What’s Right with the Church?

What’s Right with the Church?

Sometimes a book ends up in your hands at just the right time with just the right words.  Reading that kind of book is like meeting with a mentor or friend.  You read a bit and think. Maybe you write something in the margin.  It becomes a conversation.    A book like this ended up on my desk about 30 years ago. I had served enough churches that I had faced some challenges and some discouragement. I was coming to grips with my own limitations.  I had even had a conversation with a trusted counselor about doing some coursework to prepare to take the MCAT to apply to medical school.  I wondered if I really should continue being a Minister of Music.   Fortunately, there were many voices that encouraged me to find a way to do more than survive, but to thrive in local church ministry.  Among those voices was a book by William Willimon, What’s Right with the Church? [1]  You see, part of my struggle was I had been taught to love the church in theory but I didn’t have much practice in loving the church in practice.  My error:  loving everyone but not every one.   Willimon’s book helped me to begin to reframe some of the resistance I had experienced from church folk.  (I’m sure it had nothing to do with my “I-have-a-graduate-degree-in-music-and-we’re-only-doing-great-music-here” attitude.)  There was much to appreciate, to value and to love about particular people and places.  To quote Robert Webber, “All worship is local.”  Yes, I could honor the gifts and callings bestowed on me but when I was at my best...
How Do Leaders Become Leaders?

How Do Leaders Become Leaders?

Recently my friend, Joe, and I were playing golf in Dallas. Inevitably when we play our conversation turns to church.  Joe is a trusted friend and former chaplain.  As we talked about the ebb and flow of church life we both spoke admiringly of our church’s leaders.  Joe described one of our leaders as non-anxious. In family systems terms the phrase, “non-anxious presence” is used to describe a leader who is clear in one’s calling and sense of purpose and calm in the face of criticism and conflict.[1]  We have been blessed with non-anxious leadership (to be candid, being consistently non-anxious is a lofty goal.  Even learning to be less anxious can be a worthy emotional and spiritual goal and will have a profound effect on church and family systems.) But then I began to wonder, how is it possible to be non-anxious?  Where does this quality come from?  How do leaders become leaders? Since I’ve been a member of several church staffs and observed lots of leaders in action, let me offer some observations based on experience. 1.  Being non-anxious is a multi-generational gift. I don’t exactly mean to say this is a matter of good genetics and a healthy early environment.  Are some leaders just lucky enough to have been reared by others with the right stuff?  Not sure it’s that simple.  I do think when we reflect on our heritage that in every family tree we find people who are models of strength and tenacity.    But we have to take the time to explore, to know the stories of our ancestors, to see that we are...
Reflections on Worship and Music Ministry

Reflections on Worship and Music Ministry

“Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” ~ Jaroslav Pelikan I am grateful that I serve Wilshire Baptist Church, where our worship tradition is alive and well. Recently I have been in conversation with our pastoral and music ministry staff. We are living with this question: How do we nurture and replenish worship so that it is a thriving tradition for a vital worshipping community? A little background: worship at Wilshire is based on a Trinitarian model.[1] Our two traditional/liturgical worship services on Sunday morning are broadly similar with varied musical elements. We generally do a good job of creating space for a variety of music styles that co-exist without being in unfriendly competition with one another. We are working together to lean more fully into the Trinitarian model including “Father music” (classical and traditional), “Jesus music” (gospel and folk music) and “Spirit music” (global, ethnic and jazz idioms). While each choir or  group has a natural musical affinity determined by people resources and the mission of the ensemble, a diversity of musical idioms suggested by the Trinitarian model is good for performers and worshippers alike. In turn this variety helps worship remain fresh and avoid any tendency toward sameness. In the following sections I offer some thoughts that are inspired by the Trinitarian paradigm and raise some questions that may generate ideas to infuse energy in any local context. Artistry and Accessibility Is music both artistic and accessible to the worshipper? At Wilshire there is an expectation that music selected is well-crafted and performed well.  There is also an...
When a Traditional Choir Partners with a Non-profit

When a Traditional Choir Partners with a Non-profit

How could your church’s adult choir do what it does best and serve your community well?  What kind of partnership would allow you to offer your gift of music and support another ministry or non-profit?  What sort of collaboration might benefit both your singers and someone not usually in your normal Sunday morning congregation? Wilshire Baptist Church is proud to host the offices of the Grief and Loss Center of North Texas. The center offers support groups for children, teens and adults. GLC also provides on site grief support for schools, faith communities and places of employment. Clients don’t have to worry about the cost. There is no charge for any services. About five years ago I heard an extraordinary new work, “Eternal Light: A Requiem” by Howard Goodall  written for soloists, choir and orchestra.  Known primarily as a British TV and film composer; fans of the BBC comedy, The Vicar of Dibley, may recognize “Psalm 23,” the charming theme music that opens the show. Goodall’s requiem premiered in London in 2008.  This “Requiem for the living, [addresses] their suffering and endurance, a Requiem focusing on the consequences of interrupted lives”. When thinking about what strategic musical partnership might captivate our singers’ interest for the spring of 2016, I met with Laurie Taylor, Executive Director of the Grief and Loss Center, to discuss a partnership. When I discovered the GLC was celebrating its fifth anniversary, a real milestone for any non-profit, we began to explore how we could create an event with music as the centerpiece.  We planned to invite the clients of the Grief and Loss Center as...
Reading the Landscape

Reading the Landscape

What is the most important tool in the pastoral toolbox?  What ability will strengthen all the other abilities with which one is endowed?  And what skill when missing from the ministerial repertoire gets the clergy in hot water over and over again? In Texas, it’s called savvy.  Or reading the landscape. Or pastoral instincts. But what is this?  Does this mean one is driven by opinion polls?  Don’t convictions matter?  How could this skill be so important for a pastoral leader? Reading the landscape is the art of seeing where you are—and imagining what it can be for the sake of God’s kingdom. Frederick Law Olmsted is known as one of the pioneers of American landscape architecture.  There is a John Singer Sargent painting of Olmsted that hangs at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. Olmsted co-designed Central Park in New York City and created the master plans for the campuses of Stanford University and University of California, Berkley as well as the grounds of the Biltmore Estate.  In the Sargent painting Olmsted is surrounded by rhododendrons and mountain laurel of western North Carolina.  Surveying the scene around him Olmsted seems to be taking in the view in order to create a design compatible with that place. Olmsted’s approach borrows from the American Institute of Architects from Chicago. This school rejected artificial constructs in favor of designing buildings that fit their surroundings.  Abandoning the popular two-story Colonial or Queen Anne home, they developed the long forms of a modern or ranch house. The quintessential example of a home created to inhabit the landscape may be the Frank Lloyd Wright home,...