I served as worship pastor at my church for 17 years, turning my position over to the capable hands of my oldest son, Locke, this past year. It was an easy transition, knowing we share a very similar thought process and point of view regarding worship and music in the modern church.
Every church is different; each has its own unique fingerprint—a DNA, if you will, which is manifested in the expression of ministry style, demographics, and lane of worship music. It’s what makes the modern church such an amazing phenomenon; this ability to express our faith in innumerable and beautiful ways.
When I was a girl growing up in a Southern Baptist Church, we sang hymns. Not the boring, dragging, tedious music that non-church goers might imagine, but the boisterous kind, with four-part harmonies ringing through the rafters, and hundreds of folks sharing hymnals. Not only were these songs light and joyful, they were deep and wide with more theology and doctrine than you can fathom. I would venture to guess I learned more than a hundred hymns throughout my childhood; the repetition of such having forever sealed them in my memory and heart (at least the first, second and fourth verses). And note that my mother was the church pianist for more than 60 years, my father, a deacon and choir member, as well. So yeah, you can bet your boots we didn’t miss a service.
“On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand and cast a wishful eye, to Canaan’s fair and happy land where my possessions lie.” (Samuel Stennett)
“There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins. And sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains.” (William Cowper)
“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of His Spirit, washed in His blood. This is my story! This is my song! Praising my Savior all the day long!” (Fanny Crosby)
“From sinking sand He lifted me,
With tender hand He lifted me;
From shades of night to plains of light,
Oh, praise His Name, He lifted me!” (Charles Gabriel)
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!” (Thomas Obediah Chisholm)
And my favorite of the hour (from Martin Luther, written in 1529!)
“A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.”
To be sure, I had not a wit of a clue what most of these words meant as a child, but that wasn’t the point. The point was singing them with all the gusto I could muster. It was in these threads of the tapestry of my life that I found my voice. By the time I was 10, I knew I was an alto, and could easily find my part during congregational worship. I can even recall the moment I figured out how to follow the words in the hymnbook and when it clicked how the notes were stacked with my alto part right below the melody on the treble clef. It was as if a heavenly light had been turned on and I just knew…these songs would forever mark my life and understanding of who Almighty God was. Without question, this foundational experience has shaped who I am as a woman of faith in 2018. I cannot forget the weight of these words that have carried me through the roughest seasons of my life.
Won’t you stand and sing with me, all you saints of God?
“When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul
It is well
With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul
It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul
And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend