Last night, after starting the early morning in Pittsburgh, I was privileged to sing at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa at the end of the day’s sessions for a Pastor’s Conference. My call time was at eight o’clock but things were running a bit late. Although I couldn’t see inside the Church as I made my way to the Fellowship Hall, I think it was pretty packed. Folks were in chairs on the patio areas around the Sanctuary and inside the Hall there was a small overflow of folks watching Pastor Greg Laurie speak on the subject of revival. All these years later, Greg is still as good at communicating as I remember him being when both of us were much younger men.
When I got underway, it was a mixed affair as expected. For some folks, I was definitely background music. This was an informal coffeehouse setting and sometimes that just comes with the territory. But there was a nice-sized group of folks who seemed pretty locked in … and I did my best for them. After the set, I visited with a small group and sang some extra songs.
The evening once again reminded of how much I love and respect pastors. I knew I had written about this in the past and, without too much trouble, I located an April 2010 article I wrote for Christian Musician magazine. It was written musician-to-musician but I hope some of the thoughts will be helpful to any who read through.
I post it here as a modest tribute to my beloved colleagues in the pulpit.
PS: Heartfelt thanks to Pastor Brian Brodersen and Scott Cunningham for entrusting me with singing for the many faithful Servants of the Gospel who attended the Conference. And the pastors who graced me with their presence and kind attention last night.
THE MATH OF MINISTRY
A lifetime ago at the very start of my being serious about following Christ, I attended a Musician’s Fellowship at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California (or, as someone once put it “The Mothership”). This would have been 1977-78 or so. The gathering was led by Malcolm Wild, half of the classic UK Jesus Music duo Malcolm & Alwyn. While all the familiar Stateside names were at work here, Malcolm and Alwyn were inventing their own CCM wheel an ocean away. Before there was an acronym for the genre. In fact, before there even was a genre. It was (and still is) great music.
Malc was the first actual working Christian Musician with real credibility that I know of who sat his fellow musicians down and flat-out told us it was not to be about stardom or money, but about servanthood. Of course some of us, me included, had a hard time really hearing that first part even as we aspired to the second part. Silly us.
Although my idea of “ministry” changed somewhat as I became my own man as a believer and a musician, much of what Malcolm taught I retained. Other stuff I simply had to find out by on-the-job training. Some of my conclusions were perhaps a little different from time-to-time.
For instance, for a long time it has been helpful for me to view my “ministry” as having a lower-case “m”. This lower-case “m” is a common-sense acknowledgement that I am not quite a Minster in the pastoral/teaching, vocational sense. I don’t have a flock to tend to and, accordingly, a Board can’t vote me out. That’s good for me. But in the sense that all believers are called to selfless service in whatever sphere of influence they might have, I am then, of course, a “minister”.
I also often think the concept of “ministry” can be expressed as a simple math equation. But “ministry” should always be placed on the right of the equal sign, never on the left. It is the hoped-for result but not the means. The “means” is always on the left of the equal sign. This is whatever you set your heart and mind to actually DO. The “doing” is what accomplishes ministry.
We understandably use the word as convenient shorthand. A food bank volunteer might rightly say, “We minister to the homeless.” But, I prefer this: “We feed the hungry … and that’s how we minister.” Clunky? Sure it is. But the point here is that we are often seduced by a romantic vision of what “ministry” is. I’m not saying it’s not a necessary and worthy goal. But what I am saying is that if we do what we should be doing and remain faithful to whatever task is positioned on the left of the equal sign, “ministry” will, hopefully, be what happens as the result.
I don’t think I’m shirking responsibility. I’m trying to clarify who I am, what I can actually do, and Who I’m not. If any heavy lifting gets done, it’s only accomplished by the Blessed Third Person of our Triune God. I have things I’m supposed to attend to (communicate artfully being one of them), but to the extent that anything gets done deep inside the human heart, that Gig is not mine. It’s His.
Now, I’ve said all of that to say this. Whether we’re in High Historic Church, St. Latte’s Faith Community, or heaven help us, even the local pub or other non-churchy deal, it’s the same. How we conduct ourselves at the gig when we’re out of the spotlight is possibly more important than anything else we’re about. (I’ll pause for a moment while you mutter under your breath, “Thanks Captain Obvious”.)
We’ve all heard stories about the Diva-Praise-Songstress or the We-Did-The-Church-a-Favor-and-Rocked-for-Jesus-Band. Christian Musicians? Bad behavior? Oh, say it isn’t so … and then be sure to reverse the long distance charges back to your home planet. Every pastor has a flakey musician story.
And as musicians we may have been in situations where the prevailing attitude was, more or less, that “music” was something marginally important. But only insofar as it gets “the people” primed and ready for the REAL ministry: the Sermon. (That’s a whole other discussion which I might pursue in the future if I get asked back to these pages.) Thusly, every Christian Musician has a they-just-didn’t-get-it church/pastor story.
Wherever humans are involved, it’s going to get tricky. Occasionally we’ll let each other down in Jesus’ name. That’s the worst but it also helps us grow up. No one learns by getting everything they want the way they want it. Dear friends, I can hardly believe I’m saying this because nobody hates pain more than me. But that which wounds your pride but does not kill you with bitterness will, in fact, make you stronger and better. The most useful lessons are often quite unpleasant to endure. We really can’t do much about how others may conduct themselves. But we can take ownership of whatever we can do something about. We do get the privilege of participating in our own lives and we can really decide some things.
In the end, it’s a lot simple behaviors that can add up to you ministering to those who surround you at the Gig. Showing up on time. Being prepared. Being flexible with shifting timelines and unforeseen circumstances. Some kind words to volunteers, the sound tech, the person who makes the Starbucks run. How we interact with listeners before and after the event. Making sure the people who represent us do so accurately and intuitively. (I book my own dates and I’m still not sure that happens!)
When I’m at my best, I try to be as much of an encouragement to the staff and volunteers as I can. I have a definite soft spot for the pastor, the guy who’s name is at the top of the Staff page on the Church web site. Pastors, in my opinion, are truly the Green Berets of getting ministry done. Sometimes it’s hard to tell who has the bigger ego, me or them. But I’m certainly not shocked when I see it and it takes one to know one. It’s a wonder anything of divine import gets done at all. I always try to keep in mind just what kind of a yahoo I am during the other twenty-two hours of every day when I’m not on stage.
But my job is pretty doggone good. I get to float in, people are generally happy to see me, I do something that I really love, I make a living wage, and shortly thereafter I’m back in the car or on an airplane bound for either home or the next gig. God help me, I really do try to avoid leaving any kind of a mess behind me. But I’m gone.
The pastor is still there and has a much more difficult job. He is faithful to a community week-in and week-out in the same place. Everybody has an opinion and the naysayers are always more vocal than those who are satisfied. Most pastors are world class jugglers with concerns about teaching, counseling, finances, coordinating staff, delegating, dividing time between the primary jurisdiction of family and the secondary jurisdiction of church.
I know with confidence that what I do is important and I try to treat it that way. I have my part. But what I do is Romper Room School compared to the folks who are always on the job any time they’re on church property regardless of what any work schedule may say. As much as a pastor may try to train the congregation to be helpful to one another, some people will always insist that the pastor is the only human who will do when a crisis comes. And crises are part and parcel of the Minister’s life. We musicians sometimes get to leave our work at the Office, a pastor rarely has such a luxury.
As musicians, we can make some choices about “doing” for a pastor. Give him (or in some locales, her) a handful of CDs. I always invoke the “You’re not getting rich in the ministry, are you?” discount. Pray for them. Find out what the sermon topic is and try to find a place to fit in. Ask where his heart is and how he’s really doing behind the scenes. Sometimes the situation or the temperament of the person may dictate silent cooperation. The point is that you’re there to support them (and, by extension, the work of the Spirit), not the other way round. Keep in mind that what you do is soundtrack music for something you’re not supposed to be Directing.
Live on the left side of the equal sign and the right side should add up just fine. And if you can minister to those who Minister, that’s a good day on the job!
© 2010 Bob Bennett