and music ministries generally have a lot more trouble reaching unbelieving audiences than good entertainers who happen to be believers.

There are two points to take from this.

The first is to remember that all believers are called to do all things to the glory of God; that includes the entertainment we enjoy and the entertaining we provide.  Just because you are an entertainer but not a minister does not mean you are not responsible for what you say and sing.  We are all called to minister, in the fundamental sense of serving others, but it seems only a small number of us are called to be ministers in the somewhat technical way we have come to use the word.  That is the second point:  Christian musical entertainer is the default; it’s what most Christians who are musicians should expect to be.  The calling to ministry is something else.

I can’t give much more advice to Christians who are entertainers beyond what I give to Christians generally, because I am not and never have been in that category.  I have always been in Christian ministry–but it took a long time for me to figure out how I should do that.  Next time we’ll start talking about kinds of ministry and how to know if you are called to one.

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#90: Footnotes on Guidance

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #90, on the subject of Footnotes on Guidance.

Recently I have encountered someone several times who appears to me to be struggling to find God’s direction.  I could be wrong, and in any case we have no relationship which forms a basis for me either asking or advising.  Yet I was considering what advice I might give, and a number of thoughts came to mind.

There is a significant chapter on Guidance in my book What Does God Expect? which is in the main a reworking of the earlier web page Objective and Subjective Christian Guidance.  This present work does not touch on that significantly, and I still regard that an important part of finding God’s direction in our lives.  This is rather a more informal collection of observations about that direction as we experience it.

img0090Rose

The individual in question was suggesting an interest in a particular direction; I asked why, and was given a reason which seemed from my experience to be inconsistent with reality–that is, it was thought that this direction would make money, and I have been down that path many times and never profited financially from it.  Since I take it as essentially a ministry direction (although not everyone would) I was a bit repelled by the reason.  Yet as I contemplated it I realized that there were aspects to this I had not considered.  One is that I have often pursued what I perceived as a ministry direction with the notion somewhere in mind that it might incidentally make money; I just had not listed it first on the expectations in most instances (although sometimes it may have been second or third).  The other was more complicated, but I think, too, more important.

It seems to me that God sometimes directs my path by letting me see reasons for something which ultimately have little or nothing to do with why He sent me that direction.  That’s not to say He lied to me; it’s more to say that I don’t get to know the plan, only my next task within it.

The example that springs to mind occurred when I was in college, having finished two years at Luther and started at Gordon.  I had placed out of the first three terms of music theory and had not yet decided whether I should be a music major or a Biblical studies major.  My career objectives were to become a Christian rock recording artist and performer, and I could see that either direction might be valuable.  Yet at some point I came to the conclusion that a degree in Biblical studies would aid my career in Christian music more than a degree in music.  I thought it might open doors, that people would be more interested in a Christian singer with a degree in Bible than a musician who happened to be Christian.

I am certainly not going to say that the degree in Biblical studies did not help my career as a musician.  It has contributed significantly to the lyrics of my songs and “patter” in my stage presentation.  However, that “career” has been at best spotty, and I do not think anyone ever asked me about my theological degrees (I got one from Luther also).  Having a degree in Biblical studies did not do much for that career.  It did, however, open the door for me to work at WNNN-FM, and gave me a solid foundation for the beginnings of my public teaching ministry there.  That in turn, in a very odd way, began my notoriety as a Christian defender of role playing games, and the combination of my degrees and my role playing game connections brought me to the place of being Chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild, writing several books, and writing for many web sites including this web log.  God was indeed preparing me for ministry; He just was not preparing me for that ministry.

Getting back to that young believer who appeared to be seeking God’s direction, I wrote a note suggesting a possible path, and after a week or so received no reply.  I had written previously, a month ago, on a similar subject, and that had not progressed far, so it is possible that my correspondent had decided not to pursue anything I suggested and also decided not to tell me this.  I am not offended; there is no obligation to me.  However, that caused me to think of another observation:  God often leads us where we had no desire to go.

It was 1997.  I was struggling to get Multiverser into print and promote it.  As part of that promotional effort, I polished up an unpublished article I had written almost a decade before, entitled Confessions of a Dungeons & Dragons™ Addict, and found a space on the Internet to post it.  It got a fair amount of attention, and I received an e-mail from a Reverend James Aubuchon, who together with two others had launched an organization named The Christian Role Playing Game Association.  He was inviting me to join.  I declined politely.  I am not a joiner, I was on dial-up and needed to spend whatever time I had online to promote the game that was expected to make me if not rich at least solvent, and I wasn’t particularly interested in such a group.  However, within a few weeks someone who was playing the game wrote to tell me that someone in that group was making negative statements about it, so I felt it necessary to join and address these (which were apparently entirely resolved before I got there).  Once I was a member I began to become involved, I became interested, I got asked to do one thing and another and wound up temporarily stepping into the Chaplain’s office when it was vacated by the original Chaplain who felt that it was incumbent upon him to step into the Presidency when both the President and Vice President had resigned.  Along the way the outgoing President changed the name to the Christian Gamers Guild.  I don’t know what I did as Chaplain that first year, but apparently they liked me and when finally elections were held I was elected to continue as chaplain–and re-elected to the two-year position every even-numbered year since.  It has opened doors for ministry in places I did not know existed, some of which in fact did not exist when I was in college.  God has taken me on an unexpected path that caused me to think about issues no one else was addressing, write articles and books no one else was writing, and minister to people no one else was reaching.  He did it by pushing me into a place I did not want to go.

So to any young believer seeking God’s direction, let me give this advice.  God is going to lead you.  He is not necessarily going to lead you where you think you are going, nor tell you the plan in advance, and sometimes He is going to open doors to possibilities you did not foresee and which you think are not where you want to go.  If there is not a very good reason not to go there, take the open door, explore the possibility that does not sound like what you wanted or expected, because that’s often the way God is taking you to get you to places you never imagined going.

That, anyway, has been my experience, and while I have disappointments in my own hopes and expectations not having been realized, I ultimately must admit that what God has done with me has been very special, unique as far as I am aware, because I let Him take me where I did not intend to go and went for reasons that ultimately proved to have nothing to do with His plan.

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#77: Radio Activity

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #77, on the subject of Radio Activity.

A very long time ago when The Doors were popular, someone said to me that if the only Doors songs I knew were their hits, I did not know what they sounded like.  I thought at the time that that was ridiculous.  After all, wouldn’t a band’s hits be their best songs, and wouldn’t their best songs be those that were most typical of their sound?  But then, despite the fact that I already anticipated being a famous rock musician (right, me and thirty million other kids) I was only in middle school and had never heard anything by The Doors that didn’t play on pop radio.

I began to understand years later, when I was a disc jockey (and eventually program director) of a radio station and got to listen to all the albums that had any chance of getting airplay in our format–which was a broadly defined and eclectic contemporary Christian music sound, when Amy Grant was probably the biggest name, The Imperials were still popular, Glad debuted as a rock band, and Resurrection Band and Servant were cutting edge.

The Collision Of Worlds album
The Collision Of Worlds album

I probably should have realized it when Petra released Washes Whiter Than.  It was a wonderful Christian rock album, but it had one song on it that was atypical, acoustic guitar picking with multiple vocals in a gentle neo-folk style, called Why Should the Father Bother?  It was the kind of song any Christian radio station could play, even if they were committed to Doug Oldham and The Gaithers or The Speers–and apparently quite a few did, because it shot up the Christian contemporary and MOR (that’s “middle of the road” and is regarded a genre in the radio business) charts.  It was a good song; it was not like other songs on the album, such as Morning Star.  I didn’t get it then, though.  It wasn’t until they released Never Say Die two years later, with songs like Chameleon, Angel of Light, Killing My Old Man–and again one song with acoustic guitar picking and great multiple vocals, The Coloring Song, which jumped to the top of the charts and was heard on radio stations throughout the country.

It was shortly after that that it connected.  We rarely played any Resurrection Band, and had to fight for just about every track.  DeGarmo and Key had some great stuff, but most of it wouldn’t get past our management.  We had been one of the leading contemporary Christian radio stations in the country, but the new management did not think that Christians listened to that kind of music and wanted us to shift toward the mellow.  (They somehow also thought that anyone who liked Christian music was also in the demographic that would love to have a Big Band show in the evenings; that failed dramatically.)  What Petra was doing was releasing an album that primarily appealed to its Christian rock fans, but including one song that would get massive airplay on all those more mellow radio stations, alerting their fanbase that there was a new Petra album out there.  They did the same thing with the title track of More Power To Ya, which had such great rock songs as Judas Kiss and Rose Colored Stain Glass Windows.  Being the eclectic sort of musician that I am, I love those rock songs–but I also love the gentle ones, and recognize that even when we won the battle with our management and got the rock songs back on the air, there were still stations all over the country that could only play the gentle ones, and that’s how news of the new release reached the fans.

It also makes more sense to me now as I consider Collision’s album, Of Worlds.  The two songs which I think are most exemplary of the band’s style, Still Small Voice and Heavenly Kingdom, are also the only two on which Jonathan, not I, sings the lead vocal.  The one that was always most popular with the fans, Passing Through the Portal, is probably furthest from our norm.  The one I was told would probably be the most successful radio hit, Stand Up, isn’t even one of mine.

Of course, in the time since The Doors had hits on pop radio, the music industry and the radio industry have both changed several times.  Today the very concept of buying an album is becoming a relic of the past–people don’t buy albums, they buy the songs they want to hear.  The strategy of getting a song from the album on the air by specially crafting it for airplay is losing ground; people don’t listen to such radio stations as much anymore, and airplay does not have the importance it once did.  The music world is fragmenting, and it is becoming harder to become a world-famous musician simply because it is easier to listen to the music you want to hear and never know anything about the artists who don’t play what you like.  Finding out about new music from your favorite artists is easier, because you can bookmark their web sites; finding out about new artists you might like is more difficult, but you can still join Facebook groups that share your interests, listen to podcasts, and otherwise keep track of very narrow preferences.  I don’t know that I understand the music world anymore; I only understand music.

I’m not quite sure how that helps me now–but maybe it does.  There have been a few times when I have received notes from people who found me because of my time travel movies materials (probably the part of the regular site that gets the heaviest traffic) who then were pleased to discover my gaming or Bible materials; the same can probably be said for those sections, that people who find one part of the site sometimes then discover other parts, and become, if we can use the word, “fans” of my writing more broadly.  Quite a few people are enjoying the serialization of the novels, whatever their original interests in me might have been.  This, then, has the potential to grow the base; if readers link articles on one subject or another on their social media sites, their friends and contacts discover what I’m writing, and some of them discover more than just that article.  In the long term, it might mean more support through the Patreon campaign.  If one web log post gets attention, it inherently promotes other web log posts.  If one law and politics article draws interest, readers find their way to more.  If something goes viral, it’s a shot in the arm for everything–at least a few readers out of thousands will return to see what else is here in the future.  All of that is good.

So here’s hoping that something can become “internet active”.

Thanks for your encouragement and support.

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#75: Musical Influences

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #75, on the subject of Musical Influences.

I don’t know why I’m writing this; I don’t know whether anyone is interested in reading it.  However, I recently heard that a not-quite-local Christian blues band (is that an oxymoron?  No, probably not) was seeking a bass guitar player, and they politely said they were not interested in me without giving a reason.  It might be, though, because I’ve never done blues; it might simply be that I am too far away from them.  However, it got me thinking about what kind of music I actually do, and the answer is I’m very eclectic, but the reasons for that undoubtedly at some level relate to my influences.

Anyway, even though in the scores of artists I have interviewed I don’t think I ever asked one of them this, it strikes me as the kind of question interviewers ask musicians (or at least they do if they think anyone cares):  who are your influences, what artists or musicians have led you to do the kind of music you do?  The answer is never simple, of course, but it’s worth considering.

img0075Bassist

Of course, anyone in my generation, and probably anyone since my generation, who does this really has to acknowledge The Beatles.  It isn’t just that I have probably heard, and maybe even learned, more Beatle songs than any other single artist or composer, it is that they in essence redefined music for a generation.  They would have influenced me directly, but also through the fact that they influenced just about every other artist who influenced me.

The same could be said–and probably is not said often enough–about Johann Sebastian Bach.  Face it, he might not have invented anything, but his mastery of both block harmony and counterpoint means that most of western music theory was developed by studying his work.  I learned a great deal about vocal harmony from that, and also attempted feebly to emulate some of his wonderful counterpoint.  I probably do more counterpoint than a lot of other contemporary artists, simply because most contemporary artists don’t even attempt it, and I love it when it works.  I got most of it from him.

I was always heavily influenced by just about anyone who did anything significant with multiple vocals, but particularly (in chronological order) Simon and Garfunkle, Three Dog Night, Crosby Stills and Nash, Second Chapter of Acts, and, very late in the game, Glad.  Glad also had some influence on me otherwise, because they were so like Chicago, whose influence on my instrumental approach probably goes back to their first album.  They, too, were eclectic, with strong jazz and rock influences.  I played saxophone and guitar at various times in the high school stage band, and always admired bands like them, Blood Sweat and Tears, and Lighthouse, who mixed jazz into a rock sound.

I was also strongly influenced by Randall Thompson, the twentieth century choral composer whose work is so remarkable.  I don’t often achieve anything I think worthy of him, but sometimes my vocal arrangements owe a lot to him.  I should also mention Charles Ives, whose modern dissonances often find their way into some of the songs with which I’m most pleased; Francis Poulenc should also be mentioned there; although my exposure to him is significantly less, it was confirming some of the insights I learned from Ives.

There are undoubtedly hundreds of others who impacted me in one way or another.  I heard, learned, and performed works by Dvorak and Holst and Mendelsohn and Mozart, Led Zepellin and Iron Butterfly, Peter Paul and Mary and The Mamas and the Papas, and countless others.

I do not remember the names of all the music teachers I have had over the years, from Mrs. Poznanski (hey, I was in grade school, I have no idea how she spelled it) and Mr. Tronolone back in elementary school and others along the way, but most particularly Ramsey High School’s choral director Edwin Cargill (who taught me how to sightread, much about proper vocal technique, and ran drills for listening to four part harmony and writing out the parts) and band director Robert Bednar (who taught an advanced music theory class and took the time to explain a lot about theory and performance along the way).  My father and Mr. Bednar both played jazz saxophone, but I don’t know whether they ever knew that about each other.

It occurs to me that I should also mention John “Jay” Fedigan, who really demonstrated for me how to write a song instead of a symphony; Art Robbins, with whom I wrote a few songs in the early days; Jeff Zurheide who at least inspired quite a bit if he didn’t actually work with me on any of it; and my parents, who never wanted me to be a musician but did want me to learn to play an instrument and indulged my interest in playing all of them and singing as much as possible, and who exposed me to a considerable variety of other artists and styles from Benny Goodman and Mitch Miller to the early classical composers and the pop music of the early twentieth century.

A complete list would be impossible, but these seem to be the highlights.

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