Tag Archives: Ministry

#101: Prophetic Music Ministry

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #101, on the subject of Prophetic Music Ministry.

This continues our miniseries on what it is to be “called” to “music ministry”.  Our first installment was #95:  Music Ministry Disconnect, making 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.  Following this we identified five specific “ministries” in #98:  What is a Minister?, and began looking at individual ministries last time with #99:  Music Ministry of an Apostle.

The ministry of the prophet in the New Testament church is much more difficult to assess, for several reasons.

  1. There are Old Testament prophets under the Old Covenant, and we do not know to what degree New Testament prophets under the New Covenant are distinct from them;
  2. There are at least two persons in the Gospels identified as prophets–John the Baptist and Anna–and because their ministries are entirely prior to the resurrection and ascension we do not know whether they are Old Covenant prophets or New Covenant prophets;
  3. There is also a “gift of prophecy” identified in the New Testament, and we do not know whether having that gift and being a prophet are the same thing or different things;
  4. On at least one occasion in the New Testament we are told that someone who was definitely not a believer in Christ prophesied, when the High Priest Caiaphas said that it was best for one man to die for the nation.

All of this adds up to a complicated collection of information about prophets.

On the other hand, there are more than half a dozen prophets identified within the New Testament church, including several leaders of the church at Antioch, the four daughters of Philip the Evangelist, and a pair named Silas and Judas.  Of these last two, we are told that because they were prophets they encouraged the believers in the gentile churches they were visiting, but little more.  There is only one person in the New Testament identified for us as a prophet about whom we are told anything significant concerning his ministry.  He appears twice in the Book of Acts, and his name is Agabus.

The Prophecy of Agabus, Painting by Louis Cheron
The Prophecy of Agabus, Painting by Louis Cheron

The very word prophet means “foreteller” that is, “saying in advance”, the English being drawn directly from the Greek.  For a lot of reasons, we don’t like the idea that God lets some of us know the future, particularly as that seems so useful and most of us are unable to do it.  Thus some argue that there are no longer prophets in the church because they are no longer needed, and some argue that it is not foretelling but “forthtelling” that matters, that every preacher declaring the message of God from the Bible is acting in the role of a prophet.  These, though, do not fit with the ministry we see of Agabus.

We might describe Agabus’ first appearance as a minor mention of a major role:  he warns the church of an impending famine in Acts 11:28.  It was because of this warning that the Christians in Antioch (where Agabus was at that time) started collecting resources for the Christians in Judea, ultimately delivered by Barnabas and Paul.  Thus it appears that in this specific instance, the ministry of the prophet involved announcing a future event for which the hearers would want to prepare themselves.

His second appearance is sort of the reverse, a major part in a minor role.  In Acts 21:10ff he visits Caesarea to see Paul, and rather dramatically (literally dramatically:  he takes Paul’s belt and uses it as a prop in a show) announces that Paul’s visit to Jerusalem is going to result in his arrest.  Once again it appears that the prophet is telling someone what is going to happen.

This, though, proves to be rather intriguing.  All of Paul’s companions in Caesarea immediately start begging him not to go, but he responds that he was quite prepared for this, seemingly already knowing what was going to happen.  In any case, he is not in the least surprised.  It seems that the message was news for Paul’s companions, but it was only confirmation for him:  he knew he was headed into trouble.

The chapter on Guidance in What Does God Expect? and my web page on Objective and Subjective Christian Guidance go into some detail explaining why Paul needed that confirmation.  The point for us is that the ministry of the prophet, as we see it in action in the New Testament, appears to be that of alerting believers to trouble on the road ahead so that we can prepare, or be prepared, for what is coming.

There is one other aspect that might be part of the prophetic ministry.  In Acts 13:1ff we are told that there were “prophets and teachers” in the church at Antioch, among whom were Barnabas, Saul, and three others.  We are told that this group heard the Holy Spirit tell them that it was time to separate Barnabas and Saul for the work for which they had already been called, which was the beginning of their apostolic ministry.  It seems likely that it is part of the prophetic ministry to provide guidance to other ministries, concerning when to take significant steps, possibly what steps to take next.  I have heard enough stories and had enough personal experience to believe that this happens, that God has some in the church who are given messages helping others be certain of God’s direction for them, often without themselves understanding the meaning of the message.  This prophetic ministry keeps us moving in the right direction.

It is also significant that it is second on the list, because it contributes greatly to enabling the congregation to identify the ministers among them, as well as preparing us for struggles ahead.

How does a prophet integrate music into his ministry?  I face this question with some reservations.  I have only twice knowingly spoken with prophets, and they were not musicians and we did not discuss their ministries.  A prophet with musical gifts might well align himself with another minister with musical gifts–it seems likely that Barnabas was a prophet and Paul a teacher (both were apostles), and that Paul did most of the talking because he was in some sense the frontman of the ministry.  That is admittedly guesswork based on the facts that both appear on that list of “prophets and teachers” and Paul is known to be a teacher but not a prophet which increases the probability that Barnabas was one of the prophets in the group; and when they were in Lystra together the locals observed that Paul was the speaker and Barnabas the leader.  There are those who only speak when they have something to say, and one might expect prophets to be of that sort.

At the same time, there is a phenomenon which might be part of the music ministry of a prophet.  I have only once spontaneously sung an entirely new song at a gathering.  I do not mean improvised something on the spot, but realized that there was a song I needed to sing that neither I nor anyone else had ever sung before, and did so.  I might expect that to be part of a prophet’s music ministry, as the Lord gives him a word couched in a melody with an accompanyment.  On the other hand, I don’t know that this would necessarily be part of such a ministry, or necessarily mark such a ministry as prophetic.  I am not a prophet and the song was not prophetic; yet I can see how God would use such songs to deliver unique messages to specific persons or groups.

The third ministry is the evangelist, which we will tackle next.

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#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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