The week before Evangelistic Meetings I often purposefully design to be a more meditative service. Knowing that the following week the music will be very rousing, I choose songs and themes that are more contemplative and quieter. Little did I know how God would use the music of this week—the week before Evangelistic Meetings Sunday!
Because I knew the rest of the service was quieter and more thoughtful, we started by ripping the gospel song “To God Be the Glory.” We started with the chorus to immediately capture folks’ attention. Then we sang all the stanzas. I kept pushing the congregation on the tempo. The congregation is always a little sluggish on the first hymn since we changed our services times. We expected that. So sometimes I gentle them into waking up by praising the Savior. But this Sunday, I sounded a spiritual reveille! Heh-heh. It wasn’t until the final stanza that I relaxed my conducting a bit. By this time they were keeping up with the instrumentalists. And we even slowed the final chorus down for “grand finale” feel at the end. But again, the tempo was a deliberate choice because I knew what was going to follow in the service.
After Pastor Mike prayed that the Lord would bless the day and specifically this service, Joe Pluth sang a straightforward vocal solo of Ron Hamilton’s song “Wings as Eagles” based on Isaiah 40:31. It’s always amazing to me how God’s people respond to Godly music. It was not a fancy arrangement—although Dr. Bryson’s piano was just right: supportive and lovely, and Mr. Pluth sang it with nice line, interpreting the words and soaring to the high note at the end seemingly effortlessly. It was a very musical presentation. But the church family responded because of spiritual reasons, not necessarily musical reasons. So I took a minute after his solo to explain what they were already sensing spiritually. Joe has been having some health challenges. Last week his wife, Amy, broke her foot. So they have been rather overwhelmed with the daily challenges of meeting the needs of children and running a household. Joe told me that his choice of song was because God had been using that song in his life right then. That is, that he had been singing it all week as a spiritual encouragement. So when he shared the overflow of the work that God was doing in his life, God’s people responded spiritually.
After Joe’s solo, I led the congregation in several songs of assurance about God’s care for us. Pastor Mike has been preaching from Romans 14, and last week he used church music as an illustration of the difference between function and form. Function is the Biblical mandate. Form is the neutral way that we fulfill that mandate. The form changes. So he mentioned that some people like hymns, some people like choruses. Some people like fewer songs with more stanzas, and some people like more songs with fewer stanzas. Well, this week, I tried to illustrate that in the song service. So our opening song used all the stanzas. After the “special music” we learned a new chorus “Day by Day—A Prayer.” I used it as an introduction to the hymn “Day by Day.” The song is adapted from a prayer by Saint Richard of Chichester (1197-1253):
Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ
For all the benefits Thou hast given me,
For all the pains and insults Thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly.
The music is by Ken Barker. I rolled my eyes at the folks who asked if we were singing “Day by Day” from the 1971 musical Godspell by Stephen Schwartz. Ummmm. That would be, “No.” *insert eye roll emoji*
After singing all the stanzas of two songs, we sang only one stanza each of a couple songs: the third stanza of “This Is My Father’s World” and the second stanza of “Like a River Glorious.” Then we ended that section of the song service with a chorus that is a church family favorite, “Fear Not” written by the late Tiffany Brock. So that musical package included a vocal solo of a modern song, a heritage hymn with all the stanzas, several hymns with only one stanza, and two choruses–one familiar and one brand new. Again, I chose those songs in that way to illustrate Pastor Mike’s sermon from last week. But God used those particular songs to comfort and encourage our congregation in ways I could have never guessed early in the week.
Next in the service I took a moment to set up the choir song. It is a powerful musical presentation of Scripture. But it is unusual for our church, so a word of explanation, I knew, would go a long way. I’m so thankful my pastor (actually both pastors I have worked for) have allowed me the freedom to take a moment to do things like this occasionally. A music pastor must always be conscious that his pastor is jealous of the time in the Sunday morning service. So I must never waste time with irrelevant comments or even good information that I have not thought through to its essence and planned its execution to be succinct. This is not a bad thing. I mean, we want a pastor who loves to preach, right? We want a pastor who is excited to share with his flock what God has shown him! One reason for this blog is that I can say as much as I want about whatever I want. Which I am illustrating by digressing right now! Anyway . . . I introduced the choir song with a quote of wrong theology. I used the opening of the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof in which Tevye says, “Because of our traditions, every man knows who he is and what God expects him to do.” It’s a fun musical. But it is bad theology. Of course, it is not our traditions that teach us what God expects of us! So I read Micah 6:6-8. Then the choir sang a quiet song with string quartet accompaniment of that passage, giving the congregation a moment to meditate on the words of Scripture.
Pastor Mike preached from Romans 14. Listen here. He referenced Spafford’s great hymn in his message. And guess what the brass ensemble played for the offertory at the end of the service? “It Is Well.” I wish I could take credit for planning that. But the truth is God designed the entire service for His glory.
We did something unusual after the morning service. After a five-minute break, we all met in the auditorium again for a combined Sunday school hour. Pastor Mike gave a brief challenge from Galatians 6 on sharing and bearing burdens. Then there was a panel discussion on helping church families who have special needs children. The panel consisted of several families with special needs children, a couple folks who work with children with special needs, and a lady with a graduate degree and experience in special education. It was a sweet time of sharing, learning, and loving each other in Christ. The panel discussion format lent itself to an informative, lively, and emotional time.
After the panel discussion during the Adult Bible Fellowship hour (That’s what we call our “Sunday School”), Pastor Mike told the church that he had accepted a full-time military position, and yesterday the deacons had formed a pulpit committee to seek God’s will for the next pastor of TBC. The room was quiet and still. Some people were shocked. Most of us knew that Pastor Mike would not be our pastor forever. So, while the finality is always . . . well, so final, we know that if God is moving Pastor Mike to another ministry that God has a man all ready for the position of pastor here.
A big announcement like this overshadows all that has gone on in the services before, of course. But it is a comfort to know that, even in the choice of music, God was preparing His people for the change they were about to be made aware of. We concluded the Sunday morning services by singing, again, “Fear Not.” We often sing that chorus in November and December. And I often remind the congregation that God told His people many times during the Christmas story not to be afraid. He told Mary (Luke 1:26-31). He told the same thing to Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25). He reminded the shepherds through his messenger, “Fear not” (Luke 2:8-20). How appropriate that God chose “Fear Not” for us to sing at a time of great change and uncertainty in our church. I say “God chose” because the songs were chosen early in the week—before I knew about Pastor Mike’s announcement. Aren’t you thankful to be serving a God who knows?